This was first published on the now-retired polarcosmology.com website, a companion site for the book North: The Rise & Fall of the Polar Cosmos by Gyrus – an epic, animism-infused history of cosmology. Check out more information, or buy from Strange Attractor Press.
This is a guest post by Samuel Carter, an under-appreciated and little-published scholar of the esoteric. I met him in 2011, during my writing retreat in a cabin park on the banks of the Kemijoki near Rovaniemi, northern Finland. Samuel was there researching Lapland traditions. We discussed his graduate studies at a university in northeast Massachusetts, where he immersed himself in the magical theories of Giordano Bruno, myths of the pole star and the North Pole, and unorthodox histories of modern economics. (Regarding the university itself, he remained strangely silent.) We didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but his less outlandish ideas greatly influenced the course of my research for North. Samuel currently splits his time between Manhattan and Longyearbyen, Svalbard. He urged me to publish this piece on the history of Santa Claus. Needless to say, the views expressed here are entirely those of the author.
The history of Santa Claus, and the now-synonymous figure Father Christmas, is well-documented. Early English personifications of Christmas have him as a merry figure encouraging adults to drink and feast in celebration. During the Victorian era, however, this figure began to merge with the Dutch gift-giver, St. Nicholas, who had become Sinterklaas — in America, Santa Claus.
Some modern myths have emerged about the Santa mythos, stories about this story, which seem to persist despite attempts at debunking. Most curious for the student of the occult, perhaps, is the idea that this figure derives, in many important aspects, from motifs important in Siberian shamanism. Santa’s red and white garb are said to refer to the psychotropic Amanita muscaria mushroom, used by some shamans in northern climes. His famous reindeer refer to the reindeer herded by many indigenous Arctic pastoralists, from which creatures these people perhaps learned of the intoxicating qualities of this fungus. The habit of many yurt-dwelling Siberian shamans, during trance, to experience themselves rising along with the smoke from the central fire, up through the central roof-hole, is seen — reversed, literalised, and modernised — in the habit of Santa to climb down the chimney bearing his gifts.
Another myth about Santa is the idea that his modern image was fabricated by the Coca-Cola company, smuggling their distinctive brand colours into the fabric of this most important Western festival.
Both ideas — the ‘shamanic Santa’ and the ‘corporate Santa’ — have been roundly debunked.1 Each of the elements of the Santa myth seem to have been set in place well before knowledge of Siberian shamanism filtered through to America, and certainly well before the figure was co-opted as an ambassador for a soft drink.
However, my own research suggests a geneaology for Santa Claus that is at once much more complex, and far more sinister. The possibilities I have been led to after years of searching operate at the tenebrous intersections between spontaneous myth-making, power-hungry manipulations which excel at erasing their own footprints, and nefarious levels of power which operate well below the cautious horizons of orthodox scholarship.
The debunking of these beliefs of a shamanic or corporate Santa can indeed be sustained at the level of verifiable history. However, both images hint at monstrous truths which I am compelled to share — even as I struggle to grasp them and remain sane.
Power and the pole
My main point of departure is the assignment of Santa’s home to the North Pole. As a figure of winter, and one with many roots in northern European cultures, it is unremarkable that his home should be somewhere in the icy North. But why the North Pole?
Overtly, this idea seems to be rooted in the fancies of nineteenth-century American cartoonist Thomas Nast, whose depictions of Santa greatly influence our own image of him, and who referenced the North Pole as his dwelling in the late 1860s. The idea — drawing, as we shall see, on profound mythic resonances — spread quickly.
Many are the cultures — not least the Siberian pastoralists — who look to the North when the mythic frame of mind seizes them. For the most part, the Pole of interest is not the icy terrestrial Pole, but rather the lofty celestial Pole. For the Chuckchee shaman, the northern Pole Star is an orifice, through which one may travel to the highest heaven.2 For many peoples of the boreal forest and tundra, the Pole Star represents the summit of a pillar, the cosmic axis upon which everything depends.3 And across the harsh deserts of Arabia and old Mesopotamia – home of many ancient secrets — strange sects, existing in the interstices between the great religions, would take to the sandy wastes at night to read from cosmic texts beneath the Pole Star, which they face in supplication.4
But these concepts of shamanic voyaging in search of spiritual power, and religious devotion before the Almighty — both orientated toward the North Star — appear to be rooted in the most ancient traditions of kingship and central, autocratic rule. Exploration of the untamed dimensions opened up by unspeakable ecstasies are surely older than such worldly institutions. But it seems to be the more recent rise of emphatic hierarchies, revolving around a semi-divine ruler, which so forcefully stamped the spiritual cosmos with the axial image of top-down authority. The archaic supernatural power of the shaman was transmuted into and appropriated by the hypnotic power of the monarch — which in turn was projected into the sky in the civilised image of a reassuring, supposedly all-powerful singular deity.
