For an article in the December, 1979 edition of High Times, late, great counterculture correspondent Glenn O’Brien examined the connections between Santa Claus and a specific kind of psychedelic mushroom known as the fly agaric, aka the toadstool that conquered the universe. In fact, the existence of Santa could be related to a shaman in Lapland who ate Amanita muscaria. Even the government supports the compelling association between Santa and the fly agaric. Was Santa a mushroom eater?
This year, as usual, you’re going to get a lot of reminders on the subject of the Real Meaning of Christmas. And, as usual, these reminders will just be reminders. They will say, “And don’t forget the Real Meaning of Christmas.” They won’t remind you what the Real Meaning is, they’ll just remind you to remember it. They will assume that you know what it is. And you do, don’t you?
The Real Meaning of Christmas goes something like this: Christmas is not just a time for spending vast sums on lavish gifts, eating and drinking heavily and observing a complex of celebration scenarios derived more from the Druids and Vikings than from the apostles. No, it’s not just that. First and foremost Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ. For Christians it is the holiest of holy days, marking the birth of a Divine Man. The first Christmas was the day God was made Flesh.
Now that is certainly something to bear in mind as you make your Christmas rounds this year. But don’t let it put a damper on your shenanigans. For unlike most of those who would like to remind you of the Real Meaning of Christmas, we are not suggesting that you have a solemn, meditative or restrained little Xmas. No, not at all. Maybe all of the wild partying and gift giving and the artificially good manners that have sprung up around the day and all of those funky old neopagan trappings like the mistletoe and the Yule log and that old elf Santa are not really so far removed from the most holy Real Meaning of Christmas after all.
High Times wants you to remember to do both things this Christmas—get wild and high and ponder the significance of this highest holiday. There may be more of a connection here than meets the first two eyes. Maybe there’s a Real Meaning of Christmas that’s even more real.
Let’s start with the basic Real Meaning: All of a sudden God is a man. That’s the first Christmas. And a first-class mystery. How did man become God? A tough question. The traditional religious answer is that God became man. But supposing it was the other way around. How did man do it?
That’s a very tough question—especially because there is very little agreement as to how man became man. But maybe the answers to both questions are similar, if not one and the same.
Most docs think that man got to be man by evolution. From apes. Then again the apes are still around. The mystery hasn’t been totally solved by science. Some researchers seek the key to the evolution of intelligence in the DNA molecule, some suggest it drifted here in virus form from other worlds. One evolutionary theory that gets better every day suggests that man became man through his apprehension of God through the ingestion of psychoactive plants—a phenomenon still popularly known as seeing God. And who knows, maybe man got to be God, or vice versa, in a similar fashion.
The first Christmas was two millennia ago, give or take a bit. Stories can change a lot in a week. So our search for the secret, inside story of the Real Meaning of Christmas won’t be easy. We’ll have to look at the facts. We’ll even have to keep thinking, What’s a fact? Above all, we’ll have to keep our inspiration level high and hope for a perfect coincidence of the scientific method and shamanism or pharmacological Gnosticism. So keep your eye on the interstice at all times. If this works, it might disappear.
The Secret Funk Gospels
To rehash, the basic premise: If a man takes drugs, he may see God. If an ape takes drugs, may he see man?
The case for psychoactive plants as prime catalysts in the evolution of human consciousness (“creation”) has advanced remarkably over the last 30 years, and what not long ago was lunatic-fringe thinking in academia is now a heavyweight contender of a theory. Its first great proponent was R. Gordon Wasson, who rediscovered in the ’50s the Mexican psilocybe-mushroom culture. He later published a landmark of scholarship called Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971), in which he sought to prove that another psychoactive mushroom, the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria), was the lost drug of the gods mentioned in the Vedic scriptures.
Another significant contribution to the idea was made by Andrija Puharich, whose Sacred Mushroom: Key to the Door of Eternity (Doubleday, 1959) made an impressive case for a similar usage of the fly agaric in ancient Egypt—although Puharich, unlike Wasson, did not limit himself to traditional research methods, and most of his data came through a medium.
Although the questions raised by Wasson and Puharich may have been hot questions in certain academic circles, they didn’t bring about a full-scale furor, nor did they instantly revolutionize modem thought. But in 1970 John M. Allegro, a distinguished philologist and the world’s foremost authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, exquisitely blew the finely tuned minds of his academic colleagues—philologists and theologians alike—with the publication of The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross (Doubleday).
R. Gordon Wasson, in Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality, had already presented a distinguished scientific case for the fly agaric’s being Soma, the God-Plant of the Rig-Veda. And the research of Wasson and others had already established the widespread role of mushrooms in other shamanistic religions. But Allegro’s serious, scholarly case for Christianity’s being the decadent and totally misunderstood remnant of a tremendously powerful magical fertility cult that used a mushroom called Christ-Crucified was quite simply too much for almost everybody. It was bad enough that Allegro smoothly traced the origin of Yahweh to “juice of fecundity,” but to interpret the life of Jesus Christ as an allegory concealing a drug cult was simply preposterous. But, as Jesus said, “the last shall be first.” Right? Maybe that’s true for theories, too.
Anyway, even if it’s preposterous, it’s great Christmas reading and it certainly sheds a whole new light on the whole Christmas story. Allegro’s key to the Gospels is built into the fact that Semitic writing before and after the Gospel writers is uniquely rooted in puns as conveyors of multiple levels of information.
