Free State Forager

Photos by Chad Edwards, MCE Photography. 

If there’s ever a Zombie Apocalypse, you’re going to want to follow Joseph Hosey. But you better get in line behind the roughly 150 to 200 people who have already alerted him they are coming to him. In his own words, “I’m going to have to hide from all the non-zombies, so you better be quick, because I’m not waiting. I’m going to be disappearing.” 

But in all seriousness, if you’re going to be lost in the woods, he’s truly the man to have by your side. You could probably stay there for the rest of your days and not starve, and would more than likely thrive.

Hosey is a timber cruiser in the Pine Belt and spends the majority of his time in the woods. But that’s not a bad thing. He’s also the man behind Free State Forager, a name given to him by his fellow “extras” during the filming of The Free State of Jones in Laurel and surrounding.

 

Jones County Settlers

Hosey was born and raised in Jones County and from what he understands, his family was the first to settle Jones County in 1807. 

“We’ve been there a long time,” he said.

Growing up in a Pentecostal home where there was no television, Hosey spent a lot of time outside, a lot more than most kids his age, and that’s when he really started foraging – eating blackberries, plums and all the obvious fruits he found.

“Through the years, all my interests and hobbies have always been outside,” he said, “whether it was fishing or reptiles.”
Hosey said he had a fascination with reptiles all through his teen years, much to his mother’s chagrin. “My bedroom looked like a zoo for a few years,” Hosey said of the snakes, lizards and other creepy crawlies he kept in large aquariums. 

But it was this love of reptiles – that’s really what got Hosey into the mindset of studying what was around him. “I’m still fascinated by them even though I don’t keep any as pets anymore.

It was when Hosey started a family that he became concerned about the foods they were eating. He started growing a garden about the same time he went into forestry at Jones County Junior College. Through the forestry program, he started learning a lot about plants and trees which dovetailed into his gardening and quest for food.

“I started realizing a lot of stuff coming up in my garden I was trying to get rid of was more nutritious than what I was trying to grow to begin with,” he said. “The garden got smaller and I spent more and more time bringing food out of the woods. That’s how the whole foraging thing got started – a quest for better food.”

Hosey has been working in forestry for the last seven years. As a timber cruiser for a private forestry consultant that manages and facilitates the sale of land and timber. Hosey’s role is to go out and locate the property lines, flag those and do inventory of standing timber.

“Basically I look at trees in great detail all day long,” he said. “A huge part of what I do and am able to do, is the fact that I’m in the woods everyday already. I basically scout and get access to thousands and thousands of acres of land.”

 

Free State Forager

The Free State Forager moniker, which he’s known by, started on the set of the Free State of Jones movie, which was filmed in Jones County in 2015. Hosey signed up to be an extra, but in the end was given a pretty significant role as a core member of the Knight Company. It was a film Hosey and his grandfather had always felt should be made. And he’s proud to have been a part of it.

Hosey explained that during the filming, he became good friends with Shawn Bridges, one of the actors in the film. “I was always bringing the guys handfuls of berries, actually cowboy hats full of berries,” he said. “They got interested and started asking more questions. A few of the sets where we filmed had chanterelle mushrooms growing everywhere; even (Matthew) McConaughey was picking them. And I think it was Shawn that started calling me Free State Forager. It just kind of stuck.”

But to Hosey it means a little more than location. “You get to a state of freedom when you’re able to provide food for yourself, just from what is naturally growing around you, without any of your input,” he said. “Like that garden, I didn’t have to plant, worry about pests, drought, rain, too much or too little; it was already growing, and I just didn’t realize it. 

 

Safe or Unsafe

So, how did Hosey know what was safe to ingest and what wasn’t?

“I started with the obvious when I was a kid, which was the fruits, and just built from there,” he said. Cattails was one of the first things he ate. When eaten raw he said they taste like a cucumber, but when cooked with butter on them, they taste like corn on the cob.

During the few classes he’s taught or when he’s carried groups out in the woods, he suggests they learn plants like they learn people.

“Learn to recognize faces, even though you don’t know their names yet, but recognize them. Get familiar with their habitat, what time of year they show up, just like plants.

“Learning the name of a plant is a small part of it,” he said. “You recognize it first, see it over and over again and it becomes familiar by sight and then you learn the name and it’s really just the beginning of the relationship.”

Hosey said this year there were probably five or six plants that he wasn’t familiar with from the year before that he’s now picked up.

