|Two uncertain members of the genus Panaeolus, |
(family Coprinaceae) & moose dung enthusiasts.
Writing specifically to the topic of how science is relates to my life as an animist is peculiar for me. Perhaps this is because it is a bit like writing about how breathing relates to my every day activities -- it just occurs innately. I believe some people are born with a scientific temperament, being highly inquisitive, constantly striving for original thought, always testing theories in their own unique ways. As for myself, the question of nature vs. nurture remains unclear: I was raised in a science-based family culture, yet an inventory of my various relatives shows that nearly all of them engage in one (or more) of three disciplines; science, medicine & the arts, the latter two of which are very much like science in certain respects. So is it learned or inbred? I do not know. Does it matter? Not really. But I suppose the fact that I am even asking the question points to a certain habit of thought.
I bandied about several ideas for addressing this month's Animist Blog Carnival* theme, among them was completing some long overdue documentation on the spiritual warfare myco-remediation project -- two phases of which were completed, but remain unwritten. I also considered discussing other forms of sciento-magick, various thoughts related to my personal Sciento-Paganism & even a story relating to one of the biggest nails in the coffin of my never-to-be scientific career which, in retrospect, I realize had everything to do with animism. But, after all the hemming & hawing, I find myself right back at Relationship.
|Observation: "Say, those little mushrooms |
(Panaeolus spp.) sure like moose droppings..."
Science is about understanding, or at the very least, a concerted effort to understand relationships. Relationships are about understanding, or (ideally) at the very least, a concerted effort to understand one another. Animism (at least for this animist) is all about relationships. This webby mesh of understanding creates a queer circular process that happens when you combine science & animism -- science feeds relationship with understanding. Before your eyes glaze over with weirdness, let me illustrate.
|Spore prints -- |
one way of getting to know fungi.
There are probably several reasons why I lean towards a scientific knowledge as an animist versus various other forms of lore, myth & correspondences. One of these is basic practicality: I spend a copious amount of time among fungi & most fungi are not well addressed in human texts of the past. Many aren't even well addressed in more recent writing. They are poster children for the unknown or unfamiliar. Also, as I have discussed before, I find that much of what I encounter in the "lore" is just the opinions, reflections or imaginations of some human who happened to have the good fortune of getting published first. Finally, I am more concerned with authentic, personal relationships with the other-than-human world, than I am with aping other people’s relationships, attitudes or ideas. Thus, as part of my starting point, I seek to learn what the ologies may have discovered about an other-than-human, so that I might better understand how they exist & interface with this world, theirs & ours. It is like understanding etiquette, it is simply good manners.
How does this actually manifest in my own wandering animist life? I will illustrate with the story of a fungi.
|Sample cluster of Panaeolus spp. that came home.|
For several years now, on very rare occasion, I have noticed some diminutive fruiting bodies presenting themselves on moose droppings. However, the task of becoming fluent in the fungal world is beyond daunting, particularly for the self-taught. So, upon encountering them, I have simply taken note, tipped my hat & moved on to the self-proscribed lessons at hand. This past Autumn, while playing peek-a-boo with a patch of lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), I stumbled across a relatively large cluster of these interesting creatures & since the mushroom season was winding down, I felt that perhaps it was a good time to take some home & try to learn something more about them.
|Panaeolus spp. gills. So pretty.|
Sometimes I feel weird about identification. When we label something, we confine it to a set of predetermined beliefs & assumptions. This fundamentally limits how we observe, interact with & interpret that which we have labeled & classified. Yet, as a human, I live in a world of classifications. To do otherwise would be not particularly human & I fear I would complicate things further striving to behave otherwise. Because of this, I have opted to simply be what I am, a human, one who identifies, labels & classifies in an effort to understand my relationships.
When I looked at the literature, I narrowed their identity down to a couple of possibilities. I think. Maybe. Without a microscope, getting down to species is sometimes impossible & herein lies the fabulously challenging lesson in being comfortable with ambiguity. Relationships of ambiguity.
What I hoped was that they might be these fabulously rare fungi:
|Abstract & full article can be accessed at jstor.org.|
And perhaps they are, as they did not exhibit signs of a partial veil, but only new encounters (or a microscope!) will bring me closer to certainty. They could also be the more common Panaeolus sphinctrinus, (also known as the Petticoat Mottlegill) who were old enough to have the veil margin withered away. An interesting anecdote about this alternative identity is that P. sphinctrinus is a scheduled drug in Japan where they are referred to as waraitake, or "laughing mushroom." Laughing mushroom. I like that. Oh! So many things to learn & know!
|April 14: Sketching fungal talismans. |
It's relationship therapy. Or something.
Quickly, I sketched it out & recognized it as a very personal symbol: bioregionally relevant, ungulate-related, lunar oriented, fungal friendly, etc. I knew right away I wanted it printed on clothing for dance -- my entirely intuitive & untterly idiosyncratic syncretism at work. A talented, fungi-loving & screen printing-skilled friend of mine loved it too & offered to help me make that venture a reality.
including neurotransmitters &
Scientific information isn't the be all, end all of knowing, but it provides me personally with a healthy beginning, a foundation. So now, with some solid background information thanks to those busy ologists & their science, I await a new encounter. I will arrive this time better informed & prepared once the proper season, with its proper conditions & the proper droppings presents itself. I have my foundation, now to build on this relationship. What will I ask them? How will we relate? I think I should smell them next time we meet... I neglected to do that. I might ask them, "What is it like making your way through the bowels of a large ungulate?" or, "Poop & serotonin... is there a connection?" or, "What makes you so shiny?!? I love shiny things." I might snap a few more feral papparazzi photographs. I might just listen. Or, I might choose to sit among them, enjoying the blessing of their company & conjuring ways to express my gratitude -- how fortunate I am to be here & share this world with them.
|Fungal expressions. Panaeolus spore prints.|
* This piece was written as part of the Animist Blog Carnival for June. Headquarters for the ABC has been moved to Glen Gordon's Post Pagan website: see future & archived carnival topics HERE. June's theme, Science, has been graciously hosted by Matt at Naturalistic Pantheist Musings. Please visit his blog to read other animist writings on this topic. If you are wondering where you can access Heather Awen's writing, she will be publishing her works for the ABC at Glen Gordon's Post Pagan.