If you grew up like me in an Anglo-Saxon/American/Canadian morass of Santa Claus culture, you never asked yourself some fundamental questions, like, for example, why reindeer fly.
I knew as a child already that flying was pretty exceptional. Most reindeer just wander around eating lichen. And yet…
In 1823, Major Henry Livingstone Jr. shared his description of Christmas with us in ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”. We learn in this beautiful poem that Santa’s reindeer are quite tiny, his sleigh miniature, and himself “chubby and plump… a right jolly elf “.
I remember my first impression of Sami reindeer. They were only waist height, but noble in stature. These could easily be the Dasher and Dancer and Donder and Blitzen of the poem. But they didn’t fly.
Enter the Sami. It is a well-established fact that Sami noiades, or shamen, used the magic mushroom, fly agaric, to induce trances during which they had visions. Babi, in my novel Revontuli, eats dried mushrooms, and so does Marit, in oder to induce visions. There are other more extravagant stories, but they are unconfirmed. I chose not to include them in the novel, but what about in a Sami-inspired Christmas blog?
There are those that allege that the Sami followed reindeer that ate the fly agaric mushroom, and captured their urine, which they drank (sometimes fresh, sometimes boiled). The reindeer’s digestion process filtered the acids, which made them safe to drink. You could even drink the urine of an intoxicated Sami who had had the reindeer urine up to five times and achieve the same amazing effect. I’ve found several Sami experts that claim this to be pure fiction, and a few that claim first hand knowledge. Whatever the truth, it seems that these legends of vision of flying reindeer –coming from the mushroom high – led to our own stories of eight flying reindeer pulling an old man dressed in red and white (like the mushroom), and looking not unlike an old Sami man. Coincidence? Merry Christmas!