In ancient China, the emperor was always associated with the stars around the north celestial Pole. As Tianzi, the ‘Son of Heaven’, he was the descendent of spirits who dwelt in this part of the sky. In Egypt, the pharaoh’s journey into the post-mortem world was in part guided by shafts in pyramid walls which aligned to ‘the imperishable stars’ — those stars which, in never setting beneath the horizon, ruled over all others. And in classic Maya culture, the king was the embodiment of Wakah-Chan, the ‘Raised-Up Sky’ which was located in the North, and which was also the cosmic axis. The Maya monarch’s feathered headdresses are taken to represent either Ursa Major or Cygnus, constellations in the northern sky, crowning the axis.
The days of such grandiose, overtly mythical wielding of power were numbered, however. The rise of modern secular democracies challenged the remnants of such socio-cosmic conceptions of the divine right of monarchs. Modern science shattered the old idea that cosmos pivots concentrically on a single almighty star, and thus undermined all appeals to such forms in society as ‘natural’. Capitalism brought with it a great dynamism, which loosened many old systems of inherited status.
But did overbearing top-down power simply — vanish? Are we really living through an ineluctable transition from rule over the many by the few, to rule by the people for the people?
Alongside the many concessions to democratic distribution of power, we can discern an ever-complexifying disguise of power’s machinations. While the brute force which underwrites most power is still very much in evidence, the hypnotic glamour through which a monarch’s subjects were convinced of the rightness of the monarch’s elevated position seems to have undergone quite a transformation. In secular democracies, real belief in the auric charms of elected leaders is — by virtue of their inherent instability — severely attenuated. And yet when indexed by that reliable barometer — wealth — social power today still forms a grossly pyramidal structure. We seem to have replaced belief in the divine right of kings with an apparently more pragmatic belief in the market’s distribution of wealth. A naive belief that the pyramid the market seems to have formed is natural — and has nothing to do with the old belief in the divinely-ordained power of the monarch.
Alongside this new belief in the market-constructed social pyramid, more subtle, diffuse methods of reining in the mass’s dissatisfactions have evolved. In terms of the potent framing of our experience of the world by cosmological forms, I believe many of the Pole Star’s associations with authority and dominance have found a new home on Earth, at the terrestrial poles which still bear the symbolism of remoteness and centrality. Certainly, the fact that the North Pole has become the home of Santa Claus has more to do with this sinister symbolic complex than with the cosy cover-image of a snow-bound workshop dedicated to the joy of children.5
In order to properly grasp the processes at work behind the scenes here, we must turn to an until-recently very neglected figure in the forging of the modern cosmos, the Renaissance magus and philosopher, Giordano Bruno.
The Manipulation of Eros
Bruno (1548-1600) was an accomplished magician, profoundly versed in working with astral demons. His bold conception of an infinite cosmos, wherein the stars are all suns like our own, perhaps encircled by alien worlds host to untold alien beings, presaged much later modern cosmological awareness. He was burned at the stake by the Inquisition for his heretical animist beliefs. But his most pernicious work seemed to go largely unnoticed — until its principles were apparently rediscovered centuries later.
The historian of religion Ioan P. Couliano, in his classic work Eros and Magic in the Renaissance, has highlighted the precocious importance of Bruno’s 1590 work De vinculis in genere (‘Of bonds in general’). It pertains to the psychological manipulation, by occult means, of both individuals and masses of people. While Couliano failed to find evidence of conscious use of this text’s explosive techniques in recent times,6 he accurately sees De vinculis in genere as a major precursor to the modern public relations, propaganda and advertising industries.
For Bruno, the bonds of Eros, love, which he sees as pervading every relation in the universe, are the means by which the manipulator may control people. This is no crass forcing of people’s wills.
On the contrary, Bruno’s magician is altogether aware that, to gain the following of the masses … it is necessary to take account of all the complexity of the subjects’ expectations, to create the total illusion of giving unicuique suum [‘to each his own’]. That is why Bruno’s manipulation demands perfect knowledge of the subject and his wishes, without which there can be no ‘bond,’ no vinculum.7 [emphasis added]
Now, one need only call to mind the tradition of teaching children to write, in great detail, their wishes in a letter to Santa Claus, and certain doors in our awareness begin to creak tentatively open, admitting creeping suspicions which — I can personally attest — prove frighteningly difficult to dismiss.
The Empire of avarice
The modern image of Santa, I contest, is but a single (though important) node in a tremendous network of influence and manipulation, the purpose of which is to enslave humanity to unbridled forces of unnatural consumption. Long after this supposedly harmless festive myth is dispelled, the growing child retains the deeply-implanted complex of suggestions, which work in harmony with all the other carefully implanted nodes in the network: obedience (‘being good’) is paramount, those at the top of the social pyramid (‘Santa’) are benevolent and would like us to expose our deepest wishes for them to fulfil, while at the same time these wishes are carefully conditioned to be dominated by excessive thing-fetishism (‘presents’).
