The magic, mystical and sacred mushrooms
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The Magical and Mystical Mushroom

Mushrooms, they are everywhere! And I don’t just mean while on my nature walks. Over the past few years, the fascinating mushroom has become hugely popular, especially in the mystical, magical and pagan communities. The love for these fungi has been spreading faster than fairy rings and today we embracing our love of nature’s little umbrellas and talking all things mushrooms!

Magic Mushrooms

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I am not sure when it started. Perhaps as a child, when I would see adorable little mushrooms pop up in stories like Alice in Wonderland and the illustrations of my favourite fairytales. Or maybe when I was out on the trails with my horses and the most incredible looking mushrooms would appear, then seemingly disappear almost over night.

Wherever it started, my love of mushrooms has followed me throughout my life. In fact, all the photos in this article were taken by me on a recent forest walk.

Why Are People Fascinated with Mushrooms?

So what is it about these little fungi that fascinates us so much?

Mushrooms offer a unique combination of medical benefits, culinary appeal, scientific and environmental advances, plus cultural and folklore references. And in a sprinkle of risk, superstition, and the forbidden (knowing that some mushrooms are hallucinogenic and toxic), and we have a combination that makes mushrooms absolutely fascinating.

Mushrooms are the tricksters of our forests. One minute they are there, the next they disappear. Many have strange shapes, sometimes they have wild odours, and some of them grow in the most fascinating places.

When you go out into the forest, finding mushrooms is natures best form of a hide and seek game. There is an immense thrill and excitement when you discover mushrooms. Some years there seems to be mushrooms everywhere, other years, they are hard to find. One year the forest floor might be covered with one type of mushroom, the next year a different mushroom will push its way from the soil.

There is such an unknown when it comes to mushrooms. Once you start noticing these fungi on your nature walks, it is hard not to become completely fascinated!

Foraging for Mushrooms

Recently, mushroom foraging has gained huge appeal.

Hunting for wild mushrooms, known as foraging, has become a very popular with online groups exploding with newbies joining and posting pictures of their finds. Often asking for identification and the dreaded… “can I eat it?”

Foraging is a powerful way to connect with nature. It encourages people to get outdoors and explore, and provides that amazing dopamine hit when you find a rare species or particularly exciting or unique growth.

However, to really become good at foraging, you need to spend some time doing your research and learning, as well as spending time in the forest and fields. Find a good field guide for local mushrooms to help you with the identification process. Plus, look into joining a local group that goes out on mushroom walks and forages together. One of the best ways to have success as you forage, is by learning from experts.

Fly agaric in the forest
These Fly Agaric were so huge! Definitely perfect for some magical creatures to call home. The scientific name of this mushroom is Amanita muscaria, var. guessowii.

Mushroom Identification

Mushroom identification is not easy. It takes a lot of practice, and requires knowing a lot of information. Including knowing:

  • What does the cap look like? This is usually the first part of the mushroom that most people notice.
  • Gills – What kind of spore producing structures does it have under the cap? Gills, pores, teeth? And how are they attached?
  • Stalk type
  • Spore colours (and how to take a mushroom spore print)
  • Does it bruise?
  • Habitat – Where is it growing? What is it growing on (trees, soil, insects, etc.)? What has been the recent climate and weather?
  • Time of year is also important as certain mushrooms only appear at specific times of the year.
  • Smell and taste can tell you a lot about the type of mushroom, however unless you are highly knowledgeable and skilled, don’t taste random mushrooms. As I mentioned, some can be fatally toxic.

Even with all of this information, it can still be very difficult to identify certain mushrooms. Always use caution when identifying mushrooms.

Next time you are doing some forest bathing, and connecting with nature, why not take a look around and see if you can spot some mushrooms? It will definitely help you slow down and be very present with the nature all around you.

Black mushrooms in the forest
These gorgeous mushrooms grew right in the middle of the path as if welcoming me into a new realm.

The History of Mushrooms and Humans

Mushrooms and humans have a history that goes back thousands of years, with some cave paintings depicting mushroom use. The Tassili Mushroom Figure is one example of famous mushroom cave art.

Throughout this long history, and in cultures all around the world, mushrooms have held a powerful and often mystical and sacred spot in ritual practices.

Here are a few references I found and thought I would share.

