We’ve had an incredibly wet few weeks. Through March I think we had about two days of sunny weather and a couple of peeks from the sun here and there, but most of the time it has been raining, and that has meant an abundance of mushrooms. They’re everywhere: in the bush, in gardens, on the side of the road, and as we were lucky to find out, all over the plantation pine forests just west of the mountains near Oberon.
We have had two expeditions out to Oberon – luckily those two days of sunshine fell on weekends and we were able to take the beautiful drive out through the countryside to go foraging among the pine trees. The mushrooms we were looking for are called saffron milk caps and they only grow under pine trees. Though there were a few in patches of them in gardens through the mountains, these pine forests were absolutely brimming with them when we went.
On this last Saturday passed I held a circle at the community gardens. It was a damp day with cloud cover and drizzle threateningly close to precipitating in the air, though it didn’t form until the very last few moments of the gathering. We began by finding something in the gardens that represented what the season meant to us as a symbol of how we’ve been feeling and what we’ve been noticing in nature. Many people brought mushrooms and rotting damp things to the center of the circle. Themes we spoke of were rotting, moldiness, dampness, darkness, transformation, the balance of life and death, the many layers of what is happening, the falling away of leaves and bark… There were a few people who chose to bring mushrooms, so I wasn’t the only one who’d seen this symbol of the season.
For me, the mushroom represents the interconnectedness of the forest and of all life. Under the ground the mycelium that connects the mushrooms, the trees and the earth together is like a network of nerves or bodily organs. It seems like a network of brain cells, thinking for the forest, and also works like a digestive system to metabolise the wastes of bark, leaves and branches, turning them back into healthy earth, through transforming the cells with the growth of mushrooms.
Mushrooms – the edible ones at least – are like an offering of the forest for us to join in this unified community of life. The first time I ate one of the wild mushrooms we went foraging for I had a lovely dream. I saw the image of the mushroom as connecting everything in the forest including myself. I heard the mushrooms welcome me into being a part of the forest, and even asking me ever so politely that if I do perhaps know that at some point I will be dying, if I would be so kind as to lie down with them so that they could eat me in return. It would, of course, only be fair. I should note that these are not mushrooms of the psychotropic variety, just good eating mushrooms. The idea however was still potent and in eating them I felt like I really was becoming more connected to the earth and the forest.
Mushrooms are wonderfully transformative. They turn what is dead back into fertile new life and possibilities. Rotting, death and letting go into the darkness are also all quite beautiful symbols in themselves. They can be misunderstood – our distaste for death and dying making us feel adverse to acknowledging them. But as the mushrooms show us, they are an important part of the cycle of life. Letting go, releasing, cleansing away that which we no longer need, happens in so many ways through the year. This time it happens through transformation in the darkness. We turn within. We look to our inner being and ask, ‘What is here that I can let go of? What within me can be transformed? What new life will come from that which I release from my being?’
These are transformative questions. Questions that bring us into an awareness of the connectedness of life can also be important. ‘What is the self? What is my most inner being? What do I feel connected with? Where are the edges of ‘me’?’ Mushrooms and their function can offer us a point of meditation for understanding this and perhaps taking some time to pick mushrooms and eat them can be an important part of our spiritual practices for this time of year? It has been for me this year.
I have wondered if this will be the season for a Mushroom Festival on my new local wheel of the year for the Blue Mountains, but I’ve heard that this rain does not come at this time every year. Some years are much drier. Creating a wheel of the year is not a process that happens quickly. As each year goes by we add more layers of meaning and more complexity. The process is slow and evolves over time, but that doesn’t mean celebrating this moment this year as the mushroom festival is any less important, for in connecting with the spirit of the land right now, that is definitely what this time of year is about. Next year will give more nuances, but we will at least know to look out for the mushrooms again.
What does this time of year mean to you?
What are the symbols of the season where you live?
What are you celebrating?
What does moving into the dark half of the year mean to you?
If you’d like to know more about creating your own wheel of the year for your local area, you can read more about it in my book Australian Druidry: Connecting with the Sacred Landscape.