Hellflower

The more I research mushrooms the stronger I feel that they are sentient spirit/lifeforms who have specific missions on this planet. It is nothing overt but an aggregation of small details that are culminating in the evidence over time.

Anna Tsing relates a brief story about taking a horde of matsutake over to a Japanese friend’s house. That friend taught Tsing how the matsutake wanted to be prepared, not touching it with metal because as her friend chided her, the spirit of the mushroom doesn’t like it (Tsing, 47). Mushroomkin care about how they are prepared and they want humankind to experience them in the best possible way. Alternately, the preference of specific materia is a very common trait among spirits. Some like mezcal, some like rum. Some prefer gold, others iron. Mushrooms are no different and the mycomage should take note.

Langdon Cook, in his book ‘The Mushroom Hunters’ offers other hints. He relates that his obsession with mushrooms came on like a sickness (Cook, 3) that completely consumed him. I immediately thoughts of a couple of instances of real illness that I have had in the past two years and how quick and powerful bouts of sickness can change a person at a fundamental level. Living and thinking with mushrooms has the potential to come on like a shamanic sickness, leaving one weakened, changed and ultimately enlightened. Cook also states that:

“It is a mark of fungi’s otherness that we don’t have a proper lexicon with which to discuss [fungi]. Though a mushroom is not technically a fruit, we borrow a term from the plant kingdom and refer to its growth as a fruiting.” (Cook, 5)

Another similarity between experiencing life in an assemblage that includes mushrooms and one that includes congress with other spirit forms. We resort to all manner of words and comparisons for spirit contact that don’t ever measure up 100%, but we can only borrow from other areas of experience when attempting to explain it. Cook explains that his engagement with their Otherness lie at a crossroads where nature and food intersected (Cook, 8). A crossroads… mushrooms as the axis mundi of human culture.

According to John Allegro in his work, ‘The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross’, there are parables in the Old Testament that can also be viewed as evidence of the mushroom being an important spirit-form in the human realms it intersects. The author states that:

“There is one overt piece of vegetation mythology in the Old Testament parable of Jotham in the book of Judges. In the story the trees of the forest ask representatives of each species to act as their king. The olive, fig and vine are too busy giving of their fruits to men, and in desperation the trees ask the diminutive mushroom… who insists that in that case they must all take refuge under its canopy, that is, that they treat him as their protector, king indeed.” (Allegra, 38)

In our Medusa / Athena dual archetype, Medusa is the Queen, as are all mushrooms, to the stately Athena. A pauper queen, a secret queen who hides beneath the trees it rules for protection and Athena, the trees, gain sustenance and grow tall under the mushroom’s reign.

Allegra continues his arguments in ‘The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross’, which at first I found to be spread a bit thin over the territory he was covering. Later, however, the more I dug into widely different areas of ethnomycology, the more coherent his points became. He dives down a linguistic rabbit hole (and really, if you know me at all by now you will know I had no choice but to follow him down) and begins to relate the distinctive shape of mushrooms and their names to other areas in the Bible. From the text:

“In seeking for mushroom folk-names and epithets, one of our main sources obviously will be its distinctive shape of a slender stem supporting an arched canopy… Extended to gigantic proportions this figure is reflected in such imagery as huge men like Atlas holding up the canopy of heaven, or of mountains like Olympus serving the dual function of supporitng the sky and providing a connecting link between the gods and earth… the most common Semitic name for the mushroom, phutr (Arabic), pītrā’ (Aramaic), portrayed in the New Testament myth as Peter… the… mushroom was thus in mythological terms, the ‘key’ for the earth, the way to the underworld, the ‘Peter’, as it were, against which the gates of Hades would not prevail… It followed, from the reasoning of the ancient philosophers… that if you knew the names of demonic plants, like… mushrooms, you could control them to some extent.” (Allegra, 40-41)

