When Santa was a Woman and Rebirth of the Sun -- Spirits of the Winter Solstice - from MarcieTelander
Far to the North, even farther than our home in this Rocky Mtn. valley, all the way to the land of the Shining “Fair Ones” from Celtic tradition, the Thuaha de Danan or earliest of Faeries who are said to sail to the Northern Pole, the most ancient versions of Santa Claus prepare for their shamanic journeys.
Between 30 and 55 thousand years ago when humans walked out of Africa to spread throughout Europe and northern Asia they carried the kernel of these shamanic Solstice figures into the cold and icy realms. The sun’s business was the most important business of our primordial ancestors' consciousness. For most cultures the world over, the sun in the sky was seen as the Sacred Masculine, and the Earth, of course, as the symbol of the Great Feminine. In those wintry times and climes the ancients did not know if the sun, who was seen to begin his travels to his southern home on the longest day, the Summer Solstice, would ever decide to return to the North. They called on all the forms of healing mystery, ceremony and sympathetic fire magic to remind the sun—“Do not abandon us! Please return to your people!”
In order for ice to melt, rivers to flow, grass to green, animals and humans to give birth the sun needed to bring the time of Leaf-Spring-Forth back to the world of darkness and winter. The re-birth on December 21st of the Sun as the Divine Masculine--many versions of which are celebrated at this time of year by over 20 major spiritual traditions--is a shared rite-of-passage whose origins have woven inextricably together over millennia. The perennial icon of the Winter Solstice and Holiday season is this Sacred Shining Child whose birth and inauguration of the returning Light offers hope, communal fellowship and a spiritual journey toward love and wholeness.
In the contemporary U.S The other enduring Spirit of the Season is called “Santa Claus.” This friendly, flying, fur-bearing fellow is a long, long way from his origins in the lands along the northern rim of the world. In fact, he quite probably began as a “she.” All known cultures recognized the Earth as the Great Mother of Life, and human women as the representatives of this all-creating force. Before the major Aryan invasions overtook these “Matri-focal” or Mother-oriented tribes and cultures, women were seen as the sole creators of human life. For thousands of years it was not understood that semen was necessary to fertilize the fruit of the womb. All that could be identified is that life flowed directly from a woman’s body—not man’s. Women were therefore, undoubtedly honored as powerful shamans, partners of the Sun and daughters of the Earth. The creative dynamic of the Great Feminine would be very important in drawing the sun back to the northlands and/or rebirthing this Son of the Sun and Mother Earth each year. Traditions and legends of ancient Scandinavia often refer to Mother Sun--because She was the ultimate Light and herald of rebirth.
Ancient Siberians, Early Scandinavians (Sami) and indigenous Natives of Alaska were peoples who lived nomadic lives on the broad over-arching tundra and icy lands along the upper regions of the Earth. For thousands of years, their partners in hunter-gatherer, and eventually, symbiotic existences were the horned ones who grazed this same frozen land—the mastodon, muskox and forebears of the reindeer and caribou. Some of the ancients, such as the Sami people, expanded their collaboration with the peaceful, shy reindeer and still continue to live as herders of the vast open tundra. Their lives are merged and intimately interconnected, as those of the Inuit, Athabascan and other Canadian and Alaskan hunters with the herds of caribou they follow. Human lives, work and shamanic healing practices are completely intertwined with these antlered cohabitants.
Everything they eat, wear, utilize as tools, create as shelter, design as art has come from Reindeer. Reindeer is not prey, or livestock, Reindeer is Life.
Woman was also seen as the ultimate expression of Life. It was she who taught how to help birth the reindeer young, gather herbs and berries to feed in order to bring the milk, followed the estrus and gestation cycles of the reindeer cows and learned to fashion warm and nearly indestructible clothing from reindeer hide, bone and sinew. Reindeer, like the creative Feminine, were considered most sacred. Artifacts and funerary practices identified from thousands of years ago from Sami and Siberian burial sites indicate that some of the most important spiritual guides were women.
indigenous cures. These healing women created rituals and oversaw all phases of life, from birthing, to menses, to elder years and dying. They were the midwives to earthly and spiritual deaths and rebirths for both 2-leggeds and the 4-legged, antlered relatives.
Women were considered shamanic, not only because of their magical life-giving abilities but also because of their unique communication and relationship with reindeer. These were seen as the magical “familiars” and guides to the mysteries of healing. Throughout the world, cave drawings, petroglyphs and pictographs show the Antlered Ones as embodying a kind of “antennae to the Sky-Heavens” and the Upper World of the gods and goddesses. Through these antennae, reaching from their temples forward and upward, it was believed that the horned-ones could literally “receive knowledge from the gods.”
