The Shamanic Origins of Father Christmas

By Annie Dieu-Le-Veut

I know that Christmas isn’t the most favourite time of year for many of us, as everything we complain about – consumerism and false religious beliefs – seem to come together in a perfect storm; a state-sponsored enforced orgy of spending, eating, drinking and falling out with relatives that would even make a Roman emperor blanche.

Until last year, I would never celebrate Christmas – no Christmas decorations, no Christmas cards and no Christmas dinner – as a sort of protest. I was like Scrooge. I say ‘was’ because that all changed when, in a journey on the last Winter Solstice, a few days before Christmas, I received a visit from the Sugar Plum Faery.

Now I’m usually the first one to point out that the Fae are nothing like the the cutesy, tiny Victorian fairies such as the ones which we put on top of our Christmas trees.

So it was quite a surprise to see her… but I could almost hear Tchaikovsky’s music as she led me through an enchanted wonderland that exuded the essence of Christmas. It brought back to me all that I’d loved about Christmas as a child: white frost sparkling like glitter on logs and deep green holly leaves with red berries, crystallised ice chimes dripping from frozen windows, silver tinsel dew dropping from white berried mistletoe, the aroma of tangerines, cinnamon-infused mulled wine and mince pies fresh from the oven, and the glittering Milky Way like a shattered diamond necklace sprawled in wild abandon across the deep cold night blue vault of the heavens.

All of this Beauty…. and so much more is there to be celebrated at this time of the year, and always has been, for those who have their doors of perception wide open.

Later on, I learned about the origins of the red and white fur robed Santa. Apparently, he originated within the shamanic tradition of some of the more northerly tribes of Siberia, which is also where the word ‘shaman’ comes from. These are the Russian indigenous peoples who live around the Arctic Circle. They are also reindeer herders, and the red and white fly agaric mushroom, which has the official name of amanita muscaria, is at the heart of their shamanic ceremonies.

Tatiana, an Evensk shaman

fly-agaric-Tatiana the Evensk shaman from Kamchatka

We can trace the use of fly agaric back, via archaeology and linguistics, at least some 3,000-6,000 years. It was used in various ways by the different tribes across that part of the world, although some of those tribes don’t use it all. But it is best documented in northeastern Siberia which is where the Tungus and Evensk people live and who still keep the winter solstice fly agaric rituals alive to this day.

Some of them, it seems, have quite a ‘shrooms party over the Winter Solstice!

Just before the solstice, in a sort of sympathetic magic, their shamans dress themselves up in traditional red and white furs to collect the red and white flyagaric mushrooms in certain places in the forest.


Fly agaric only grows beneath specific firs and pines in a symbiotic, non-parasitic relationship with the roots of the tree. It used to be thought of as the fruit of the tree and the shaman’s job is to collect enough for the whole tribe.

The shamans pick and place the fly agaric mushrooms, to partially dry, on the fir or pine boughs. Is this why we decorate our Christmas trees with ornaments, I wondered, to mimic the shaman decorating the fir trees with drying mushrooms?

fly agaric mushroomornament

The final touch is how the shaman enters the homes of the tribe in the dead of night to distribute the “gifts” of the ‘shrooms. Sometimes, the doors are snowed in and can’t be opened, and so the shaman in his red and white costume has to enter the house through the ‘chimney’, the smoke hole in the roof.

Once in, he drops his ‘gifts’ of fly agaric mushrooms in a bag for the family to find the next morning, who leave out some sort of ‘thank you’ offering for him too. The next morning, the family find their ‘gifts’ and then hang them in socks around the fireplace to dry – (another aha! moment right there!). The mushrooms in their socks would stay hanging on the fire hearth until the winter solstice, when they were would be dried enough, and ready to share their revelatory gifts in a tribal ceremony later that day.

Perhaps, now that we know where all these traditions originally come from, is it possible that we can reclaim this sacred festival from the merchants and the priesthood? Now we can see what we should be celebrating, maybe we can finally start to feel a bit more of the real Christmas spirit? Or should I say, the spirit of the Sugar Plum Faery?

Oh yes, and we mustn’t forget red-nosed Rudolph and his flying reindeer. How did they fly? Well…fly agaric mushrooms of course. I should think everyone in the Arctic Circle would have been flying up into the aurora borealis on that blessed Solstice day!


Important notice. The Holistic Works is not recommending that anyone takes fly agaric, which is a powerful fungus and whose effects can be extremely variable and dangerous in the hands of those not used to dealing with it. Self-experimentation is not recommended. In particular all amanita species with a white or greenish cap should be avoided, as these are definitely very deadly. The information provided in this article is intended for educational purposes only and should not be used as medical advice. We take no responsibility and are not liable for any events that may occur as a result of self-experimentation.

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