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Pagan Christmas: The Plants, Spirits, and Rituals at the Origins of Yuletide Paperback – October 24, 2006

4.4 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"The authors and the translators richly deserve congratulations on what is without doubt one of the finest books about Pagan Christmas written in recent times." (Lee Prosser, Ghostvillage.com, Dec 2006)

"The illustrations and photographs are excellent. The text is concise, and accurate. Pagan Christmas is a fine reading experience!" (Lee Prosser, Ghostvillage.com, Dec 18, 2006)

From the Back Cover

CHRISTMAS / PAGANISM

The day on which many commemorate the birth of Christ has its origins in pagan rituals that center on tree worship, agriculture, magic, and social exchange. But Christmas is no ordinary folk observance. It is an evolving feast that over the centuries has absorbed elements from cultures all over the world--practices that give the magical properties of plants and plant spirits pride of place. In fact, the symbolic use of plants at Christmas effectively transforms the modern-day living room into a place of shamanic ritual.

Christian Rätsch and Claudia Müller-Ebeling show how the ancient meaning and use of the botanical elements of Christmas provide a unique view of the religion that existed in Europe before the introduction of Christianity. The fir tree was originally revered as the sacred World Tree in northern Europe. When the Christian church was unable to drive the tree cult out of people’s consciousness, it incorporated the fir tree by dedicating it to the Christ child. Father Christmas in his red-and-white suit, who flies through the sky in a sleigh drawn by reindeer, has his mythological roots in the shamanic reindeer-herding tribes of arctic Europe and Siberia. These northern shamans used the hallucinogenic fly agaric mushroom, which is red and white, to make their soul flights to the other world. Apples, which figure heavily in Christmas baking, are symbols of the sun god Apollo, so they find a natural place at winter solstice celebrations of the return of the sun. Indeed, the emphasis at Christmas on green plants and the promise of the return of life in the dead of winter is by its very nature another form of the pagan winter solstice celebration still practiced today.

CHRISTIAN RÄTSCH, Ph.D., is a world-renowned anthropologist and ethnopharmacologist who specializes in the shamanic uses of plants. A former president of the German Society for Ethnomedicine, he is the author of The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants and Marijuana Medicine and coauthor of Plants of the Gods. CLAUDIA MÜLLER-EBELING, Ph.D., is an art historian and anthropologist and coauthor, with Christian Rätsch, of Shamanism and Tantra in the Himalayas and Witchcraft Medicine. Both authors live in Hamburg, Germany.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Inner Traditions (October 24, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594770921
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594770920
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.6 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #701,390 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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First, this book is written by two German anthropologists and was only recently translated into English. The research is very thorough and objective. I'm sure someone would argue with this assertation, but I don't think I'd want dispute anthropologists who study ethnobotany and art history as well. They are more qualified than I am.

Second, the book is not really a how-to book as far as rituals and such. This is more about the traditions and symbolism which we believe to be Christian and part of Christmas observance. Imagine telling someone that Santa Claus is really the personification of a hallucinogenic mushroom, the fly agaric, often used in shamanic religious practices. St. Nicholas' sack has pagan symbolism. The Christmas tree was the Christian church's response to the pagans who worshipped the living tree, so cutting down and killing the tree would be the ultimate insult. Plants and recipes involving particular spices are also mentioned in here. The living evergreen wreath is exceptionally symbolic as the circle of life and the wheel of the year. Buying gifts and decorating like mad is a new phenomenon during the Christmas season as is evident in poems, stories, and sayings from as late as the early 1900s.

I believe this book would be educational and would benefit almost any reader. Pagans and Christians should all read this book. Some extremists wouldn't like it as it is in direct conflict with their beliefs.

I say buy the book or borrow it from a library for its educational value. If it had been available in English, I would have bought it sooner. I've been looking for a book like this for years.
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Kudos to the author! At last a book about pagan winter celebrations and the origins of Christmas that a thinking pagan can sink his or her teeth into! The author is an anthropologist and an ethnopharmacologist. This book goes far beyond the fluffy books on Yule that are on the market and shows you amazing things! Of course you really need to read the whole thing. A cursory glance will cause you to think it's all about magic, mushrooms, and sex, but, hey -- it's pagan isn't it? I picked it up with the ho-hum attitude of "I probably know everything it's going to say," and was immediately mesmerized with the layout, the pictures, the information, everything! And the little known esoterica brought out here makes it really worth reading. Worth reading on many, many levels.
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A quick note to clarify that this book is primarily concerned with the PLANTS related to early pagan and later secular, pagan and religious observations of the Solstice and Christmas season. Ratsch is an ethnobotanist and psychopharmacologist, and as such focuses on the importance of plants in the rituals and customs. Very interesting stuff. I saw him speak many years ago at the Telluride Mushroom Festival, and I can tell you that he was way out there. He made the other guys seem tame by comparison, especially in his promotion of psychoactive plants as a means to reconnect with the spirit of the world. This work contains much on psychoactive plants, but also on other edible, decorative and generally interesting plants. Profusely illustrated. I highly recommend this book.
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I wanted to like this book. I love the premise and there are some interesting parts, but I suspect it lost a lot in the translation from German. Many sections are oddly repetitive or don't explain traditions that would be more familiar to native German readers. There were points where it unclear what he was trying to explain or how the subject related to general topic. I am interested in plants and read previous reviews before ordering this, but the writing was a little more convoluted and academic than I expected.
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I am a Christian and purchased this book as a means to understand the depth as to which our modern day Christmas celebrations include the pagan persuation. Aparently quite a lot! this book is very well written and researched, quite facinating to anyone interested in the subject of where our many Christmas tradition come from. I truely learned a lot, as this book is a regular treasure trove of information.
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This book is about plants. There are no rituals, just a description of each plant that may be used. If your looking for actual recipes; there are none in this book, but they give you a list of plants (spices) that are used during Christmas time. There are a few smudging recipes so you can make your own. But make no mistake, this book is about plants and how they relate to the holiday season. If you have ever had an overwhelming desire to learn about every Christmas Tree type known to man; then this book is for you. If you are looking for actual rituals and recipes for cooking, then don't get this book because it doesn't have it. The table of contents is misleading. I looked before I bought and the table of contents topics do not match what is in the book (deliberate?, maybe). It is well researched and I can tell a lot of effort went into it, however, this is not the kind of book I was looking for. If you adore learning about plants then enjoy, this book is for you.
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Excellent. Concise. Thorough. Enlightening. Provides some confirmation and a little more depth on the origins of already suspect traditions as well as revealing some delightful surprises on others. Well worth the read.
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