Fly Agaric and the Red Nose Reindeer
Fly Agaric or Amanita Muscaria is an easily recognisable red toadstool with white spots. The active ingredients are hallucinogenic and this is why it is often found in stories and picture books accompanied by fairies. Indeed one of the effects of Amanita consumption is the sensation of flying. Amanita heightens the senses, induces a trance like state and this can lead to spiritual experiences. The name Fly Agaric bares no relation to the flying experience under its influence but to the fact that Amanita Muscaria is a good insect repellent and was often sprinkled in milk to keep away flies.
As it happens, Fly Agaric is a favourite food of Reindeer who will seek the toadstools in places such as Siberia out even under deep snow. Some associations have been made between tripping Reindeer and the legend of Santa Clause. It would certainly explain flying reindeer with names such as Prancer, Dancer, Cupid and Comet!
‘…And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound…’
Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863)
Some sources describe Shaman gathering Fly Agaric in red coats with white fur and black boots. Apparently these spiritual people lived in tents known as Yurts and these had a smoke hole in the roof down which the Shaman would descend on a poll. Once safely on the ground they would hand out Fly Agaric to the guests inside. Doesn’t this compare rather well to Santa visiting with toys?
Another symptom of Fly Agaric consumption is a glowing complexion and red nose. Add to this a drug induced ‘ho ho ho’. Remind you of anyone?
Historian Ronald Hutton of the University of Bristol argues against these claims, denying that there is any evidence for the Shaman connection.
Reindeer urine containing Amanita was consumed by the Siberian peoples. The active ingredient in Amanita is not metabolised by the body and thus remains in the urine. Some say this is the origin of the term ‘getting pissed.’ Reindeer excreted Fly Agaric was much safer than the raw product because one could experience the hallucinations without the negative elements such as nausea, loss of balance and sweating etc.
Not only that, reindeer would drink human urine especially if it contained Magic Mushroom. As a result herdsmen would carry their urine in oil skins to keep the herd together.