Mushroom mythology

Mushroom mythology DEFAULT

Mushroom Magic and Folklore

Go for a walk in the woods on any given summer day, and you'll see fungi galore popping up, nestled in amongst the ferns and trees. After a rainstorm, peek out in your backyard and you may see tiny spores beginning to sprout in the grass, forming what's known as a fairy ring. Mushrooms grow in all shapes and sizes and colors, and - depending on where you live—you might find some that are conducive to magical practice.

Mushroom Identification

It is important to note that unless you are absolutely positive about the type of mushroom you have picked, you should never ingest it or take it internally. There are many toxic mushrooms which look similar to edible ones—if you're unsure about what you have found, check with a naturalist or other mushroom expert.

That having been said, there are a number of folk magic uses for mushrooms, and you can incorporate these at a symbolic level, rather than actually ingesting them. Let's take a look at some of the legends and myths about mushrooms from around the world.

Mushroom Traditions in Europe

In many areas, the appearance of a ring of mushrooms on the ground is cause for either rejoicing or alarm. In Great Britain, these circles are known as fairy rings—and they are where the Fae come to dance and frolic after a rainstorm. However, like many other locations associated with faeries, humans who dare to enter such a ring may find themselves asleep for a hundred years, or worse yet, whisked off to the land of the wee folk, never to return.

In Holland, these rings are believed to be left when the Devil sets down his milk churn—once he picks it up, there's a big circle left in the grass. In some countries, such as France and Austria, these rings are associated with sorcery and malevolent magic, and travelers are well-advised to steer clear of them.

Vance Randolph says in his book Ozark Magic and Folklore that in many parts of the Ozarks, it is believed that "mushrooms must be gathered when the moon is full—gather 'em at any other time and they will be unpalatable, or perhaps even poisonous." He adds that it is said that mushrooms growing in an orchard where apple trees are in bloom are always edible.

The Red-and-White Fly Agaric

One of the best-known mushrooms, at least in European culture, is the red-and-white Fly Agaric. This mushroom appears often in illustrations of fairy tales—you might see a gnome or a fairy perched on top of one. Experts believe that the Fly Agaric was used as a hallucinogenic by northern European shamans and religious leaders. Interestingly, it contains two toxins that reduce the body's response to fear stimulus, so it may have been ingested by warriors prior to battle. In central Europe, the Fly Agaric is associated with the Yule season, and there is a theory that Santa Claus' red and white suit originated in the colors of this magical mushroom.

Erika Timar of Supernaturally Speaking says, "There are numerous beliefs about the origin of the mushroom. In one story God and Saint Peter are walking in a rye field. Saint Peter grabs a stalk of rye and chews it. God chastises Peter saying the rye is not for him and he should spit it out. Peter complies and God states, “A mushroom will grow from that grain. Let it be for the poor.” In Lithuania, mushrooms were considered the fingers of Velnias, Lithuanian god of the dead, reaching out from the world of the dead to feed the poor."

Mushrooms in Ancient Egypt and Asia

In ancient Egypt, mushrooms were a rare delicacy indeed. They were associated with immortality, and as such, only royalty could consume them—because, after all, royal persons were descended from the Egyptian gods themselves. Hieroglyphs found in Egypt indicate that mushrooms were being consumed with meals as long as 4,500 years ago.

In China and Japan, mushrooms were associated with longevity and strength—partly because some of the most popular mushrooms that grew there were known for stimulating the immune system. Shiitake and maitake mushrooms, in particular, have been used in herbal remedies for centuries.

Mushrooms have been used by many cultures throughout time as part of ritual and religion. The toxin psilocybin is found in certain mushrooms, and the use of hallucinogenic fungi has been documented in rituals dating back thousands of years.


The profound importance of mushrooms in primitive religion had remained undetected until some twenty years ago, when Mr. R. Gordon Wasson, an American banker, and his Russian-born wife Valentina first called attention to it. The new science of ethnomycology, meaning the attitudes of different races to mushrooms, began with the Wassons' puzzling over the division of Europe into two distinct camps: mycophobes (nations traditionally afraid of mushrooms) and mycophages (nations addicted to eating them). The mycophages of Europe are found in Spain, Southern France, the Balearics, Bavaria, the Balkans and Russia. Russians are the greediest mushroom eaters and recognize over ninety varieties of edible ones.

Until recently we English ate only the white field mushroom psalliotis campestris, except in the Midlands where blewets were sold in the markets. But as a boyin North Wales I found even the field mushroom avoided as poisonous.

My mother had spent her childhood in Bavaria where mushrooms grew profusely in my grandfather's pine woods, and when taken there for holidays as a child I soon learned to distinguish seven or eight edible varieties and bring them back to the kitchen for dinner. Home in Wales, I came across some of these same mushrooms growing in the woods and brought them back to eat; but my mother astonished me by shouting: 'Throw those toadstools away at once! Yes, I know that they look like the ones we ate last week at Lauzforn, but here they are deadly poison. You had better wash your hands!' Whether she really believed this-her view seemed borrowed from my mycophobic Irish father-or whether she had to take this attitude because the cook would give notice the moment they were brought into the kitchen, I have never decided.

The existence of so many million unreasoning mycophobes throughout Northern Europe and North America -though, to be sure, some of them now dare to accept cooked mushrooms from abroad, neatly bottled-reminds me of another curious taboo in force among the ancient Greeks. They were forbidden to eat any bright red food, such as lobsters, crabs, prawns and wild strawberries (which had no name because regarded as poisonous). The Hebrew word syeg, meaning a 'hedge', explains both these taboos. To protect the Biblical ban on, for example, buying or selling on the holy Sabbath, the Jews of Jesus's day had put a protective 'hedge' around the Fourth Commandment by forbidding anyone to carry coins on his person from Friday evening until Saturday evening. And the truth is that mushrooms had once been regarded as holy and reserved for priests, kings and other privileged people; therefore to prevent the unprivileged from eating a sacred mushroom; a general syeg was put on mushroom-eating and reinforced by treating all mushrooms as poisonous. However, as already mentioned, an unexplained relaxation of the taboo in England allowed the eating of white field mushrooms, though the most deadly European mushroom of all, the amanita phalloides, with which Nero's stepfather the Emperor Claudius had been poisoned, was equally white and has often been mistaken for it.
It is therefore reasonable to guess that the sacred mushroom originally protected by these taboos grew in forests, not in fields, and was scarlet; and that the taboo explains the diabolic or disgusting names given even to highly edible other mushrooms.