My research has inexorably led me to the conclusion that while the appropriation of Santa by the Coca-Cola company certainly occurred well after the creation of Santa’s modern image, the importance of this corporate connection is in any case dwarfed by the sorcerous machinations that lurk behind his apparently innocuous nineteenth-century origins.
An important source for the modern Santa image was Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’. I believe the murkiness around the authorship of this poem — which was originally published anonymously — masks a major insertion into popular culture by an otherwise invisible cabal of industrial capitalists, versed in Bruno’s occult system.
It was during the nineteenth century that the old figure of Father Christmas — a relatively harmless encourager of festivities — was transformed, via Sinterklaas, and a series of careful cultural manipulations, into the Santa Claus we know. As we see in this image, hearty, rather pagan feasting was the order of the day for most Christmas celebrations before the advent of large-scale industrial manufacturing. As soon as the process of industrialisation took off, though, there was a need for greater emphasis on the purchase of things — and a more compliant social order to support this emphasis. Thus arose the Santa whose major preoccupation is keeping track of children’s behaviour and desires, and rewarding them with presents.
Of course, these gifts do not appear by magic from an elven workshop at the North Pole. The real magic afoot is in the image of this figure at the North Pole, powerfully influencing an annual orgy of spending which is — in its specific stimulus to retail sales, and in its general fostering of consumerist desire — hugely important to the modern capitalist project. Atavistic attitudes of compliance are evoked by this polar dwelling for Santa, evoking our millennia of subservience beneath polar emperors and pharaohs, fuelling our collective obedience to his programme of object-gluttony — the true architects of which remain cloaked in shadows.
There are many paranoid Christian takes on Santa Claus, which highlight ‘Santa’ as an anagram of ‘Satan’ (Satan’s Claws?), and the coincidence of St. Nicholas and ‘Old Nick’, the Devil. But for the most part, this dualistic monotheist angle is blinded by its own shallow mythology. The forces at work here go far beyond the narrow purview of ‘God’ and ‘Devil’.
As is unfortunately so often the case, the question here shifts from, ‘Is this paranoid?’ to ‘Is this paranoid enough?’
The Puritan decoy
In England in 1647, the Puritans — who were ruling the country in the wake of the Parliamentarian victory in the Civil War — banned outright the ‘popish’ and pagan celebration of Christmas, replacing it with a day of fasting. Rioting opposed this measure; but despite its eventual defeat, it set in motion a common objection to the condemnation of Christmas as an excess of materialism. To this day, those who baulk at the heavily commercial and consumerist aspects of Christmas are suspected of ‘puritanical’ motives — basically being against fun and pleasure.
The association between anti-consumerism and Puritanism is, I believe, a master stroke in the nefarious plot to bind the modern world to a programme of ever-increasing production and consumption. The healthy enjoyment of food, drink, and fellow beings, has been cunningly tethered to the entirely unnatural desire to accumulate trinkets, and wastefully replace said trinkets on an unnecessarily frequent basis.8 In this regard, I strongly suspect the Puritan movement, from its outset, as being infiltrated — perhaps literally, perhaps at a more occult level — by the diabolical industrial-capitalist conspiracy.
Sociologist Max Weber’s noted analysis, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, merely underlines this suspicion. Weber showed how the Protestant — especially Calvinist — lack of trust in the authority of the Church led to a desperate need for signs of one’s salvation. They began to find this through hard work — ‘the Protestant work ethic’. The accumulation of profit began, for these religious folk, as a kind of validation of one’s ‘calling’, one’s electness before God. Thus the stage was set for the self-justifying expansion of the industrial-capitalist world, inevitably mushrooming into apparently ‘materialist’ consumerism — but at its root conditioned by the puritanical imperative to work all hours God sends. To my eye, such a counter-intuitive transformation — unworldly spiritual fixations fuelling the fastest proliferation of worldliness ever seen — bears all the hallmarks of demonic sabotage.
In any case, the guilt-driven, paradoxically ascetic drive to work, expand, and work more, became wedded — beneath their apparent antithesis — to the shallowest forms of materialist indulgence. Attacks on what Christmas has come to represent are powerfully protected — thanks to the Puritan opposition to Christmas and all things ‘pagan’. No one these days wants to be accused of being a killjoy Puritan. And yet the actual fruits of Puritanism itself appear as a kind of neurotic form of paganism, far removed from the relatively uncomplicated pleasures of actual pagans. We are subject to materialist desires unhooked from their grounding in healthful bodily realities, desires grown ravenous, and attached to a rapacious, nature-engulfing hyper-industrialism.
