There's no better celebration of any season than the decorated tree adorned with the rich symbolism of nature—my ritual to inform and inspire you in the journey called life.

Monday, October 18, 2010

woodland lessons two: a tale in two parts

WHAT MORE could there be to the history behind the decorated tree? What's the real significance of the custom of putting presents under an evergreen brought inside the home? How could reindeer fly and help Santa spread the good cheer? There are certainly a lot of customs surrounding the literal or metaphorical birth of Christ that are just accepted without question. I will give a little insight into some of the origins. 

NO  ONE  knows all the answers, but the more I read about the lore surrounding the Christmas holiday, the more interesting and resonant it seems to be. The associations with the religions of the world find their origins in the ancient shamanistic cultures predating Christendom. The best way to tame and convert "the heathens" was to adopt the customs of the Old World, forgetting that one day, the dots could be connected in the New World.

WHAT  IS  FOUND in nature inspired it all. The natural world holds the key. There is no denying, even though we sometimes think we have subverted it, we're finding more and more that we are integrally tied to Mother Nature. And in such profound ways that we can no longer ignore our place within its carefully balanced and sustainable systems. Mushrooms and their life systems are a huge part of this.

MUSHROOMS  have long been associated with the evergreen tree, being the literal presents found under it. The truly special ones can be found growing in symbiosis under arboreal trees such as pine, fir, or sometimes larch or birch. In Christmas ornament history and more and more in present day as we rediscover our holiday roots, you'll find red-capped mushroom ornaments dotted with white spots. They are also the mushrooms seen in fairy tales such as Alice in Wonderland. Such ornaments are representations of the lucky magic mushrooms called Amanita muscaria. Muscimol, the hallucinogenic component in dried Amanita muscaria (the raw ones are poisonous) is how the shamans of ancient cultures found "flight." The broadened spacial perception under their influence led them to think of the cosmic guidance while being pulled high above the world in their sleds by mushroom-eating flying reindeer was their contact with the collective consciousness of souls—their God—their point of contact with the gods and the dead. The ancient cultures and shamans of the world used this mushroom manna to help manipulate and open the mind, carefully protecting the wisdom found through their experiences of expanded perception to the masses, making them sacred individuals, which in turn gave the newer religions ground to convert the masses. The later symbolic gestures in religion leave out the actual element of nature.

ALL  OF  THE  associations of present-day customs surrounding the Christmas holiday with the ancient practices are interesting indeed—especially with logic defying mushrooms and the resulting broadening perception of the natural world and how humans first connected to the "Gods." For this alone, they truly are magic.

AS  A  MUSICAL  accompaniment to this post, I can't think of a better angelic voice to bring the old songs of the holidays new life, as is my mission with this blog to bring resonance and meaning back to the old customs of the holidays throughout the ages and in turn, asking questions about the origins of our current-day customs. Annie Lennox has always been one to bring a modern perspective to the old sounds that resonate with all of us. In this new album titled "A Christmas Cornucopia," a new song, titled "Universal Child" precedes the album made up of it and 11 traditional Christmas songs. She says (and I paraphrase her) "that while recording the album, I realized the songs have layers of meaning that are not necessarily only about the Christian interpretation. You can listen to the songs and hear the religious significance, but underneath it all, there is simply a humanistic message." I anxiously await this album as Annie Lennox is one of my favorite recording artists. The album will be released globally on November 15th, 2010. Watch this amazing video of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" here which bridges the origins of the holiday to modern celebrations.
MODERN MUSHROOM | (Top) Although this stylized shroom is not the traditional red and white lucky Christmas mushroom ornament, this spotted version from my collection has a personality all its own.The Amanita muscaria is a real mushroom (seen at right), not just the quintessential fairy tale toadstool. Poisonous in it's raw form, it takes a practiced individual (like someone who meditates or is attuned to more mindful traits) to discover any mind expansion in its psychoactive use (from what I've read).

SNAIL FOOD | (Above, center) Snails and worms hasten the return of the quick life of mushrooms back to the earth. During a woodland outing in north Georgia about a year ago, I found a wide array of mushrooms, picking up this snail along the way which posed perfectly for this shot. I haven't identified any of the mushrooms found, but plan to and I'll update my post when I do.

NATURAL COLLAGE | (Above, bottom) A beautiful assemblage of mushrooms I photographed on warm-hued pieces of scrapbook paper just after my lucky morning outing in the woods gathering them. These are the inspiration for the color scheme of the woodland tree. Once I identify the types of mushrooms, I will update my findings. (Below) The gills on the undersides of the mushroom caps create a beautiful textural study and illustrate the complex mystery of their short lives.
©2010 DARRYL MOLAND | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, collecting and styling by Darryl Moland, photography by Harold Daniels Studio / assisted by Shawn May. Mushroom collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland.

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