But why was the scarlet mushroom (which can be easily identified with the white-spotted one now favoured by red-coated ,gnomes in suburban gardens and also associated with Father Christmas's reindeer and decorated tree) held sacred? This spectacular mushroom, incorrectly rumoured to be deadly poison, grows by the million all over the British Isles, but only in birch forests. A simple answer is that this was the magical mushroom, on which sat the caterpillar smoking his hookah, that Alice found growing in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll had read about its properties not long before he published the book; they included the same hallucinations about height-'curiouser and curiouser'-from which Alice suffered after nibbling it. This mushroom, named amanita muscaria-popularly 'fly agaric'-has now been proved by Gordon Wasson's detailed examination of the Vedic hymns (written in Sanskrit about the time of the Trojan War), to have been the Food of the Gods. It is there named 'Soma'. That it is also 'Ambrosia' and 'Nectar' (both these words mean 'immortal') which were famous as the food and drink of the Greek Olympian gods, I had myself shown some twelve years previously. Two early Greek poets, Sappho and Alcman, had preserved the ancient tradition of Ambrosia as a drink, not a food. This was because the juice of the mushroom-which lost its virtue when cooked-was squeezed out of it between boards, then mixed with milk or curds; and the pulp was thrown away. According to these Vedic hymns, Agni, the god of mystic illumination and holy fire, who was also expressly identified with Soma, had been created when the Father God Indra threw a lightning bolt at the Earth.

Dionysus (Bacchus), the Greek god of mystic illumination, was similarly born when his father the God Zeus (Jove) threw a lightning bolt at the Earth Goddess Semele; the bolt killed Semele but her child was saved and sewn up in his father's thigh, whence he was later granted a second birth. Dionysus is said to have eventually conducted his mother to Heaven where she changed her name to Thyone, meaning 'Queen of the Maenads' (or raging women) and presided over Dionysus's ecstatic October festival, called The Ambrosia. October was the mushroom season. The effect of the amanita muscaria taken without other intoxicants is to give the taker the most delightful hallucinations, if he is in a state of grace, but horrible nightmares otherwise. Fortified, however, with beer and the juice of yellow ivy it would send Greek men and women raging mad. A mixture of amanita muscaria with whisky has long been used as a celebratory drink by successful salmon-poachers in Scotland. It is called a 'Cathy', in honour of Catherine the Great of Russia who is said to have been partial to it.

The pre-Classical priests of Dionysus, a god now known to have been active in Mycenean times, seem to have claimed the sole rights in the scarlet mushroom, the memory of which they had brought from their original homes in Central Asia and which is not found growing south of the fortieth parallel, except at a great height and always in birch groves. The Vedic priests of Agni seem to have imported their supply from the birch-groves of the high Himalayas. Throughout the world mushrooms were believed to be begotten only by lightning.

That Dionysus was Ambrosia, as his Indian counterpart Agni was Soma, is proved by the legend of his birth from Zeus's thigh. The Vedic hymns make it clear that the priests of Indra and Agni used the two different ways of taking Soma still found among the Palaeo-Siberians called Korjaks, and also in a small Mongol enclave of Afghanistan. The first was a simple drinking of the juice pressed from the mushrooms between boards and mixed with milk or curds. The hallucinogenic indoles it contained entered the stomach; but a great many more entered the kidneys and were later discharged with the urine. Clean-minded Classical scholars have until now shut their eyes to the possibility that the Vedic hymnwriter may have meant exactly what he said with 'the great gods piss out together the lovely Soma'. Yet it has been known for at least two centuries that the Korjaks do so after drinking the mushroom juice, and that their friends strain the urine through wool and, after drinking it, enjoy the same ecstasies. And this, of course, explains Dionysus's second birth from the thigh of his father Zeus and his subsequent release to worshippers in a stream of hallucinogenic urine. Yet Dionysus's source of intoxication has always been politely attributed by Greek scholars to wine, and Ambrosia is identified in the Oxford English Dictionary with asclepias (milk weed); and by various Encyclopedias with almost every sort of plant except mushrooms.

The Norse berserks were magicians and sages, and seem to have used the scarlet amanita muscaria, as did the Korjaks, for inducing prophecies. They were called Berserks (Bear-shirts) because they worshipped the Bear goddess, which accounts for our Great Bear constellation, and wore bear skins in her honour. Their cult was suppressed in the eleventh century A.D. by Christian converts, not only in Scandinavia but in Iceland, where dwarf-birches in the centre of the island provided the berserks with their amanita. The proverb quoted by the Emperor Nero 'mushrooms are the food of the Gods' was true in the sense that they provided the passport to a Paradise from which the mushroom-eater was permitted to return, like a god, after his celestial visions. Yet Nero who, having been excluded from the Eleusinian Mysteries for murdering his mother Agrippina, had not himself visited Paradise, quoted the proverb only in a mocking sense: for his step-father Claudius, after dying from amanita phalloides poisoning administered by Agrippina, had afterwards been deified.

I have eaten the Mexican hallucinogenic mushroom psilocybe Heimsii in Gordon Wasson's company, with the intention of visiting the Mexican paradise called Tlal6can to which it gives access. The god Tlal6c, who was toadheaded, corresponded exactly with Agni and Dionysus. I also wanted to know whether I had been right in supposing that all religious paradises except the Christian (which is based on a first century Eastern potentate's court), such as the Hebrew, the Sumerian, the Indian, the Mexican, the Polynesian and the Greek (known as the Garden of Hesperides) were not only very much alike but corresponded also with the individual paradises seen by such mystics as the English poet Henry Vaughan, the Silurist. The word paradise means 'orchard' in the Semitic languages; an orchard-garden of fruit trees, flowers and running water. Yes, I had guessed right, though there are, I believe, certain dissimilarities: for instance, elephants appear in the Indian paradise and in others the inevitable serpent, familiar to readers of the Paradise chapter in Genesis, may appear as it did for me, as an intricately patterned gold chain. A bright snake-like formation is, by the way, a common symptom of a cerebral deoxygenization induced by hallucinogenic drugs; and seeing snakes is a common occurrence among alcoholics, saints who starve themselves, drowning sailors and sufferers from meningitis. My experiences included not only an orchard Paradise where one can see sound, hear colours, and watch trees growing leaf by leaf, but a paradise of jewels like that described in the Book of Ezekiel XXVIII, 13-14.

The psilocybe mushroom used in the Mexican rites is small, brown in colour, slender-stalked and bitter; but sculptural evidence from Central America suggests that it had supplanted the amanita muscaria in ritual use, probably because it was easier to obtain and because the hang-over did not last so long. The same change seems to have occurred in Greece: the discovery of a new hallucinogenic mushroom, a stropharia, or a panaeolus, which, unlike the amanita muscaria, could be ground up and baked in sacrificial cakes for religious use in the Mysteries without losing its powers. When, according to the Greek myth, the Corn Goddess Demeter visited Eleusis, the Attic city where the Mysteries were to be celebrated for another two thousand years, she is said to have ordered Triptolemus, son of the local King, to drive around the civilized world in a chariot drawn by snakes, spreading the arts of agriculture as he went. This myth is clearly deceptive. Corn had been sown and harvested in Palestine for several thousands of years before Demeter's people arrived at Eleusis. What may have happened is that the local priestess sent a message about the newly discovered mushroom to priests and priestesses throughout the civilized world-hence the snakes in Triptolemus's chariot. This, if so, would explain why the nature and source of the original Soma has been forgotten in India for so many centuries. The supply from the birch groves of the High Himalayas seems to have been cut off by enemy action, and placebos, such as asclepias, substituted for it until eventually its place was taken in Brahman ritual, after the receipt of Triptolemus's message, by a better, more manageable and more accessible sacred mushroom.

