You've probably seen a certain mushroom a lot of places. You know, the one with the red cap and white dots? It's part of pop culture now. We see pictures with gnomes leaning against it. We see it in craft stores, Mario's world, in cartoons and Christmas decorations.
It's called the Amanita muscaria, and it's not just popular in culture today--it's been meshed in folklore for centuries. It's a known psychedelic, though it can be toxic if eaten in excess. One theory purports reindeer would eat it on the Scandinavian and Russian tundras, causing them to prance and frolic--hence, "flying reindeer."
Now, I don't use drugs. I'm not into hippie culture or extremism in general. The mushroom became part of my book as a catalyst into the magical elements I employ in the plot. (The genre I'm writing falls somewhere between magical realism and fantasy. More on that in this post.)
I did and continue to do a lot of research for my book. I mean, a lot a lot. Most authors do. Many people ask us writers, "Where do you get your ideas?" Well, there you go. Many of them are inspired by history and theory. You know the whole, "energy cannot be created nor destroyed" thing? Well, ideas are energy. I felt like creativity is just this giant melting pot that combines and transforms preexisting creations.
So why the Amanita muscaria? It holds relevance in cultures across space and time. From ancient Hindu texts to Siberian shamans, Vikings in war to Mayan art, the mushroom has found a place of cultural import in hundreds of thousands of lives.
The natural world creates these mysterious, largely unseen bridges between seemingly disparate human experiences. Connection is a central theme I'm exploring in my book at large. Plants, animals, elements: these physical forces combine to create a container holding us all.