Many cave paintings and carvings in Scandinavia, Europe and North America--some not far from my home in Colorado--depict 2-legged creatures bearing antlered halos sprouting from their seemingly human heads. They are often surrounded by unique patterns, hand-prints and striations radiating from the antlers. These are believed to symbolize the Medicine People and Shamans of the tribe who entered ecstatic (outside-of-ordinary reality) states through the ingestion of entheogens (psychedelic plants meant to be used in a sacred manner) and thus, were able to “communicate with the Spirits and Greater-than-human-Beings..” These depictions strongly indicate that the pan-Arctic, European and possibly North American shamanic rituals contained a sacred Triad:: a triumvirate of shamanic practitioner, a 4-legged, and plant medicine guides.
It is very probable that the reindeer, who are known to seek and ingest entheogens, notably the Amanita muscaria mushroom, were the hooved teachers of the women, and men, who followed in their trods. The women in particular would have paid close attention to what the reindeer chose in the form of roots, berries, lichen, moss and other plants to heal various ailments and to improve gestation and birthing processes.
Both male and female shamans of the Northern tundra followed the heartbeat of the most sacred instrument—the drum. The beats of the drum replicating and echoing both the sound of the mammal heart and also, the hoof-beats of the reindeer. The human shamans were said to "ride the drum" like a sacred steed, asking the drum to “carry” them to the Upper Worlds of inspiration and the lower or Underworld where the Ancestors were said to dwell.
Because the drum has been seen throughout time as a symbol for the Earth, the roundness of all life, the symbol of the Womb—many tribal cultures still call their ceremonial drums “She,” while women are the first creators and still the safe-keepers of this sacred instrument. Even today, Sami and other Northland’s shamans are said to “ride the drum as a flying Reindeer” to other worlds seeking guidance for banishing illness and beckoning cures and well-being for the members of their tribes. These ecstatic shamanic flights may well have been fueled by various vision-stimulating herbs and roots and most probably, psychedelic mushrooms traditionally collected by the women and used in a ritualized and sacred manner.
On that very important alchemical and transitional time, the celebration and recognition of the Winter Solstice, the ritual of shamanic "gifts" which may have been offered by the traveling Reindeer shamans, were likely not physical gifts as much as offerings of guidance, best practices and physical and psychic healing rituals. They may have been part of a tribal solstice divining ceremony which took place in the Lavu's or conical reindeer-skin tents which the migratory Sami still use as they follow the reindeer.
This divining or "Seeing for the People" with the deeply-interconnected world of other species and life-forms is identified in the mythological Sagas of the heroes and gods of the Poetic Edda, an anonymous compilation of mostly oral tellings of Old Norse poems from @8th to the 13th C. The lineage of Norse and indigenous Sami Divining, undertaken in induced altered states was meant to receive guidance from other realms. These traditions, which include the very woman-identified native spirit and sacred arts in the
Sami-Norse Seer tradition, may have included the oracular traditions of latter-day Volvas, These were the Spa-Kona- women who traveled to bring healing medicine rituals of Seidr, Spae, Galdr and Runic oracles to Scandinavian and Icelandic rural communities. These oracular and healing traditions were interrupted by fierce Christian inquisitions, conversions and oppression, religious persecution and mass theft of migrational lands which included forced evacuation from the tundra and forest reindeer "migration roads". And these mainly feminine forms of spirited and spiritual advice may have been the very first forms of what we now term: inter-species communication, trans-species healing and eco-psychology.
In parts of Siberia and much of Sapmi or Sami-land (formerly known as Lapland,) the ancient traditional clothing worn by Medicine Women Healers is often red, green and white with fur lining and trim. The red peaked, white-spotted, felted hats (representations of the Amanita muscaria, and thus the shaman's symbolic regalia) and curled-toe boots and warm mittens of reindeer-hide complete, what I believe to be, the feminine origins of perhaps the first of a very long line of Santa Claus replications. Their ancient lineage of connection with the induction of spiritual journeys through the drum, their relationship of healing with “Reindeer-Magic” and their ability to create potions and salves which could incite ecstatic visions or “Shamanic Journeys,” give us a deeper look at the Solstice and contemporary Christmas symbol. These priestesses-of-the-antlered-ones who flew through the night to gather blessings and healing and then distributed these gifts to their tribe members must surely be considered as proto-typical Fore-Mothers of Santa.
For centuries the only form of transportation for the Northern folk were reindeer-drawn travois and eventually, sleighs. And if all this weren’t enough—according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, while both male and female reindeer grow antlers in the summer each year, male reindeer shed their antlers at the beginning of winter, usually in late November to mid-December. Female reindeer retain their antlers through gestation, until they give birth in the spring. Therefore, according to every cultural rendition of Santa’s reindeer, including Rudolph to Blixen--every single one of them--had to be Female!
So—as the wise woman says: “Even if you don’t believe in a Female Santa Claus— let's recognize that…ONLY females would be able to drag a fat man in a red velvet suit all around the world, in one night, and not get lost!”
Have a Blessed Solstice, Joyous Christ-Mass, Peace-filled Chanukah, Creative Kwanza. And from my Swedish-Sami forebears I wish you…
God Jul och
God Natt till alla… AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT!