Snake-Cap Solider

“I am the woman who looks into the insides of things, says…

I am a woman of light, says…

I am a Morning Star woman, says…

I am the God Star woman, says…

Mother of good palms…

Your words are medicine

Your breath is medicine

That is the work of our flower with sap, our flower of the dew

Our budding children, our sprouting children…” (Sabina and Rothenberg, 88 - 105)

Goes the timeless chants of the shaman Maria Sabina, who allowed R. Gordon Wasson into her trust and, by extension, opened the entire colonized world’s mind to the power of mushroomkin. Maria Sabina is a global example of the Baba Yaga archetype, the wise woman of the woods that traffics with mushroomkin. She is also a direct connection to Laurasia and Gondwana, to our Paleolithic cousins still foraging in the ghost forests of pre-history.

Up to the year of 2017 there had only been ten fossil mushrooms discovered. All of these, Jurassic Park style, are amber inclusions from between the mid-Cretaceous and the Miocene eras, or from 79 to 23 million years ago. In 2017, however, a mushroom fossil was discovered that was a mineralized replacement, the type of fossil that most of us are familiar with. This mushroom, nicknamed ‘Gondwanagaricites magnificus’ because of the inability to map its characteristics to any existing fossil mushroom, has been dated to the early Cretaceous, or 149 million years ago (Heads et al, Abstract). The fossil of G. magnificus is remarkable not because it shows an evolutionary step of mushroomkin, but because it is evidence of what we recognize today as a modern gilled mushroom, even with the existence of a partial veil. This fossil strongly suggests the existence of mushroomkin on the ancient super-continent of Gondwana, which existed with its sister super-continent, Laurasia, some 200 million years ago (Heads et al, 3-4).

Layering the existence of Gondwanagaricites magnificus with the growing case of the ingestion of mushrooms (from samples of DNA from the dental remains and evidence of proteins in bone samples) by Paleolithic hunter-gatherers some 2.5 million years ago, it is becoming clear that mushrooms have been our companions and in many ways our champions since the dawn of mankind. Otzi, the Copper Age Iceman, who lived a mere 5300 years ago, was found with evidence of advanced mushroom-lore. He was carrying a Piptoporus betulinus, which is used to this day as a vermifuge, a medicine that destroys parasitic worms. Other archeological evidence has found evidence of the use of Bovista nigrescens (Puffball) at sites in the UK (O’Regan et al, 139-140).

Piptoporus betulinus

Piptoporus betulinus

Bovista nigrescens

Bovista nigrescens

Mushroom-lore is very likely as old and as full of ancient magic as any star-lore that has journeyed into the modern day.

Studies in ethnomycology are ongoing and we, as twenty-first century magic-users, are the poorer for it if we are not paying attention. Holding the information in the paragraphs above in our minds, let’s consider the finding in the excellent paper ‘Ethnomycological knowledge in three communities in Amealco, Quéretaro, México from the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. The authors set the stage by stating that:

“Fungi play an important role as a livelihood mechanism during the rainy season, and women are the key element in the transmission of this knowledge…” (Robles-Garcia et al, 2)

Like witchcraft (I’m generalizing here), mushroom-lore is held by women, by the daughters of Baba Yaga. Indigenous and mestizo women in Mexico forage mushrooms for medicine, food and for economic gain through an activity called ‘rancheo,’ where they go house-to-house selling their mushroom horde (Robles-Garcia et al, 2). The mushroom gatherers of this area in Mexico use the terms ‘jo,’ which means ’sponge’ in Otomí, or the more interesting ‘hyethe,’ which means ‘in rainy season’ (Robles-Garcia et al, 5). The authors of the paper list the common names they collected and they appear to all be variations of hyethe, with preceding descriptors. The mushrooms (presumably) are, to the Otomí or those of Otomí heritage, a manifestation or a personification of the rainy season. Perhaps they are children of the season, which infers that the rainy season itself has animacy, just as the mushroomkin spirit-form that they hunt.

The three most important species of mushroomkin to the Otomí of this region were recorded as Amanita basii, Lactarius indigo and Fistulinella wolfeana (Robles-Garcia et al, 5).

