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Morgan, Adrian
Father Christmas flies on toadstools
New Scientist, 25-Dec-1986/1-JAN-1987 Vol 112 pg 45
The first travellers in Siberia were shocked by a custom of many of the tribes. The urine of those intoxicated by fly agaric toadstools was collected in bowls or skin bags, to be drunk later. The poorer classes, who could not devote time to gathering the mushroom, drank the urine of the better-off for a little light relief. Reindeer, which live off lichens in winter, also have a taste for the fly agaric. When Georg Steller, and explorer, visited Kamchatka in 1739 he noted that reindeer were sometimes intoxicated. And the Koryak people, not wanting to miss out on the fun, tie up the animals until their condition subsides. Then they kill them. All who eat the flesh become intoxicated. Johnathan Ott, an American author, suggested in 1976 that use of the fly agaric in the midwinter festivals of deepest Siberia may have inspired some of the imagery of Santa Claus. The winter dwelling, or yurt, had a smokehole in the roof, supported by a birch pole. At the midwinter festivals, the shaman would enter the yurt through the smokehole, perform his ceremonies and ascend the birch pole and leave. Santa Claus is roben in red and white, the colours of the fly agaric. He enters through the chimney, and he has reindeer. Santa Claus also flies, an accomplishment that he shares with a shaman. In central Europe fly agaric is linked with chimney sweeps, who have adopted it as their emblem, perhaps echoing the Siberian ritual. The fly agaric has appeared on Christmas cards in central Europe for a long time. In Kocevje, in southern Yugoslavia, people believe that on Christmas night, Wotan, the king of the gods, rides through the woods on a white horse, pursued by devils. The red-and-white flecks of foam from the horse's mouth fall to the ground and grow into next year's crop of fly agaric.


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