Czechs and mushrooms go together. We eat mushrooms with everything, it seems like. Babicka would often say that a meal wasn’t complete without mushrooms in it somewhere. I grew up with mushroom soup, mushrooms in soup, mushroom fritters, mushroom gravy, mushroom chicken, mushroom beef, mushroom stroganoff, eggs & mushrooms, mushrooms sautéed in butter as a main dish, mushroom motifs in embroidery, mushroom pictures on the wall, “we found you when out picking mushrooms” (instead of among the cabbages) and even blown glass mushroom ornaments on our Christmas tree! Maybe Czechs are related to hobbits….
There was even an old family story about some “aunt & uncle” who dealt with her trying to kill him with her cooking. He said that it made his life “exciting”. She finally died of tasting a dish of mushrooms that she had cooked herself. He lived into his 120’s, and outlived two more wives, or so the story goes.
In any culture where mushrooms are used as a food there are stories of that type, the awful tales about those who mistook a Death Angel or a “powder cap” (I don’t know what those are called in English) for a perfectly safe fungus.
There was even a nasty example in Oregon in the late ‘90’s where one whole family ended up at OHSU and half of them died waiting for liver transplants. issssssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…………
Mushrooms are good for you as a foodstuff. They are crammed full of vitamins and anti-oxidants, which may explain the lower rates of cancer, heart disease and diabetes in mushroom-eating cultures. There are a number of “herbal” cures in the naturopathic pharmacopeia. I actually take one for colds and flu that is an immune system booster that works as well as echinacea.
But in all the folklore and in the teachings that my grandparents gave me, the mushroom is a sacred food.
Perun, the sky/mountain god, and his Lady, our Mother Earth whose name is too sacred to be spoken, are said to have created the fungi first of all the edible plants, even before the ferns and trees. The lichens came first and then the mushrooms and then the green plants, ferns, grasses and then trees and flowers and the garden vegetables. They created the fungi to be sacred forever.
One of the most acceptable offerings to Perun & His Lady, is a perfectly formed amanita or the image of one, which is why they show up on Christmas trees and in all kinds of imagery from embroidery to dinner plates.
Perun’s Lady, in bringing the human race up from the earth, created them from the earth of a Fairy Ring, created by the propagating habit of certain mushrooms. That is why children are told that they were found “while picking mushrooms” instead of the stories of storks.
Because they were first, the spirits of the lichens and mushrooms are by far the strongest and the mushrooms themselves are awake and aware.
The Mechni Manželka, the “Moss Wives” (who are actually the spirit of a lichen, Spanish moss, the kind that hangs down in long tendrils in evergreen forests) are shy but powerful spirits that preserve the natural balance of the forests. They drop branches on people who hurt trees, and move pathways away from the feet of those who are careless with fire. The white mushrooms are sacred to them. You know when someone dies from a Death Angel that somehow they crossed up the Moss Wives. Their gifts to those who are respectful of the forests are good health and long life.
The Leši (pronounced LESH-yee), the “forest things”, protect the oaks and lindens and other deciduous trees in the same way that the MossWives do. They have the power to blind you to where you are walking and drop you off a cliff if you cut trees in their prime or ignore a dead or diseased tree in favor of a good, strong, or young tree. Theirs also are the Dead Man’s plant, Indian Pipes or Beech-drops, the fungus that grows in deep woods that can be used to cure diseases of the eye.
The Shamans of the Slavic peoples use several different mushrooms, prepared in various ways to facilitate healings and spirit journeys, very much in the same way that use of peyote is sacred to the Native Americans. However, since the Old Ways have been so much underground for 5 centuries, at least in the Slavic lands, many of the old techniques have been lost and many others sufficiently corrupted to be “iffy” at best. That is part of the reason that I was taught how they HAD been used but not to use them myself.
Dedi was fond of saying, “Mushrooms are good for you, but the ones that have their own spirits, like the Ancient Mothers (fly agaric or amanita muscaria)…they will take your soul if you don’t give them proper respect.”
From what he told me, the mushrooms were only taken internally as a last resort and as an ordeal in initiations. “If the Mushroom takes you, then the spirits need you more than we do,” was another saying of his. He also often said that if you needed mushrooms to journey to the spirit world then you were not meant to be a shaman, that your soul was not strong enough to be used by the other Powers.
However, as offerings, representations of the gods or in infusions and incense blends they were often used in outdoor rituals. I remember several times when I was small, Dedi would take me mushroom hunting, not for eating mushrooms, but for the offering to Perun’s Hand, a stone in our garden that was a small shrine. Any perfect ones that we found were brought back whole. The best was used as an offering right away and the rest dried, to be used as offerings at various times of the year. An infusion of the less-than-perfect dried mushrooms was used on “Chicken Step Day”, usually right around January 6th, (the day when you can first tell that the sun is returning) to clean and water the shrine.
When I was in Čechia in ’92, I ran across a Circle of some kind in one of the parks. The folks were back in the trees, around a large old linden tree (the wood that, along with oak, is sacred to Perun and His Lady) and in the small fire that was burning on a flat stone nearby (a Perun’s Hand? I didn’t ask.) I could smell the characteristic tang of burned amanita. I don’t know what they were doing because a fellow from the Circle ran me off without letting me explain that I’m a witch, so I don’t know for certain what they were doing, but that fire was a giveaway. ……………
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Last update 3/5/21