The Longest Night of the Year: Winter Solstice

Vinatage holiday cards amanita mushroom

The longest night of the year is upon us and I am ready for what comes after.

The days start getting longer. I am ready for the light. I am ready for it to get warmer, already. Although for me to complain as a California resident, it’s a little bit ridiculous. I am ready to get back to exercising in a tank top and feel the sun on my body. You never know though–that weather might happen next week.

The first time I stayed up all night and didn’t go to sleep was on Winter Solstice. I was in my twenties and living in Santa Cruz. It wasn’t at a party. I wasn’t getting drunk or dancing all night long at a rave. It was to keep a “Yule” log burning all night long to keep with true Winter Solstice traditions. I was with my partner at the time and our good friend who were committed practicing Pagans and we wanted to do it right. The idea is to keep the log burning all night as a prayer, so that the sun will come out again after the longest night of the year. We burned a log in our pseudo-working fireplace and talked long into the night. I think Jack played guitar. I remember being tired the next day and trying to sleep during the day which was weird. We went out for Chinese since we didn’t want to cook after that and because Chinese food cures all.

I’ve been telling people lately about another origin of Christmas. That one being of Amanita Muscaria mushroom. You know that little red mushroom with white spots that is poisonous? Christmas colors. It shows up on antique Christmas art and ornaments. Evidence is shaky but NPR reports that Harvard professors ponder the possibility that there is connection between Santa Claus and the Shamans of Siberia and that hallucinogenic mushroom could make reindeer fly. Or at least make it seem like they are flying. We do know that reindeer like to eat Amanita mushrooms.

One website states that Amanita was given by Shamans in Siberia to help people trying to get through the winter. The mushrooms were placed in stockings to dry by the fire since they needed to be dried before consumption. A dose would keep them warm and make it easier to get through the cold night. It is also believed that Shamans would drink the piss of reindeer for a smoother trip on Amanita without side affects such as vomiting.

Every time this week when I feel the humdrum of what Christmas has turned into (commercialism, family obligations, religious wars) I am going to think about Amanita Muscaria and people making it through the winter.

What each of these scenarios bring up for me is taking us out of our normal ways of thinking about things to connect with something greater. I wouldn’t mind seeing some flying reindeer this week. I wouldn’t mind seeing with absolute clearness a drip of moisture off a pine/redwood/coastal oak tree or the brightness of the sun rising on 12/23/2015. Whatever we can do to rekindle our magic, our love for the earth, to break down boundaries that we have within ourselves and with others for a better world and for one that is more alive, more in touch with our senses and with the planet.

More about Amanita and the origins of Christmas here.

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