Amanita basii

Amanita basii

Lactarius indigo

Lactarius indigo

Fistulinella wolfeana

Fistulinella wolfeana

At this point the authors offer a very interesting passage about how these mushrooms are traditionally prepared:

“The main form of mushroom consumption was by roasting, only by cooking on a griddle (comal), with a little salt. Many people cook them with green sauce or “pasilla” chili sauce. Amanita basii was consumed alone for being very palatable. Fistulinella wolfeana and Lactarius indigo can only be eaten roasted… Some people like to mix mushrooms… Some mushrooms can be preserved for long periods, such as L. indigo and F. wolfeana, which are dried on rocks in the sun, or hanged on a chain…” (Robles-Garcia et al, 7)

It is also stated that the primary system of knowledge transfer is between grandmothers, mothers and their daughters, with the men and boys having different roles in the social order, the men often working away from their families for extended periods of time. Mestizos often had a reduced scope of knowledge of their mushroomkin than did the Otomí. Knowledge transfer was traced by the researchers for at least a period of fifty years, through two or three generations (Robles-Garcia et al, 7). The loss of this knowledge among mestizos can be seen as another example of the colonized mind’s infection with mycophobia and an attachment to the use of mushroom to class structures brought about through colonization.

Our spirit form this week is another connection to Gondwana, the Desert Shaggy Mane, otherwise known as Podaxis pistillaris.

Podaxis pistillaris

Podaxis pistillaris

Like the other mushrooms mentioned above, Podaxis pistillaris is an important ally to indigenous persons in Mexico (Medina-Ortiz et al, 18), but he is not only that as his range is truly global, as we will see. The Desert Shaggy Mane is often harvested and consumed with onions, epazote and green peppers. He is known in Mexico as the ‘soldadito,’ or ‘little soldier’ and one researcher recorded an informant as stating that he is ‘one of the tastiest and most nourishing products the land gives us.’ From the paper, ‘The genus Podaxis in arid regions of Mexico: Preliminary ITS phylogeny and ethnomycological use’:

“Through the years, the local people have acquired the necessary knowledge to easily locate, harvest and select this mushroom from the land. Although this mushroom is mainly used for personal consumption, some people collect it and sell it in the community. They have also acquired the knowledge about the phenology and ecology of Podaxis spp., and they relate the ‘acidity of rain’ with the germination of its spores. In addition, most of the people agree on the following: ‘when there are constant rains, the fungi starts to grow’, ‘small mushrooms show up after it rains, the sun comes out and the sky is clear’, in order for it to grow, the mushroom needs sunlight for one or two days Concerning the habitat and soil, they indicate that: ‘mushrooms grow mainly on the river bank or on sandy soil’ but also ‘mushrooms are produced throughout the mountain slopes, even on agricultural production areas’. They also say: ‘if you find one, you will find two’ or ‘they are born in pairs’. Finally, when a mushroom fruiting body has ‘aged’, the local people spread the spores in places where they want the fungi to grow next rain season, and they say: ‘if they don’t grow this season, they’ll grow during the next one.’” (Medina-Ortiz et al, 18)

The spreading of the spores as a type of mushroom porto-farming is fascinating and an example of P. pistallaris’ agency in forming interkingdom relationships. It is also a very unique method of mushroom cultivation, being ostensibly as easy as spreading seeds. As a further example of this mushroomkin’s wide policy of adaptation, the same entity found in the arid regions of Mexico can also be found in Australia. In Australia, however, the soldadito has formed an alliance with termites and is typically found growing out of termite mounds (Medina-Ortiz et al, 19). Similarly, the Podaxis pistallaris army of soldier pairs can be found in the desert or arid regions of Oregon, California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas. It has also been found in Hawaii, Jamaica, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Asia, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Kuwait, Qatar, India, China and Africa (Medina-Ortiz et al, 18). He is also one of the many cryptogams that thrive on the Galapagos Islands (Bungartz et al, 136).

These aren’t cousins or variations, they are the same species, morphologically identical across the world and all adapted to desert regions. Even attempts at differentiation at the genetic level have largely been frustrated. For all intents and purposes it is an ancient fungi that is found in the most remote, hostile, unpeopled areas of the world — it is not too far a jump to think that soldadito has been a companion species of humankind since the Paleolithic and a companion species to non-humankind since Gondwana and Laurasia murmured their geological complaints 250 million years ago.

In Pakistan his name is ‘khumbi,’ in India he is called ‘Saanp ki chhatri,’ which means the ‘umbrella of a snake’ or ‘snake’s cap’. He is also found in the company of Hakim, the cunning men of the Islamic world. In Australia he is known as the Black Powderpuff (like a Powerpuff Girl gone bad?), Kama in Iraq and Faswat al-dheib in Yemen. (Medina-Ortiz et al, 30-31). I wonder what his name is on Arakis ? Or if he is a good candidate for the first mushroom on Mars.

In Yemen the Snake-Cap Soldier is used to treat skin diseases and in South Africa he is a remedy for sunburns. Australian aborigines use him to darken the white hair in the beards of their elders as well as body paint and as a fly repellent (Al-Fatimi et al, 87) and as a specific face paint that is used in mortuary rituals (Vásquez-Davila, 308). Both modern science and traditional healers have found that Podaxis pistillaris can be used as an effective antibacterial agent (Al-Fatimi et al, 91).