Siberian Shamanism and Amanita Muscaria

In Siberian shamanism, the Amanita muscaria mushroom, commonly known as the fly agaric, holds a special place. Shamans would consume this mushroom to induce altered states of consciousness, believing it allowed them to communicate with spirits and access the spirit world.

Amanita is probably the first mushroom (after the ones at the grocery store), that comes to mind for most people. It is often depicted in stories and fairytales as having a red cap with white spots. When we think of mushrooms having magical powers or connections with the fae, those red and white caps are the traditional image. However, as an interesting note, where I live in Canada Amanita actually has a yellow cap.

Mesoamerican Cultures and Psilocybin Mushrooms

Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Aztecs and the Maya, used psilocybin-containing mushrooms (commonly referred to as “magic mushrooms”) in their religious ceremonies and rituals. The Aztecs believed that consuming these mushrooms allowed them to communicate with their deities and gain insight into the spiritual realm. Montezuma II, the last ruler of the Aztecs, is said to have eaten copious amounts of “Teonanacatl” (flesh of the gods) at his coronation ceremony.

Magic Mushrooms in Mexico

Starting in the 1500’s, Spanish missionaries saw mushroom use as a threat to Christian salvation. They felt the devil was speaking though the mushrooms, and the rituals using ‘magic mushrooms’ and ‘flesh of the gods’ were forbidden. The conquistadors severely punished anyone using them.

Despite the conquistadors attempts to squash mushroom use, the descendants of the Aztecs and Maya kept the mushroom cult alive in Mexico. Keeping it quiet and sacred. That is until the 1950s when hallucinogenic mushrooms experienced a renaissance.

In 1955, US mushroom researcher R. Gordon Wasson became the first outsider to attend a sacred ceremony among Mexico’s Mazatec people. It was led by a shaman named Maria Sabina.

Wasson published an article about his experience with Sabina in 1957 in Life magazine. It was called “Seeking the Magic Mushroom”. In the article, he described his experiences and the magical effects of the “Teonanacatl” (the same mushroom believed to be used by Montezuma II).

The article triggered a wave of counter-cultural tourism to Sabina’s home village of Huautla. Scientists and hippies and even celebrities made pilgrimages to Mexico. Sadly, they were all less interested in the sacredness of the rituals, and many just wanted to get high.

European Folklore

In European folklore, mushrooms (sometimes called toadstools) often appear as enchanting entities. Tales of fairies, elves, and other supernatural beings living in or near mushrooms are common. With many children’s stories depicting mushrooms as magical, wonderous creations. Alice in Wonderland is one modern story that famously depicts the Fly Agaric.

Fly Agaric Mushroom
Fly Agaric often depicted in stories with the traditional red cap and white spots, here they have yellow caps (Amanita muscaria, var. guessowii)

But, as with many Christian cultures, there was also many who distrusted mushrooms and fungi. They believed they were associated with witchcraft and evil, which is also reflected in the names given to many types of mushrooms (Devil’s Fingers, Witches’ Butter or Satan’s bolete). Naturally occurring arcs of mushrooms, known as fairy rings in English and witches’ rings in German, were seen as hazardous and evil places where witches had gathered to dance on Walpurgis Night. People avoided walking into them and did not let their cows graze in pastures where they were found, as they believed it would affect their milk. Today you can still find some people that refuse to eat mushrooms due to these long held negative beliefs.

Chinese Tradition and Reishi Mushrooms

Reishi mushrooms are highly revered in traditional Chinese medicine and folklore. These mushrooms are believed to have various health benefits and are associated with longevity and spiritual potency. They are often depicted in art and literature as symbols of prosperity and divine connection.

There are so many more examples, at the bottom of this article I will link to some additional reading you can do if this fascinates you as much as it fascinates me!

For now, let’s dig into more modern magic uses of mushrooms.

Pagans and Mushrooms

In many modern pagan and wiccan practices, mushrooms have a sacred and spiritual role. The symbolism of mushrooms is extensive and applies in many areas of ritual practice.

The Magic and Mysticism

For myself it is the mystical nature of mushrooms. They remind me of the magic all around me. How they can appear and disappear overnight, it reminds me that so much is unseen, and we simply need to be at the right place, at the right time, with an open heart to find these magical wonders.