Living and thinking with mushrooms is then, the same as Solomonic magical technique that allows one to traffic with the underworld but does not allow the underworld to spill out into the light of day. The Solomonic Circle and ritual is designed to allow the magician to speak with demons but (when done correctly) to keep Hell bound and at the command of the magician. This is also the role of the conjurer and healer in the Hoodoo system, to keep Hell bound and away from themselves and their charges, yet, the systems they worked were viewed as demonic by the Christian whites that salvaged their wealth from the backs of slaves. Hell always has this type of interplay, it shows up differently from one lens to the other, yet it is always there. Plantations, the model for our modern capitalist system according to Anna Tsing, at a certain size normally included a ‘slave’ doctor, a naturopath who cared for the physical and spiritual needs of the slave community (Hazard-Donald, 136). The ‘slave’ doctor was an individual that worked against the plantation culture bent on exploitation of labor for the purposes of ‘salvage,’ the reaping of and amassing of wealth off of the backs of the indentured, enslaved and othered. The slave doctor kept alive the traditions of Hoodoo and in this way Hoodoo is linked to the mission of mushroomkin, especially those that actively subvert plantation ecology like the fungus that causes coffee rust and Moniliophthora perniciosa with its resulting Witch’s Broom disease on cacao plantations. Two entities from different kingdoms living in the same spirit-assemblage, working towards the same mission. The role of the slave doctor was related to (or synonymous with) the role of the midwife on plantations. According to the text:

“the midwife was usually well connected and often prominent in several roles in the widespread network of her church community… And it was there that she was important in the movement of Hoodoo into black American church ritual that used aspects of the Bible, especially Psalms, in replacing lost African prayers and incantations. An example of the Psalms used for healing and restoring ill health can be found in Psalms 42 and 43.” (Hazzar-Donald, 140)

This represents an instance of independent arising, in my view, as Psalms are used in classical grimoires quite often as protection against the spirits grimoirists traffic with. Here we have a largely unconnected magical tradition, Hoodoo, utilizing the same Biblical incantations as stand-ins for lost African prayers. It can be assumed then that Psalms can also be utilized in the invocation and evocation of the spirit-forms of the mushroom kingdom as they appear to be a universal key to the spirit-world.

By extension, since Psalms are largely the deepest poetic interlude of the Bible, we can intuit that poetry could also be used by the chaos magician, specifically the mycomage, as a stand-in for that knowledge of our hominid ancestors who were the first of us to join mushrooms in their assemblage and learn from the wisdom of their entire kingdom, at the feet of King Bovorik, who live at the feet of the forest who worship also as their sovereign.

By opening up ourselves and our invocations to include the universe of poetry, we extend our grimoire almost infinitely. The poetry should, however, evoke the aesthetic of mushroom kin or connect with mushroomlore in some way. If I were to set a precedent, one fine example is the work of Alfonso D’Aquino. In his work ‘fungus skull eye wing,’ translated by Forrest Gander, there are portions of the poem ‘Networks’ that make this connection with ease. Consider the following:

“uniformly green weave / *shifting pink figures*

there are subterranean lines

that breach an internal latitude fresh and mellow

even as they push forward

across the dark page

inky threads incandescent and white

the light incites the steam

leaves spines stars

quickly and without end

a violet writhing in the stones

marks limned by lichens

enlivened lines

agrestal lemons drooping agraphia

and mute letters” (D’Aquino, 11)

The rhythm is the same as the incantations found in the Greek Magical Papyri and the imagery here informs the embellishments of the life and aesthetic of the invoked deities and spirit-forms found in that same work. Here is another example from the same work:

“the roots say what

hollow figures conquering an underground

hollow figures packed with dirt

empty places lacking nothing…

below my plant skin

below my animal face

below my stone bones

below my flesh which is earth

within this covering net of salt flush

with the revivifying mulch from which I’m born

decoupled from all my compounds

humid fibrous greening” - (D’Aquino, 15)

From the revivifying mulch from which I’m born…

The stories of Heaven and Hell are written in the mycelial network beneath our feet. In Allegro’s ‘Sacred Mushroom and The Cross’ he reveals a relationship between mushrooms and the ‘Morning Star,’ which he feels is directed toward the King of Babylon. I’ll offer you his quote from Isaiah:

‘How are you fallen from heaven, Shining One, Son of the Dawn! How are you cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit…’

Through wizard eyes, this quote is read differently. To me, it is clearly addressing Lucifer and drawing connections between mushroomkin and the King of Hell. Allegro continues, lending etymological strength to his argument by stating that the name Babylon is related to the Greek word Boubalion, which he then extends to the vegetable known as the squirting cucumber, Elaterion. This point could be debated but I will leave Allegro alone for now, as he’s been defending his excellent book since it was published in 1970.

