By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
A TYPE OF WILDMAN, THE SNÄMANNEN (snowman) purportedly inhabits northern Scandinavia in Lapland, including the Arctic regions of Norway, Sweden and Finland as well as Russian Lapland (the Kola Peninsula) and Siberia. The Lapp Snowman is not to be confused with the Christmas character Frosty the Snowman, a huge snowball with coal (soot) for eyes and mouth, a carrot for a nose, holding a broom like a chimney sweep. The Snömannen is described as a dark, ape-like creature covered in thick, dirty, stinky hair — more like the abominable snowman. His face is broad with prominent brow ridges, nose pressed flat, and a mouth that juts out from a huge jaw. His arms are larger than a man's, and his feet are enormous, with hairless soles. In mountainous regions, the Snömannen's coat turns silver or snow-white in winter. Snömannen's favorite food is cranberries.
CHRISTMAS IS A FESTIVE HOLIDAY in Sàpmi, the Saami homeland. The Saami await a Yuletide visit from a giant, horned and hairy wildman named Stallo. In Lappish, stallo means "metal man." Sometimes Stallo is dressed in stylish, all-black clothes like an MIB (man in black) or in a metallic suit (as conspiracy theorists conjecture, a robot or ancient astronaut in a space suit). Most likely the metal suit was the chain-mail armor of the berserker Vikings. The amoral Stallo delights in macabre acts of genital mutilation of his innocent victims. (Stallo pokes his staff up the skirts of young girls.) On Christmas Eve, Stallo rides around in his sleigh looking for something to drink. Traditionally, the Saami drive a stake into the ground near a fresh-water supply so Stallo can tie up his sled while having a refreshing gulp of water. If Stallo cannot find anything to drink, he will bash in a child's skull, sucking out the brains and blood to satiate his thirst. The most dangerous night for Lapp children is Christmas Eve, when Stallo lurks about looking for naughty victims to cram into his sack.
IN SWEDEN, SANTA (JULTOMTEN) lives in Tomteland, also known as Santa World. Three hundred sixty million years ago, a gigantic meteor struck central Sweden with the impact of a thousand atomic detonations, blasting out a crater that eventually filled with water, becoming Lake Siljan. The high mountains around the lake are actually sides of the crater, and here at the base of Mount Gesunda, Swedish Santa built his workshop. Jultomten is akin to the King of the Foresttype wildman: stout, bearded, dressed in furs. He cares for animals and has shamanistic powers over the elements. According to legend, Jultomten lived deep in the forest long before he showed himself to humans. It is said that Santa used to roam around the Swedes' farms during the night. He would creepy-crawl into children's rooms, touching them to bestow prophetic dreams. To this day, on Christmas Eve Swedes still leave porridge, milk or tobacco to appease the mischievous little elf, similar to Americans leaving milk and cookies for Santa.
AT FIRST I WAS PUZZLED BY THE LINE in Clement Moore's poem concerning the miniature sleigh and tiny reindeer. Then, as I was researching the Saami shaman drum, it became crystal clear. The shaman beats his drum until he reaches the specific rhythm and tone that sends him into a trancelike state of ecstasy. In this altered state called gievvot, his soul travels to the spirit world to converse with the dead. But first, the drum must be granted "life" by means of a particular ritual, and possessed by a guardian spirit — most commonly a reindeer. The shaman, with the help of his reindeer guide (or basseváresarves), can take his spiritual journey. On the drum skin are painted (in alder bark mixed with spit) various blood-red symbols that help guide the shaman on his "reindeer vision" across the cosmic road (the Milky Way) to Jábmeájmoo, the Land of the Dead.
One symbol is a miniature sleigh pulled by a tiny reindeer. This image is used by the shaman to "ride into the sky," calling to mind Santa's Christmas Eve flight. On the other hand, Siberian shamans feed psychedelic mushrooms (Amanita muscaria) to their reindeer. The animals' metabolism removes the toxins from the mushrooms but leaves the hallucinogenic properties intact in the urine. The shamans then drink the reindeer pee to "fly high." In the American drug subculture, the slang term "sleigh riding" refers to a drugged-out state, while "reindeer dust" is another word for cocaine.
HOW DID SANTA GET THE POWER TO fly like the wind? In A Visit From Saint Nicholas, the saint's aerial acrobatics are described thus: "He sprang to his sleigh, to the team gave a whistle,/And away they all flew like the down from a thistle." In Lapland, the Saami shaman (called the Magi of the North) is believed to have the power to raise the wind and storms. In olden times, Lapp sorcerers sold "wind knots" to sailors in the form of three knots tied in a handkerchief. As the knots are untied, the winds would increase. Sailors beware — the loosening of the third knot can cause a maelstrom.
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