“I think that’s one of the main things that’s interested me so much about it is that it’s never ending. You’re always learning, always a student and I’m thankful for that. Really, all we’re doing is learning what’s been lost.”

Hosey believes that humans have always lived through an ancestral life. “I think 99 percent of our existence has been on wild foods, and that’s huge,” he said, noting all the current fad diets going around – Paleo, Keto, Atkins.

Curious, he began to wonder, “What is a human supposed to eat?”

“If you were to visit the Museum of Natural History in Jackson, you’d see all these animals, which imitate their natural habitat, surround it with the familiar, what it evolved in and feed it a diet of what it would be eating in the wild. We’re like the only species that doesn’t treat ourselves that way. We have all of this artificial environment now and have completely removed ourselves, which in the big picture is great. We don’t have to worry where our food comes from, but it’s creating a disconnect between us and what we’re made of.

And again, it’s just a never-ending journey.”

 

MUSHROOM MAN

Hosey has furnished mushrooms to the The Purple Parrot and Robert St. John’s family of Hattiesburg restaurants. “They get a pretty good bit of mushrooms from me when I have them available,” Hosey said. He’s also furnished them for Josh Caspar at The Depot for his own personal use.

There are no rules, regulations or permits required. 

“In Mississippi, from what I understand, it’s treated like produce, just like growing in a garden; therefore, you don’t need a permit.

But Hosey feels there probably should be some regulations. 

“The only reason why there aren’t is because there aren’t that many people doing it in Mississippi right now, but it’s growing.

That was Hosey’s first mission about getting on social media to share what he does – to expose Mississippi, particularly, to the fact that there is more food in the woods than just deer.

“There are great mushrooms that chefs all over the world foam at the mouth for. And they are right here in our woods,” he said. “I didn’t know they were here.”

Popular mushrooms you can find in the forests of south Mississippi include chanterelles, of which you’ll find serveral species, black trumpets, lions mane, oyster mushrooms, hedgehog mushrooms, ringless honey mushrooms, and Hosey’s favorite, chicken of the woods. 

“I love those things,” he said, describing the texture as very similar to chicken. “It’s stringy and everything. I’ve had it prepared a few different ways, battered and friend, basically substituting the mushroom for chicken. I’ve had it fixed like chicken strips and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. It’s all about the seasoning.”

Hosey said mushrooms absorb flavors so easily, so it’s easy to sway the palate. He noted that a lot of vegans love the fact that mushroom can be a good chicken substitute, while lion’s mane is a great seafood substitute, with a texture similar to shrimp or crab meat. 

“With Bay seasoning, blackened with lemon on top, it’s like fish, and it’s good for the brain,” he said, expounding on studies that have been conducted that show lion’s mane has restored memory in dementia. “They are pretty amazing mushrooms.”

Hosey said locating these finicky morsels is one of the reasons they are hard to find. “There is a disconnect between people and mushrooms because their time here is relatively short,” he said, explaining that with certain species of mushrooms, they are here and completely gone within a matter of 24 hours.

“Most edible mushrooms have a little bit longer window than that, buut like the morelle mushrooms, they only grow about a week to two weeks out of the year. So, if you are not in the woods during those weeks, you’ll never see that mushroom, and it’s one of the most prized mushrooms in the world, selling for $40/$50 lb. in some places.” 

Morelle mushrooms can be found in the northern part of the state.

.Hosey says it’s experience that teaches people to know when mushrooms are ready for harvesting. “It’s all about temperature and moisture,” he said. And like many crops, there are some good years and some bad.

According to Hosey, once mushrooms are harvested, most will last a couple of weeks, if treated right. Hosey said he cuts the stems, leaving the dirt part in the ground. Once he cuts them Hosey uses a small paint brush he uses to wipe away any leaf debris and then puts them in paper bags or cardboard boxes in refrigerator, so the moisture stays off them. “That’s the key,” he said. “Once they get wet, they start going down hill. You need to let them dry before you harvest them. It’s really just trial and error and advice from friends. That’s what is so great about social media, people with like interests share there do’s and don’ts. We don’t have the elders to look to, to teach us, so we’re just trying to piece things together as we go.”

