The Mourning Dragon

If you are looking for spirits, look not towards your local graveyard but to your nearest forest. The spirits there are wild and unpredictable and filled with a kind of power not possessed by others. The forest is the home of the Mourning Dragon who broods beneath the ground, entwined in the ancient roots of trees, drinking in their wisdom.

While mushrooms do grow everywhere, if one is seeking to commune with mushroomkin, one should look to the forest. While the cultivation / invocation of mushroomkin can happen in the home or the garden, why not commit oneself to bringing new spirit-forms to live in the nearest forest, or park, or any stand of trees that might cry silently in the night for a lack of mycological heroes in their pantheon. Instead of removing the forest to cultivate crops, the mycomage should indulge in agroforestry, she should help bring her crops to the forest (Judge, 26). Agroforestry is practiced the world over to great success, the Chagga people of Mt. Kilimanjaro are an example that could connect the sterile Western soul to a time when the forest produced for us and it was unthinkable to cut it down because it was our home (Judge, 27). In the forest we find all manner of spirit-forms living together in the same assemblage, like the uber-spirit Panax quinquefolius (Ginseng) who thrives in the same environment as Lentinula edodes (shiitake) (Judge, 28).

Panax quinquefolius

Panax quinquefolius

Lentinula edodes

Lentinula edodes

Looking for spirit-forms, for mushroomkin, in the forest requires sensitivity, sensitivity as it is defined by Phil Hine in Condensed Chaos:

“Sensitivity… requires that we are aware of complexities… Sensitivity is useful whenever you are in a situation where you have to pay attention to anything other than your own inner dialogues, whether the ‘other’ be people, animals, ecosystems, or spirits. The sensitive are the ones who survive… ” 57-58

I began this post by creating a false juxtaposition between the graveyard and the forest as the best place for a mycomage to haunt. There is, of course, a(n underground) connection between the two and Donna Haraway is the one to make it. She pulls in to our pantheon the science fiction writer Orson Scott Card and his novel, ‘The Speaker for the Dead’:

“In… ‘The Speaker for the Dead’ Orson Scott Card explored how a young boy who had excelled in exterminationist technoscience in a cross-species war… later in life took up responsibility for the dead, for collecting up the stories for those left behind when a being, or a way of being, dies. The mand had to do what the boy, immersed only in cyber-realities and deadly virtual war, was never allowed to do; the man had to visit, to live with, to face the dead and the living in all of their materialities. The task of the Speaker for the Dead is to bring the dead into the present, so as to make more response-able living and dying possible in times yet to come.” (Haraway, 69)

Mushroomkin are the Speakers of the Dead for the forest. What are they telling us, what should we be paying attention to? That is where Hine’s chaosensitivity comes in. According to Haraway they are the voice of the chthonic, like Lovecraft’s white apes in the Catskills and his ghouls in the graveyards of Boston, they are the tunnel dwellers, the fragments, the edge-livers and those that dwell amongst the crevices. In her words:

“The chthonic ones are those indigenous to the earth in myriad languages and stories and [those] decolonial indigenous peoples and projects.” (Haraway, 71)

She speaks about the people and the disappearances of the forests around the world. She states very plainly that the survival of the forest is linked directly with the survival of humankind (Haraway, 73), and we have learned that the survival of the forest hinges on the survival of their Speakers of the Dead, of the mushroomkin. It isn’t enough for us to conserve trees or to plant new ones. New trees without their spirit companions in their tunnels beneath the ground nestled adjacent their roots have as much chance as surviving as we do without our own microbiome. We can contribute more by living with, thinking with and understanding the mission of our mushroomkin.

The unstoppable migration of humankind from rural areas to the city can only benefit the earth. The less humans there are in the country, the more space there is for healing ecosystems. The next step is for cities to produce the food they need to feed their citizenry using the available space to do so, and not through continuing expansion in the country. Mushroomkin can, and indeed I argue that they want to, assist humankind with feeding and nourishing themselves in their urban ecosystems while simultaneously acting as Speakers of the Dead for the diminished forest-kingdoms.

There is another difference between our cthonic spiritkin and those spirits of place in the graveyard up the road. Mushrooms are a global force for change and are, by their nature, driven to disrupt capitalism and to align with the decolonization of human culture. Spirits of place are powerful local allies while mushroomkin are a sentient web of intelligence that the mycomage can tap into. By thinking with these spirits we become more active participants in decolonization.

