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  • Writer's pictureSofia Greaves

Mushrooms & the dark arts

Galicia is excellently witchy with lichen, moss mushrooms twisted trees et cetera.

As highlighted by the 20 min documentary MEGA Mitología, available on youtube, there are many Galician legends all of which are compelling when given high-speed soundtracks. MEGA-M tells me, in the Hall of the Mountain King, that the most popular is Santa Compaña. The myth describes a troupe of dead souls roaming the woods at night.

At twelve o'clock in the evening the dead rise and go out in procession. They are led by a living person who holds the cross and the cauldron of holy water, and can not, for any reason, turn his head. The procession is invisible, but the air that produces its passage is perceived. The dead bear candles which cannot be seen, but the smell of burning wax is strong. The unfortunate leader of this company is condemned to roam at night until they die from exhaustion, UNLESS they find another person in the woods and give them the cross, and the cauldron, then make a circle in the earth, and stand within it.*

This message is not unlike the episode in which Spongebob and Patrick go camping.

On a recent camping trip Jo and I saw a slug crossing the road and prevented it from being flattened by multiple cars, and I am pleased to be told by the documentary that slugs encountered in the forest are the souls of the dead making a pilgrimage to the sanctuary of San Andrés de Teixido.

Slugs: babosos (slobbering ones)

You may have to complete this pilgrimage resurrected as slug/snake/animal without legs and should take care not to squash slugs in the local area.

A San Andrés de Teixido vai de morto quen non foi de vivo

Whomever does not go to San Andrés when they are alive will be compelled to when they are dead.

Myths order the world and our behaviour within it. They are narratives, or "speech", which become embedded knowledge as they are spoken over time, thus are "true". This speech is made up of signs and symbols, such as crosses, circles and cauldrons which have connotations in a given cultural context, therefore communicate meaning. By virtue of their normalisation those meanings can take on the strength of ideology.

...theorise, with variations, the structuralist sociologists Roland Barthes & Levi Strauss.*

If you take the perspective above, "fact" and "fiction" are not appropriate discriminating vocabularies for myth. Equally, labelling something "a myth" - as in, “climate change is a myth” - does position the speaker as a truth teller able to reveal a prevailing fiction. The label "myth" undermines speech by shifting the content from fact to ideology: speech which can be analysed as a composite of intentionally chosen "symbols and signs" with a motivation. This is typically what is at stake when you label something "myth". It becomes "suspicious knowledge." Eg. "Capitalism is the greatest economic system ever."

After this walk Jo provided me with a book on mushrooms. I have discovered a new mushroom. it is the "antialcoholic mushroom". The antialcoholic mushroom is tasty but fatal if you consume alcohol up to 48 hours afterwards making it an excellent murder weapon if served at breakfast during the week.

I am interested in mushrooms and magic because these medicinal knowledges have been suppressed by normal "science". The systematic exclusion of myth and ritual from "science", as normally defined, has largely occurred because historically the knowledge ordering professions have been dominated by men for whom "myth" and "magic" are secondary subjects for science to understand. The study of myth, "Mythology", was founded upon this principle. James Frazer's "Golden Bough,"*, a thirteen volume comparative text, placed "myth and magic" right at the bottom of an imagined hierarchy in human development. He pointed out that all human cultures share myths, magic, rituals and "taboos" with common themes like "death and resurrection." By organising these myths Frazer was able to construct his own: the idea that society first develops myth & ritual, then religion, then science. This extension of biological "types" and stages onto culture made it possible to argue that societies valorizing magic possessed a “primitive mind” in need of evolution. Frazer's theory of human culture justified therefore contemporary impositions of Western “science” over the colonies subjugated by British Imperial rule.* Equally, Frazer set the course for how myths have been theorised, as per Freud and Jung, Barthes and Levi Strauss.

Frazer was wrong

Myth and ritual co-exist with Christian and "scientific" orderings of the world.