There are more direct connections to the landscape and denizens of both Heaven and Hell in the Kingdom of Mushrooms. We find such a connection with this entries principal spirit-form, who is commonly known as Volvariella volvacea, or the Paddy Straw Mushroom.

Volvariella volvacea

Volvariella volvacea

Our spirit-form begins its journey in China. Records for the use of mushrooms both for food and medicine can be tracked back to between the Chou and Tang Dynasties (Chang, 374). In the Tang dynasty there are extant records for our acquaintance the Wood Ear. The records for our spirit-form are (relatively) more recent, beginning with descriptions of spawning mushrooms on manure beds by inserting naturally inoculated manure into a larger bed not already chosen by mushroomkin around the beginning of the 18th century (Chang, 374).

Volvariella volvacea is a high-priced food in China and in many Southeast Asian countries and has a long history of being prized (Chandra and Chaubey, 1291). According to the mycologist S T Chang:

“in Kwangtung Tung Chih… published in the second year of Tao-Kuang (1822), we find a record of the Nanhua mushroom: ‘The Nanhua mushroom is thus called because it is produced in the Nanhua Temple of Chaohsi. It is also called a home-made mushrooms, and tastes as good as other mushrooms produced in the north” (Chang, 374-375)

Nan in Chinese means ‘Male’ and Hua means ‘flower’. The Nanhua Temple still stands and can be visited to this day. Chao means ‘canal’ and Xi means ‘creek’, intimating a confluence of flowing waters, or a tributary. Chang continues his references to our spirit-form when he states that:

“in Shaochou Fu Chih (one of the reginal annals of Kwangtung provice)… in the thirteenth year of Emperor Tung-Chih (1874), we find: ‘The tributary mushroom produced in the Nanhua Temple is grown on paddy straw, which is piled and watered…’” (Chang, 375)

The tributary mushroom, the monk’s flower, is positioned in history both physically and linguistically at a point where waters meet. Pluto, who tracks with Hades (tracks, but does not quite match) is found in Hell sitting upon a sulfer throne where the Lethe, Cocytus, Phlegethon and Acheron rivers meet. At his feet is Cerberus and at his right hand, which holds a scepter, three harpies. His left hand is free to strangle souls that wander too close. These four rivers fill the area where he sits, creating the tributaries that feed the Stygian swamp behind him. Our Tributary Mushroom, the Monk’s Flower, is related to Pluto through this point in timedepth.

Side Note: This wonderful image comes to us from the artist  Michael Whelan . I remember the art from my favorite astroscience book as a child, National Geographic’s ‘ Our Universe ’, and upon sourcing the image found that Mr. Whelan is also the artist for some of my all time favorite scifi and horror books covers.

Side Note: This wonderful image comes to us from the artist Michael Whelan. I remember the art from my favorite astroscience book as a child, National Geographic’s ‘Our Universe’, and upon sourcing the image found that Mr. Whelan is also the artist for some of my all time favorite scifi and horror books covers.

S T Chang continues, offering us a rare glimpse of the infancy of a mushrooms journey from feral to domestic spirit:

“Upon referring to Yingtak Hsien Hsu Chih… published in 1930: ‘The straw mushroom, also called the paddy straw mushroom, is produced on fermented straws… In the first year of the reign of Emperor Kuang-Hsu (1875), villagers of Hsitou first adopted the method used in Chukiang and Nanhua to grow the straw mushroom. The method is that a heap of straw mixed with cow manure and split beans was built first in the center of the field and surrounded with a ditch that could be flooded and used as a source of water for the heap. After a few days, the straws were tied up in small bundles which were laid in a straight line five or six layers thick on the earth, and finally covered up completely with other straws so as to be protected from the wind and rain… In a fortnight pearly fruiting bodies would spring up and were ready to be picked, split and dried on a fire. If they were not picked, they would grow in the shape of umbrellas, with the result that their price would be diminished. Every year at the harvest season of the straw mushrooms, people would collect them… and trade them…” (Chang, 375)