One example of a particularly effective decolonizing spirit is Crinipelis perniciosa. This mushroom causes what is known as Witches Broom disease. Witches Broom can attack many kinds of plants but it is particularly pernicious when it comes to cacao (Money, 69). Nicholas P. Money, one of the more prolific science communicators in the realm of mycology, offers some history on this spirit-form’s mission against the plantation and plantation culture:

“the first widespread outbreak of the disease was reported in Surinam. Plantations had been established by the Dutch in the eighteenth century, and exports peaked at 4,500 tonnes before Crinipellis was discovered in 1895. Within a decade of the mushroom’s arrival, production crashed by 80 percent, fortunes were last… After Surinam, witches’ broom appearing in Guyana in 1906, where it eradicated the crop entirely; in Colombia in 1917; and then in top-producer Ecuador in 1921. The appearance of the mushroom must have been a particular shock to the Ecuadorian ‘cocoa kings’ living north of the capital in Guayaquil, who enjoyed lifestyles more often associated with… wealth rubber barons… Gentlemen who had been sending their shirts to be laundered in Paris ‘went bankrupt instantly.’” (Money, 73)

A demon in the rain forest bent on disrupting the very core of empire (and human pleasure in the case of the chocolate) by not killing but changing the cacao tree so that it no longer produces its commodity. Plantation culture and plantation owners, the heralds of imperialism, racism and ethnocide, are smothered beneath this spirits mycelial web. In the dim hellish red light of Crinipellis perniciosa, the mythical origins of mushrooms begin to tell a different story.

Perseus is known as the founder of the city of Mycenae, which is located near the modern existing village of Mykines, Greece. There are a number of stories attributed to the founding of Mycenae, which derives its name etymologically from the word ‘mukes,’ or mushroom. In his travels, Perseus grew thirsty and plucked a mushroom from the ground and drank the water resting in its cap — upon plucking the mushroom the underground springs of Mycenae began to flow from the spot.

Another tale, one much more relevant to our research, is that Mycenae is where the head of Medusa fell, cleaved from her body by Perseus using Mercury’s pruning hook (Ruck et al, 88). In every classic representation of this battle a scythe, or pruning hook, is used by Perseus to battle the Gorgon. When her head falls to the earth and her blood spills into the ground a number of things happen. Pegasus and his twin the human warrior Chrysaor. They are both the children of Poseidon and Medusa, who lay with the god of oceans and horses while still a beautiful maid. It was this transgression that earned her the metamorphisis into the snake-locked Gorgon we all know and love. Also from the blood soaked ground sprang the Fare Folk and the kingdom of mushrooms. The pruning hook can be viewed as a metaphor for the sickle-shaped knives used by modern foragers today to pluck mushrooms from the ground. The act of harvesting mushrooms is a re-enactement of Perseus harvesting the head of Medusa, the mother of all mushroomkin (Ruck et al, 90).

Medusa metamorphises again as she travels through time and distance into the mermaid Melusine. Melusine is sometimes represented as Panagia Gorgona, or Virgin Mary the Mermaid. In Europe she is a water sprite falls in love with a knight and makes him king of the kingdom of mushrooms (Ruck et al, 93). This is the origin story of Baba-Yaga’s compainions King Borovik and his tribe (our mushroomkin), the Leshii.

The Tribe of the Mushroomkin are also associated with the Hyperboreans, those first beings, those ancient aliens whose city is featured in Lovecraft’s Mountains of Madness. The very first Hyperboreans were known as the Arimaspeans and are depicted as anthropomorphized one-eyed mushrooms (Ruck et al, 94) — which connect to the enslaved or harvested or cultivated creatures unearthed in the Antarctic cave by the protagonists in Lovecraft’s Tale. The Arimaspi were principally known for battling with and fighting griffins, who gaurded vast stores of gold and treasure. If using the above myths as source material for new spellwork, there is a throughline that makes griffins and all their archetype represent, the enemy, as Arimaspeans were principally concerned with stealing gold from their hordes. This maps back to the emerging trend of mushrooms being against capitalism (represented by the hordeing of money by a few) and putting wealth back in the hands of those who do not have it as a result of the actions of empire.

In the book, ‘Mushrooms, Myth & Mithras: The drug cult that civilized Europe’, the authors make a final point connecting Medusa and the mushroom:

“The Gorgon Medusa… is blatantly identifiable as an anthropomorphized zoomorphism of [a] mushroom… Just as the Medusa is transmuted into the goddess Athena, the mushroom becomes pacified as her prime botanical attribute, the olive tree.” (Ruck et al, 95)

Which opens the door for the mycomage to consider all mushroom-tree symbiots as real-world representations of the Medusa / Athena dichotomous archetype.