In Galicia they dance in 3/8

play the bagpipe

have witches

an archaeology museum

and pilgrims walking the way to St James in Santiago

(who should not walk in the woods at night).

Equally, some pasts and knowledges are more equal than others. Generalissimo Fascist Franco, who was Galician himself, oppressed Galician regional identity with brutal violence in pursuit of his unified Christian "Spain" (1939-1975). Infamously, none of this has been good for witches. As satirised, somewhat out of the Galician context, by "The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge", Inside No. 9, Season 2, Episode 3.

Sim., "witches" in Galicia labelled "primitive" and persecuted 1565-1610, although only one burning is recorded - María Rodriguez a 35 year old woman who like E Gadge was accused of "making a pact with the devil" and "having carnal relations with him." Allegedly this number is low because Galician prosecutors were humanists who believed that witches were the product of poverty therefore should be "covered up" rather than burnt. Also, the inquisition burned most of the papers. And, rationally the seizing of the witches' assets offered no real financial benefit whereas imprisonment cost time and money. Witches were still hung and tortured, often by their neighbours - "Galicia was full of people who, pretending to work for the Holy Office, went through the towns and villages assaulting poor wretches who were just executed."

I note that one of the "types" of witches in Galicia is Asumcordas, or bruxas da rúa: "dedicated to spying on the houses of neighbors."

- Marimanta: Steals children. Puts them in her sack.

- Meigas chuchonas: (sucking witches): able to change appearance, they can even transform into insects or vampires.

As Bravo writes, "We have a modern idea, an archetype, that the meiga [witch] was a strange being who lived outside the world in lost huts or inaccessible places. No, they lived in Galician villages and did their work publicly, which was accepted. Everyone knew they were Meigas and they were going to see them."

Even the natural world seems to have been classified in ways that support this characterisation of "witches."

Below, Satan mushroom. The Satan mushroom is inedible. Also below, "Witch's egg". page 105. Also inedible. "It's disagreeable odour of rotting flesh makes consumption impossible." It is indeed the ugliest and most dangerous looking mushroom I have ever seen.

Witches form part of the Galician mythological composite which commonly binds the characteristics of the landscape to the hidden and unknowable. As the Xunta de Galicia & Eco-Tourism website describe, bold in original, "Mazes, animals, geometric symbols, human figures... Galicia's landscape is immersed in a halo of mystery."

"The Celts" are here emphasized as the most mysterious "myth" - unsurprisingly perhaps, because the Late-Bronze age happens before the Romans invaded, before Christian persecution, before Islamic invasion, before Fascism. As in Wales, Ireland & Scotland emphasizing "the Celts" is a form of cultural politics linked to claims of independence. This is supported by relatively recent revisions in the archaeological record which refuse the idea that the Romans "civilised" Galicia (as emphasized by Franco, and the other Fascists). Hence, "Galicia is the daughter of the sea and stone, as shown by the abundant deposits of petroglyphs...the legacy of the Celts. The stone on which the culture of our ancestors is based. Almost everyone knows that Galicia is a land of legends, of salt and stone, a land of Celts." Bold in original.

Lucy sends me "Warriors" from the album "Battle Cry of the Celts" on Spotify. This is a relevant suggestion. I am learning folk violin, she does Irish dancing, and Galician music sounds like Irish dancing. I have also made a recent move into traditional Galician dancing which approximates a ceilidh and happens breathlessly for 1.5 hours every Tuesday night.

"Atlantic Style Galician Rock Art".

Suggestions i now receive on Spotify

In Galicia there is a "witchy revival" which seeks to re-habilitate oppressed voices to emphasize independence. This is in part a response to fears that new technologies and biomedicine will cause traditional knowledges to "become extinct" and is complemented by Galician thriller literature describing the assassination of young women by ancient rituals, such as "The PORTAL, oriented in the mysterious and legendary Galicia", Albariño cultivation in "the valley of the witches" and illustrated bestiaries such as that of Pablo Gallo, €23.