In 1957 at my suggestion Mr. Wasson and the famous mycologist Dr. Roger Heim, Director of the Musee de l'Homme at Paris, visited the New Guinea Highlands from whence had come reports of a mushroom cult. They were able to attend. a Bird of Paradise courtship ceremony danced by Stone Age men and women under the influence of a sacred mushroom. The specimen that Wasson and Heim were offered proved, however, unhallucinogenic. This may have meant either that the tribal elders deceived their visitors for religious reasons by giving them some ineffective substitute or that the tribe, having emigrated there from a place where a truly hallucinogenic mushroom grew, had been reduced to using this other variety as a placebo.

Another variety of the amanita muscaria grows south of the fortieth parallel, with the pine as its host-tree, and is equally hallucinogenic. That it was ritually used in Biblical times is suggested by an unwritten Hebrew taboo on mushrooms, broken only by the non-orthodox. (Arabs, by the way, are mycophagous, which perhaps accounts for mushroom eating in those parts of Southern Europe occupied by the Saracens during the early Middle Ages.) I have elsewhere suggested that the golden 'ermrods' laid up in the Ark together with a pot of hallucinogenic manna really represented sacred mushrooms. A concealed reference to their use appears in the Book of Judges: the unlikely story of how Samson collected three hundred foxes and sent them into the Philistine's cornfields with torches tied to their tails. The Palestinian fox is not gregarious and the task of capturing three hundred of them, at the rate of one or two a day, and feeding them all until he had collected the full number would have been a senselessly exhausting one. Besides, how could he make sure that the foxes would run into the cornfields and keep the torches alight? The truth seems to be that Salnson organized a battalion of raiders-three hundred was the conventional Hebrew battalion strength, as appears in the story of Gideon-and sent them out with torches to burn the Philistines' corn. Indeed, in the 194.8 Jewish War of Liberation a raiding battalion was named 'Samson's Foxes'. But why foxes? Because the juice of the amanita muscaria mushrooms (which still grow under the pines of Mount Tabor) could be laced with ivy juice or wine to make the raiders completely fearless, and because this variety, when dried, is fox-coloured. So are other mushrooms, such as the popular chanterelle which the Russians call lisichka, 'little fox'; but to clarify its meaning the Bible specifies 'little foxes with fire in their tails'. In the Song of Solomon the Shunemite bride, about to take part in a sacred marriage, urges her lover to fetch her 'the little foxes that spoil the vines, for my vines have tender grapes'. She means that Solomon must fortify his manhood with mushroom-juice laced with wine, the better to enjoy her young beauty.

Why mycophobes called mushrooms 'toad's bread' or 'toadstools' can readily be explained. When the toad is attacked or scared the warts on its back exude bufonenin, the poison secreted in the white hallucinogenic warts of the amanita muscaria. In ancient Greece the toad was the emblem of Argos, the leading state of the Peloponnese, the emblems of the two other states being also connected with the mushroom: namely fox and serpent. This division into states had been made by a legendary king named Phoroneus, which seems a form of Phryneus, meaning 'Toad-man'. The capital city was Mycenae ('Mushroom City') said to have been built by Phoroneus's successor Perseus ('the destroyer') who, according to Pausanicus, had found a mushroom growing on the site beside a spring of water. The toad was also the emblem of Tlalóc, the Mexican God of Inspiration, and appears surrounded by mushrooms in an Aztec mural painting of Tlalócan, his Paradise.

The Slavs are not mycophobic, probably because their remote ancestors were nomads on the treeless steppes and unacquainted with amanita muscaria. Their fermented mare's milk, called kavasse, satisfied their need for occasional intoxication. Like the Arabs in their desert poverty they had learned to eat any growing plant or living animal that was not poisonous. Bavaria is mycophagous, while the rest of Germany is mycophobic, simply because it was once invaded by Slavs.

I should add that reindeer are known to get high on amanita muscaria in the birch forests of the far North, a habit of which their owners take advantage.
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Common Mushroom Myths

Mushrooms are part of the fungi kingdom, and have a strong mystical connection in myth and folklore. Many mushrooms and fungi can be poisonous or hallucinogenic, though the majority are very safe and have great health benefits. For a long time there has been a great deal of fear around mushrooms and the fungi kingdom, there have been many mushroom myths which have made people wary to consume mushrooms, so let’s clear some of these up.

Mushroom Myths…

All Mushrooms cause Candida

Mushrooms have a bad reputation in some circles, largely peddled by those pushing anti-candida diets and encouraging people to cut out all mushrooms because they exacerbate the condition. In fact, many of the medicinal mushrooms like Shiitake are extremely effective against candida. Shiitake is a beneficial yeast, and we need good yeast to overcome bad yeast. Shiitake supports the immune response against candida, and targets the pathogen directly to eradicate it. Those trying to get rid of candida needn’t fear all mushroom products, get some shiitake in your life!

Mushrooms stimulate the immune system

Mushrooms are the true adaptogens, they modulate and give the body what it needs. If the immune system is under-active then they will stimulate it to improve its functioning, but if it is overactive, as in the case of an auto-immune condition, they will not continue to stimulate it, and instead will regulate it.

Mushrooms have no nutritional value

They may be a beige food, but mushrooms actually have a lot of nutritional benefits. Packed with antioxidants, medicinal compounds, vitamins, minerals, fibre, amino acids and so much more.

All mushroom products are the same

Not all mushroom products are the same. What is important to look for and ask is where the mushrooms are grown, and on what medium, if they are organic, how they are extracted, and what parts of the mushroom are used, all these factors can affect the final product. We work with mushroom expert Martin Powell to source the highest quality ‘shrooms from around the globe.

Mushrooms are poisonous

There are more than 1.5 million types of fungi, and some are poisonous- though it is a very small number. Some fungi may contain mycotoxins which are poisonous to humans, but the medicinal mushrooms are non-toxic and perfectly safe for human consumption. If you are going foraging, then go with a mushroom foraging expert, who knows what to look for and what to avoid.

There’s no science to back up the benefits

Complete myth, as there have been over 100,000 studies on functional mushrooms in Asia alone in the last 10 years, and there has been in a huge increase in mushroom related studies in the west over the last few years as they have become a popular wellness product. The research is there, and cultures have been using these mushrooms for thousands of years for health benefits.

Hopefully that has cleared up some common mushroom myths, and highlighted that there is nothing to be scared of with medicinal mushrooms. Explore their benefits, and give them a try!


Find our full range of mushroom powders and mushroom capsules here…


Think of any fairy tale illustration of elves or goblins sitting on or under a toadstool, and most likely the cap of such a fungus will be bright red with white spots.