While the whole of Mushrooms, Myth & Mithras is elightening (if not somewhat stretched academically thin in places) and fun, the best part is the ethnographic post-script at the end where the author recalls a Yezedi informant, Siamak, who contacted him only after the books primary text had been approved by the publisher. Thankfully, they also allowed the following addition:

“Siamak’s paternal grandmother… was a Mithraist who died at a very advanced age, perhaps 112, and who had always lived in the central Zagros Mountains near Kermanshah in the western part of modern Iran… During the many picnics and camping trips his family made to the forest, he collected mushrooms with his grandmother, including a large variety that she considred a ‘holy poison.’ He remembers the mushrooms as being red and yellowish… and having white spots. The mushrooms were kept dried in a closet and not in the kitchen. He was warned that he should not touch them because they were a ‘holy thing,’ and that he should not touch them when unsupervised by this grandmother… Eventually, the mushrooms would disappear from their storage place… the disappearance coincided with the preparation of the sacramental Yezidi wine… As a child, Siamak never understood why everything was secret. Insofar as it is believed that these [Yezidi] traditionalist worship the Sun in their largely ‘pagan’ religion, critics allege that they worship the ‘root of Satan’ or the ‘angel of fire.’” (Ruck et al, 236-238)

The Devil’s Corn from our last exploration, Witch’s Broom and now using mushrooms as a sacrament for devil worship… Mushroomkin are identified as both the children of saints and of the devil. They are the manifestation of the divine on earth and as every witch knows, for human’s to traffic with the divine — magic must be afoot and much of that magic will be considered ‘evil’ by the majority of the earth’s population — in one way or another. In choosing to live and think with mushrooms, in acknowledging their massive power to heal and to tear down the imperialist structures that are leading headlong into gaiacide we are also acknowledging our precarity in relation to them. Precarity, as Anna Tsing states in ‘The Mushroom at the End of the World’ is:

“a state of acknowledgement of our vulnerability to others. In order to survive, we need help, and help is always the service of another, with or without intent… If survival always involves others, it is also necessarily subject to the indeterminacy of self-and other transformations. We change through our collaborations both within and across species… The diversity that allows us to enter collaborations emerges from histories of extermination, imperialism, and all the rest. Contamination makes diversity.” (Tsing, 29)

Collaborating with mushrooms contaminates us, we become less human and more mushroom and the mushrooms conversely become more human (is this their goal?) This contamination is necessary for our survival. In her work Tsing is chasing those foragers and professional pickers that are in turn chasing the Matsutake, who love to fruit beneath the Lodgepole pine (Tsing, 30).

Matsutake

Matsutake

Matustake-as-Medusa gives us a Gorgon that finds her niche, that eeks out survival where she can. The Lodgepole-Pine-as-Athena changes the image of Athena to an opportunist as well, she exists where the Titans, the ponderosa pines, once existed but were driven from this realm by the actions of humankind. Tsing delivers us the concept of contaminated diversity and offers us the archetypally apocalyptic landscape created by corporate logging as an example of this concept (Tsing, 33). Athena is the archetype of the tangled landscape, of living as a god in a realm that was once dominated by mightier beings. While Medusa possesses the tangle of snakes on her head, it is representative of mycelia, of survival and sustenance. Athena, while not overtly tangled, is entwined at her very core, the very reason she exists is darker and more chaotic than any visage Medusa can produce.

Our spirit-form this week is another mushroomkin that can be classified as part of the Medusa-Athena archetype. Her formal name is Wolfiporia cocos and she is also associated with pine trees. Known as Fu Ling in China, a name that roughly translates to ‘another blessing,’ Fu Ling is edible and medicinal, finding her way into 10% of all traditional Chinese medicines (Wei et al, 1). Fu Ling does not fruit like matsutake but instead forms what is called a sclerotia attached to the root of her host tree. Sclerotia are a dense aggregation of tissue that are resiliant to freezing, desiccation, bacterial attack or separation from their host tree.

Wolfipoira cocos

Wolfipoira cocos

They are a physical example of resource-hording and as such, are a symbol of the famine-survivor (Smith et al, 1-2). Sclerotia-forming mushrooms, in general, are looked on as pathogens and are responsible for millions of dollars of loss from monoculture farming worldwide. Sclerotia are a symbol of disruption, disruption to the factory-farm system and an ally to natural farming and methods of agroforestry.

