蟲 (Mushi) is Japanese for insect or invertebrate, but in the anime series “Mushi Shi”, illustrated by Yuki Urushibara and directed by Hiroshi Nagahama, mushi represents a group of sometime invisible beings non-animal- non-plants that wander around the world affecting the behaviour of others in positive or negative ways. The protagonist of this series is Ginko, a mushi master or Mushi shi, who travels around Japan during the Edo period helping people that are affected by mushis.
I think that Luis Mejia is a modern Mushi shi. Luis is an expert on these non-plants non-animals beings that today we call fungi. He explained to me that in a single leaf of a common plant a jungle of these beings can exist. As mushi, many fungi are invisible to the naked human eye and for that reason an expert is required to identify them. However as Luis explains “we barely know 50,000 of 10 million predicted species”.
Do you remember my previous blog “More than social?” In that entry I described how “I discovered” that sponge-like-mushrooms are central in the eusocial life of leafcutter ants. Well, after collecting fungi species with Luis in Fortuna, and listening to his lecture, I began to think that just like in the leafcutter-ants’ world, fungi may have an important and silent role in the socialisation and life of other species, like us. As Luis explains fungi are everywhere affecting humans, from the disease that attacks coffee plants in Central America to penicillin or beer.
Recently, a group of archaeologists from the Russian-Mongolian expedition found in Mongolia a wool fabric that was made in Palestine and embroidered in India more than 2,000 years ago. Although it is almost a miracle to find a 2000 years old a fabric in such a pristine state, what is much more interesting and relevant to this blog is the story embroidered in it.
We are talking about some sort of kilim, but the figures that are weaved are not really geometric designs, rather the fabric shows clear figures of a sacred Zoroastrian ceremony known as “Soma” which is Sanskrit for “drink”. In this fabric there are three main characters, a king (priest), a warrior and guess who is the central figure? Yes, a mushroom, probably from the Strophariaceae family.
Why is this so interesting? For many reasons, but mainly because we can speculate about the role of mushrooms and their psychedelic properties in Zoroastrianism, which as the first known monotheistic religion may have been the base of today’s Christian, Islamic and Hindu practices.
If I think about it, the role of most religions is to unify different populations into larger communities but also, most religions in the world began as a way to communicate and trade with powers beyond the human, mostly to gain some sort of power over natural phenomena. Now, most of the time a mediator or an intermediary is required in negotiations between two parties. It is here where mushrooms as beings between the human and animal realm might have had a crucial role as can be seen in this fabric found in Mongolia because, just as mushis in the Japanese anime series, mushrooms might have bestowed on people the power to see, think and act beyond the ordinary.
There have been many studies on the effects of psychedelic drugs on the human brain. One that I would like to mention here is the one made by Robin L. Carhart-Harris and his collaborators entitled “The entropic brain: a theory of conscious states informed by neuroimaging research with psychedelic drugs”. This research, in a few words, describes the importance of psychedelics to expand entropic thought in the brain towards what is known as “primarily consciousness”. According to the researchers team, this state of consciousness is the defining property of the human brain for it is here where stereotypical patterns of thought are disrupted, which may lead to creativity by exploring new possible associations in and with the world.
What other associations with the fungi realm are there, hidden just to be discovered by modern Mushi shi like Luis Mejia? If we are who we are thanks to this ignored association, one can only wonder what might happen if we begin to understand them.