Monday, November 9, 2009

Mushroom Magic in History and Miniature

The best known-and perhaps most inspired-literary mushroom of all is the one nibbled by Alice in her Adventures in Wonderland. Eating from one side of the mushroom makes her grow larger, eating from the other side makes her shrink. It's possible that author Lewis Carroll knew of the properties of Fly Agaric. One effect of this hallucinogenic fungus is to make objects appear larger or smaller in the user's eye. In recent times it's no surprise to find fungal references at "Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry' in the Harry Potter stories.

Not Just For the Lazy Fairy To Lounge On...
In my little world of cobwebs, wizards, and really all things magical and SMALL... I find a variety of ways to use the mushroom motif. Not just for the lazy fairy to lounge on! No no these little brightly colored fungi are useful in a wide range of applications. They can be turned into gazebos or pixie hut roofs, seats and table tops, dish sets, mushroom people, mushrooms sprouting from magic cauldrons and potions, gnome hats, and so many other possibilities. As an example below, I've made little sets of mushroom cap dishes with acorn bowls for my mom's mouse dollhouse.
I've also made several sets of variously hued mushroom tables with matching chairs, using the caps as both table tops and seats. These were sculpted in paperclay on top of wooden discs. Here you can see the lilac and a dark red sets.

The Quinissential Magic Mushroom:
The magic mushroom was not the invention of Hippies! For thousands of years, the beauty and mind altering properties of certain mushrooms have been known. The spotted brilliantly red mushroom cap in popular folklore is actually a depiction of the Aminita muscaria, or 'fly agaric' mushroom.This psychoactive fungus has been associated with magic and shamanic religion for millenia throughout the Northern Hemisphere, sprouting up in Native American, Siberian, European, and Asian folk lore. The revered fungus has since found its way into our modern fairy tales, usually as a perch for some chubby gnome or sex pot fairy. The quintessential toadstool is a large white-gilled, white-spotted, usually deep red mushroom. However, several subspecies with differing cap colours do exist, including the brown regalis (now considered a separate species), the yellow-orange flavivolata, guessowii, and formosa, and the pinkish persicina. So take artistic liberty in your crafting choices!

Lory, a miniature artist who can be found on Etsy as 64tnt, makes lovely jewel toned collections of mushrooms, often sprouting from acorns for a fantasy affect. I bought this set for my magical pumpkin kitchen that I'm working on. To visit her wonderful shop:
Another source for miniature mushrooms and forest folk doo-dads are the many Terrarium crafters, like 'Doodle Bird Designs' on Etsy:
So many fungus options... Here I've put together a little slideshow with an array of exotic examples to help inspire you!

Siberian Shamans and the Mushroom:
To this day Siberian shamans dress in ceremonial red and white fur-trimmed jackets to gather mushrooms. Traditionally these were partially dried on pine boughs, preparing them for ingestion. This practice seems to have been shared by Northern European peoples as well and is the likely origin for decorating Yule or Christmas trees with mushrooms... now translated into red bulbs.

“The amanita mushroom needs to be dried before being consumed; the process reduces the mushroom's toxicity while increasing its potency. The shaman would guide the group in stringing the mushrooms and hanging them around the hearth-fire to dry. This tradition is echoed in the modern stringing of popcorn and other items.” -Dana Larsen, “The Psychedelic Secrets of Santa Claus” 2003

In Siberia, these precious mushrooms were then carried in a sack by the shaman who delivered a portion to each house. Stories tell how during long winters, the snow piled up past the doors of the yurts (huts), so the red and white clad shaman had to climb down the smoke-hole (chimney) to deliver his gifts. Hmm... who is this sounding like now? Finally the appreciative villagers strung the mushrooms up on pine limbs or put them in stockings hung affront the fire to dry.

The Koryak tribesmen of Kamchatka in Siberia would drink an intoxicant made from the fungus. It was so prized that poorer folk would collect the urine passed by revelers. When 'recycled', the effects were said to be as powerful as the first time around. Reindeer seem to be attracted to urine with the scent of the fungus! More than one intoxicated tribesmen relieving himself was reported trampled to death by a crazed ruminant!

Both poisonous and hallucinogenic, Fly Agaric seems to impart a feeling of great strength and stamina. This fact may provide a clue to the ferocious reputation of the Berserkers, ancient Norse warriors who are said to have consumed the fungus before going into battle.

The Mushroom In Mesoamerica:
Throughout Mesoamerica spiritual usage of mushrooms and other plants continues to this day. In particular, the Mayan and pre-Mayan civilizations of Central America left behind many rock carvings called "mushroom stones," showing that hallucinogenic mushrooms were an important part of their culture. The Aztecs also used mushrooms in religious ceremonies and for recreation from the 12th-13th centuries on. In the mid-sixteenth century, Spanish priest Bernadino de Sahagun traveled throughout Mexico writing about Aztec culture. He noted a mystifying “mushroom cult.” In 1559, within his Florentine Codex, Sahagun recorded the first known account of a magic mushroom ceremony during which the participants ate small mushrooms called “teonanactl” to gain spiritual insight. They called these "teonanactl" meaning literally “Flesh of God.” The priest believed that the
“mushroom cult” had been conducting such ceremonies for several thousand years.

Other Ancient Mushroom Fans:
Scholars speculate that the sacred Soma drink of ancient Vedic texts of India might have been concocted from mushrooms as well. The exact recipe of the tradition has been lost but Fly Agaric has been used in parts of Eurasia for nearly 6000 years. It was called a "God Plant" by ancient Hindus.