The autumnal abundance and vibrant colours of the fly agaric mushroom make it probably the most widely recognised of our fungi. As the name suggests it was formerly used as an insecticide, with pieces often floated in milk, to intoxicate and kill flies attracted by its aroma. Similarly most people will be wary of its poisonous reputation (though fatal reactions are rare), and appreciation of this mushroom will mostly be limited to the aesthetic. It has been suggested that northern Europeans’ wariness of mushrooms may stem from long-established taboos relating to the use of mushrooms containing mind expanding substances. These would originally have been reserved for those shamans or priests who served as intermediaries between the common folk and the unseen worlds of spirit.

The fly agaric may have been the earliest source of entheogens, that is hallucinogenic substances used for religious or shamanic purposes, the use of which date back possibly over 10,000 years. Fly agaric has been put forward as the most likely candidate for the mysterious Soma, mentioned in around 150 hymns of the Hindu Rig-Veda, which was written between 1500 – 500 BC by Aryans in the Indus valley. Soma was a moon god, as well as a related plant and a holy brew which were also worshipped. Though there have been many suggestions as to the identity of the plant, fly agaric fits many of the Vedic references as a substance with which to contact the gods.

Fly agaric contains two toxins, ibotenic acid and muscimol, which are responsible for its psychoactive and hallucinogenic effects. To minimise its toxic side effects fly agaric would be processed in some way eg. dried, made into a drink, smoked or made into ointments. Care in its preparation and ritual were paramount. The Celtic Druids, for example, purified themselves by fasting and meditating for three days, drinking only water. Amongst the Koryak people of north-eastern Siberia the ceremonial use of fly agaric involved the shaman ingesting the mushroom, after which others would drink his urine to partake of its entheogenic effects. Though this sounds distinctly unpleasant to modern ears, if the shaman had been fasting, the urine would have been mainly water containing the hallucinogenic compounds. The body absorbs the fly agaric’s hallucinogens first, and then expels the toxins from the stomach. The hallucinogenic chemicals then exert their influence on the body and are expelled unaltered in the urine. Reindeer in northern Europe are also attracted to the fly agaric’s euphoric effects and Siberian people would notice the drunken behaviour of such animals and slaughter them to get the same effects from eating the meat.

Modern research has also shown that the two active ingredients’ effect on the brain can inhibit fear and the startle reflex. This would corroborate theories that the ferocious Viking Berserker warriors used fly agaric prior to going into battle, bringing on the uncontrolled rage and fearlessness for which they were renowned.

Fly agaric has been a popular icon for the Midwinter and Christmas festivities in central Europe for a long time and is found on Christmas cards and as replica decorations for tree and wreath. Our current concept of Santa Claus can be traced back as an amalgamation of several characters of popular European folklore, such as a more pagan Scandinavian house goblin who offered protection from malevolent spirits in return for a feast at midwinter, and the fourth century Byzantine archbishop who became St Nicolas and was renowned for his kindness to children. More recently it has been suggested that the Siberian use of fly agaric may have played a part in the development of the legend of Santa Claus too. At midwinter festivals the shaman would enter the yurt through the smoke hole and down the central supporting birch pole, bringing with him a bag of dried fly agaric. After conducting his ceremonies he would leave the same way he had come. Ordinary people would have believed the shaman could fly himself, or with the aid of reindeer which they also knew to have a taste for fly agaric. Santa is now dressed in the same colours as the fly agaric, carries a sack with special gifts, comes and goes via the chimney, can fly with reindeer and lives in the ‘Far North’.


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Mythology mushroom

Normally associated with rot and decay, fungi may be a great overlooked resource that could help humanity deal with some of its greatest problems.


Beneath Jim Anderson’s feet lies a monster. It has been alive since the Persian king Xerxes waged war against the Ancient Greeks and weighs more than three blue whales put together. It has a voracious appetite, eating its way through huge swathes of forest. But this is no long-forgotten beast borne of Greek mythology. It is a mushroom.

Anderson is standing in an unassuming patch of woodland in Crystal Falls, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He is revisiting an organism living under the forest floor that he and his colleagues discovered nearly 30 years ago. This is the home of Armillaria gallica, a type of honey mushroom.

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These common fungi are found in temperate woodlands all across Asia, North America and Europe, where they grow on dead or dying wood, helping to speed up the decay. Often the only visible sign of them above ground are clumps of scaly, yellow-brown toad-stool-like fruiting bodies that grow up to 10cm tall.

The humongous fungus discovered by Jim Anderson and his colleagues has been living under a forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for 2,500 years (Credit: Getty Images)

When Anderson and his colleagues visited Crystal Falls in the late 1980s, they discovered that what at first appeared to be a rich community of Armillaria gallica flourishing beneath the mulch of leaf litter and top soil of the forest floor was – in fact – one giant individual specimen. They estimated it covered an area about 91 acres, weighed 100 tonnes and was at least 1,500 years old. It set a new record at the time for the largest organism on the planet – a similar fungus in a forest in Oregon now holds the record.

“It caused quite a stir at the time,” says Anderson. “Our paper came out on April Fool’s Day so everyone thought it was a joke. Then in 2015 we thought we should go back and test our prediction that this was truly a persistent, single organism.”

 They ended up returning to the site several times between 2015 and 2017, taking samples from distant points around the forest and then running the DNA they obtained through a sequencer back at their laboratory at the University of Toronto. Since their initial study in the 1980s, genetic analysis has advanced in bounds, with new techniques making the process far cheaper, faster and providing more information.

Their new samples revealed that not only was the Armillaria gallica they had discovereda single individual, but it was far larger and older than they had predicted. The new results revealed it was four times larger, 1,000 years older and if gathered together would weigh around 400 tonnes.

Fungi produce vein-like threads called mycelium that are finding a myriad of uses from creating medical bandages to building materials (Credit: Alamy)

But the analysis produced an even more surprising insight, one that could help us humans in our fight against one of modern medicines greatest foes – cancer.

The Canadian researchers discovered what may be the secret behind the Armillaria gallica’sextraordinary size and age. It appears the fungus has an extremely low mutation rate – meaning it avoids potentially damaging alterations to its genetic code.

As organisms grow, their cells divide into two to produce new daughter cells. Over time, the DNA in the cells can become damaged leading to errors, known as mutations, creeping into the genetic code. This is thought to be one of the key mechanisms that causes aging.

But it seems the Armillaria gallica in Crystal Falls might have some inbuilt resistance to this DNA damage. In 15 samples taken from distant parts of the forest and sequenced by the team, just 163 letters of the 100 million in the genetic code of Armillaria gallica had changed.

“The mutation frequency is much, much lower than we could ever have imagined,” says Anderson. “To have this low level of mutation, we would expect the cells to be dividing on average once for every metre of growth. But what is astonishing is that the cells are microscopic – just a few micrometres in size – so you would need millions of them in every metre of growth.”

