What is The Mushroom?
Like most questions in life—indeed perhaps the entire spectrum of possible inquiry, but one can never be totally sure—the answer to the question, “what is The Mushroom?” has many answers, in many contexts, and each and everyone interrelates.
The mushroom is, of course, the protruding, spore-producing, biological structure of a fungus, usually comprising of a stalk and a cap. But it is much more than that. It is deeply embedded into the collective unconsciousness: in faery tales and art, in stories and sculpture, in popular culture and mythology. There is the toadstool, Amanita muscaria, ‘The Fly Agaric,’ that has excited the human imagination, entangling itself into the mythology of flying reindeer, smoking caterpillars, fishing gnomes, resting faeries, and troublesome trolls. Some have that it is Soma, the plant intoxicant of the Indo-Europeans that was worshiped as a deity.1 The mushroom’s deification persists within the religious cults of the Mexica or Aztecs of Mesoamerica, with the sacramental consumption of mushrooms known as teonanácatl in the Náhuatl language, meaning “flesh of the gods.”
Others have viewed the mushroom with suspicion and fear; just try and feed an average person a wild mushroom you have personally picked and watch the primal terror and distrust creep on to their face. Mushrooms are, after all, a known source of death, disease, sickly stomachs, and even insanity. They exist on the threshold of life and death, the mundane and the sublime, even, for some, the terrestrial and the extra (or ultra) terrestrial. Certain species of mushroom are the link in the natural cycle between death and new life, fruiting on decaying remains and renewing ecological systems. And, of course, there are the magic mushrooms. Magic and mysterious because of the new worlds and new mind states they manifest, and the sense of unity and divinity they reliably reveal (given the right dosing and conditions). Psychedelic. Some would argue entheogenic. And if one continues down the rabbit hole: truly, literally, magical.
It may still seem that none of this explains what the mushroom is, here, in this context. Here, the mushroom is a website; it is also me. Each of these aforementioned aspects of the mushroom is a part of the ‘Idea’ of the mushroom, and its narrative; it is also a core part of my life story. The mushroom has shaped, formed, and informed my entire lifeworld, just as it informs the ideology of this website and expresses the growing web of myth that feeds and evolves the mushroom archetype—the network of conceptual mycelium that sprouts forth the (forbidden) fruit. In short, the mushroom is both my virtual cyber-projection of my “self” and broadly analogous to my very real analogue human condition.
For some time now, the parallels between my human existence and that of the mushroom seem clear to me. As one looks at a beautiful faery ring, a sacred circle created by the boundaries between life and death once again, one first of all sees the multiplicity of mushrooms. They see myriad fruiting bodies rising to the heavens in the hope of reproducing and physically enacting the evolution of their being. But the singular mushroom body is not a discrete entity. They are not the individuals they appear to be. They are a part of the unseen mycelium. The single organism that unites all those mushrooms together in their true oneness. The multiplicity is simply an illusion for one that does not know deeply enough about the mushroom’s true nature. So it is with humanity; this net of consciousness takes the guise of individuality and multiplicity but when one knows its true nature, the boundaries are illusory.
So I am The Mushroom. This mushroom. A mushroom. And this website is me. Digitally. Virtually. It is my cyberspace. The mycelium is the web of ideas, interrelations, and various states of consciousness that bring forth the language that builds this virtual space. It is me also. And it is not me. It goes deeper and connects with “Other(s)”. So the purpose of this website is the purpose of the internet: communication, mediation. It is a place for me to communicate my ideas, my art, emotions and craft.
I will use it to “find the others”. Whether for work, play, practice or preaching. I intend to bring together the various factions of my mind in one, single, infinite, virtual space and connect it, in a network, with the others.
If all of that sounds a bit pompous, silly, pretentious or obtuse… well … its all of that too. One should not take oneself seriously–and so I don’t. This is a fool’s journey. Nothing is true, everything is permitted.
What is the mushroom? It’s awesome.
What is themushroom.net? It’s working on it.
Who am I?
Equally difficult question, right? I mean such a question immediately throws up a number of philosophical, psychological, sociological and practical implications, but let’s face it, I have a vague idea of the sort of information we are probably talking about here. So let’s try my name.
My name is Cavan. Cavan McLaughlin. It’s Irish. I’m Irish. Actually, it’s English. The English translation of the Irish: Cabhán Mac Lochlainn. But I guess I am too. My father is Irish, my mother English, and I was born and raised in Ireland but have lived much of my life in England.
So that’s my name. Cavan. Cavan McLaughlin. Or more fully, Cavan Matthew McLaughlin on the birth certificate, or more fully, Cavan Matthew Wolfgang McLaughlin including my “confirmation name.” I chose my confirmation name at eleven years of age because I was raised Irish Catholic. It has left its scars. I chose Wolfgang because I had no choice but to undertake the ritual. I felt I might as well get a silly new name out of the bargain, besides it brought some humour to the pomposity of the proceedings. I got to see the bishop’s face as he announced my name after about thirty Patrick’s and Mary’s were confirmed before me. This probably explains a great deal about who I am.