Our hero, Fu Ling, is a healer. She contains strong concentrations of polysaccharieds and triterpenes, which contribute to multiple immune stimulatory effects when consumed (Wei et al, 1). Her body, the sclerotia, forms as a response to stress and environmental change. She is a herald of disruption and to find her is to find a physical speck of a forest’s collective history.

Wolfipoira cocos is also known to have diuretic, sedative and tonic effects. While being found across the globe, in China she is used most widely in Yunnan, Guizhou, Hubei, Anhui, Fujian, Sichuan and Guangxi provinces. She has found her way into the laboratory as well on her healing mission and there has been identified as having antitumor, antiinflammatory and liver protecting characteristics (Ling-Fang, 1). In Japan, when she is dried (not a precursor to her death, remember, as her spirit survives these harsh states) is in known as ‘bukuryou.’ Buku means a state or period of mourning, while bukubuku means a bulging, swelling, bubbling or foaming. Ryou means dragon or a game animal. She is the Mourning Dragon and can be found in the Kampo formulas Keishibukuryogan, Goshajinkigan, Goreisan, and Saireito (Kubo et al, 1191).

Unlike matsutake, whose feral nature largely defines them, the Mourning Dragon does not resist domestication. Cultures of Wolfipoira cocos are easily procured and it has been found that she can be cultivated on pine logs in the absence of soil in closed plastic autoclavable bottles [https://www.alibaba.com/showroom/shiitake-mushroom-grow-bottle.html], growing the best in a consistent temperature of 77 °F (Kubo et al, 1192). Her mycelia enjoy an environment of sawdust and rice bran with a 70% moisture content although malt yeast extract, potato dextrose agar, yeast extract agar and yeast malt agar ahve also been reported as working well for mycelial growth, especially if fortified with fructose, thiamine-HCL and nicotinamed (Woo-Sik, Abstract). The authors of ‘Indoor cultivation and cultural characteristics of Wolfiporia cocos sclerotia using mushroom cultura bottles’ used Pinus densiflora logs for cultivation but according to other authors the Mourning Dragon is not so picky about who fulfills her Athena archetype, so just about any pine log available should suffice. It is recommended to cut the pine log to approximately 4 inches in length and soack in water overnight prior to innoculation. They can then be placed in the bottle and sterilized in an autoclave for 30 minutes. Following inoculation the logs can be incubated at the aforementioned 77 °F in a dark place for approximately 14 weeks (Kubo et al, 1192).

The Mourning Dragon keens lowly for the disruption of the forest and with her brethren subvert the plantation culture that bring wealth to imperialists at the hands of the indentured and enslaved. But who else does she cry for? There is one figure that our dragon is tied to in the historical (and metafictional) past, and that is the Empress Dowager, otherwise known as Ci Xi. @springorchid in her excellent blog ‘Homemade Chinese Soup’ tells us that Ci XI was a Qing Dynasty royal she was known to have suffered from weak health and a poor appetite. Her chefs introduced Fu Ling to her through her food because they knew her to promote appetite when used in food. The Empress grew healthy and grew to love the ‘poria pancakes’ her chefs prepared for her, crepes filled with poria powder, pine nuts and honey. These pastries became a form of reward to those the Empress Dowager favored (@springorchid, 2016). If we use Ci Xi as a point of focus when invoking Fu Ling, we have several choices in popular culture to help us build the aesthetic. Empress Orchid in ‘The Last Empress’ by the author Anchee Min is based on her, as is the Earth Queen Hou-Ting from The Legend of Korra.

Medusa Athena.jpg

One does not even have to squint to find the Medusa / Athena duality in Hou-Ting. Tim Burton even has a nod to the Mourning Dragon’s Empress in Through the Looking Glass when Alice is chastised for her bright outfit when attending her first event when back in England. She mutters to herself that her lovely dress was quite good enough for the Empress Dowager.

alice-through-the-looking-glass.jpg

@spingorchid tells us that Fu Ling is:

“considered neutral in nature with both a sweet and light flavour. It invigorates the spleen, promote diuresis and tranquilises the mind… Poria fungus contains a large amount of polysaccharide substances which helps to regulate the functions of the immune system. It is good for the elderly and patients with a weak constitution or suffering from chronic illnesses.”

and goes on to offer recipes for cream desserts, tonic soups, rice porrridge and sweet cakes that all contain our spirit-form. I encourage you to head over to Homemade Chinese Soups and check the recipes out for yourself as a very accessible way to begin living with this mushroomkin.