Jesus and his followers are not walking mushrooms but priests who used the various divine plants to heal, anointing the sick with them and casting out demons or various illnesses in their names.
According to Allegro, the sacred mushroom is the manna that fell from heaven and fed the Israelites in the desert. It is also the sacrament, the body and blood of Christ, that Jesus fed his apostles. It is the unleavened bread.
The body of Christ was born in a stable—traditional birthplace of mushrooms. At night. Of a virgin. The virgin birth is of particular interest since it explains the peculiar form of reproduction in fungi.
And no less an authority than Pliny is quoted as characterizing the Magi as “the great drug peddlers of the ancient world.” (Their gifts to Jesus were medicines and drugs.)
Whether or not there was a historical Jesus remotely resembling the object of Christianity is besides the point this Christmas, as the stars glide by Bethlehem.
You can’t write everything down. You have to use your imagination. Keep your eyes on the crèche.
According to Allegro, the real Christians wrote the Gospels when their cult was imperiled by Roman repression of the Jewish revolt of A.D. 66. He wrote:
“Instigated probably by members of the cult, swayed by their drug-induced madness to believe God had called them to master the world in his name, they provoked the mighty power of Rome to swift and terrible action….The secrets, if they were not to be lost forever, had to be committed to writing, and yet, if found, the documents must give nothing away or betray those who still dared defy the Roman authorities and continue the religious practices.”
The Gospels were the secret handbooks of the cult, and Allegro describes their intent:
“To tell the story of a rabbi called Jesus, and invest him with the power and the names of the magic drug. To have him live before the terrible events that disrupted their lives, to preach a love between men, extending even to hated Romans. Thus, reading such a tale, should it fall into Roman hands, even their mortal enemies might be deceived and not probe farther into the activities of the cells of the mystery cults within their territories.”
Of course this literary plot failed miserably and the cultists were persecuted like nobody else in history. Until the secret had to be covered, until the whole thing was forgotten. Almost. The greatest cover-up in history. And the cover organization, the copy of the original cult, became the greatest religion in the history of the world and invented Christmas, the greatest religious holiday in history.
Sound farfetched? Of course it is. And so are you. Look at all the things you did this year. All the stupid, selfish, dumb things. Jesus, of course, will forgive you. But what about Santa?
The Santa Connection
When it comes to Christmas, Santa is the one cat who can give Jesus a run for his money. Christmas might be intended to commemorate the birth of Jesus, but for the kids it’s mainly the arrival of Santa.
Now who is this Santa Claus character, and what does he want?
Actually, Santa Claus, like most success stories of today, is a conglomerate personality. He is, of course, Saint Nick, the patron saint of Greek sailors. But his real popularity began in Holland, where, known as Santa Klaas, he was associated with Christmas because of his alleged generosity, and thereby inspired the custom of gift giving. But obviously the Santa of today bears virtually no resemblance to Saint Nicholas (bishop of Myra, persecuted by Diocletian), who remains one of the more obscure martyrs on the heavenly roster. But even the Saint Nicholas of today, the patron saint of Russia, bears little resemblance to the “jolly old elf” who runs Christmas.
Most of Santa Claus’s characteristics, in fact, seem to be derived from Thor, the thundering hearth god of ancient blonds, who also celebrates his birthday on December 25th. Santa Claus is a sort of Thor emeritus, who held the old pagan rituals together in Europe under Christianity. He rides through the sky on a sleigh drawn by flying reindeer. And, of course, he can levitate, after placing a finger to the side of his nose.
Santa’s workshop is located at the North Pole. And what would he be without his red and white Santa suit? And for that matter, where would the Salvation Army be?
The truth of the matter is that the Santa suit depicts the Amanita muscaria (fly agaric) mushroom mentioned earlier. For one thing, his suit looks more like this mushroom than it does the suit of any other person, actual or fictional. If that isn’t enough, consider that Santa is the world’s largest employer of “little people.” It is well known that elves, gnomes, leprechauns and other diminutive types are often seen in the vicinity of these mushrooms, in the field and in children’s literature and interior design. And if that isn’t enough, what about the flying reindeer?
Well, anybody who knows anything at all about reindeer knows that there are two things in the world that reindeer crave: human urine and mushrooms, particularly the fly agaric mushrooms of the sort resembling Santa’s suit. It would seem that reindeer like to get off on amanitas as much as their Mongol owners do. No sane reindeer owner would consider whipping it out in front of one reindeer, much less ten, because the urine of the amanita user has the same potency as the mushroom.
Anyhow, this constellation of amanita clues could be laid to coincidence if it were not for the flying and the levitation, both symptoms of amanita eating in reindeers and humans.
It is also likely that Rudolph’s red nose comes from amanita consumption. And his ability to guide Santa’s sleigh through the densest fog in Christmas history is perhaps not from the actual illumination of his nose but from a sort of psychic radar. This same ability is perhaps what enables Santa to know when you are sleeping, to know when you’re awake, and to know when you’ve been bad or good.
And let’s not forget that you never see Santa without his cap.
As for living at the North Pole: Santa denies any connection with Hollow Earthers, Theosophists, the Nazi Party and UFOs. His only human contacts are a few neighboring Eskimo who trade in amanita and reindeer. Every once in a while they all get high and eat golden snow cones.