Hosey uses a square bucket with holes drilled in the bottom when carrying mushrooms through the wooods, explaining that spores are constantly coming off, even though you can’t really see them. “You’re creating more hunting grounds for seasons to come,” he said. Each year that he hunts mushrooms Hosey said these areas get better and better and he believes it’s because he’s spreading the spores around. Find some here, here and here and they are everywhere.

Hosey said most of the mushrooms you find in your yard aren’t edible, but rather just pretty to look at. He also advises that you can’t be poisoned by touching a mushroom.

“It has to be ingested,” he said. “Some people are afraid to touch them; there’s a lot of phobia around mushrooms for some reason.”

 

 

LOST IN THE WOODS?

If lost in the woods, don’t worry, there’s plenty to eat. “It may not be very palatable, but it will sustain you,” Hosey said.

According to Hosey, most every part of pine tree is edible. You can make a tea from the needles, which has a lot of vitamins, especially vitamin C. The inner bark can be dried and made into a flour to make cakes which is what the Choctaw did that. And the seeds of pinecone are edible.

“And there are a lot of pine trees,” Hosey laughed. “You get off in these woods and you’ll find a pine tree. That may be all you find is pine trees.”

Briars are also edible, especially those big fat ones, which get really large and grow from tubers, which may resemble sweet potatoes. It was deer that turned Hosey onto these edible tendrils, noticing the nibbled tips. So when walking in the woods the next day he tasted and it was like instant love – the shape and texture of asparagus, with a taste more like a raw sweet pea out of the garden. While briars don’t sound like anything you want to eat, he refers to it and has sold it at the Laurel Farmer’s Market as smilax, an edible vine that grows in Mississippi. With probably a dozen species of smilax in our area, there is one particular species that florists use as additions to bridal bouquets.

 

According to Hosey, the young sprouts while tender are almost identical to asparagus. “I’ve had people to try it and say they will never eat asparagus again and won’t pay asparagus prices with that growing outside.”

He said the new growth is really soft, noting that the lower part gets hardier and hardier. “As they get a little taller and the weather gets warmer the plant puts on little tendrils,’ he said. “That’s my favorite time to get them. If you like asparagus, you’ll love these. He said the sproutes can be wrapped in bacon and put on the grill, or can be cooked however you would asparagus. 

 

Another woodland edible is Yaupon Holly, which is the only plant in North America to contain caffeine. “They used to call it the tea of the South, which we learned from natives,” Hosey said.

Yaupon has 10 times the antioxidants you can get from the green tea you find on the shelf. 

“It’s a superior tea and it’s not just an alternative,” Hosey said, describing it as smooth, and which can be dehydrated and used like green tea or like a grey or black tea.

But is can also be used for medicinal purposes. 

Hosey is quick to say there are many other things you could eat if lost in the woods, the pine trees, smilax and yaupon are three of the more identifiable. “Between these three you’d be O.K.,” he said. 

To Hosey, there is no separation between food and medicine. “Food is medicine,” he said. “That’s why today’s food system is hurting  – no nutrition and and putting toxins in.

So, not only is your body not getting what it needs to get rid of toxins, we are also putting the toxins in, so all of these foods are medicine. It’s hard to say this is medicine and this is food. I can’t see a separation between the two.”

Hosey refers to Hippocrates famous quote, ‘Let they food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.’ “That sums it up pretty good, I think.

 

Taste of Place

Hosey has also been working on a book, which he said would probably take him forever to finish, because there was no literature for our area. 

“If you read about chanterelle mushrooms, you read about how they come into season in the fall, and that was all in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. 

“And the way things form here is different from how they form in Oregon. “The terrain, trees they relate to, and seasons and time of year are all different. There’s very little information for the South. That’s what is responsible for his social media shares. “I wasn’t the only one looking for that kind of information,” he said.

Like with vegetables and fruits, there is a season for mushrooms, berries and other food items you find in the woods.

“Nature doesn’t procrastinate,” said Hosey. “We have the luxury to procrastinate on getting certain foods now, but we can get tomatoes or watermelon any time of year. There’s no rush to get to something before it’s gone. But in nature it’s different.”

Case in point, this year Hosey didn’t get any elderberries.

“Because there were so many of them this year, I kept putting it off. I knew I would need a good 8 hours to get what I needed, but I kept putting it off and off and they were gone. Now I’ll have to wait until next year.”

Hosey is also currently in the process of starting a couple of product lines from his foraging.

He’s hoping everything will be ready to go by next summer.