There are types of witches with powers to "know":

- Cartuxeira, vedoira: read cards, capable of seeing the future.

- Curanderas, Menciñeiras, Heciceras and Meigas: focused on spells, plants and cures.

I am reading about Menciñeiras, defined by Alvaro Cunqueiro, "a type of healer in whose person is cited a complex range of healing methods ranging from the laying on of hands to clairvoyance and, of course, the development of medicines following the traditional patterns of this curative alternative."

This raises important questions about several recent events, the first of which is a "cranio-sacral massage" I received from a woman living in a yurt with two black cats and a black dog. We talked about the Patriarchy and I felt better afterwards.

Also Carlota, the source of all our vegetables, who inoculates logs with mushroom spores. The logs are kept covered and the spores take a year to mature, after which shitake mushrooms grow. You can weaponise mushrooms in a similar way by inoculating Eucalyptus trees, as done by activists in Galicia because Franco established cellulose factories to industrialise Spain at the expense of air quality, water quality and biodiversity. Slow internal death by mushroom is much more satisfactory than death by chain saw.

Is this witchcraft?


To round this up I once read from the Book of Satan at a rap battle in Spanish, which I did not win. There are plural traditions of magic, manuals and "The Dark Arts" (ciencias ocultas) one of which is the Book of Saint Cyprian, who later converted to Christianity and became the bishop of Antioch, but not before he committed to 159 pages all the possible ways to do sorcery. Found and translated from Hebrew by the German monk, Jonas Sulfurino in the year 1001 and available on audiobook.


Take wild marjoram, verbena, myrtle leaves, three leaves of walnut and three of fennel, all collected on the morning of San Juan, before the sun rises. Dry everything in the shadow, make a powder, aned pass through a silk screen, and when you wish to use it throw it in the air towards the place where the woman is, and the effect will happen immediately.


Place a diamond above her head when she is sleeping, you will know if she is faithful or unfaithful to her husband because if she is unfaithful she will wake up with a start and if she is not she will embrace her husband with affection. This recipe is of the most secure effect because it has been tried an infinite number of times, with results as indicated, except within extraordinary circumstances.

I note that there are no spells for making men dance naked, knowing if men are unfaithful, prohibiting men from being unfaithful, making men be loved by a woman who loves them, although there are spells for flirting with a man. St Cyprian reads like a dark arts version of Ovid's Ars Amatoria + opioids, just in case.

Page 164. "Recipe for obtaining a woman." "First of all it has to be said that the character of the woman should be studied to understand how to behave oneself and the relationship between her desires and those which you want to satisfy. Women like good behaviour and will be more amenable this way. Having observed this condition take the heart of a bird (must be virgin) give it to a snake to eat. The snake, in some time, will die. When this happens, cut off its head, and put it on a low burning flame (or on a grill) and after removing, grind to powder in a mortar, add laudanum, and when you want to use it you have to wash your hands with this preparation placing them immediately upon your beloved."

Page 164. "Recipe for making men surrender to womens' wishes". Head of an eel, pinch of cane seed, laudanum. Placed in a cup of wine . "After the man was drunk this recipe he will doubtless love WITH VIGOUR the woman who supplied it and will not be able to resist the woman during the enchantment, whose effects will be renewed forever, if the man resists the woman must invite him to eat chocolate, tea or coffee, and keep mixing the ingredients in these drinks."

To be a sorcerer, you will need to have "Special qualities": true desire and vocation, attention to detail, constant study of natural things, and to never talk about it to anyone.

You will also need to wear "white dress made of linen with the interior part made of fine wool, and as for the tunic and the cap or cap. The color of the hat and tunic must be black, wearing embroidered with red silk the Hebrew characters on the chest and the words of the cap, and with gold and silver threads the stars and other signs."