Cavan is not just my name of course. I share it with others. It is also a place in Ireland, a county, and a town. It means “hollow”. It sounds like a pretty harsh name, but it gets better. It’s a natural protective hollow, as in a tree hollow or geographically hollow, like Sleepy Hollow, which is indeed better. After one gets past the initial shock of being named hollow, empty, void, one eventually realises it is perfect. Again, just like me.
Indeed, speaking of void, of emptiness, another name I go by in certain circles is Sunnata.
I also sign some of my work and art W.L.M.; this is also my name. The initials of my first ever magical name. Again, not to be taken too seriously, well maybe sometimes, but that’s fun too. I am yet to reveal the name itself to anyone. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. But this is also me.
In the sometimes bizarre world of online aliases, I am even known as PooGod. Yes, that is correct, the God of Poo. Also me. To my fellow eBayers, at least.
Typically, when people try to find out who you are, they are initially presented with a name. Clearly, this is generally accepted as an unsatisfactory answer to the question because people immediately tend to follow with something along the lines of “what do you do?”. This is, of course, a ridiculous question. We all know it. But the general etiquette is to respond with one’s current job as a standardised answer. Well, I think people are really just interested in knowing more about what you spend your time doing, and in an ideal world there should be less distinction between what occupies one’s time by choice and what occupies one’s time by necessity. It’s useful, of course, to know not just what people are currently doing but what they have previously done. It is also good to know what people’s passions are. Again, ideally, I would suggest these should mix and one would both earn money and still pursue without concern for remuneration, because it is your passion. So perhaps a better question one could offer after “what is your name?” is “what are passionate about?”. I will endeavour to answer both.
I am educated, for a fashion. I have a first-class honours degree, a BA(Hons) in Philosophy and Film Studies. These are two of my passions. Both engaging in the production of and the consumption of painting with words and moving pictures. I always knew I liked philosophy, but at university, I made my first short film, Looking, and knew then I wanted to be a filmmaker. I went to London with my backpack, enthusiasm, and naivety and began a career in broadcasting within two weeks. I went from runner to the magnificently silly title of Multimedia Content Producer in the next three years by excelling in the exponentially growing and fast-paced world of TV Shopping. I have a solid background in TV production from those days. I also have more scars. After 18-hour days, extreme pressure and the experience of London on a country boy, I buckled a little and suffered pretty extreme illness. So my life took the first of its unexpected twists. I took a year in Sweden to recuperate and experiment full time with a Yogic practice. Which was better.
On my return to the UK I decided to concentrate on working less and selecting more rewarding projects. This is how I began working as a music video producer/director/editor and a graphic designer specialising in album artwork—which was better.
But my life was not finished with unexpected turns yet. Audiovisual and digital artist was not to be my only profession. On a whimsical application to try and get some hours of teaching and provide a continuous and more stable salary, I found myself with an interview as a full time Teaching Fellow in Media, Communications, and Culture at a local University. An interview and a presentation. A presentation in which I had a panic attack, had to stop and take time to steady my nerves and continue shaking in full view of my panel. And yet I still got the job. They either saw something not immediately apparent or they were desperate.
I think probably both.
I was told as an explanation that if I was half as passionate about teaching as I appeared to be, I would make a great lecturer. This seemed to be true. Certainly, the passion I can attest for, you will have to consult my students for the rest, but most students seem to be more moved by passion than any other quality of a lecturer—their passion for their subject, and their love of both teaching and learning.
So here are more of my passions. Education. Teaching and Learning. Learning about and practising: occulture, philosophy, theology, Western esotericism, science, geometry, mysticism, occultism, art, film studies, film production, film direction, film editing, graphical design, and writing. And perhaps, more importantly, blending each of these. This is what I do. This is my passion.
You will find each of these here in this website—both examples of my work and my work in progress. I have created this space to have conversations about my passions and my work. To keep it published, exhibited, and freely shared. I have also produced it to keep a record of my musings, ramblings, bumblings, postulations, and rantings. And perhaps most importantly, to hopefully keep a record of some of the great conversations that have arisen from them and until now disappeared into the vast wells and underground bunkers of the various social networks.
This, of course, is not who I am, we’re all still trying to figure that one out.
Mr Cavan Matthew Wolfgang McLaughlin, BA(Hons), Sunnata,W.L.M., PooGoD, Cosmic Gypsy, Interdimensional Mag.i.us, Convocational Life Performance Artist, Priest of the White Circle of Love, Paradoxical Generalised Agnostic, Resident Fool at the Invisible College of Rainbow Starlight, Senior Lecturer and… herein…
- The Fly Argaric mushroom has famously been identified as Soma by Wasson or, indeed, as a member of the Psilocybe species by Schroeder and Guzman–and then later the great Terrance McKenna would postulate, perhaps specifically Psilocybe cubensis (also known as Stropharia cubensis). See amongst many other sources The Food of The Gods by Terence McKenna and Magic Mushrooms Around the World by Jochen Gartz. ↩