Pluto is also the God of wealth, in particular wealth that comes from beneath the ground, such as precious metals and jewels. Our Temple Flower has another connection to Hell through its use as valuable currency when bartered. There is also a hint here for those individuals seeking to invoke our Hellflower themselves, they have greater value and likely better taste, when young. The Hellflower’s value only increased over time, to the point where it was equal to gold and emeralds:

“in Chukiang Hsien Chih… published in the first year of Kuang-Hsu (1875) we find: ‘Tributary mushrooms are produced in the Nanhua Temple. Every year four boxes of them are paid as tribute to the Emporer.’… it should be noted that it would take a long time for a local product to become a royal tribute.” (Chang, 375)

Nanhua Temple, China

Nanhua Temple, China

Tributary Mushrooms are, as is evidenced above, an excellent offering to royalty, and as they are influenced or related to Pluto, then it stands to reason that they would make an excellent bouquet to offer to any of the the Dukes and Kings of Hell. As a final note about our spirit-forms history, Chang states that:

“Nanhua Temple is not a big temple in China, but it is famous because Hui-Neng [Hui-Neng, Zen], the father of the southern sect of Zen, was promoted to the sixth patriarch in this temple.” (Chang, 375)

Hui-Neng

Hui-Neng

This points the mycomage to a wealth of appropriate meditative treatments when collaborating with this spirit-form in magical operations.

The Tributary Mushroom is extremely popular in the Philippines and it was the first mushroom to be introduced to the area. This popularity could make it an excellent vehicle into any attempts to emulate, augment or otherwise appreciate the many forms of Filipino Folk Magic. They use the common name for the spirit-form, kabuteng dayami. Kubute means mushroom in Filipino and ‘dayami’ means straw (Straw Mushroom) or if the spirit-form has chosen or is grown on a different medium, it is called kabuteng saging, where saging means banana. It is a common practice to grow our Temple Flower on banana leaves (Eguchi et al, 55). He is strong in the full range of amino acids, with their quantities increasing as he matures. There is one type of amino acid in particular that makes this spirit-form so popular, glutamic acids. Glutamic acids are related to monosodium glutamate, which lends this mushroom in particular a strong umami taste — which most humans find difficult to resist. The Tributary Mushroom was found to have 1459 mg of glutamic acid to every 100g of wet mushroom, the strength increasing with maturity. Also found were very high concentrations of valine, as essential amino acid to humans (we require 4mg/kg body weight per day). Valine is primarily found in meat, poultry, fish and dairy products. This quality of the Hellflower points to what might be its overall mission on this planet. It also contains the neurotransmitter GABA, which when taken supplementally reduces the adverse responses to stress and improves muscle tone (Eguchi et al, 57). Medicinally, the Paddy Straw mushroom inhibits platelet hyperaggregation, which is a contributing factor to stroke and heart attacks (Eguchi et al, 59). What we have is a mushroom that tastes and has the same nutritional components as meat (with an added dose of the palate-addicting umami) that also significantly reduces your risk of heart disease.

He is cultivated year round in China and Southeast Asia. The fruiting bodies are ready to harvest just two weeks after spawning. The one method of cultivation is as follows:

“20 kgs rice straw containing 2% wheat bran, 1% ammonium sulfate, 1% lime and 0.5% urea was fermented for 14 days, turned, and adjusted to pH 6.0 with 65% moisture. The formulated substrate was steam-sterilized at [249.8°F], 15 psi for 40 minutes. Upon cooling, the formulated substrate was inoculated with spawn of V. volvacea and subsequently incubated at [86-95°F] for 10-14 days to allow mycelial ramification and subsequently the emergence of fruiting bodies.” (Eguchi et al, 55)

At the beginning of the 1970s, cotton-waste as a substrate replaced the use of rice paddy straw in Hong Kong. The spirit-form took readily to this new food, indicating a preference for it. More recently (2013) in Nigeria, researchers attempted to grow our Hellflower on the agricultural waste produced through the processing of maize. The method of cultivation used by these researchers consisted of shredding both the plantain leaves and corn husks into inch long pieces, soaking them in water and mixing them with 20% wheat bran and 5% calcium carbonate (Adedokun and Akuma, 535). Calcium carbonate was shown in another study to significantly enhance the growth of the Paddy Straw mushrooms (Ramkumar et al, 116), and should be included in any attempt at invoking this spirit-form. This same study also showed that calcium carbonate as an additive in the substrate increased the antioxidant activity of the fruiting bodies.

