Pray to the Moon when She is round,
Luck with you will then abound,
What you seek for shall be found
On the sea or solid ground.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Animist Blog Carnival: Science (& How It Is All About Relationship)

Two uncertain members of the genus Panaeolus,  (family Coprinaceae) & moose dung enthusiasts.
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..."
Observation: "Say, those little mushrooms
(Panaeolus spp.) sure like moose droppings..."
My experience with science (keep in mind that my exposure is overwhelmingly in the life sciences) is that all the various "ologies" are really about discovering relationships & understanding how relationships drive the universe. When you are busy being an ologist, you find yourself making observations like, "Say, those blue smoffets sure seem to have an affinity for haberknacker trees during the mating season, yet they seem to disapprove of them during every other time of the year..." & asking questions like, "I wonder what the relationship between blue smoffet mating habits & haberknacker tree structure might be?" Then, if you have a grant, or nothing but time & money on your hands, you devise a way to figure out just what that mystifying relationship is & test it. My point being, that built into the scientific culture is a deep seated desire to understand not just how things work, but how they work together (or not) on the micro & macroscopic levels.

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.

Most of us have heard someone, usually young & freshly enamoured, say in a gushy tone, "Oh, I want to know everything about you/them!" Ah, ha! Relationship & understanding (or at least the desire for it) at work! As humans in relationships with other humans, we have the advantage of having a great deal of understanding already under our belts. We have gobs of basic knowledge about our own kind; how we communicate, eat, sleep, reproduce, breathe, move, defecate & to some general extent, think. We know, without even having to pause or consider, that humans do not thrive underwater, tend to be attracted to foods with fats & sugars, usually have one baby at a time, have a propensity for manufacturing stuff, etc. This leaves us with lots of time for gravy (also fatty & generally quite likable, unless it is not) -- that is, getting right into the rich, individual relationships. 

Spore prints --  one way of getting to know fungi.
Spore prints --
one way of getting to know fungi.
When we enter into relationships with anyone other-than-human, we have to do extra homework. We don't know right out of the gate what pH that fish prefers for their water, or how to approach the virginia creeper next door or why that freaky mold in the corner of the bathroom carpet keeps coming back to needle us. We also don't have a clear grip on what their relationships with the rest of their world looks like. The whole situation is so much more complicated. Even relationships with more familiar mammalian acquaintances leave us wanting a background check, a supplementing of our base knowledge. How many humans look into the breed attributes of that saucer-eyed puppy at the pound before they offer them a home? We already know how dogs eat, sleep, reproduce, breathe, move, defecate & to some general extent, think & communicate, yet we feel a need to know more than the basics when entering into these generally "known" relationships. When the relationship begins with an unknown, science can be of great help in the process of understanding -- especially with those who are less commonly sought out for connections. 

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.
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.
Panaeolus spp. gills. So pretty.
I made some observations & took many photos of them in situ. After asking permission, I sheepishly took a small group of the mushrooms home for spore prints & an examination more easily managed while not up to my elbows in lingonberries. Spore prints are more than just helpful identifiers -- they are magickal. I interpret them as the fungal soul's artful pronouncement. I often take prints for no other reason than just to see this form of expression. Of course, I also consider the basic key attributes of size, shape, colour, whether or not they changed colour with handling, gill spacing, etc.

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
Abstract & full article can be accessed at

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!

Sketching fungal talismans.  It's relationship therapy. Or something.
April 14: Sketching fungal talismans.
It's relationship therapy. Or something.
Of course, relationships are not only about fact-finding for me, there's Love, reverence, respect & sometimes even "woo" too. In mid-April, in the darkness of the drag-out winter blues, I spent some time working on happiness in the greenhouse. I sat on the floor in the weak sunlight with my sketchbook & drew doodles of my husband & children playing in the snow. My mind wandered to warmer times & inevitably, to fungi. These little dung-loving, Horned-One-bonded mushrooms affectionately entered my thoughts & suddenly, (as it wont to happen) I was struck by this woo-ey feeling. An image came to mind. 

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. 