Taste of Place is the product line, and will offer native jams and jellies from fruits that most people don’t have access to or have access to but don’t have the time to go out and get, such as a Chickasaw plum, our native plum.

“It’s the best jelly in the world, in my opinion,” said Hosey. “If that’s not the best, then mulberry definitely is. Right now they are making some persimmon jam.”

They will also be doing some teas, including a Yaupon tea with other plants, like a native mint,  mixed with it for a different blend. “It’s really nice,” Hosey said.

To Hosey, Taste of Place sums up a lot of what he’s doing – trying to familiarize people with where they are from, familiar with people within their community outside the human species.

“They all look at community as just people here, maybe a few pets as community,” Hosey said. “ I want them to look as this environment as some place outside  of us. It’s just that we’ve been removed from it. My goal in life is to be a more intricate part of that system, but I feel that we as a species have removed ourselves from it and we’re just sitting there looking at it, even in places where we designate preserves, set areas aside as a nature preserve. We remove the human out of it, stand back and watch it and be like, ‘Good luck!’ 

“We watched Califonia burn from one end to the other because we’re not involved in it any more. My opinion is that the natives, for thousands of years, knew if they didn’t burn early in the year that later in the year they would get burned. These days there are multi-million homes and they don’t want the smoke around, so the fuels just keep building up and building up and then they spark and that’s it. You’ve got a good fire now. 

Hosey explained that foresters from all over the world come to south Mississippi to train and learn how to burn – prescribed burns and controlled burns –  because this is one of the areas still actively burning. Ev

“Everything I do I’m basically learning how to be a Choctaw, because that’s the land we’re on. Everything I’m trying to accomplish is what their ancestors did for thousands of year. They knew the importance of fire.”

Hosey would like to say the majority of what he eats is what he’s foraged. “That’s my goal. Eventually I would like for the day to come where every bite of food I put in my mouth at home would be from what i provided or the land provided.”

He said from June to August is when they eat the largest percentage of forest foods. Winter time becomes a little scarce because he’s not ready for it. 

“That’s what got me into making jams, jellies and learning how to can things, to learn to extend that season,” he said, 

He same some things can be frozen. “Most mushrooms grown in our area don’t do well dehydrated,” he said. “The best way to preserve most of our mushrooms is to saute them in butter then freeze them and when you thaw it’s just the way they were when you were cooking or vacuum seal everything in life.”

Hosey believes our ecosystem is not necessarily suffering from our absence, but not benefitting from our presence. “The natives knew that where they cut a branch, three or four more would grow in its place and that new growth would have the plums or the mulberries, so they started pruning. Just think about if humans lived on the landscape with that mindset of, “I just ate this pawpaw, I’m going to put the seed right here and it will be a tree my grandchild will eat from. Just imagine what it would look like if we fed the earth. Amazing. Everything we need to survive is already here.”

 

 

 

Lessons in the Woods 

Forager Joseph Hosey is quick to say there are a lot of lessons in the woods.

First, he notes, there’s exposure, observation and seeing patterns year after year. 

“One of the first trees you see in our area that symbolizes the beginning of the spring season is the redbud tree,” he said. “Those little pink/purple flowers from it are edible.”

They offer a sweet/tart flavor, which Hosey describes as delicious, recommending you cold infuse them in water, which is good for your allergies.

He says there are lots of flowers in the spring that are edible, that when added to salads, keeps it interesting. He said when he starts seeing the redbud flowers he knows he’s got about two months until he’ll see the chanterelles and a month before mulberries. 

“It’s like a living calendar, giving you little reminders,” he said.,

According to Hosey, Mississippi has about 4,000 species of plants and he believes he has a close familiarity with maybe 200 species – both plants and mushrooms. “There’s still a lot of stuff out there,” he said. “I think people would be surprised how much out there is edible. There are some things that are toxic, but with a little bit of preparation, can be eaten safely, like polk salad, which they used to can in Laurel in the early 1900s. If you went out and were to eat polk weed raw, you would have a stomachache like crazy, but if you boil it three times, pour water off it three times, the toxic qualities are removed and it’s very nutritious and delicious, but it does take a little bit of prep work. There are a lot of foods, that while considered toxic, in their raw state – elderberries (everybody loves elderberry syrup these days as flu prevention), but if you were to eat a large quantity of elderberries you could get a little stomach upset. But with just a little bit of heat, which is breaking the cell wall, so dehydrating, freezing, cooking them, or any of those other processes turns it into a medicinal food.

