Thursday, July 17, 2008

Amanita muscaria street art

The path to the lake shore along McVicar's Creek tunnels under Algoma St. Overnight, a street artist has painted a new image onto the wall on the underside of the bridge that spans the creek. A proposal was put forth to make this underground street-art space into a legal graffiti wall. Whether it was city-sanctioned, I don't know, but it does have a changing artscape of graffiti on it!

The image caught my eye, not only because it is large and noticeable, but also because it reminds me of the mushrooms found illustrated in the Finnish fairytale books of my childhood. It is called Amanita muscaria, and also known as fly agaric, magic mushrooms, and many other names. The Finno-Ugric peoples have long traditions of making use of the magic mushrooms. The spotted cap mirrors the lid of the Sampo, and of the kirjokansi, that is, the "magic text" of the stars in the northern sky. The Amanita muscaria is often depicted as having 7 spots, like the 7 stars of the Little Bear constellation, which holds Pohjantähti, the North Star, Polaris, the hinge of the ancients, the Nail of the North, a star central to northern peoples.

Of course, many other cultures have used the Amanita muscaria for many reasons, including shamanistic purposes. Some folks say the red and white mushroom lies behind the iconic image of Santa Claus. People learned of its magic from animals and birds who have used hallucinogenic aids since time immemorial. As a sacred plant, Amanita muscaria's use is a gift that needs to be learned, because without the wisdom of its proper use, it can kill you! So, too, alcohol. Tobacco.

The Amanita muscaria is part of the 'twilight language' between worlds, a language accessed by ritual practitioners. As I have written in my paper Alchemy of Ancestors, "The vocabulary of shamans includes bear claws, dog bones, a hornet’s nest, bird’s egg, blue heather, lakka, fly agaric mushroom, Angelica Archangelica, a cap edged in woven braids, a bird-shaped pendant, an apron, a birch burl, a cloud, a brook. These objects contain an inherent power -- väki.


marja-leena said...

I've had problems commenting on many blogspot blogs with word verification for two days, so I'm happy at last to be able to thank you for this fascinating post. There's so much for me to still learn about Finno-Ugric traditions and folklore so I loved reading this. I was curious about your use of 'väki' and had to look that one up for I had the wrong meaning in my head (group or crowd of people). My Finnish is getting rustier every year!

northshorewoman said...

Don't feel bad; lots of Finnish speaking people do not know the deeper meaning of väki, just like lots of English language speakers know very little of the etymology of English words and the meanings invested in them (e.g. auspicious means to divine by bird's language, ; Tina means river, radical stems from root....) Väki, yes, it does mean a group of people, particularly one's 'väki' would be those folks close to you who are your support system. So, one gets strength from them. Being part of a community makes one healthy and strong (opposite of capitalist individualism). So väki has a force behind/inside it. The meaning of väki also moves beyond this group of folks to mean the power invested in animals, in icons, symbols, in stones, death, water, etc. A tree, for ex, can have the charge of väki. So, incantations and spells are made to access or direct this 'väki'. 'Väki' is part of the old language.