Mycorrhizae

A songbook of fungal myths


Mycorrhizae is an artistic and literary project about humans and mushrooms. The author—a human—goes on a profoundly personal journey through grief, disconnection and estrangement in a post-pandemic world. But art, mythology and ecology come to the rescue and become the author's most precious tool for healing. Like fungus, the author feeds off a dead imaginary world and learns to build a new one.

The Pandemic was a time for unanswered questions, for fear. It was a time for confusion and hopelessness. Time to understand and exercise grief. It was a time of survival, of finding a way through. It was time to use any and every tool available to me.

And my best tool, the most effective, was fungi.

Fungi had all the keys for me. They could teach me to break my whole world into a million pieces, have it decompose and return to the ground. My forager self found a boundless network of connections between all questions. I fed from everything around me, and I fruited.

Tools for survival, Mycorrhizae

In her "Carrier Bar Theory of Fiction", Ursula K. Le Guin [1] encourages us to tell stories that are recipients. Storytelling becomes a bag to hold things and bring them home: things that don't need closure, threads that don't need tying. Stories don't aspire to be linear, tales don't need to revolve around one conflict and, like an arrow, take us to the final resolution. Stories don't need a hero.

I would go so far as to say that the natural, proper, fitting shape of the novel might be that of a sack, a bag. A book holds words. Words hold things. They bear meanings. A novel is a medicine bundle, holding things in a particular, powerful relation to one another and to us.

Ursula K Le Guin, The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction

Mycorrhizae is a carrier bag; a net bag woven out of mycelium. This artistic and literary project holds a collection of essays, intimate tales, poems and quotes about diverse topics—which, like things thrown into our carrier bag, don't have a linear connection but a mycelial one. The author uses her relationship with mycology—transmitted down through generations—to talk about other things: love and grief, technology and colonialism, ecology and land exploitation, linguistics and philosophy, identity, isolation, community.

Through its pages the book builds the Fungal Archetypes, a speculative illustrated mythology where 31 different mushrooms take the shape of an archetype, all inspired by the fascinating and shadowed ecology of the Funga. By throwing these fictional myths into the carrier bag, the author invites us to reflect about other possible ways to live; futures that could maybe learn from natural systems.

Mycorrhizae, Cover

The result of this exploratory and creative process is Mycorrhizae: A songbook of fungal myths, a mycelial collection of texts—prose, poetry and other authors' quotes—and mushroom illustrated mythologies.

The songbook

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Mycorrhizae is a songbook with no songs. The title transforms this little zine into a book one goes to mass with. The songbook of fungal myths becomes a liturgic tool, an accessory for a speculative worship.

Instead of psalms and prayers, this book collects a series of texts—narrative essays and poems—like quick sketches on a number of topics that frame the journey of the author through difficult times. These sketches travel through remembered past and fictional future and, instead of offering any clear answers, they attempt to link all questions together in the search for a systemic interpretation of The Trouble.

The development of this project was also illuminated by a constellation of books and essays by a variety of authors—environmentalists, feminists, philosophers and poets—that incorporated into their work a contemporary look on ecology, planetary grief and species loneliness. Their influence over this songbook is captured in a collection of exceptionally inspiring quotes and excerpts. All these works are listed in the Bibliography section below.

Mycorrhizae, Bienaventurados

The fungal myths

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Mycorrhizae is also a collection of 31 different illustrations of mushrooms that were created as a daily ritual during the month of October 2021. Drawing mushrooms—slowly and focused—helped me through feelings of grief, loneliness and disaffection. As I researched into my mycology books, I found the parallelisms between fungi and my life all too fascinating: Fungi had mutualistic relationships, identity issues, they defied normativity. Fungi could find alternative ways to interact with other species. And among humans, mushrooms found sometimes love, others rejection, they were feared or worshiped.

Month after month I held onto fungi. They were often my caring old friends, sometimes my mentors or sages, frequently my most antagonistic defiers. These mushrooms were the Gods and Myths of the forest, the Jungian Archetypes that crowded the dreams of the wood creatures—as I aspire to become—, and they offered me a kinder understanding of our earthly nature.

Tools for survival, Mycorrhizae

A creative exploration exercise of the anthropomorphic qualities of every mushroom resulted in the identification of each species with a human personality Archetype, which all together formed The Fungal Archetypes: an illustrated collection of 31 cards. Every card, apart from the mushroom illustration and its scientific name, has the Archetype name and a short literary humanized depiction of the mushroom qualities and their relation to the mentioned personality trait.

The Fungal Archetypes are what ties the Songbook together. Step by step, every part of the story narrated through the texts is accompanied by the relevant Archetypes.

But stripped off the author's story, the Archetypes remain, and they jump off into a quasi-mystical dimension to offer the reader an alternative story: their own story. Like the classic divination games, The Fungal Archetypes can become a self-guiding ritual or a narrative aid. One possible mushroom divination game (although not the only one) was created as part of this project and published online at The Fungal Archetypes Reading Table (archetypes.myco.land)

Fungal Archetypes Reading Table

Bibliography

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  • Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding sweetgrass
  • Litt Woon Long, A way through the woods
  • Nigh R.B., Evolutionary ecology of Maya agriculture in highland Chiapas, Mexico
  • Carol Cohn, Nuclear Language and How We Learned to Pat The Bomb
  • Marilyn Strathern, The Gender of the Gift
  • Donna Haraway, Staying with the trouble
  • Rabindranath Tagore, Stray birds
  • Suzanne Simard, Finding the Mother Tree
  • Katherine May, Wintering
  • Merlin Sheldrake, Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures
  • Aldous Huxley, Island
  • Ursula K. Le Guin, The Word for World is Forest
  • Donna Haraway, The Companion Species Manifesto
  • Lynn Margulis, The Symbiotic Planet: A New Look a Evolution
  • Peter McCoy and Matassja Noell, Radical Mycology: A Treatise On Seeing And Working With Fungi

  1. https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/ursula-k-le-guin-the-carrier-bag-theory-of-fiction ↩︎