The substrate was then sterilized using a similar method to above, inoculated with Paddy Straw Mushroom spawn, and incubated for 20 days at 82°F, watering them every morning. Pin heads appeared after 20 days, 10 days later the pins matured into fruiting bodies. When mushrooms from the plantain leaves and the corn husks were assessed for their nutritional components it was found that those grown on corn husks had significantly larger amounts of carbohydrates, protein and fiber (Adedokun and Akuma, 535). Straw Mushrooms grown on corn husks have more caloric value than those grown on other substrates. The mushrooms pulls nutrients from the waste it decomposes and transfers it to the humans that consume it.

There are vast implications for the results of this invocation of the Temple Flower, especially when taking the previous one into account. We have here a spirit-form who is offering us its body, a body that taste like deliciously prepared umami meat, is more nutritious than meat, and becomes even more nutritious when grown on corn husks — an agricultural byproduct in infinite supply due to the plantation mono-culture that feeds the world its maize. The Tributary mushroom readily colonizes potato dextrose agar from surface sterilized tissue bits (Ramkumar et al, 114). The Hellflower’s readiness to proliferate tells us that, while not complete, its drive to fulfill its mission in the corporeal world is very strong.

The sigil for our spirit-form is an excellent focus for wealth magic of all kinds, especially emergency wealth magic when the magic-user or those she loves are having financial difficulties that impact their ability to fulfill their nutritional needs. The Hellflower wants us to eat and wants us to be fulfilled with all of the nutrition a human requires. That is what he gives us in his body and what he offers us when invoking his spirit-form.

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This sigil is also useful when performing operations from classical grimoires that involve the raising of demons. It is a key that opens the doors to Hell wide. Take caution, however, because it is not a method of binding or closing that door. It is an offering to the King and Queen of Hell themselves. It will speed up a stubborn demon on their way to your circle, as they will find the prestige of the offering very hard to resist. Once they are there, however, pray that you are prepared for the added strength that the Hellflower sigil emboldens them with.

Sigil courtesy of Ghostly Harmless’ Sigilizer

References

Adedokun O M and Akuma A H (2013) Maximizing agricultural residues: Nutritional properties of straw mushrooms on maize husk, waste cotton and plantain leaves. Natural Resources (4) pp 534-537

Allegro, J. M. (2015). The sacred mushroom and the Cross: A study of the nature and origins of Christianity within the fertility cults of the ancient Near East. Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York.

Aquino, A. D., Gander, F., Aquino, A. D., & Aquino, A. D. (2013). Fungus skull eye wing: Selected poems of Alfonso D'Aquino. Copper Canyon Press. Port Townsend, Washington. [https://amzn.to/2Nj50l7]

Chandra O and Chaubey K (2017) Volvariella volvacea: A paddy straw mushroom having some therapeutic and health prospective importance. World Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (6,9) pp 1291-1300

Chang S (1977) The origin and early development of straw mushroom cultivation. Economic Botany (31, 3) pp. 374-376

Cook, L. (2013). The mushroom hunters: On the trail of an underground America. New York: Ballantine.

Eguchi F, Kalaw S P, Dulay R M R, Miyasawa N, Yoshimoto H, Seyama T and Reyes R G (2015) Nutrient composition and functional activity of different stages in the fruiting body development of Philippine Paddy Straw Mushroom, Volvariella volvacea (Bull.:Fr.) Sing. Advances in Environmental Biology (9,22) pp 54-65

Hazzard-Donald, K. (2017). Mojo workin': The old African American Hoodoo system. University of Illinois Press. Urbana, Illinois.

Ramkumar L, Ramanathan T and Johnprababaran (2012) Evaluation of nutrients, trace metals and antioxidant activity in Volvariella volvacea (Bull. Ex. Fr.) Sing. Emirates Journal of Food and Agriculture. (24, 2) pp 113-119

Tsing, A. L. (2017). Mushroom at the end of the world: On the possibility of life in capitalist ruins. Princeton University Press.

Mushroom Images

Volvariella volvacea from AmatoxinApocalypse

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