Anderson and his team believe the fungus has a mechanism that helps to protect its DNA from damage, giving it one of the most stable genomes in the natural world. While they have still to unravel exactly what this is, the remarkable stability of the genome of Armillaria gallica could offer new insights into human health.

A fungus that infects cicada nymphs produces a compound that has been turned into a blockbusting immunosupressent drug (Credit: Mike Dickison/Wikimedia Commons)

In some cancers, mutations can run riot in cells as the normal mechanisms that check for and repair DNA break down.

Armillaria gallica may provide a potential counterpoint to the notorious instability of cancer,” says Anderson. “If you looked at a line of cancer cells that were equivalent in age, it would be so riddled with mutations that you probably wouldn’t be able to recognise it. Armillaria is at the opposite extreme. It might be possible to pick out the evolutionary changes that have allowed it be like this and compare them to cancer cells.”

Doing this could not only allow scientists to learn more about what goes wrong in cancer cells but may also provide potential new ways of treating cancer.

While Anderson and his colleagues are not planning on doing this work themselves – they are leaving it to others who are younger and more qualified to understand the genetic complexities of cancer – their findings provide an intriguing glimpse of the untapped power of fungi to help humanity.

Fungi are some of the most common organisms on our planet – the combined biomass of these often tiny organisms exceeds that of all the animals on the planet put together. And we are discovering new fungi all the time. More than 90% of the estimated 3.8 million fungi in the world are currently unknown to science. In 2017 alone, there were 2,189 new species of fungi described by scientists.

A recent report published by the UK’s Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in London highlighted that fungi are already used in hundreds of different ways, from making paper to helping to clean our dirty clothes. Around 15% of all vaccines and biologically produced drugs come from fungi. The complex proteins used to trigger an immune response to the hepatitis B virus, for example, are grown in yeast cells, which are part of the fungi family.

Enzymes produced by fungi are added to many washing powders to snip the tips off cotton strands as they are washed, helping to remove stubborn stains (Credit: Getty Images)

Perhaps the most well-known is the antibiotic penicillin, which was discovered in a common type of household mould that often grows on old bread. Dozens of other types of antibiotics are now produced by fungi.

They are also sources of treatments for migraines and statins for treating heart disease. One relatively new immunosuppressant, used for treating multiple sclerosis, was developed from a compound produced by a fungus that infects cicada larvae.

“It is part of this family of fungi that get into insects and take them over,” says Tom Prescott, a researcher who evaluates the use of plants and fungi at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. “They produce these compounds to suppress the insect immune system and it turns out they can be used in humans too.”

But some researchers believe we have barely scratched the surface of what fungi can offer us.

“There have already been [fungi] reported to have activity against viral diseases,” says Riikka Linnakoski, a forest pathologist at the Natural Resources Institute Finland. Compounds produced by fungi can destroy viruses that cause diseases like flu, polio, mumps, measles and glandular fever. Numerous fungi have also been found to produce compounds that could treat diseases that currently have no cure, such as HIV and the Zika virus.

“I believe these represent just a small fraction of the full arsenal of bioactive compounds,” says Linnakoski. “Fungi are a vast source of various bioactive molecules, which could potentially be used as antivirals in the future.”

She is part of a research team that is investigating whether fungi growing in the mangrove forests of Colombia could be sources of new antiviral agents. These goals have not yet been realised, however. While fungi have been well researched as a source of antibiotics that act against bacteria, no antiviral drugs derived from fungi have been approved.

Linnakoski puts this apparent omission by the scientific community down to the difficulty in collecting and growing many fungi from the natural environment and the historic lack of communication between mycologists and the virology community. But she believes it will only be a matter of time before a fungi-based antiviral drug makes its way into clinics.

Linnakoski also believes that searching for new species of fungi in inhospitable environments such as in the sediment on the sea bed in some of the deepest parts of the ocean, or in the highly changeable conditions of mangrove forests, might yield even more exciting compounds.

Many vaccines are synthesised using yeast cells as mini-manufacturing plants to produce the complex molecules needed (Credit: Getty Images)

“The extreme conditions are thought to provoke fungi to produce unique and structurally unprecedented secondary metabolites,” she says. “Unfortunately, many of the native ecosystems that harbor great potential for discoveries of novel bioactive compounds, such as mangrove forests, are disappearing at alarming rates.”

But fungi have uses that can tackle other problems beyond our health.

A fungus found growing in soil at a landfill site on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan, may be a solution to the alarming levels of plastic pollution clogging up our oceans. Fariha Hasan, a microbiologist at Quaid-I-Azam University in Islamabad, discovered the fungi Aspergillus tubingensis can rapidly break down polyurethane plastic.

These plastics, which used to make a wide range of products including furniture foams, electronics cases, adhesives and films, can hang around in soil and sea water for years. The fungi, however, was found to break it down within a matter of weeks. Hasan and her team are now investigating how to use the fungi for large-scale degradation of plastic waste. Other fungi, such as Pestalotiopsis microspore, which normally grows on rotting ivy leaves, have also been found to have a prodigious appetite for plastic, raising hopes they could be harnessed to tackle our growing waste problem.

In fact, mushrooms have quite a taste for the pollution we contaminate our world with. Species have been discovered that can clean up oil pollution from soil, degrade harmful heavy metals, consume persistent pesticides and even help to rehabilitate radioactive sites.

Mushrooms, however, could also help to avoid the need to use some plastics in the first place.

A number of groups around the world are now attempting to exploit a key feature of fungi – the vein-like webs of mycelium they produce – to create materials that can replace plastic packaging. As fungi grow, these mycelium threads branch outwards, to probe into nooks and crannies in the soil, binding it together. They are nature’s glue.

In 2010, Ecovative Design began exploring how they could use this to bind together natural waste products like rice husks or wood chips to produce an alternative to polystyrene packaging. Their early work has evolved into MycoComposite, which uses left over bits of hemp plant as the base material.

These are packed into reusable moulds along with fungal spores and flour, which are then left to grow for nine days. As they do so, they produce enzymes that start to digest the waste. Once the material has grown into the desired shape, it is then treated with heat to dry out the material and halt further growth. The resulting mushroom packaging is biodegradable and is already being used by companies such as Dell to package its computers.

Fungi mycelium can be grown on agricultural waste like corn husks to produce a lightweight and biodegradable packaging material (Credit: Getty Images)

The company has also developed a way of growing mycelium into foams that can be used in trainers or as insulation, and fabrics that mimic leather. Working with sustainable fabrics firm Bolt Threats, it combines waste corn stalks with the mycelium, allowing it to grow into a mat that is tanned and compressed. The whole process takes days rather than the years needed for animal leather.

Stella McCartney is among the designers now looking to use this mushroom leather and shoe designer Liz Ciokajlo recently used mycelium to create a modern reimaging of the 1970s Moon Boot fashion trend.

The fungi Trametes versicolor, which normally grows on trees, can be tuned to create fire-retardant, termite resistant and sound insulating bricks (Credit: Tien Huynh)

Tien Huynh, a biotechnologist at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia, has been leading a project to create similar fungal brick by combining mycelium from Trametes versicolor with rice hulls and crushed waste glass.

