Shamans and Santa. Shaman’s cousin Santa, brings the Gift of Renewal!
During the Holiday Season, one just might hear a Christmas Carol, or 2. I liken this to chanting. It is a sacred way to reach out to Spirit and an avenue for Spirit to reach back. Practiced by many around the world, seeking greater health well-being, enlightenment, and a connection to the divine. The vibrations unite the mind, body, emotions, and breath. Imagine how you would feel if you incorporated chanting to open and nurture your creativity, lower stress levels, and give you room to grow in Awake Awareness.
Some people are naturally drawn to chant while others feel awkward using their voices in such a way. Singing along with recorded chants before chanting on your own can help dispel any nervousness. However, the chanting that will resonate most deeply and beneficially for you is the chanting you do for yourself. There are many different chants. They can be composed of names, words, sounds, syllables, or even sections of text. What you chant is less important than your willingness to focus fully on the act of chanting itself.
Chanting lets you raise the level of your own vibration to a higher spiritual state. You can chant as an invocation or set an intention. Reciting even the simplest chant can bolster a flagging spirit, hone the mind, and produce natural painkillers within the brain. While chanting, you may feel energy surging through your physical body or joy entering your heart. Chanting can liberate and ground you simultaneously because it allows your soul to soar freely while compelling you to focus on the here and now.
But, what does this at all have to do with Shamans and Santa’s? In fact, the Santa story takes us back to the beginning of recorded history, when some other characters climbed up trees of a different kind and returned with gifts for everyone. These were not toys or perfume or watches, but messages concerning the year to come, the turning of the seasons, or the fate of the world. These people were shamans, who performed the functions of priest, historian, record keeper, scientist & magician
Shamanism and animism appear to be prevalent on many continents and practiced by many of our present-day and past Ancestors. However, today, this Canadian Sami is going to chat about those chilly circumpolar areas – that interests us, you and I dear reader, most in this context. I have seen images and read accounts of shamans who often wore bells, much heavier and more abundant than I wear, on their ritual regalia. There are those who shimmied up the central pole of their skin tents, or the tallest spruce in the forest, and who returned with the gifts of prophecy and wonder from the Otherworlds. It is to these people that we have to look for the first appearance of the figure who, thousands of years later, evolved into the jolly old man of Christmas himself, Santa Claus.
If we look for a moment at some of those similarities we can catch a glimpse of the evolution of one into the other. If we dip our hands into Santa’s sack–so like the magical pouches I wear in my journeys, the first thing we find are the bells that jingle on the harness of the eight magical reindeer. Contemporary accounts of northern shamans, including those of the Altaic and Buryat regions of Siberia, Finland, and Saami grounds, again and again, emphasize the importance of bells in their traditional regalia. These form a double function; as noise-makers to announce the presence of the shaman as they enter the spirit world, and to frighten off any unfriendly spirits who might be lying in wait.
Shamans possessed the gift of fire, which initially perhaps they alone had the power to kindle (the number of flint fire-lighters found among shaman’s bundles alone suggests this) and which was a gift they brought to the community they served. It was believed that these gifts were entrusted to them for the people by the gods and spirits of the land. Here, the symbolism of red fire in the white desert of winter is a vital image. Is it stretching the point too far to see an echo of this in the red and white costume and white beard of a certain other figure?
Dipping into the sack again we find reindeer with bells on their harnesses, who can fly through the sky and cover the vast distances in no time at all. This is yet another echo of the shaman’s journey into and through the heavens. It may also be mention of the reindeer herders’ trick to use Amanita urine, as a herding tool. Amanita muscaria is a hallucinogenic mushroom that reindeer can be quite fond of.
Reaching into the sack again we find a red robe or cloak, trimmed with white. On one level, red signifies the sacred blood that links all human beings and that is also perceived as a link between humans and animals, and between the shaman and the earth. It is also, of course, a symbol of fire, that most powerful of magical weapons, as well as the gift of warmth and life to all, especially significant in such cold lands as those we are considering here.
So Santa is an old man dressed in red who comes out of the dark forest of the North on a sleigh pulled by reindeer…the shaman climbing down through the smoke hole of a skin tent with bells jingling, bearing in his hands a red-painted wooden reindeer.
Winter Solstice in northern climes is often a time of world renewal and the New Year. Theodor H. Gaster’s New Year: Its History, Customs, and Superstitions (https://www.abebooks.com/book-search/title/new-year-its-history-customs-superstitions/ ) outlines the rites of nearly all ancient New Year and world renewal ceremonies as following the same four steps: mortification, purgation, invigoration, and jubilation.
In mortification, whose root-word “mort” means death, it is easy to see death symbolized in how the life of the people and the land slowed down. Often during this time, no business was transacted. The king was either ritually or actually slain, depending on the custom. Sometimes this involved mock combat between Life and Death, or Old Year and New Year. His death paid for the evil of the past year.
Next, the community purged itself of all evil influences through fires, the ringing of bells, and cleansing with water. Life was then invigorated with positive steps that symbolized renewal. The people and the land were made fertile and productive again by a deliberate release of sexual energy. Then, in jubilant celebration, feasts and other merriment were enjoyed. Life had prevailed. Nature and the community would continue for another year.
Drawing on this outline and the superabundance of Solstice ideas and examples, today’s animist can create a personal tradition. To gain a deeper connection between you and the cycle of Solstice, try adding something new. Visit a sacred site, or spend time with the land where you live. Visit a place where you can observe wild animals. Where possible, plant a tree, or some green plants indoors. Watch the sunrise and the sunset on Solstice Day, and feel a connection with your ancestors.