You will be already familiar with nature spirits from illustrations of tiny fairies and pixies sitting on toadstools and mushrooms. You may not have realised, though, that there is a hidden message in these works of art. It is a metaphor for our true Elders, the Underlords and the Overlords of the green mantle of this Earth, who are known to us merely as fungi.
It’s amazing how we take fungi for granted, given its absolute power in the land. Every single animal and insect on the planet, including mankind, comes originally from fungi, from which we began to separate about 650 million years ago.
Mushrooms (colloquially-known as ‘shrooms’) are our true Common Ancestor; we have far more in common with them than with apes. Human cells and fungal cells are remarkably similar and this means we are able to obtain physical healing from them, in the form of penicillin, and also spiritual healing, in the form of tea made from pixie-capped psilocybin and red-and-white flyagaric. Our relationship with this oldest of our ancestors might be why our brain synapses have doubled in size over hundreds of thousands of years. We can certainly trace the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms back that far, from hundreds of votive offerings and burial goods that archaeologists have found all over Europe, Eurasia and America.
Even modern bio-scientists recognise the intrinsic intelligence of these eukaryotic organisms that live deep in the soil. They have discovered that these are the nature spirits who organise the flows of groundwater to the roots of trees. There is a massive, luminous network of branching, threadlike mycelium hyphae that act like telegraph wires, sending along the instructions to bring in more water to a tree with roots that are too dry, or to move the underworld streams when they are needed elsewhere.
This gives a whole new meaning to the well maidens of Arthurian myths who deserted their posts, turning the whole country into a Wasteland. There are also the three Norns who guard the Wells of the Wyrd and water the roots of the World Tree Yggdrasil to create a sort of shimmering, foaming loam that sounds a lot like fungi.
So it can be no coincidence that rock art paintings of mushrooms have been found in the caves that used to be inhabited by the rain shamans of the Nevada desert. One does not bring the rains by merely consulting with the thunder god above; one also has to communicate with the water organisers of the land below.
There are millions of different “races” of fungi, like the various types of yeast used in Mediterranean flatbreads, Irish bannocks, Polish bagels, Indian naans, Danish pastries and so on. It wouldn’t do if we all ate the same kind of bread. In other words, just as our own stories have been customised to flow better in our Rivers of Blood, so do our own mushrooms.
Wise women herbalists know that there are no such things as “weeds”; that if a plant erupts through the soil unexpectedly in the garden, it is unwise to treat it as an unwelcome guest. It may have only turned up on your doorstep because you need its specific healing qualities. Charity begins at home.
Of course, there will always be those who are lured to try more exotic experiences in the jungles of the Amazon with ayahuasca, datura and San Pedro. I have no doubt that the visions derived from the intelligences of those psychotropic plants are invaluable to the shamans who are indigenous to the land where they grow. But it has become almost a brain tic of our times – the idea that the grass is always greener on the other side.
However, in flying back from abroad, you may have noticed, as the plane swoops down for its long, slow descent over the patchwork pastures of the Home Counties, that there is no greener and more pleasant land than our own. The Land of Milk and Honey is surely the true epithet for the Blessed Isles which were renown, in ancient times, for their bee-keeper shamans?
So I prefer to follow the ways of the bee-shamans when contacting the inate intelligence of this land. It’s best to pick the tiny pixie-caps of psilocybin in the silver dawn dew of autumn meadows, and take them home to make tea.
But here is a Health Warning: Please avoid the red-and-white spotted flyagaric mushrooms because, unless you really know what you’re doing, they can be fatally poisonous. And these “magic mushrooms” should not be taken for recreational purposes and you might “designer drugs” such as LSD and Ecstasy. The spirits of the land are not there to be played with for fun and then discarded – and if they are approached in that manner, they might give you a very “bad trip.”
This was an extract from my new book, Stories in the Summerlands.