This sounds good to me.

It is currently part of my research process to unsuccessfully make natural dyes and paints from plants. St Cyprian's book does not speak about mushrooms, paints or theorise colours. He prefers black and scarlet in more "evil" recipes, and links them to Saturn. Blue is for Jupiter, red for Mars and the colour green is linked to Mercury and Venus.

The majority of natural dying pages online are managed by women. I am following their recipes but it is not going that well because my leaves do just make brown albeit in multiple shades. The spell is 10% aluminium sulphate with 5% tartaric acid + leaves gathered from eucalptus, Albariño, chestnut or oak, currently represented as the central tones of the "What does the colour of your urine mean" chart, as below, with hope of "green" in future. I hope to develop a method which I can use to make paintings from plants used by menciñeiras, as a kind of study and portrait of knowledge and practice. This is part of my broader research into the importance of doing science through art, and vice versa.

Sofia :)

(Parasol mushrooms/mazza di tamburo/ apagador menor)


Santa Compaña

The description of "Santa Compaña" is adapted from Xesús Rodríguez López, Supersticiones de Galicia (1895).


Cohen categorises myth into different theoretical schools. See Cohen, Percy S. 1969. “Theories of Myth.” Man 4 (3): 337–53.

Frazer's Golden Bough was elaborated by Joseph Campbell in his book "The Hero with 1000 faces", a comparative history of "the hero's adventure" which sustains the theory that myths have a fundamental structure: "the monomyth".

See Frazer, influence and imperialism, Beard, Mary. 1992. “Frazer, Leach, and Virgil: The Popularity (and Unpopularity) of the Golden Bough.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 34 (2): 203–24.

You can read any of Frazer's books in the original on archive, for example:

Inside No. 9 Watch "The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge"

Galician Rock Art & Culture

Galician was reinstated as an official language in 1978 alongside Basque and Catalan.

Lecture on archaeology in Galicia which discusses revision of the "Romanisation = civilisation" narrative

"Un Pueblo Entre Dos Mundos", Museo Arqueológico de España.


The valley of the witches: "Our vision - to produce a wine of excellent quality that is a unique and different experience for all those who try it, a wine that transmits the culture and traditions of Galicia and that brings magic from our land to all corners of the world, a wine made with the most practical sustainable and environmentally friendly." Here

Diego Valor Bravo has written about the Inquisition.

The Book of St Cyprian

NB The "Day of Spanishness": Dia de Hispanidad

Today: 12 October 2023, "The national day of Spain", established 1987 in the context of a vote of no confidence for the government, and protests by the socialist party against economic policies. The day is a legacy of Francoism (1939-75) which includes an armed forces parade to emphasize monarchical power whilst invoking a past which supports centralised rule over regionalism; previously denoted the "Day of Spanishness (Hispanidad)" and "Day of the Race (Dia de la Raza)" Oct 12 celebrates Christopher Columbus arriving in America 1492 when Spain "integrated" the culturally diverse colonies into the process of State construction.*It "symbolises the historical anniversary on which Spain, 1492y, begins a period of linguistic and cultural projection beyond the boundaries of Europe." Here "cultural projection" may be read as "imperialism".

In Pontevedra they have organised an all-day seminar celebrating Galician culture, starting at 11am with vermouth.

Ley 18/1987, de 7 de octubre, que establece el día de la Fiesta Nacional de España en el 12 de octubre...La fecha elegida, el 12 de octubre, simboliza la efemérides histórica en la que España, a punto de concluir un proceso de construcción del Estado a partir de nuestra pluralidad cultural y política, y la integración de los Reinos de España en una misma Monarquía, inicia un período de proyección lingüística y cultural más allá de los límites europeos.

Aguilar, P., & Humlebæk, C. (2002). Collective Memory and National Identity in the Spanish Democracy: The Legacies of Francoism and the Civil War. History and Memory, 14(1–2), 121–164.

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