There are others that our dragon mourns that live as corporeal beings or spirits in the United States as well. The sclerotia of Wolfipoira cocos is also known, mostly in the American South, as a Tuckahoe. The phytopathologist George Weber, a professor emiritus at the University of Florida who obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1922 (Decker and Robers, 143) suggests in his 1929 paper ‘The Occurence of Tuckahoes and Poira Cocos in Florida’ that while tuckahoe is a common term for all sclerotia-forming fungi that it should only be applied to our dragon where she is found brooding beneath the dirt (Weber, Abstract). The name tackahoe is ascribed originally to be an anglicization of a Powhatan term for our mushroomkin (McRitchie, 1) but the term evolved through the years to mean something quite different. A tuckahoe in the 18th and 19th century was a term used to specifically describe plantation owners in Virginia and Carlonia (Wikipedia, 2009). By taking their name the Mourning Dragon reminds us of plantation culture and through this memory we are able to recognize and erradicate it in the modern day. The co-opting of the term to describe the plantation owners cannot be accidental. As Wolfipoira cocos is, in effect, a parasitic lifeforms on the roots of trees, so to were the plantation owners parasites living off of the blood-wealth of slavery.

The sigil of Fu Ling can be used for empowering those on the margins of society, such as those with misunderstood chronic illness or those with ancestors that were oppressed and enslaved by plantation culture.

Fu Ling.png

It is also particularly useful for women seeking their power. It can channel the authority and grace of Empress Orchid, the curiosity and magic of Alice and the ruthlessness of Earth Queen Hou-Ting. It is an open gateway to the wisdom and terrible power contained inside of the Medusa-Athena archetype.

Sigil courtesy of the Ghostly Harmless Sigilizer

References

Decker P and Robers D A (1978) George F. Weber, 1894-1976. Phytopathology (68, 2) p 143.

Haraway, D. J. (2016). Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press

Hine, P., & Carroll, P. J. (2010). Condensed chaos: An introduction to chaos magic. Original Falcon Press.

homemade-chinese-soups.com (2016) Poria Fungus Fit For a Queen. Retrieved from https://www.homemade-chinese-soups.com/poria-fungus.html

Judge K (2010) Forest farming. Arnoldia (67, 3) pp 26-35

Kubo T, Terabayashi S, Takeda S, Sasaki H, Masaki A and Miyamoto K (2006) Indoor cultivation and cultural characteristics of Wolfiporia cocos sclerotia using mushroom cultura bottles. Biological Pharmacy Bulliten (29, 6) pp 1191-1196

Ling-Fang W, Kun-Feng W, Xin M, Wen-Yi L, Wen-Jing C, Shi L, Qi Q, Ya-Ping C and Lan-Zhen Z (2016) Screening and Analysis of the Potential Bioactive Components of Poria cocos (Schw.) Wolf by HPLC and HPLC-MSn with the Aid of Chemometrics. Molecoules (21, 277) pp 1-18

McRitchie J J (1993) Tuckahoes. Plant Pathology Circular (360) pp 1-2.

Money, N. P. (2007). The triumph of the fungi: A rotten history. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ruck, C. A. P., Hoffman, M. A., & González, C. J. A. (2011). Mushrooms, myth & mithras: The drug cult that civilized Europe. San Francisco: City Lights.

Smith M E, Henkel T W and Rollins J A (2014) How many fungi make sclerotia? Fungal Ecology (30) pp 1-10

Tsing, A. L. (2017). The mushroom at the end of the world: On the possibility of life in capitalist ruins. Princeton (New Jersey) [etc.: Princeton University.

Weber G (1929) The Occurrence of Tuckahoes and Poria Cocos in Florida. Mycologia (21, 3) pp 113-130.

Wikipedia (2009) Tuckahoe-Cohee. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuckahoe-Cohee.

Wei W, Shu S, Zhu W, Xiong Y and Peng F (2016) The Kinome of Edible and Medicinal Fungus Wolfiporia cocos. Frontiers in Microbiology (7) pp 1-10

Woo-Sik J, Ju-Ri P, So-Ra O, Min-Gu K, Woo-Hyun K and Seung-Chun P (2016) Culture conditions for mycelial growth of Poria cocos. Journal of Mushrooms. pp 6-13

Mushroom Images

Lentinula edodes from gillow2e

Trichloma matsutake from sporulator

Wolfiporia extensa (preferred name) from Jay Pitts

Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution - ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.