The significance of Santa Claus' red and white clothing*
"The word 'toadstool' refers to poisonous or inedible mushrooms. The Amanita muscaria toadstool, instantly recognisable for its brilliant scarlet cap with white warts, has long been used in the rituals of certain Asian societies. This use has arisen due to the psychotropic and hallucinogenic compounds contained within the toadstool. Ingestion leads to 'expanded perception', macropsia (perceiving objects as enlarged)3, rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, and the belief that one could talk directly with one's god. It is no accident that fly agaric toadstools often appear in books of fairy tales.
Fly agaric is a source of the hallucinogenic components ibotenic acid (an amino acid) and muscimol. Ibotenic acid, only present in fresh mushrooms, has insecticidal properties4. When dried, ibotenic acid degrades (decarboxylates) into muscimol5, which has ten times the potency. Taken orally, Ibotenic acid is entheogenically active6 at 50-100 mg, whilst muscimol displays activity at 10-15 mg.
The shamans7 of Siberia use Amanita muscaria for recreational or ritualistic purposes. They use a dried preparation called 'mukhomor' to speak to their gods. These people, the Kamchadales and the Koryaks, eat between one and three dried mushrooms. They believe that smaller mushrooms and those with a large quantity of small warts are more active than pale red ones and ones with fewer spots. The Koryak women chew the sun-dried agaric and roll the product into small sausages, which the men swallow. The Koryaks also eat the flesh of slaughtered reindeer which have recently eaten fly agaric, but whose psychotropic condition has subsided. In a similar fashion to the Sami, the Siberians discovered that their urine contained the active principle of the fungi and they could consume this recycled product with less of the undesirable poisonous effects of the raw toadstool.
During a mushroom-induced trance, the shaman would start to twitch and sweat before falling into a deep coma-like sleep. During his coma, the shaman's soul left his body as an animal and flew to the 'other world' where it communicated with the spirits. The shaman hoped these spirits could help him deal with major problems, such as outbreaks of sickness in the village, by imparting medical knowledge from the gods.
On awaking, the shaman found their muscular systems had been so stimulated that they were able to perform spectacular physical feats with seemingly little effort - such as making a gigantic leap to clear a small obstacle. The effect on animals was the same, and a 'bemushroomed'8 reindeer traditionally guarded each shaman.
The poorer classes, who could not afford the time to gather the toadstools, would drink the urine of the better-off, collected in bowls or skin bags. Evidence suggests the drug's hallucinogens remained effective even having passed through five or six people, and some scholars maintain that this is the true origin of the expression 'to get pissed' - rather than having anything to do with alcohol intoxication.
The fly agaric may have been one of the earliest entheogens, that is hallucinogenic substances used for religious or shamanic purposes. Such use dates back as much as 10,000 years. The oldest archaeological evidence discovered so far of mushroom use by man exists as an image in a cave in Tassili, Algeria. The image dates back to 3500BC and depicts the mushrooms with electrified auras outlining dancing shamans.
Furthermore, the fly agaric has appeared for a long time as a popular image on Christmas cards in central Europe. In Kocevye, in southern Yugoslavia, folklore tells of the Germanic god, Wotan (the king of the gods, synonymous with the Norse god, Odin) who rides on horseback through the woods on Christmas night, pursued by devils. Red and white flecks of blood and foam spray from the horse's mouth to the ground, where fly agaric toadstools emerge in the following year."
* Note : Despite what marketing moguls will have you believe, there were depictions of a red and white garbed Father Christmas prior to the advertising campaign of a certain fizzy drink*
source of text - The BBC
Image. © Andy Paciorek
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