She says they not only provide a cheap and environmentally friendly building material, but they also help to solve another problem facing many homes in Australia and around the world – termites. The silica content of the rice and the glass makes the material less appetising to termites, which cause billions of dollars in damage to homes every year.

“In our research, we have also used the fungi to produce enzymes and new biostructures for different properties including sound absorption, strength and flexibility,” says Huynh. Her team is also working on using fungi to produce chitin – a substance used to thicken foods and in many cosmetics.

“Usually chitin is processed from shellfish, which has hypoallergenic properties,” she says. “The fungal chitin does not. We will have more fungal-based products later in the year but it is certainly a fascinating resource underutilised.”

Fungi can also be used in combination with traditional building materials to create a “smart concrete” that can heal itself as the fungi grows into any cracks that form, secreting fresh calcium carbonate – the key raw material in concrete – to repair the damage.

“The possibilities for what we might use mycelium for are endless,” says Gitartha Kalita, a bioengineer at Assam Engineering College and Assam Don Bosco University in Guwahati, India. He and his colleagues have been using fungi and hay waste to create an alternative to wood for building. “Everything that we now call agricultural waste is actually an incredible resource that mushrooms can grow on. We have already degraded our environment and so if we can replace the current materials with something that is going to hold up in some sustainable way. They can take our waste and turn it into something which is really valuable for us.”


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Jonas Landstad on Piss Mythology and other Occult Mushroom beliefs from Ancient times

The Mushroom Folklore of Ireland

For St. Patrick’s Day we share some of the important pieces of mushroom folklore that originated on the Emerald Isle. From Druids incorporating edible mushrooms into their rituals to the connection between mushrooms and faeries, we explore the major impact Ireland has had on mushrooms in our cultural imagination.



A long standing theory is that magic mushrooms were used in the druids religious ceremonies. When the church became more influential, the ceremonies are thought to have disappeared. Druids were said to have prepared fly-agaric for consumption and eaten it for its hallucinogenic properties because the hallucinations conferred great knowledge and enlightenment. The ancient peoples called the fly agaric mushroom the “flesh of the gods” and it is believed that the druids used it to come in direct communication with the universe. It is surmised that the druids would consume mushrooms and then sit in sweat houses, which appear all over Ireland.



Irish folks have long thought of the mushroom “fruit” as a connection to the much larger organism underground. Because the huge tracts of subterranean mushroom can be thousands of years old, many of the ancients believed that its wisdom could be passed to humans via consumption of the fruit. 



The Liberty Cap and the Fly Agaric mushroom grow in Ireland and both are believed to produce visions of faeries and leprechauns along with a variety of otherworld creatures associated with Ireland. Faeries and mushrooms have always been a big part of Irish culture and deeply intertwined in culture. In fact, the Gaelic slang for faeries and mushrooms is the same word: pookies. In Ireland, the trip one goes on from magic mushrooms is described as “going away with the faeries” being “off with the pixies.” In pagan times, imbas forosnai were psychic poets. The poets spoke of eating “red flesh of a pig, dog or cat” which is believed to be in reference to the fly-agaric. The poets chewed on this “red flesh of a pig” before lying in a dark room to seek out inspiration. 



Halloween, or Samhain, has Celtic origins. During Halloween, the ancient Irish believed that the membrane between this world and the Otherworld became thin, and creatures could pass through and that an entire spectrum of nonhuman forces could roam the earth at Samhain, coincidentally, magic mushrooms are in season at Samhain during the same time, which leads folks to wonder if altered states of consciousness from psychedelics inspired visions of faeries, leprechauns, pixies, elves and one-eyed monsters roaming the world.



“We have to look at art and folklore to infer mushroom use by the ancestors. The rock art in Knowth and Newgrange appear to depict ‘entoptic’ patterns which, according to some archaeologists, implies psychedelic medicine use by the artists.” says David McNamara. Irish ancestors may have consumed psychedelices, leading them to see the patterns that ended up carved onto rocks at Newgrange, like the swirling triskelion.


Scholars have suggested that ancient Ireland was home to a religion founded on magic mushrooms. Author Peter Lamborn Wilson wrote, Plowing the Clouds, which describes Indo-Europeans using psychedelic drugs in their worship rituals and suggests these experiences were the origin of pagan religions all over Ireland.


Similarly, Irish folklore records metaphorical stories of possible mushroom consumption. Wilson says, “The Irish material abounds in references to magical substances which bestow knowledge or pleasure when ingested. Perhaps the best-known are the hazelnuts of wisdom, eaten by the Salmon, fished up by the druid, and cooked by young Finn, who, as sorcerer’s apprentice, burns his thumb on the Salmon’s skin, sticks thumb in mouth, and attains all the wisdom in his master’s stead. The shamanic overtones of this story are quite obvious.”


8th Century Máel Dúin is a story of the son of a warrior chieftain, who experiences an ‘Isle of intoxicating wine fruits’ during his journey to avenge his father’s death. “After the crew had plucked all the fruit off one small tree, they cast lots for who should try them, and the lot fell on Máel Dúin. So he took some of them, and, squeezing the juice into a vessel, drank it. It threw him into a sleep of intoxication so deep that he seemed to be in a trance rather than in a natural slumber, without breath or motion, and with the red foam on his lips. And from that hour till the same hour next day, no one could tell whether he was living or dead. When Máel Dúin awoke next day, he bade his people to gather as much of the fruit as they could bring away with them; for the world, as he told them, never produced anything of such surpassing goodness. They pressed out the juice of the fruit till they had filled all their vessels; and so powerful was it to produce intoxication and sleep, that, before drinking it, they had to mix a large quantity of water with it to moderate its strength.”


Author and poet Shonagh Home says, “As the faerie faith in Ireland goes back many centuries, I speculate there were people other than the artistic/literate classes who were also familiar with psychoactive mushrooms. Our ancestors had extensive knowledge of the plants and fungi of their region and their inherent properties. It stands to reason that those who ingested psychoactive mushrooms, whether accidentally or purposefully, experienced the shimmering imagery and its attending inhabitants that many who have ingested the mushroom today are familiar with. This harkens to the faerie worlds of Tír na nÓg.”


Shonagh also notes on folk stories that “There are numerous Irish stories that speak of magical substances that confer special knowledge and the ability to speak poetically. There is a definite connection in the Irish stories between the ingestion of a special substance and poetic brilliance.”


Shonagh also speaks of Mead, a common beverage used also for ritual where it would be spiked with certain herbs and believes that there is a high likelihood that druides included psychoactives like mushrooms in their practices. He says, “The druids trained for 20 years in subjects such as law, astronomy, philosophy, poetry, medicine, music, geometry divination, and magic. It is probable that specific substances were used to induce high trance states to receive poetic inspiration and messages from the gods.”

Let us know what your favorite mushroom folklore is, whether passed down through stories or one of your favorite books or movies!