“There’s a lot to learn out there.”

 

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!

Joseph Hosey’s interest in “The Free State of Jones” goes back pretty far.

“My grandfather was a big history buff and was fascinated by the story,” said Hosey. “I loved being outside and so did he.” He noted that the story would make a great movie if done right.”

When the call went out for extras, Hosey submitted his information and was called in for a fitting and interview as part of the background during battleground scenes. It was about a week into filming and close to what Hosey felt would be the end for him. He saw Gary Ross, the director walking down a hill, by himself for just a moment, and decided he was going to thank him.

“I introduced myself, thanked him for what he was doing and doing a good job,” Hosey said “He was glad I was from Jones County.”

Hosey went to the tent, changed his clothes and went to turn in his time slip when he noticed his name on the table. “That’s me,” he said.

The person sitting there he didn’t know what I had done that day, but you made an impression on somebody and they want to know if you want to do a special scene tonight.” Josey had already worked a 16-hour day, but yea, he was interested.

They put him in different wardrobe, Hosey not knowing what the scene would be. Turns out it was one of the scenes close to the beginning where Newt Knight and a close group of guys had just learned the “20 Slave Law” had just been passed.

“It was a pivotal point in the story line,” said Hosey. “They are all sitting around the campfire reading the newspaper. It was all the main characters and myself around this fire.around campfire.”

Hosey said from that point of on, he was moved into the Knight Company and put into a bunch of scenes. After watching it recently, he found himself one more time that he didn’t realize. Sometimes you really have to look for me. Also let me be the one. A Confederate officer wrote this to his commanding officer, saying, ‘The men of Jones County are so bold as to remove the Confederate flag at the Courthouse in Ellisville and raise the Union flag.’

 In the film when we’re bringing the Confederate flag down, I’m putting the Union flag on and sending it up. That was a pretty pivotal point in the storyline. It was awesome to get chosen for those parts. It was good. 

 

The Psychedelic Era - 

Many associate mushrooms with hippies and psychedelic tendencies. 

And there are such things psychoactive mushrooms, according to Joseph Hosey, a timber cruiser and forager. He notes something known as the Stone Ape Theory, where a lot of our brain development as a species started when we followed herd animals and ate the mushrooms growing along the way.

“There’s now a theory and Oregon is talking about passing a law that would allow psychoactive mushrooms to be used as medicine for depression,” said Hosey. “Studies have been done where one time use has caused people to come out of depressive state. They are still trying to figure out how and why.

“We’ve seen psychoactive mushrooms in every culture,” he said. 

One particular story Hosey told relates Santa and his flying reinderr backed to what many call “an unlikely source,” hallucinogenic or "magic" mushrooms. These were red domed shaped mushrooms with white flecks.

According to John Rush, an anthropologist and instructor at Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif., "Santa is a modern counterpart of a shaman, who consumed mind-altering plants and fungi to commune with the spirit world." 

Here are eight ways that hallucinogenic mushrooms explain the story of Santa and his reindeer.

1. Arctic shamans gave out mushrooms on the winter solstice.

According to the theory, the legend of Santa derives from shamans in the Siberian and Arctic regions who dropped into locals' teepee-like homes with a bag full of hallucinogenic mushroomsas presents in late December, Rush said.

"As the story goes, up until a few hundred years ago, these practicing shamansor priests connected to the older traditions would collect Amanita muscaria (the Holy Mushroom, which is deep red with white flecks), dry them and then give them as gifts on the winter solstice. Because snow is usually blocking doors, there was an opening in the roof through which people entered and exited, thus the chimney story."

2. Mushrooms, like gifts, are found beneath pine trees.

That's just one of the symbolic connections between the Amanita muscaria mushroom and the iconography of Christmas, according to several historians and ethnomycologists, or people who study fungi's influence on human societies. Of course, not all scientists agree that the Santa story is tied to a hallucinogen. 

In his book "Mushrooms and Mankind" (The Book Tree, 2003) the late author James Arthur points out that Amanita muscaria, also known as fly agaric, lives throughout the Northern Hemisphere under conifers and birch trees, with which the fungi — which are deep red with white flecks — have a symbiotic relationship. This partially explains the practice of the Christmas tree, and the placement of bright red-and-white presents underneath it, which look like Amanita mushrooms, he wrote.

