Teleporting and psychedelic mushrooms: a historical past of St Nicholas, Santa, and his helper

There are lots of sides to the beloved determine of Santa Claus – an enormous of popular culture, he additionally has “miraculous” powers and ties to the celebration of the beginning of Jesus. Santa’s mix of faith and in style tradition is, nevertheless, not fashionable in any respect. A number of of Santa’s fashionable options, equivalent to his generosity, miracle-working, and give attention to morality (being “naughty or good”), have been a part of his picture from the very starting. Others, just like the reindeer, got here later. 

The unique Santa, Saint Nicholas, was a fourth century CE bishop of Myra (in fashionable Turkey) with a fame for generosity and wonder-working. St Nicholas grew to become an essential determine in eighth century Byzantium earlier than hitting pan-European stardom across the eleventh century. 

He grew to become a spotlight not only for spiritual devotion, however Medieval dramas and in style festivals – some in style sufficient to be suppressed in the course of the Reformation.

The naughty listing

St Nicholas had his personal model of the naughty listing, together with the fourth century “arch-heretic” Arius, whose views irritated the saint a lot he supposedly smacked Arius within the face in entrance of Emperor Constantine and assembled bishops at Nicaea.

An much more shocking listee is the Greek goddess of the hunt, Artemis. In in style Byzantine tales, Nicholas acted like a one-man wrecking crew, personally flattening her temples, and even demolishing the nice temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of many Seven Wonders of the World. It’s virtually a disgrace, as they most likely would have agreed in regards to the significance of reindeer.

The thought of St Nicholas’ battle with Artemis most likely pertains to spiritual change in Anatolia, the place the goddess was massively in style. Traditionally, the temple was sacked earlier, by a band of Gothic raiders within the 260s CE, however hagiographers had different concepts. Maybe these livid northmen even depend as Santa’s earliest “helpers”. He was in any case (as a part of his intensive saintly portfolio) the patron of the Varangians, the Viking bodyguard of the Byzantine Emperors. 

Quick travelling

Santa’s best miracle is intrinsic to fashionable Christmases: his means to succeed in all the kids on Earth in a single evening. NORAD, the US and Canadian air defence power, has tracked Santa’s sleigh for the reason that Nineteen Fifties, presumably making an attempt to determine the key of his tremendous pace. However actually, they only have to test their historical sources. 

St Nicholas had a historical past of teleporting about on his personal — usually displaying up within the nick of time when folks ask for his assist. Because the patron saint of sailors, he usually did this out at sea. 

In a single story, sailors in a wild storm within the japanese Mediterranean cried out for the already-famous wonderworker’s assist. With the mast cracking and sails coming free, a white-bearded man all of the sudden appeared and helped them haul the ropes, regular the tiller, and introduced them secure to shore. Speeding up the hill to the native church to offer thanks, the sailors have been astonished to see Nicholas was already there, in the midst of saying mass.

Saint Nicholas saves a ship. Circa 1425. Wikimedia

Out of the blue showing to save lots of folks grew to become a favorite trick in accounts of the saint’s life and in folklore. He as soon as saved three innocents from execution, teleporting behind the executioner and grabbing his sword, earlier than upbraiding the judges for taking bribes. 

There’s additionally the story of Adeodatus, a younger boy kidnapped by raiders and made the cupbearer of an japanese potentate. Quickly after, St Nicholas appeared out of nowhere, grabbed the cupbearer in entrance of his startled grasp, and zipped him again residence. 

Artists depicting this story stage the rescue otherwise, however the Italian artists who’ve St Nicholas swoop in from the sky, in full episcopal regalia, and seize the boy by the hair are price particular point out.

The flying reindeer

Not one of the outdated tales have Saint Nicholas carrying round stacks of items when teleporting, which brings us to the reindeer, who can pull the sleigh stuffed with tens of millions of presents. The favored hyperlink between Santa Claus and gifting got here by way of the affect of shops promoting their Christmas purchasing within the early nineteenth century. This promoting drew on the outdated elf’s rising recognition, with the usage of “reside” Santa visits in shops for youngsters from the late 1800s. 

Santa Claus grew to become related to reindeer largely by way of the affect of the 1823 nameless poemA go to from St Nicholas.. On this poem, “Saint Nicholas” arrives with eight tiny reindeer pulling a sleigh stuffed with toys. The reindeer have the miraculous means to fly.

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The origins of the animals’ flight could hyperlink again to the Saami reindeer herders of northern Scandinavia. Right here, the herders have been stated to feed their reindeer a sort of red-and-white mushroom with psychedelic properties, often called fly agaric fungi (Amanita muscaria). The mushrooms made the reindeer leap about, giving the impression of flying.

The fly agaric, a mushroom which produces toxins that may trigger people to hallucinate. (Flickr/BjörnCC BY-SA)

The herders would then gather and devour the reindeer’s urine, with its toxins made secure by the reindeer’s metabolism. The reindeer herders might then presumably think about the miraculous flight by way of the psychedelic properties of the mushroom.

The ninth reindeer, Rudolph, was created as a part of a promotional marketing campaign for the division retailer Montgomery Ward by Robert Lewis Could in 1939. Could himself was a small, frail youngster, who empathised with underdogs. In Could’s story, Rudolph Shines Once more (1954), the little reindeer is helped by an angel to avoid wasting misplaced child rabbits, as soon as once more mixing Santa’s spiritual and in style sides.

And … invisible polar bears

A lot of fashionable depictions have related Santa with polar bears, such because the 1994 movie The Santa Clause. It appears possible the affiliation grew as Santa’s residence grew to become accepted because the North Pole — although in one of many oldest tales, St Nicholas saves three Roman troopers, one in all whom is called Ursus (“Bear” in Latin). 

Polar bears are undoubtedly helpful companions for secretive Santa, and don’t even want his powers to maneuver about unseen – the particular properties of their fur imply they’re hidden even from night-vision goggles.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Letters From Father Christmas (1976), written by the Lord of the Rings’ creator to his youngsters, options the (mis)adventures of the North Polar Bear. Like St. Nick, the North Polar Bear isn’t shy about getting bodily with these he perceives as wrong-doers. In a single letter, the North Polar Bear saves Santa, his elves, and Christmas from a murderous group of goblins. 

So with Santa Claus as soon as once more coming to city, keep in mind — historical or fashionable – it’s higher to be on the “good” facet of this teleporting saint and his motley crew of miracle-workers.

This text is republished from The Dialog beneath a Artistic Commons license. Learn the unique article.

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