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Feng (mythology)

For the male phoenix, see Fenghuang.

In Chinese mythology and folklore, Fēng (封, lit. "mound; hump") was an edible monster that resembles a two-eyed lump of meat and magically grows back as fast as it is eaten. Early Chinese texts also referred to this legendary food with the names Shìròu (視肉, "look like meat"), Ròuzhī (肉芝, "meat excrescence"), and Tàisuì (太歲, "great year; Jupiter"). Ròulíngzhī (肉靈芝, "meat Lingzhi mushroom") is a modern name popularized by Chinese news media reporting on purported discoveries of Feng throughout China, including a widely publicized Xi'an television reporter who misidentified a sex toy as a roulingzhi monster.


Fēng (封, lit. "hump") meant "mound, tumulus, raise a mound; altar; earth up (a plant); wall, bank of field; boundary embankment, fief" in Old Chinese;[1] and means "to seal; bank (a fire); confer (title/territory/etc.) upon, feudal; envelope" in Modern Standard Chinese.[2] Feng occurs in other Chinese mythological names. Fengzhu (封豬, with "pig; swine") or Bifeng (伯封, with "elder brother; uncle"), the son of Kui and Xuanqi (玄妻, "Dark Consort"), was named owing to his "swinish" wickedness. Wolfram Eberhard says, Fengzhu translates "pig with a hump" because feng means "hump", although commentaries often interpret the word as "big".

Shìròu (視肉, lit. "look like meat") compoundsshi (視 "regard; look at/upon; inspect; watch; sight; vision") with rou (肉 "meat; flesh; pulp; 'flesh' of melons/etc."). The Kangxi Zidian dictionary entry for shi (視) quotes Guo Pu's Shanhaijing commentary to use the otherwise unattested variant jùròu (聚肉, with 聚 "gather; assemble; get together").

Tǔròu (土肉, "soil flesh") compounds tu (土 "soil; earth; clay; land; crude") with rou. Compare turougui (土肉桂, with 桂 "cinnamon; cassia-bark tree"), which is the Chinese name for "Cinnamomum osmophloeum".

Ròuzhī (肉芝, "meat excrescence") uses rou with the complex word zhi (芝, "supernatural mushrooms; excrescences"). Fabrizio Pregadio explains, The term zhi, "which has no equivalent in Western languages, refers to a variety of supermundane substances often described as plants, fungi, or 'excrescences'."[4]Língzhī (靈芝, "spiritual excrescence") – known in English as the Lingzhi mushroom and identified with Ganoderma genus – is seen in the modern Feng name Ròulíngzhī (肉靈芝 "meat Lingzhi mushroom").

Tàisuì (太歲, "great year; Jupiter)", combining tai (太, "great; very; too") and sui (歲, "year (of age)") in reference to Jupiter's orbit of 11.86 years (12 years in Chinese tradition), is an old name for the planet Jupiter. Jupiter is the God of the Year in the Chinese zodiac and Fengshui, and worshiped in religious Daoism. Feng is considered to be the earthly manifestation of Jupiter's shen (神, "spirit; god; deity").

Classical usages[edit]

Beginning in the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), the Chinese classics have recorded Feng and its synonyms.

The Shanhaijing has 14 usages of Shìròu (視肉, lit. "look like meat/flesh"), in locations north, south, east, and west of "The Classic of Regions Beyond the Seas" and "The Classic of the Great Wilderness". Scholars generally date these textual sections from around the 1st century BCE to 1st century CE, making shirou the earliest recorded name for feng. For instance,

Mount Menial [狄山]- the great god Lofty lies buried on its south face; the great god Tellswift lies buried on its north face. Here there are black bears and brown bears, striped tigers, long-tailed apes, leopards, and also the leave-scarlet bird, the look-flesh creature, and the sob-sigh creature. (6)

"Lofty" and "Tellswift" translate Emperor Yao and Emperor Ku. Birrell notes that the shirou is,

A fabled creature, the recurring animalian motif of numerous utopian passages in the text, usually associated with the burial place of deities. Kuo notes that the look-flesh creature "is a mass of flesh which looks like the liver of an ox; it has two eyes. Even though you eat it, it is never really consumed, because it grows again, and is born again in the same form as it was before." This myth may constitute a utopian idea of a never-ending supply of meat, from the perspective of the inhabitants of poor rural areas.

The Shanhaijing commentary of Guo Pu (276-324) provides invaluable information about the shirou and turou 土肉.

It is a lump of meat in the shape of an ox liver. There are two eyes in it. It can be eaten as food. More of them can be found. Such things are called Feng and are edible. People do not know this. There is also another thing in the sea called Turou that is pure black and five cun in width. It is as big as an arm of an infant. There is an abdomen but no mouth and eyes. It has 30 legs. It can be stir-fried and taken as food. This is something like a cross between a worm and a fish, and is similar to Feng.[7]

Feng also appears in the Shanhaijing mythic name fengshi (封石, "fief stone"), for example, "[On Mount Accord], the yufu jade is abundant on its summit, as well as copious amounts of bloodstone and fief-stone." The Shanhaijing commentary of Hao Yixing (郝懿行, 1757–1825) quotes the (c. 533-544 CE) Qimin Yaoshu, "The stone is medicinal. It tastes sweet and is not poisonous."

Zhang Hua's (c. 290 CE) Bowuzhi "Record of the Investigation of Things"[10] says, "In the land of Yuexi/Yuesui there is a cow that does not die if you cut a piece of meat off it. After some days the flesh has grown back again as before." Yuexi/Yuesui commandery was around present-day Xichang, Sichuan.

The (c. 320 CE) Baopuzi, written by the Jin Dynasty Daoist scholar Ge Hong, mentions Ròuzhī (肉芝, "meat/flesh excrescences") in two contexts. Ge Hong's "A Taoist Library" lists the illustrated text Ruozhitu 肉芝圖, which is no longer extant. "The Genie's Pharmacopia" (仙藥) categorizes zhi (芝 "a legendary numinous mushroom; Ganoderma; excrescence"), "There are five types of excrescences: rock [石芝], wood [木芝], herb [草芝], flesh [肉芝], and the tiny [菌芝, jun菌 means "mushroom; fungus; bacterium; germ"]", and each of them has 120 species. The text lists six kinds of rouzhi "flesh excrescences" that will give one the invulnerability and longevity associated with Daoist xian. Here are two examples.

The ten-thousand-year-old hoptoad is said to have horns on its head, while under its chin there is a double-tiered figure 8 written in red. It must be captured at noon on the fifth day of the fifth moon and dried in the shade for a hundred days. A line drawn on the ground with its left root will become a running stream. When its left foreleg is carried on the person, it will ward off all types of weapons. If an enemy shoots at you, the bow and arrow will both turn against the archer. The thousand-year-old bat is as white as snow. When perching, it hangs head down because its brain is heavy. If both of these creatures are obtained, dried in the shade, powdered, and taken, a body can live for forty thousand years.
If in the mountains you should come across a little man seven or eight inches tall riding in a palanquin or on a horse, it will be a flesh excrescence. By seizing and taking it you will immediately become a genie.