"Why do people bring pine trees into their houses at the winter solstice, placing brightly colored (red-and-white) packages under their boughs, as gifts to show their love for each other …?" he wrote. "It is because, underneath the pine bough is the exact location where one would find this 'Most Sacred' substance, the Amanita muscaria, in the wild." (Note: Do not eat these mushrooms, as they can be poisonous.)

3. Reindeer were shaman "spirit animals."

Reindeer are common in Siberia and northern Europe, and seek out these hallucinogenic fungi, as the area's human inhabitants have also been known to do. Donald Pfister, a Harvard University biologist who studies fungi, suggests that Siberian tribesmen who ingested fly agaric may have hallucinated that the grazing reindeer were flying.

"At first glance, one thinks it's ridiculous, but it's not," said Carl Ruck, a professor of classics at Boston University. "Whoever heard of reindeer flying? I think it's becoming general knowledge that Santa is taking a 'trip' with his reindeer." 

"Amongst the Siberian shamans, you have an animal spirit you can journey with in your vision quest," Ruck continued. "And reindeer are common and familiar to people in eastern Siberia."

4. Shamans dressed like … Santa Claus.

These shamans "also have a tradition of dressing up like the [mushroom] … they dress up in red suits with white spots," Ruck said.

5. Mushrooms abound in Christmas iconography.

Tree ornaments shaped like Amanita mushrooms and other depictions of the fungi are also prevalent in Christmas decorations throughout the world, particularly in Scandinavia and northern Europe, Pfister pointed out. That said, Pfister made it clear that the connection between modern-day Christmas and the ancestral practice of eating mushrooms is a coincidence, and he doesn't know about any direct link. [

6. Rudolph's nose resembles a bright-red mushroom.

Ruck points to Rudolph as another example of the mushroom imagery resurfacing: His nose looks exactly like a red mushroom. "It's amazing that a reindeer with a red-mushroom nose is at the head, leading the others," he said.

Many of these traditions were merged or projected upon St. Nicholas, a fourth-century saint known for his generosity, as the story goes.

There is little debate about the consumption of mushrooms by Arctic and Siberian tribespeople and shamans, but the connection to Christmas traditions is more tenuous, or "mysterious," as Ruck put it.

7. "A Visit from St. Nicholas" may have borrowed from shaman rituals.

Many of the modern details of the modern-day American Santa Claus come from the 1823 poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (which later became famous as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"). The poem is credited to Clement Clarke Moore, an aristocratic academic who lived in New York City.

The origins of Moore's vision are unclear, although Arthur, Rush and Ruck all think the poet probably drew from northern European motifs that derive from Siberian or Arctic shamanic traditions. At the very least, Arthur wrote, Santa's sleigh and reindeer are probably references to various related northern European mythology. For example, the Norse god Thor (known in German as Donner) flew in a chariot drawn by two goats, which have been replaced in the modern retelling by Santa's reindeer, Arthur wrote.

Other historians were unaware of a connection between Santa and shamans or magic mushrooms, including Stephen Nissenbaum, who wrote a book about the origins of Christmas traditions, and Penne Restad, of the University of Texas at Austin, both of whom were contacted by LiveScience.

8. Santa is from the Arctic.

One historian, Ronald Hutton, saidthe theory of a mushroom-Santa connection is flawed. "If you look at the evidence of Siberian shamanism, which I've done," Hutton said, "you find that shamans didn't travel by sleigh, didn't usually deal with reindeer spirits, very rarely took the mushrooms to get trances, didn't have red-and-white clothes."

But Rush and Ruck disagree, saying shamans did deal with reindeer spirits and the ingestion of mushrooms is well documented. Siberian shamans did wear red deer pelts, but the coloring of Santa's garb is mainly meant to mirror the coloring of Amanita mushrooms, Rush added. As for sleighs, the point isn't the exact mode of travel, but that the "trip" involves transportation to a different, celestial realm, Rush said. Sometimes people would also drink the urine of the shaman or the reindeer, as the hallucinogenic compounds are excreted this way, without some of the harmful chemicals present in the fungi (which are broken down by the shaman or the reindeer), Rush said. 

"People who know about shamanism accept this story," Ruck said. "Is there any other reason that Santa lives in the North Pole? It is a tradition that can be traced back to Siberia."

- This story was originally published on Dec. 20, 2012, on LiveScience.

 

 

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