Soil Soul

What if God is a Mushroom? (A magical mystery fungal photo tour)

Written by Sven Eberlein

On a recent reunion trip to Schroon Lake in Northern New York, my friends and I took a day hike along the northern end of the lake toward Pharaoh Lake. I don’t know if it was just that time of year or if the moist post-hurricane Irene setting had anything to do with it, but within just a few hundred yards from the road we found ourselves in a sea of mushrooms, the likes of which I had never seen before.

Amanita mushroom near Schroon Lake in Northern New York.

Now I’m not a biologist, botanist, or mycologist, and my first inclination when I’m out in the woods is to just marvel at the beauty of the great web of life rather than trying to name and explain individual inhabitants. But I do admit that with each additional weird and wonderful fungal specimen I was wishing I had a little Paul Stamets in my pocket, whispering exotic Latin botanical names in my ear to guide me on this journey through wonderland.

Trunk Buttons.

Being a dreamer and generally teetering toward the poetic side of life I have no problem making up names for these mystical creatures along the path, like characters in a story. If nothing else, it’ll give everyone a chance to pitch in and identify these mushrooms by their proper name.

Leopard Dome.

For those of us whose main contact with mushrooms occurs at the grocery store it may come as quite the revelation that there are approximately 14000 described species of mushrooms in the world. When we think of mushrooms we generally envision something that looks like this specimen…

Fat Umbrella Family.

or this one…

Safeway, Aisle 7.

However, beneath the most common button-types dwells a mysterious realm of shapes, colors and consistencies that tickle the senses with juicy delight…

Luscious Oyster.

sublime depth…

Purple Shnurple.

or utter surprise…

Deep Ink.

They come in white…

White Roulette.


Hello, I’m Your Friendly Forest Cookie Monster.

or black & white…

I’m a Man.

Without so much as touching any of these creatures, this was one of the trippiest places I’ve ever been. Whether it was from afar…


or up close…

Spores Galore.

it was like we had traveled to a distant fairyland located somewhere between heaven and the imagination.

Whether we looked up…

Tree’s Up.

or down…

Tree’s Down.

we were immersed in an ecosystem all of its own design.

Tree’s a Crowd.

Like an ancient culture rich in diversity, information and mystery, these fungal spawns are like fertile landscapes within landscapes…

Tickle Me Shroom.

habitats unto themselves…

Snailed It.

that seem like perfect motifs on God’s great canvas…

Butterfly Airport.

And speaking of God, as someone who has extensively pondered the origin of that great big concert hall in the sky, I’ve always found the imagery of the old man with the white beard rather limiting and disappointing, much too literal. But upon seeing this specimen I had to rethink and re-imagine….

Old Man with a White Beard.

What if God is a mushroom?

I’m not suggesting that divine creation would pick one little mushroom as its exclusive costume. So how about, what if God is Mushroom? Now, of course we all know that since God is too big for just one country, just one religion, just one planet, this all-encompassing energy of boundless and unconditional love and truth is also too big for just one species. But I like the idea of these beautiful, primordial and little-understood forest creatures as manifestations or metaphors for something as large and omnipresent as divine inspiration.

Let’s try this one on.

God is big…

I’m Up for It.

and God is small…

Little Red Riding Hood.

God is mysterious…

Pass the Conch.

and climbing a wall…


God shines a light…

Solar Energy.

and humbly blends in…

Pine Cone Protection Program .

she’s got a million touches…

Coral Candy.

and to be found by looking at everything…

I’m not an Owl.

Come on in, the ground is soft and the water refreshing!

Wash it all Clean.


all photos by Sven Eberlein

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Sven Eberlein

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    • Barb, the fascinating thing is that even if you trample on a mushroom you can’t really destroy it, because unlike plants they have no root systems, stems or leaves, but rather they spread a sort of net of filaments on the surface of the plant or whatever they are attaching to, which I assume, would also include your foot. : )

    • Thanks so much for reading and enjoying, Marilyn. If you recognize any of the mushrooms in the pictures, feel free to share. I also posted this on Daily Kos, and one of the commenters made this great contribution:

      The first one, the one you called Leopard dome, White Roulette, Heeellllooooo, Spores Galore, Snailed It, I’m Up for It, Solar Energy, and Pine Cone Protection Program are all Amanitas of various types. Some of them are the same fungus in different stages. None of them would be a good idea to eat. The Fat Umbrella Family, too, look like Amanitas, but two or maybe three different kinds in one spot. I can’t tell for sure. Safeway Aisle 7 looks to be an Amanita before it’s unfurled its umbrella to the world, a baby fungi if you will. All of these are poisonous depending on what kind they really are, but they’re hard to identify just exactly what kind they are without spore patterns.

      Your Luscious Oyster is something called Jack O Lantern where I’m from. It can get quite big, and it produces a faint glow in the dark. Very poisonous.

      Tree up, Tree Down and Butterfly Airport all fall into the ubiquitous category of shelf fungi. They’re not poisonous, but they are tough like leather and not tasty. Again I need spore patterns to identify them.

      I think Tree’s a Crowd is some kind of Oyster Shelf, which are edible, but I don’t have a good visual of their undersides, which matters. Pass the Conch is definitely an Oyster Mushroom, edible and delicious. Coral Candy and Wash it all Clean are Staghorn mushrooms, which are edible and delicious. Gemini appears to be a Bolete, similar to the mushrooms you buy in the store, but I can’t tell for sure without seeing both the underside (no gills) and a spore pattern. I think Hello, I’m your Friendly Neighborhood Cookie Monster may be Hen of the Woods that are well past their prime, but I can’t tell from the picture, while Trunk Buttons may be the same thing just popping. But Cookie Monster could be something fresh that I’ve never seen before.

      The mystery ones are Purple Shnurple, which looks like a psychedelic Staghorn. I have no idea if that thing’s edible or not, but it’s amazing. Deep Ink is also a mystery, and an intriguing one at that. Little Red Riding Hood might be a False Morel in its early stages, but I’m not at all sure about that. I’m Not an Owl is way past its expiration date and I can’t tell what it once was. I haven’t a clue what Tickle Me Shroom is. I think Old Man with a White Beard is actually two things. I think it’s an Amanita that’s hosting some other kind of fuzzy fungi.

  • Wowza! These are so-o amazing! Thanks for sharing them.

    Did you know that actually the majority of mushrooms, according to Paul Stamets are actually either edible or at least good for us as medicine? Apparently mushrooms and us were once very similar but evolved in opposite directions—us learning to have a stomach and assimilate food that way while they learned to enter into things and digest them that way…something like that. So because actually because we share more similar DNA with them than we do plants, a lot of the same bacteria that harm them, also harm us and that’s why they often make good medicine for humans…but you’ve been reading Stamets and probably know this already.

    Anyway, thanks again…

    • Yes, I did hear this, but only as I was researching for the essay, and it really surprised me, Lark. They’re amazing organisms indeed, and another thing that seems to make them our kin is that they’re just as mysterious and little understood as we are to ourselves. So if we paid more attention to mushrooms we would find out a lot more about ourselves. Thanks for stopping by, I hope you’re doing well.

  • Great photo essay. Having spent quite a bit of time hiking in upstate NY (many years ago), it was also a bit of a trip down memory lane. Thanks. And BTW, if there is a heaven for me, it is certainly inhabited by old men with white beards!!! 😉