Antidepressant Talisman including neurotransmitters & Panaeolus symbolism.
Antidepressant Talisman
including neurotransmitters &
Panaeolus symbolism.
Almost exactly one month later, on May 15, I was still doggedly working on cultivating happiness in the greenhouse. I integrated the personal talisman above into a larger magickal working, which you can see here: Working It: Antidepressant Talisman (A Wee Bit 'O Sciento-Magick). In that talisman I had added the chemical structures for certain neurotransmitters, namely, serotonin, dopamine & norepinephrine. Serotonin, one of the primary mood regulators in the brain, is the sunshine neurotransmitter. Of this I was well aware, hence my loitering about in greenhouses. What I didn't know, until I began doing background research for this piece two days ago -- herein lies more woo-ey weirdness -- is that all the fungi in the genus Panaeolus contain serotonin (See: Trial field key to the species of PANAEOLUS in the Pacific Northwest, Pacific Northwest Key Council/Oregon Mycological Society). Whoah. Woo. 

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.
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. 


Heather Whether said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Heather Whether said...

I am madly in love with you right now. Leave your husband and be my roommate!

You made me think of a thing about the words woo woo, when woo, we seek to gain the love of those we love. woo woo may be about relationships (even if no one used it that way on purpose).

godz, this is amazing. hope moving is safe! call me when you can! xo xo

Moma Fauna said...

Last bits 'o packing today. Tomorrow Canada. The next day begins a 3 day ferry ride of fun & seasickness!

Leaving the hubs would be a very hard sell, as he is made of awesome. But shall we settle for that phone call? I'll getcha on the flipside. Gazing out the dining room window at the gaping beauty of my Breakfast Canyon, I'll tap your digits: ring, ring... ;)

Moma Fauna said...

Doh! I removed one of your two comments thinking they were duplicates -- Blogger likes to send me duplicates often enough & with my phone & confusion... gah. But now I am thinking they were different & I cannot figure out how to get this one back. O_o

Anonymous said...

Fascinating! Science means knowledge, covering above all, self knowledge in relationship on a broad spectrum. The trouble with most Ologists, is that they are not scientific at all. What they don't see on the shelf just above their eyes, they call it unscientific, and tell you they Know it All!

Only from within can we increase our height and depth of sight and real Science. There is a world of difference between this and the whitecoat Scienticks who shut the issue tight closed by knowing it all - a tiny part of it.

A few of the quantum physicists get the general idea - our consciousness influences and often limits our perception of whatever we study.

I love the moose poop and mushroom prints, and your lovely sketches and magic greenhouse wheel.
The old alchemists used horse dung and rotting compost to give off just the right heat to warm and transform their Science.

Hope you have a lovely Canadian summer.

Now I must try and get this comment through the blogspot barricades.

Anonymous said...

Don't know if it got thro or not. Let me know if it didn't.

Moma Fauna said...

"...our consciousness influences and often limits our perception of whatever we study." Yes! This was what I was getting at, at least in part, when I was speaking of labels & how they have a tendency to cause us to put our thinking & relationships into a box. More or less, depending I suppose, on the individual consciousnesses involved.

...& poop is magick, in its on peculiar way, isn't it? Or rather, the breaking down of things is. This is part of the reason I love fungi so very much. Always transforming something. Tiny alchemists at work.

So good to hear from you. I hope to fins some time to read you latest work on the road or water. Or, it may have to wait until the desert, but I look forward to it nonetheless.

Moma Fauna said...


I really hate to have to moderate, but my Polish Spambots love me so, they feel they must share the most peculiarly disjointed snippets of jibberish here, all day long. :P

Anonymous said...

Yes, I get more than 100 per day of those little enlightened ones. They are categorized by wordpress users as spam, so they bypass the blog and go into a special wastebasket to empty each day. We do have to moderate comments from new readers, to make sure they are not spam!!

Lovely to be in touch with you, and I hope you and your husband and your little lad and your little ... Who? - have a wonderful journey in the elements. I enjoy what you say about mushrooms. Marvellous earthy mystic things

Cathy Sander said...

Regarding the quote "A few of the quantum physicists get the general idea - our consciousness influences and often limits our perception of whatever we study."

Just a little note: quantum mechanics has little to do with consciousness and perception. It only applies to atomic systems, and does a poor job at explaining the diversity of life, let alone consciousness, which is constrained by our material existence.As researchers are human, we also know that we're limited in how we see the world--it's not just confined to the insights of quantum physicists, but to everyone who labours for knowledge in the natural sciences.

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