Mud Heart

animal spirit celtic spirituality homestead story

Since the big rains came, the Mushroom People have come out in numbers I’ve not seen in a decade. Everywhere I turn a new village appears, populated by fascinating folks. Some are bowed beneath heavy,  faded tan sombreros, others wear grey frayed hats upturned that gather water for all to drink. One village was apparently hit by a blizzard as every tiny fat Mushroom Person is now covered with white powder (if not snow then a very serious baking accident.) Frogs and Mushroom People seem to work together a lot, at least I see them hanging out together all the time. I think they’ve known each other since before there were human beings here.

Mushroom People Baking Accident
Mushroom People Baking Accident

Driving home late last night we crossed a creek running its banks, raucous with the sounds of singing Frogs and stampeding Water-Spirits. It must have felt great, kicking it by the fast muddy brown water, partying after those hard years of drought – buried and apart. Of course the Frogs survived without rain, they’ve been here for millions of years, creating this land. I wonder if they were surprised we’d made out OK, being such latecomers to their place.

Our car swept over the bridge too fast to really take the party in, we move too fast to understand a lot things, like how Frogs made these lands out of their own lives, just by eating and digging and breathing. These are the kinds of things you understand when you’re working with the Tuath De Danann, the Faery Folk. If you enter into the forest with the understanding that you’re entering their home, it changes you.

We are surrounded by small lakes these days, the strawberry fields that make up the bulk of farming in our area are sunk deep in water as the wetlands try to reclaim what was taken from them. I take great delight in that, though some farm workers are out of a job for a while. They may live a little longer, these are mostly commercial fields, many poisons are used to subdue the true vitality of this land so a few can harvest money like kale leaves.

I’ve stood at the edge of the Elkhorn Slough and watched as the poison salesmen stretched a tight grey mask across the steep, glowing green hillside, kind of like pulling a roll of duct tape over a new-borns face. Then they fired up the methylbromide gas monster – a cross between a road grader and a giant syringe, and injected the land with that poison someone invented to kill people a few wars back. In no time at all, the land the Frogs have given us is sterilized. Everything killed a foot down. Everything. Dead Frogs and no Mushroom People.

Rain Catcher
Rain Catcher

When I was off in the woods, working with the Tuath De Danann a few days ago I came to a stopping point, a stuck place where I knew I couldn’t go any further. I asked the forest: where is the problem? It answered: your heart is muddied. Not the good kind of muddy, not the Frog-boy-home-on-a-rainy-day kind of muddy, but the storm-drain-jammed-with-branches-garbage-&-animal-carcasses kind. I was stuck like our culture is, in our industrialized, life-hating way of growing food.

That kind of stuck builds up over time, without you noticing. Part of me had to be pretty checked out for things to get that muddied up. Of course the first step in clearing all that junk out is owning how muddied up things have gotten. You have to see the catastrophic clog before you can do anything about it.

I came across a partly clogged storm drain with a brown river rushing against it about eight years ago. It was a large pipe, filled half way up with debris and a big dog, head poked above the water its paws and shoulders struggling against the pull of the current. It wanted to give in, go with the water down the pipe, about a quarter mile beneath a road before being spit out the other side. I remembered that drain well, I’d played there as a child when the creek behind our house was low. I knew when it was that packed with branches, trash and what-ever-else, there was no telling if that dog would ever make it out alive if it gave in to the current.

Its two owners were holding it at bay, neither free or flushed. Laying on the ground above the drain they held its leash tight – keeping its head above water and trying to coax it out. Their dog was a few feet out of reach, or they surely would have tried to pull it through the thick steel grating, though that wouldn’t work. As kids we could slip between the bars but that dog was just too big. How did this get so screwed up? It was stuck good.

Just as soon as Terry and I came upon the scene I knew what I would do, and there was absolutely no fear. I jumped down the bank of the stream beside the grating where I could still slip through. Sinking into the water up to my chest I pressed against the wall so the current wouldn’t pull me too hard. “What are you doing,” one of the women asked. “Its OK I coaxed,” as much to them as their dog. “Really, its OK,” Terry said – I think she had no fear either. You see our spirits knew the way, not our heads or even our hearts. I reached the dog quickly and grabbed the leash. It took only a little coaxing, pushing and pulling in the right direction for the dog to head out the way I came in.

Then we were all, quite suddenly – unstuck.

The Mushroom People have long been associated with this time of year. Bright red and white-dotted they grew beneath the trees of various Asian, Arctic and sub-arctic peoples, tempting them to take spirit journeys as they gathered to stay warm in their Yurts. Following the fires smoke up through the smoke hole they might find themselves on a Reindeers back soaring to the heavens, or perhaps deep in the Earth to visit some beloved ancestors.

Visiting The Mushroom People

I know if I were sitting there, next to my kin, my stomach warmed by a magical Mushroom People brew, I could count on a serious un-sticking. I’ve relied on that kind of medicine for serious unstickings in the past – it led me into my marriage. Perhaps thats part of what this time of year is all about for those peoples – and through ancestral connections us, unsticking the heart, freeing the spirit, diving deep for renewal.

Renewal is so much of what I need, so much of what so many of us need. With the return of water I can feel it in the land, the mud and Frog People bursting with that vitality.

In some recent work with the Tuath De Danann I was told to make an altar for them in the shape of a large bowl, to leave in the forest grove where I visit to work with them. When I tried to imagine where it would go I was told, “this altar is within the Earth, bury it underground so only you know where it is.” Of course thats where it belongs, deep in the Earth, a bowl, a place of receiving.

I wonder what I can place in that bowl, in that altar? Perhaps for a time my heart? Perhaps that clogged place filled with tangled fears, loneliness and anger. If I place that there perhaps it will be returned sometime later, renewed, cleansed of all those small hurtful things I’ve clung to this year.

Quite a gift for the new year when you think about it, a cauldron for change buried deep in the Earth, tended by the Frog and Mushroom People. What a gift.



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