The Zazhi 雜志 "Miscellaneous Notes" by the Song dynasty official Jiang Linji 江鄰幾 (1005-1060) records that the Neo-Confucian teacher Xu Ji 徐積 (1028-1103) found a Feng in Luzhou (modern Anhui).

Mr. Xu Ji [徐積] once picked up a small baby at the riverside in Lu Zhou. There were no fingers on its hands and there was no blood in its body. He was afraid of it and buried it in the ground. This was actually Feng as recorded in the book Baize Tu. Eating such a thing will increase one's physical strength.[7]

The (c. 3rd century) Baize tu (白澤圖, "Diagrams of the Baize 'White Marsh' Spirit") is no longer fully extant, but is identified with a Dunhuang manuscript (P2682).

The (1547) Xihu Zhi (西湖志 "West Lake Record") by Ming dynasty scholar Tian Rucheng (田汝成, 1503-1557) uses the name Taisui.

When Dung Biaoyi [董表儀] dismantled a house and dug up the earth, something like a lump of meat was found. A Taoist master said this was Taisui. It was harmless. So it was abandoned.[7]

Li Shizhen's (1578) Bencao Gangmu classic Chinese materia medica includes the Feng under Chapter 51, which describes medicines derived from yu (禺 "monkeys") and kuai (怪 "supernatural creatures") such as the wangliang (魍魎 "a demon that eats the organs of corpses") and penghou (彭侯 "a tree spirit that resembles a black tailless dog"). The Feng entry quotes the Shanhaijing with Guo's commentary, the Zazhi, and Xihu Zhi. Bernard Read's translation[14] glosses the Feng as "a naiad" and says, "This refers to a class of peculiar organisms such as the sea cucumber or anemones to which were accredited supernatural qualities, based upon the supposition that they were spiritual beings." The sea cucumber and sea anemone are both marine animals, as is the turou.

Modern revival[edit]

For 2,000 years, the Feng creature (a.k.a. Taisui, Rouzhi, etc.) has been an obscure aspect of Chinese mythology, but in the late 20th century, Chinese media began reporting a series of fake Feng findings. In modern context, counterfeit and imitation goods made in China are so common that English borrowed the Chinese loanwordshanzhai.

Most of the alleged Feng findings have been restricted to Chinese-language sources, often with extraordinary pictures.[citation needed] For instance, construction workers near Lüshunkou District of Dalian dug out a 78-kilogram lump of fatty meat, which they sold to a Mr. Sun (孙) for 20,000 yuan (about $3,200), who later began selling "Taisui" mineral water. The Xinhua reporter, who inspected Sun's "Taisui" kept in a water-filled tank, said it was about 40 cm wide, resembled white pig fat wrapped in a brown and yellow skin, and felt like sauced beef tendon.[15]

One "Feng" story received international attention in June 2012. Xi'an Television reported that villagers digging a well had found a "Roulingzhi", which was being kept in a bucket of water. The reporter who handled the object described as a fleshy monster with a mouth and nose.[16][17][18] However, after viewers identified it as a fleshlightsex toy with a vagina and anus, the story became an internet meme in China, and the station issued an apology.[19]

Comparative mythology[edit]

Legends about a "lump of flesh" are culturally widespread.

In Chinese mythology,. the world-creator Hundun resembled a lump of flesh; the nine sons of the dragon were born as a limbless lump of flesh, split into nine parts and thrown them into the river, where they became dragon kings; the hero King Zhao of Zhou was born as a lump of flesh that had to be split; and the dead sometimes appear as a lump of flesh, like the Taisui. In a Chinese fairy tale, The Pretty Little Calf was born as the third wife's son, but the first and second wives claimed he was a lump of flesh, and tried to kill him by drowning and feeding to a water buffalo.

Examples can be found in many cultures. The Indian Mahabharata tells how Gandhari, the wife of Dhritarashtra, wished for 100 sons, and after two years of pregnancy gave birth to a lump of flesh, which were cut into 101 pieces and placed in jars, and developed into 100 sons and a daughter. The Tamil saint Thirumalisai Alvar was born as a limbless lump of flesh after twelve months in the womb, abandoned by his parents, and returned to life by Vishnu. The creation of man in the Qur'an (22:5) says, "We first created you from dust, then from a sperm drop, then from clotted blood, then a lump of flesh [mudghah], both shaped and unshaped, so that We might manifest to you [Our power]". In Welsh mythology, Lleu Llaw Gyffes was born from a lump of flesh dropped by Gwydion, and concealed in a chest until he matured. In Manx folklore, if a Tarroo-ushteywater bull mates with a cow, it only calves a lump of flesh and skin without bones.


  • Anonymous (2000). The Classic of Mountains and Seas. Translated by Birrell, Anne (illustrated ed.). Penguin. ISBN .
  • Eberhard, Wolfram (1968). The Local Cultures of South and East China. E. J. Brill. ISBN .
  • Alchemy, Medicine and Religion in the China of A.D. 320: The Nei Pien of Ko Hung. Translated by Ware, James R. MIT Press. 1966.


  1. ^Schuessler, Axel (2007). ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese. Honolulu HI: University of Hawaiʻi Press. p. 237. ISBN .
  2. ^DeFrancis, John, ed. (2003), ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary, University of Hawaii Press. p. 259.
  3. ^Pregadio, Fabrizio (2008), ''Zhi 芝 'numinous mushrooms'; 'excrescences'", in The Encyclopedia of Taoism, ed. by Fabrizio Pregadio, Routledge, 1271-1274. p. 1271.
  4. ^ abcLuo Xiwen, tr. (2003), Bencao Gangmu: Compendium of Materia Medica, 6 vols., Foreign Languages Press. p. 4132.
  5. ^Greatrex, Roger, tr. (1987), The Bowu Zhi: An Annotated Translation, Föreningen för Orientaliska Studier. p. 97.
  6. ^Read, Bernard E. (1931), Chinese Materia Medica, Animal Drugs, From the Pen Ts'ao Kang Mu by Li Shih-Chen, A.D. 1597, Peking Natural History Bulletin. no. 407.
  7. ^Xinhua Net (2014), 工地挖出七八公斤太岁 市民早市花两万买来收藏 {Construction excavation finds 78-kg Taisui, sold for 20,000 yuan at morning flower market}, 26 September 2014. (in Chinese)
  8. ^Xi'an Television (2012), China news confuses rubber vagina/anus for special mushroom, YouTube, 19 June 2012.
  9. ^ABC News (2012), Sex Toy Fools Entire Chinese Village, ABC News, 19 June 2012.
  10. ^Huffington Post (2012), Sex Toy Confused for Mushroom in Chinese Village of Liucunbu, Huffington Post, 19 June 2012.
  11. ^The Mirror (2012), "How can the reporter mistake a sex toy for fungus?", 19 June 2012

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