Nutritionally, the Snake-Cap Soldier contains up to 41% amino acids, 33% protein and a low fat content. He possesses significant levels of quercitin, beta-carotine, lycopene and unique flavonoids. The Wayuu People of Colombia use it as a sunscreen (Vásquez-Davila, 307). He is a mushroomkin that protects life and aids in the celebration and ritual associated with death - a militant spirit-form whose mission is as ancient as the mountains. He has also been reported as being used as an aid to ruminants, or domesticated hooved animals, his body acting as a probiotic for those that show intestinal imbalance (Vásquez-Davila, 308) — showing us again that the Snake-Cap Soldier is a true master of interkingdom relationships.

His cultivation, as has been mentioned above, is as simple as spreading his spores on a suitable patch of dirt. This has been replicated by researchers at Sindh Agriculture University (Jiskani, 1). If you are seeking to invoke this ancient spirit-form via a live culture of Podaxis pistallaris it has been found that he prefers a media of potato dextrose broth, a consistent pH of 5.32 if possible, and a temperature of 86 degrees Fahrenheit for a period of twenty-one days (Khan et al, 222).

The Snake-Cap Soldier’s sigil is useful for maintaining healthy skin, as a magical combatant against stubborn infections as an enhancement to proper medical treatment and as a foci for those wanting to assist community members that have walked on to find their place among the ancestors.

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His sigil is also a window into all of the desert regions of the world, a type of scrying mirror that allows the magic-user to peer into the most unpeopled and remote wastelands on the planet. Perhaps, with the right amount of concentration, this sigil could be used as a scrying mirror into the lands of Gondwana and Laurasia and the mysteries that they hold.

Sigil courtesy of Ghostly Harmless’ Sigilizer

References

Al-Fatimi M A A, Jülich W E, Jansen R and Lindquist U (2006) Bioactive components of the traditionally used mushroom Podaxis pistillaris. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (3) pp 87-92

Bone, E. (2013). Mycophilia: Revelations from the weird world of mushrooms. Emmaus: Rodale.

Bungartz F, Nugra-Salazar F I, Arturo-López X, Ziemmeck F and Bates S (2008) Cryptogams of the Galapagos Islands (lichens, bryophytes, and fungi): New records, threats, and potential as bioindicators — a first evaluation. Galapagos Report. pp 136-141

Heads SW, Miller A N, Crane J L, Thomas M J, Ruffatto D M, Metheven A S, Raudagaogh D B and Want Y (2017) The oldest fossil mushroom. PLoS ONE (12, 6). pp 1-6.

Jiskani M M (2015) “Different to All Others” Cultivation of Desert Mushroom, Podaxis Pistillaris (L.) Morse. Retrieved from: https://www.scribd.com/document/275213944/Podaxis-Pistillaris-Edible

Khan F N, Zaidi K U, Khan F and Pandey M (2015) Production of eco-biopolymer by submerged mycelial culture of a mushroom Podaxis pistillaris recovered form Bhanpur Landfill Area, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Asian Journal of Biochemical and Pharmaceutical Research (4, 5) pp 218-229

María, S., & Rothenberg, J. (2003). Selections. Berkeley: University of California Press

Medina-Ortiz A J, Herrera T, Vásquez-Davila M A, Raja H A and Figueroa M (2017) The genus Podaxis in arid regions of Mexico: Preliminary ITS phylogeny and ethnomycological use. MycoKeys (20) pp 17-36

O’Regan H J, Lamb A L and Wilkinson D M (2016) The missing mushrooms: Searching for fungi in ancient human dietary analysis. Journal of Archaeological Science (75) pp 139-143

Robles-Garcia D, Suzan-Azpiri H, Montoya-Esquivel A, Garcia-Jimenez J, Esquivel-Naranjo E U, Yahia E and Landers-Jaime F (2018) Ethnomycological knowledge in three communities in Amealco, Quéretaro, México. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine (14, 7) pp 1-13

Vásquez-Davila M A (2017) Current and potential use of the desert fungus Podaxis pistillaris (I.) fr. (Agaricaceae). Journal of Bacteriology & Mycology (5, 3) pp 307-309

Mushroom Images

Piptoporus betulinus from JC

Bovisa nigrescens from Gerhard Koller

Amanita basii and Fistulinella wolfeana from Alan Rockefeller

Lactarius indigo from Sarah Prentice

Podaxis pistillaris from the3foragers