There seem to be mushrooms popping up all around me right now. The photo above is of a mushroom growing in my front yard. There are several other patches of different mushrooms on my walk to work, my work is selling two different kinds of mushrooms next week, and my in-box contains an invitation to a wild mushroom meal. Finally, today, I came across the mushroom photography of Bryan Beard and decided that perhaps something’s trying to tell me something. I’ve got my oyster mushroom growing kit set up again and I’ve been reading weird facts and stories about mushrooms all evening.
There are, of course, stories of mushroom rings associated with fairies, and in medieval Ireland, mushrooms were thought to be umbrellas for leprechauns. Ancient Egyptians thought that mushrooms grew by magic, due to their sudden appearances overnight. Egyptian pharaohs reserved mushrooms exclusively for the royal tables because of the fungi’s association with immortality. Ancient Romans called mushrooms “food of the Gods”, and other cultures thought that mushrooms had powers that could give people super-human strength, help them find lost objects, and lead their souls to the Gods.
Moving away from mythology and ancient history, I really enjoyed this blog post: What mushrooms have taught me about the meaning of life. I especially liked his thesis statement:
I would like to share three things that I have learned about the meaning of life from thinking about these extraordinary sex organs and the microbes that produce them. This mycological inquiry has revealed the following: (i) life on land would collapse without the activities of mushrooms; (ii) we owe our existence to mushrooms; and (iii) there is (probably) no God. The logic is spotless.
I’m not as atheistic as the author, but I am always intrigued by the ways things we don’t see or appreciate are so necessary for life as we know it. Fungi.com points out that without the external digestion and recycling powers of fungi, turning dead plants into rich soil, the Earth would be buried in several feet of debris. Mycelium, the body of the fungus which lives in the soil or in wood, are the ultimate recyclers:
Due to it’s ability to decompose organic matter, and recycle it back into the ecosystem to further enhance life around it, mycelium may very well prove to one of the most significant organisms that graces the planet earth. … Some of the enzymes produced by mycelial colonies are powerful at breaking down long chains of hydrocarbons. The colony is so efficient at secreting these enzymes and breaking down the hydrocarbons that soil contaminated with them and other toxic oils can be restored in a matter of months. … When these hydrocarbons have been broken down, the fungus produces lovely blooms of mushrooms and the surrounding environment is nourished, alive and thriving.
Fungi were among the first organisms to colonize land about a billion years ago, long before plants came about. Miracle Mushrooms adds:
Mushrooms are not plants. They are fungi. Fungi are as uniquely different from plants as plants are from animals. In fact, fungi and animals are now in the same super-kingdom, Opisthokonta . More than 600 million years ago we shared a common ancestry.
We’re related to mushrooms… the idea gives me goosebumps.
Speaking of goosebumps, A World of Words blog offers, along with beautiful pictures, this intriguing thought:
… what if God is Mushroom? Now, of course we all know that since God is too big for just one country, just one religion, just one planet, this all-encompassing energy of boundless and unconditional love and truth is also too big for just one species. But I like the idea of these beautiful, primordial and little-understood forest creatures as manifestations or metaphors for something as large and omnipresent as divine inspiration.
Mushroom expert (mycologist) Paul Stamets may be a scientist, but there’s something about fungi that inspires spiritual thought:
See, this is the thing about mushrooms: It’s not luck. There’s something else going on here. We’ve been guided. But this is what happens.
Domestic mushrooms – white button, cremini, portabello, cultivated oyster – are available all year around, but fall is when the wild mushrooms can be found in our damp forests. September is even National Mushroom month in the United States. Mabon could very well be a mushroom harvest celebration just based on the timing. Add in that Mabon is an equinox – a time between seasons, between light and dark times of the year – then fungi seem very appropriate. They are both above and below the ground; they are between plants and animals, being truly neither; and the fungi family includes yeasts, used in baking bread, which is more traditionally associated with Mabon and the harvest.
Stamets also says that western society is pervaded by “mycophobia”: an irrational fear of fungi. He traces this fear back to England, where mushrooms are often associated with decay and decomposition. This feels like another opening for Pagans as we try to reclaim the dark, the breaking down, as part of the wheel of the year and the cycle of life. Fungi take what is corrupt and, through their mysterious underground processes, they turn it into fertility again. They break down the dead and make space for life.
Oh, and one last awesome mushroom fact: The world’s largest living organism is believed to be an Armillaria ostoyae fungi living in Oregon, occupying 2,384 acres. It is estimated to be 2,400 years old, based on its current growth rate, but it could be as old as 8,650 years.
Edited to add: The Mabon ritual I created from these ideas is now available on the website: Mabon: Mushrooms.