While the link between psychedelics and religion has been speculated and written about for decades, the theory is gaining even broader recognition as the psychedelic renaissance unfolds. This year, Brian Muraresku’s Immortality Key, an investigation into Christianity’s psychedelic roots, shot to the top of the bestseller list.
Now that Christmas season is upon us, perhaps more people are ready to learn the real story behind the psychoactive fungi Christmas mascot that adorns suburban households across the country.
The Amanita Muscaria and Christmas
Amanita Muscaria is one of the most visually recognizable species of fungi due to their vivid red caps with white buttons. The iconic mushroom has been popularized through illustrations, folklore, yard ornaments and gnomes, and is intertwined with celebratory Christmas traditions.
A. muscaria played a role in pre-Christian winter rituals, and it may not be a coincidence that Santa Claus and his ensemble matches its memorable color scheme. In Central Asia, while collecting these mushrooms, shamans would wear specific garments while foraging for the mushrooms. These outfits were red with white fur and black boots, much like Santa Claus. After collecting these mushrooms in a Santa Claus-like sack, the Shaman would return to the village and enter a special yurt via the smoke hole at the top.
John Rush, an anthropologist and instructor at Sierra College told LiveScience, “Because snow is usually blocking doors, there was an opening in the roof through which people entered and exited, thus the chimney story.”
During the winter solstice, the Koryak shamans of Siberia would eat A. muscaria and journey to the tree of life (represented by a large pine). According to Inhabitat, “the tree of life held the answer to all the village’s problems from the previous year.”
A. muscaria is commonly found under conifer and birch trees, with which they have a “symbiotic relationship,” according to James Arthur, author of “Mushrooms and Mankind.” In his book, Arthur suggests that this relationship contributes to our present day Christmas Rituals. “Why do people bring pine trees into their houses at the winter solstice, placing brightly colored (red-and-white) packages under their boughs, as gifts to show their love for each other …?” he wrote. “It is because, underneath the pine bough is the exact location where one would find this ‘Most Sacred’ substance, the Amanita muscaria, in the wild.”
Reindeers are also known to eat and love these fungi, and go out of their way to ingest it. According to lore, it is A. muscaria that helped them reach the sky and ride among the clouds.
Today, many use A. muscaria for Christmas decorations as garlands, Christmas cards, and ornaments. Some families hang a mushroom on the tree for good luck.
What is Amanita muscaria?
Amanita muscaria is known as Fly Agaric due to its practical use as a household fly killer. It’s said that placing crushed Fly Agaric in a dish with milk will attract flies, subsequently killing them (with varying accounts of success).
Fly Agaric is considered poisonous because of its muscimol and ibotenic acid content – its hallucinogenic compounds – but fatal ingestion is rare. Although A. muscaria is frequently depicted in psychedelic art containing mushrooms, it is not the same “magic mushroom” people associate with the term, and does not contain psilocybin. Nonetheless, when ingested without detoxifying, it can produce a powerful altered state.
According to Merry Jane, users report “feelings of euphoria and tranquility, an altered sense of hearing and taste, and vivid changes in visual or sensory perception.”
The next time you inevitably come across a representation of this fungi at a Christmas gathering, you can steer away from small talk and clue your family and friends in on the shamanic roots of the holiday season.
Lucid News does not recommend ingesting Amanita muscaria, which is classified as poisonous.