A Trippy, Merry Christmas

Randall Stephens

What do mycology, psychotropic drugs, and psychedelic colors have to do with Santa and his eight tiny, wide-eyed reindeer? Maybe nothing, but then again . . .

Harvard--the same school that sponsored Timothy Leary's experiments with criminals and LSD, before said professor was thrown out on his ear--has a new Christmas tradition: "Students and faculty gather to hear the story of Santa Claus and the psychedelic mushrooms," reports NPR.

Donald Pfister, Harvard professor and curator of Harvard's Farlow Reference Library and Herbarium, tells NPR:

explained that back in 1967 an amateur scholar named R. Gordon Wasson published a book arguing that Amanita muscaria was used in ancient ceremonies by shamans in the Far East. Other scholars then chimed in, noting that in Siberia, both the shamans — and the reindeer — were known to eat these mushrooms. Man and beast alike hallucinated.

You can see the Christmas connections, Pfister said.

"This idea [is] that reindeer go berserk because they're eating Amanita muscaria," Pfister said. "Reindeers flying — are they flying, or are your senses telling you they're flying because you're hallucinating?"

Look at the Christmas decorations here, he said.

Scientists have found that reindeer deliberately forage for magic mushrooms in the snow. (They also eat fermented berries and get tipsy and aggressive. Whose been naughty?) And what gives Santa that jolly "Ho, Ho, Ho" and rosy color?

See also the response of critics of the theory, who say, no way! Too many other variables, in the view of doubters. (Reminds me of the great Dark Side of the Moon/Wizard of Oz debate, or, "Dark Side of the Rainbow.")

Turn off your mind, relax, and sing Jingle Bells!


Janine Giordano said…
To complement this trippy Christmas experience with an academic book on such trips and their ramifications for the history of American religion/ philosophy, see this year-old academic book on the subject.