When I was 6 years old my German grandmother took me out for was in the forest a lot. Especially during late summer and fall. There she began to teach me to identify many mushrooms at a very early age - of course so that I could help her to find mushrooms, she used to cook a lot with all kinds of mushrooms.
Hunting for mushrooms is both a meditation and a hobby to me. Your mind is focused, calm and at ease. Your senses... You can smell the mushroom and the soil. Your eyes are focused on both finding them and identifying them at the same time. Feeling the soil, the wet moss, the silence of nature...
It truly is meditation to me, almost like a ritual during late summer. Every time you find one you ask yourself; is it edible or not? You begin to open up. You see details, connections, that you have never seen before.
Nature slowly begins to communicate with you.
And as I got older, my fascination for them is still highly intact. I have, even as a young child, noticed that most of our German fairy tales are packed with Fungi and mushrooms, their symbolism and pictures. And I have, even as a kid, asked myself why that is?
Of course in old folklore they are messengers of the kingdom of the gnomes and nature spirits. But there is a lot more to that than meets the eye at first sight. It is not about shiny balls of light floating around because someone ate the wrong type of mushroom.
Germany and most of middle and northern Europe, once, shared basically the same beliefs. Although our "Gods" had different names, they are, in essence, the same beings and entities.
That is because of the Germanic pagan worldview. Nature is alive and a living being. Consciousness is not some product made up by a mechanic brain. But it is both energy and entity, like an energetic field, within everything that surrounds us. The trees do have consciousness, the animals do as well as herbs - and even mushrooms. Not that they are little tiny people, speaking in an unknown language and going out to dinner... that was never the point, to begin with. It was about the intelligent force that connects everything in nature.
That there is some kind of mind beyond everything, that makes everything work, a mind that is within us and within everything that exists.
The European gods were not gods in a christian sense. A so-called worshipping did not take place. They were very complex pictures and symbols in order to describe the world around us as well as within us. Thoughts and emotions as well as dreams. And complex powers that are existent in nature. With that being said, everyone and everything was of divine spirit. We are nature.
There were different realms, though, dimensions from the depth of Niflheim up to Asgard, where the divine spirit resides. The Gods.
Dimensions that are a symbiotic unity, it was seen as a necessity that they are working with each other, the forces of both Fire and Ice... Stagnation and Evolution.
Death, Darkness and the so called Underworld were real places with real energies. But not of evil. And not of harm. But of transformation. Every season had its own god as well as every day in the week. Which is why we say Thursday for example.
Deriving from the norse God Thor, or Donar (Torsdag in Swedish) in Germany. Friday for the norse Goddess Freya and her essence of fertility and new life. And so on. And every god personified a power in nature or within us. Baldur for example was a solar deity, a Sun God. Freya was linked to birch trees and even the Fly Agaric mushroom.
Hel is the power that resurrected every late Summer or Autumn. Harvest is gone. The days are getting shorter. It is getting colder. The darkness sets in. Nature slowly dies. Until Baldur reawakens in the Underworld in December, the Winter Solstice, and the power of the Sun slowly comes back to life. Spring is coming back with Freya, bringing new fertility, growth and life. And so on. Life and nature was viewed as cyclic, not dualistic.
Mushrooms are linked to the images of gnomes and nature spirits because these energies are strongly linked to Hel and her realm. Everything that exists, everything that is alive, is of Hel's essence, simply because in her realm, life, existence, nature is being born. She holds the secrets to all life. Life is born out of the darkness. Spring is born out of darkness.
Odin himself had to travel deep down into her realm while sacrificing himself, in order to gain understanding and wisdom. In her realm, there is power and transformation. Life is born. Life dies and goes back into her womb. There she recycles, and brings back new fertility. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is lost. But instead, she destroys the old and that which is sick or ill, and then she creates the seeds of new life again. She is a huge recycler and she does it with love and dedication.
Most nature spirits in mythology are exactly that. Of course, in our modern view it might look totally silly and childish. But we have to think in symbolism in order to grasp it. It is the language of a Myth.
They are guardians of nature and of transformation as well as evolution.
That is what they actually represent. That is why the little garden gnomes or garden dwarfs made out of stone are placed in the vegetable garden.
It is much more complex than just that, because every tree and every mushroom are connected to different forces and gods that in a way are linked energies like fire (creativity, destruction), or Ice (stagnation, the void of creation) and so on.
Amanita Muscaria is perhaps the most famous mushroom. That mushroom is sacred because of its link to the god of the sun during the dark Scandinavian winters. Now, modern scientists just put that aside and say it is because they consumed it and had some hallucinations. But then again, this is a very superficial way of looking at it and someone who does not understand Pagan spirituality or mythology very well would probably come up with that idea. Of course, at first sight, it does make sense. But there is more to it as well.
Both the birch tree and the Amanita Muscaria form symbiotic relationships. That is a biological fact. They prefer to bond with conifers. Conifers are mostly evergreen and thus, in Europe, a sign of life even when darkness and winter is upon nature. This is why we have the tradition of the Christmas tree. The Gods connected to these trees are Saturn, Balder and Freya (for birch). Remind you that the soil in the high north with all its rocks let trees like birch thrive easier.
Also Evergreen trees, representing life that never dies.
Amanita Muscaria, with its wonderful colors, almost like a lantern with the bright birch bark.
It has been said these mushrooms form symbiotic relationships in order to recycle dead organic matter, absorb and bringing nutrients back into the soil. Some of them are parasites. Some of them work together and many animals depend on them as well.
It also has been said that Hel and her consciousness, that gives birth to many different spirits and life forms in nature, including mushrooms, recycle dead organic matter, absorb, and bring forth transformation.
Fungi recycle dead matter like dead wood, a carcass, and so on. They form bonds with trees, exchanging nutrients. They filter toxins. They absorb, recycle and transform that which is dead and decayed. Until new soil, new nutrients can be given back to the soil... the seeds of new life.
In pagan spirituality, it is the soul and essence of Hel and her spirits, that manifest in nature in physical shape and form. They absorb, recycle and bring forth transformation.
From the darkness in late Autumn until new life is being born in spring.
From the life-force of the Sun, Baldur, and his descent into the Underworld and his resurrection in December, the young Sun. Frigga, is turning the wheel, the cycle of life once again!
Anyhow, no matter what you want to believe, no matter how you look at it. No matter what beliefs you have.
There is transformation and intelligence in nature. Mushrooms are a biological fact that prove that.