Connecting to Nature

They also feed into my deep need for connection to nature. Scientists are still studying the mycelial network (the mushroom is simply the fruiting body of a massive hidden network), and how mushrooms play a critical role in the diversity and interconnectedness of natural habitats. They are a key member of the ecosystems, even though we don’t often see them. They continue to do their work, unseen.

Gorgeous mushrooms growing on a fallen tree

A Symbol of Transformation

This growth from the hidden mycelium to the visible fruiting body is symbol of personal and spiritual transformation. Just as mushrooms emerge from the darkness into the light, individuals can undergo personal growth and enlightenment. Mushrooms invite us to do the shadow work, to spend time in the darkness, so we can move into the light stronger and healthier. For it is from our darkness and shadows that we grow, just like the mushroom.

Mushrooms play a very important role in the natural cycles of nature. They help to breakdown and decompose waste, returning it to fertile soil. Their role in the circle of life is a constant reminder of the cyclical nature of life, death, and rebirth.

Folklore and Mythological Connections

Earlier I spoke about the rich history between humans and mushrooms. Many Pagan traditions incorporate these elements of folklore and mythology into their rituals and practices. Mushrooms have such a rich history of symbolism and myth across cultures, pulling on this history, we can weave these into more modern spiritual lessons and practices.

A mushroom that looks like fairies may be hiding underneath
This little mushroom looks like the perfect home for some faeries. Perhaps I just missed them, as they hid amongst the leaves as I arrived.

Harvest Festivals and Seasonal Celebrations

Mushrooms are often associated with specific times of the year, particularly in autumn when many edible and wild mushrooms are more readily found in nature. Often mushrooms are incorporated into altars or feasts to celebrate Lughnasadh, Mabon and Samhain.

How to Bring the Magic of Mushrooms into your Practice

No matter the time of year, I love to bring the mystical and magical energy of mushrooms into my life. There are so many ways they have enriched my life, my health and my spiritual path.

I have used mushrooms for healing. My local health store has a wide variety of mushroom treatments to help with so many different issues from anxiety to problematic menopause symptoms.

Feasting is one of my favourite ways to bring mushrooms into my life. I love to buy mushrooms from my local grower/forager (so I can support local and know they are safely identified), and incorporate them into all my meals. They are one of my favourite meat replacements in a meal. One of the things I am hoping to try soon is Mushroom coffee. I don’t drink coffee anymore for health reasons, but mushroom coffee sounds very intriguing to me!

Crystal mushrooms are also one of my favourite things to collect. I love to put them in my plants. I have one Amethyst mushroom that has a place of pride in my Aloe plant.

When I am feeling creative and crafty, I like to make clay mushrooms. It is a fun and easy little art project I can do to help me calm my mind, while making something I can take some pride in.

My mushroom collection also extends to mushroom ornaments, art pieces, mushroom candles, clothing with mushrooms on them, and even a pair of shoes with mushrooms!

Mushroom Books

Here are a few of my favourite books on the magic of mushrooms.

Mystical Mushrooms – Discover the Magic & Folklore of Fantastic Fungi by Aurora Kane

Magic Mushrooms – The Holy Children – Shamanic Plant Medicine by Ross Heaven

Plants of the Gods – Their Sacred, Healing and Hallucinogenic Powers by Richard Evans Schultes, Albert Hofmann & Christian Ratsch

Mushroom Magick: Ritual, Celebration, and Lore by Shawn Engel

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms (National Audubon Society Field Guides)

And for those that know about my LOVE of Adam Oehlers artwork from Oak, Ash & Thorn Tarot and Smoke, Ash & Embers Dragon Tarot, he has a book called The Mushroom Garden that I have on my wish list. It looks so stunning!

As you probably noticed, I am a wee bit obsessed with mushrooms! But I think once you start exploring the magical and mystical mushroom, you will understand why I find them so sacred and special.

Next time you are walking in the forest and you come across a mushroom, take it as an invitation to stop for a moment. Let yourself feel your connection to nature, to something greater. Slow down and be present. Take a deep breath. Then thank the mushroom for its blessings and bring that incredible energy with you for the rest of the day.

I hope your days are filled with happy mushies!

The Magical, Mystical and Sacred Mushroom

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