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Are mushrooms, shamans and ancient rituals at the root of the Santa Claus story?

Flying reindeer? Gifts delivered by a jolly, all-seeing man via chimney? Was someone tripping on mushrooms when they thought up Santa Claus? Well… maybe. As is usually the case with myths, Santa’s origins are hard to pin down. However, researchers such as Carl Ruck, a classicist at Boston University, and Lawrence Millman, a writer and mycologist, believe the legend of the sleigh-borne, gift-bearing figure might have emerged from the ritualistic consumption of the mushroom Amanita muscaria (fly agaric). These psychoactive fungi are thought to have been used in healing rituals by the Sámi people, indigenous to parts of modern Finland, Sweden, Russia and Norway – not far from where Santa’s workshop is purportedly located. With suitably trippy visuals, the US filmmaker Matthew Salton consults with Ruck and Millman in this holiday short exploring one potential origin of Santa Claus’s heady mythology.

16 December 2019

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