Some time ago Judith and I hosted a pilgrimage to Greece. One of the participants on that trip was an academic from the University of Chicago who had dedicated her life to researching the origins of Santa Claus. The origins apparently reach back thousands of years to Siberia, and such a notion is confirmed by recent scientific research. Really!(http://www.livescience.com/42077) I took copious notes on her study of our Santa’s origins, and I have created a story based on the original Siberian Santa. Instead of telling you the story myself, I am going to let the shamanic Santa speak for himself.
Hello, you can call me the shamanic santa for several reasons. The name “shaman” comes from the area where I grew up in the Siberian and Arctic regions. Our language is Tungusic Evenki. In the area where I lived several thousand of your years ago, we had housing with a fire in the middle of the house for drying food and clothes. The snow got so high in December that the entire house was covered with snow, and a principal opening was through a chimney like structure. We kept the regular door open, but, on special occasions, we used the fireplace.
In the landscape near our houses was a conifer forest. Under these trees grew a beautiful red and white mushroom, our holiest of holy plants, the amantia muscaria. Those of us who were called holy or wise people– shaman was our word– knew where to gather these plants. The red and white colors of the plants were very important to our Winter solstice celebrations. Let me tell you we shamans had quite a time dressing up in red suits made of red deer skin stained with ochre and spotting them with white to portray our relationship with the red and white holy plant.
Also very important to us as spirit animals were reindeer, common in Siberia. The reindeer are very special animals, and they sometimes eat the very mind-altering plants I mentioned a moment ago. When they do, they actually glow with a powerful light. As we approached the Festival of Light, Love, and laughter on the shortest day of the year, we created a loose halter to put around the muzzle of the reindeer. Then, we attached the red and white plants to the halter so that the reindeer actually took on a powerful glow. These deer were not tame, or mostly not tame. They were something of what you might call a hybrid. My spirit reindeer dwelled in a particular animal who had been with me for many moons.
As the longest night approached, we cut suckers from the conifer trees to make an altar to be placed near the fireplace, and we decorated the tree with the red and white plants. All of us painted small rocks with our requests to be sent to the upper world. It was our tradition to send these painted utterances with a shaman to the upper world. Our requests were not for “things” but for gifts of the soul, of our essence, of our deepest characters. In this way we taught our children our tribal values of first meeting spiritual needs since all comes from spirit. You know that, of course.
On the eve of the longest night, I climbed up through the opening of the house, a chimney-like structure to meet my reindeer. Hopping on his back and leaning forward away we went through the night. Our first stop was a sacred cave where we both lay down on a bear rug. Having ingested the sacred plant, our spirits left the manifest bodies and journeyed through the cave to an opening that lead to the upper world.
Once in the upper world, we presented our painted rocks to the ancestral circle, the wise people from generations that went before. They were glad to see us because they had planned to take care of the sacred web for seven generations and so they were counting on us to carry forward in advancing Earth’s consciousness. One-by-one they listened to our requests, and then they imparted an energetic charge to the rocks that carried not only information about our requests but also meaning. This notion is important because the ancestors see us humans as meaning-givers within the Sacred Web.
In response to the ancestors, our tribe carries the intention of creating new meaning for the next Sun cycle, a new map for the coming year. Finishing our ecstatic time in the eternal circle, our two spirits—human and reindeer—melded for the trip back through the cave and a return to our bodies lying on the bear rug. The bear clan protected our bodies while we were away.
Then, we journeyed with joy back to the house, slid down the chimney-like opening, and greeted our loved ones gathered around the tree altar. They, like us, had ceremonially ingested the plant for an opening our our consciousness to the larger waves of the Universe. For us it was completely necessary to be in an altered state to receive the gifts from above. We couldn’t connect with our usual survival patterns in place.
The circuit was completed with a joyous ceremonial meal, punctuated by light, love, and laughter. Much laughter. We were known as the laughing tribe. All through the meal we chanted, “Ho, Ho, Ho! Until finally our words became laughter.” Each time we shared gifts from above, we shouted,”Ho!” And everyone followed until house-by-house you could hear those sounds throughout the forest.
Whether this ceremony is anything like your practice I don’t know. I do share it with you so you will know the spiritual origins of this festival. My prayer for you is that you return to the joys of the forest and the journey to the upper world, even on the longest and darkest night.