It is no coincidence that the place of the modern Santa’s origin, and the focus for so much of the modern capitalist hegemony — the northeastern corner of the United States — was predominantly settled by Calvinist Puritans, these largely unconscious agents of an accursed network of power-mongers.
Veiled and nameless
So, is this it? The many manipulated for the benefit of the few? A subtle perpetuation of ancient pyramidal power?
My informal research among the very busy and successful psychoanalysts of Manhattan and the City of London suggests otherwise.
The multi-billionaires who seem to be the prime benefactors of our incessant, hypnotised consumerism are not, it seems, at all happy.9 Most are desperately, neurotically — in some cases, I have heard, psychotically — miserable. The sword of Damocles still hangs there, fostering a gnawing, incessant anxiety, which is made indefinably more intense by contrast with the luxuries that immediately surround the fantastically powerful. No, I do not believe that these cosseted, ultimately infantile people are ‘in control’ of the network of influence.
The fate of Couliano warns me that I must be cautious in what I reveal here. I can certainly repeat Giordano Bruno’s prescription for performing his calculated manipulations of great numbers of people. The manipulator is ‘supposed to exert total control over his own imagination’. For most people, however,
the realm of the imagination is settled by external causes. In this case, we must distinguish between phantasies caused by voluntary action (but of another kind) of the subject himself, and the phantasies whose origin lies elsewhere. The latter, in turn, can be cause by demons or induced by human will.10
The external human will in question here is, of course, that of the would-be manipulator. But in order to perform this action, and to not oneself become subject to manipulation, ‘every manipulator of phantasms [must] regulate and control his emotions and phantasies lest, believing himself to be their master, he nevertheless becomes dominated by them.’
It seems unremarkable to report that the anxiety-saturated plutocrats at the summit of the pyramid, who have been applying Bruno’s manipulations for so long in order to shore up their otherwise fragile positions, are very far from this ideal of ultra-disciplined direction of the imagination. And I believe that, from the beginnings of this nefarious industrial-capitalist cabal, this manipulative elite have been themselves the blind, fumbling subjects of manipulations from ‘elsewhere’.
Was this some unspeakable side-effect of Bruno’s bold excursions into the unplumbed astral realms? What gave him the idea that those tiny points of light in the night sky were actually other worlds? Was he transported there, through the attainment of some dimension-breaching trance? Did some loathsome alien force — sensing, on the other side of Bruno’s breach between worlds, a world ripe for feeding its hideous appetites — slip through? Then busy itself finding the power-hungry, its vassals through which it could manipulate humanity? Controlling the controllers is certainly the deftest tactic of control.
My research has pointed in this direction — at first with fright and disbelief, then with a mounting sense of conviction and paralysing dread, and now with an urgency borne of frank desperation. Between the lines of the books I read, between the time I turn off the light in the evening and the time I finally manage to sleep, a stygian narrative emerges: a conspiracy between an inhuman intelligence recently arrived from a distant world, and other, less coherent forces that have dwelt beneath the surface of this planet for far longer than we have walked upon it.
Fossilized remains of antediluvian organisms, long-buried, compressed by titanic geological pressures into intensely energy-rich materials. Accumulating amid these pressures and energies, amorphous and idiotic forms of being, suffused through the materials like inchoate minds emerging from equally inchoate bodies. They scream for release, for the chance to attain a more mobile, gaseous form, in order to wreak their senseless havoc…11
And then, just as the world begins to develop the technologies that might allow their mass release, an eldritch, malignant entity slips through a rupture in space-time carelessly left open by an adventurous magus. The real conspiracy begins. The manipulation of the would-be manipulators, who believe they are controlling the masses for their own benefit, but who are in fact ignorant puppets in a cosmic game far beyond their ken. Their greed becomes the weak link in the human chain, exposing us to incomprehensible powers whose casual delights appear to us as epoch-defining catastrophes.
I fear I have exposed too much of what I have learned; but I have done so only because of the much greater fear I harbour, of the inevitable consequences of revealing too little, and of allowing our world to become a chaotic playground for forces too titanic for us to comprehend. For too long, we have been acting as the pawns of their pawns, consuming blindly, and vaporising the mighty and insane fossil-fuel entities, releasing them into their destructive freedom in the atmosphere.
Santa Claus stands as but one talismanic image in the web of manipulations that implicate us in this terrible drama. And yet I believe, in his preying on the desires of young children, he is one of the most insidious.
I cling to the dream of the return of Father Christmas of old, enjoining us to enjoy food, drink, and each other. And yet both my nightmares and my waking fancies are plagued by the plastic jollity of Santa Claus, laughing maniacally as he presides over senseless shopping sprees, and the unleashing of demons for whom the abysses of deep space and the molten core of the planet are welcoming fields for their wretched diversions.