Hallucinogenic mushrooms were also used in ancient Greece, most notably by Delphic Oracles.
There have even been assertions that the Biblical plant of knowledge was not a tree, but indeed a mushroom. This theory is old enough to have been illustrated in medieval illuminated manuscripts!

Witchcraft and Flying Ointments:
The hallucinagenic properties of the mushroom are also said to be a key ingredient in fabled witch flying ointments. Historians have dismissed the Church accusations of witches physically 'flying' to their sabbats. It seems likely however that this was not literal but rather a drug induced sense of flight akin to the spirit journey of modern peyote practitioners.
There's even a particular species of mushroom named the "Witch's Hat", the Hygrocybe conica! Read all about it.

Nikki Rowe of 'Witch and Wizard Miniatures' on Etsy, often adds mushrooms to her spell crafting creations. Below you can see the red caps peeking from her herb crate and potted on her root table. I also spy unicorn horns and dragon eggs... well done! To find more of Nikki's excellent work:

The Wee Fairy Ring and it's Dangers:
A single mushroom is potent, but a full ring... beware! The Fly Agaric is one of the many species of mushrooms that can form a 'fairy ring'. One of the earliest references to such sites comes from German-speaking Europe. Fairy rings were known as hexenringe or "witches rings". These were created by witches dancing in the forest. Their magical energy left an imprint on the ground so creating a 'fungus' circle. Many locals would see this as a warning sign, and avoid the area.

For centuries, the sudden and rapid eruption of circles of mushrooms from the soil led people to believe that dark or terrible forces were at work. Lightning strikes, meteorites, shooting stars, earthly vapours, and witches have all been proposed as agents of their origin. In France fairy rings were called sorcerers' rings. A Tyrolean legend claims that the rings were burned into the ground by the fiery tail of a dragon. In Holland they were said to be the marks where the Devil rested his milk churn. In English folklore, mushroom rings were known as fairy or pixie rings. These were caused by the wee folks dancing in a circle. As they wore down the grass, they left a circular pattern of basidia (a type of mushroom) behind. Toads would then sit on the mushroom and poison them, creating a 'toadstool'. New Englanders, bringing over British folklore, call sucha fungus the "death baby". To see it growing in the yard is a harbinger of imminent death in the family. On the positive side, fairy rings were said to bring good luck to houses built in fields where they occur. In another tradition, the rings were sites of buried treasure, but there was a catch—the treasure could only be retrieved with the help of fairies or witches.

In Scandinavian folklore too, such rings were created by elves dancing round, leaving their magical presence behind in the form of mushrooms. In the district of Norrland in Sweden there is a tradition of throwing toadstools into bonfires on midsummer's eve (June 23) to ward off evil spirits.

It is said that time slows down within such fairy circles. Various folklore stories call these rings gateways into the fairy world where unwary wanderers may be trapped by woodland spirits. Others tell tales of these rings transporting people to far off places or strange lands. Others tell of taking unwary people to the same place, but in a different time. I found an image (artist unknown?) of a very dark version of a dryad or tree spirit sprouting toxic mushrooms. What an interesting doll concept...
Below is a more lighthearted fairy ring by the aforementioned artist,Lory. Her ring features the fly agaric amid a mossy circle.

Blue Kitty Miniatures of Etsy TeamMIDS has taken miniature mushrooms to new heights of creativity and interest with her tiny perfect clay works! I've purchased one of her sweet mushroom fairy ring cakes but she also has spell books, cookie jars, and coat racks featuring the fly agaric. To see her darling shop:

The Enchanted Mushroom Man:
In modern fantasy art, the mushroom itself can become an enchanted spirit being. Mealy Monster Land makes mushroom people with so much personality. Here are 3 of her funny little guys below... I got the red gent for myself. He is about 6" tall and so lives outside of the mouse dollhouse. He looks rather sad but wise.
To see her Etsy shop:
Another cute find is this cheery chap below by clay artist Kris. He and his friends are available at Etsy's 'LITTLESbyKris'.

Other mushroom people I have found include figurines, fantasy gaming miniatures, Halloween costumes, and plushies... Above is another mushroom guy, by PolkaDotToadstool of Etsy. His cap is unusual in that it was covered with moleskin or suede?

Magical Mushroom Houses:
Beyond using mushrooms as umbrellas, beds, and ingredients in intoxicating brews we frequently see mushroom houses in fantasy art and literature. Hey, Papa Smurf thought it was a good idea!

I'm fascinated by the tiny miniature mushroom houses and teapots by C. Rohal of the Etsy shop Artistic Spirit. Go have a look at her teeny beauties!

Another miniature artist who makes very detailed and lovely mini mushroom houses is Bonnie or 'irish00128' on flickr. She produces one each month I believe and below is her 'September House'. To see her work:


Crafts From The Stash said...

I love your blog and for some reason this is the first time I have been able to leave a comment.
Debie xxx

Grim said...

Sorry about that Debie! I had to adjust the settings last week after a friend told me about the problem. I just thought people were being quiet! Thanx for stopping by ;)

Les Miniatures de Béatrice said...

Just a fantastic post!!!!

Grim said...

Alright, I found the information about the brown suede capped mushroom fellow. He is the creation of PolkaDotToadstool on Etsy!

nikkinikkinikki72 said...

Lovely posting. I was reading and then saw my botanical potting table.
Thank you for showing it here.

Nikki xxx

Carl de Borhegyi said...

For a great visual study of the Amanita muscaria mushroom encoded in pre-Columbian art, visit or google Breaking The Mushroom Code
Carl de Borhegyi


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