Book Review – The Magic of Mushrooms: Fungi in Folklore, Superstition, and Traditional Medicine by Sandra Lawrence

Book Review

The Magic of Mushrooms

by Sandra Lawrence 

Publisher: Welbeck Publishing

208 Pages

Release Date: August 9, 2022





The world of fungi is a bit of an odd area; even amongst botanists, mushrooms are often viewed and treated with skepticism and concern. Mushrooms can be difficult to identify properly, and there are many members of the fungus kingdom which are dangerous to ingest, to the point of death. In addition to this, many people simply don’t like mushrooms, or don’t like engaging with the damp, wet, weird conditions in which mushrooms flourish. Perhaps it is for these reasons that mycophiles are often seen as being a little bit weird. The Magic of Mushrooms is a book which embraces and dives head-first into the weird wonders of the fungal world. This book isn’t an identification guide, cookbook, or botanical work, as is made clear in the opening introduction; it’s a love letter to humanity’s experience of mushrooms through historical artifacts and records, primary experience, nature, food, art, superstition, and folklore.

In the first two chapters —The Human History of Fungus and How Mushrooms Work — Lawrence explores global historical attitudes towards mushrooms, from ancient Greece to China to Mesoamerica. Profiles for a few mushrooms are given in each chapter, starting here with Amanita caesarea, Aspergillus, and Ganoderma lucidum. She also explores the basic processes of how mushrooms grow and interact with the other living organisms within their biospheres, the structure and parts of mushrooms, and explores a few different classifications of mushroom types.  

In the next chapter — Great Minds — Lawrence discusses the work of important figures in the area of mushrooms, such as Piero Antonio Micheli, Ann Maria Hussey, R. Gordon Wasson, and Maria Sabina. Fairy Rings explores the phenomenon — and the folklore that rose around it — of a circle of mushrooms which bloom from a common center, forming a mystical landscape that has connections to the fae. Fungus in Food discusses both mushrooms themselves and the ways in which moulds create other foods, such as ustilago maydis creating huitlacoche; this chapter also profiles several beloved culinary mushrooms including truffles and matsutakes, and highlights the role of yeast in producing alcohol and bread.

In Fungus in Art Lawrence looks at how mushrooms have been treated in art, illustration, literature, and film, and profiles how mushrooms have been used for poison, dye, and illumination. In Flying High, mushrooms’ well-known psychoactive and psychological effects are explored through profiles on psilocybes, ergot, rustgills, amanita muscaria, and the traditional preparation of Europe’s medieval witches, the flying ointment.

In The Cunning Woman’s Stillroom, Lawrence discusses traditional medicinal uses of various mushrooms as aphrodisiacs and simple remedies. In The Dark Mirror: The Grim Side of Fungus, Lawrence looks at the cultural relationship between mycophilic and mycophobic cultures and the fungal kingdom, and profiles several particularly dangerous and poisonous species. In The Future of Fungus, she talks about some of the more fascinating mycological discoveries of the modern era, such as the radiation-devouring fungi of Chernobyl. The book then concludes with a bibliography and index.

This was a fun book, beautifully designed and illustrated, and a pleasant length. In addition to the attention shown to the mushrooms themselves, this book pays homage to many of the important figures throughout history who have contributed to the story of mankind’s relationship with mushrooms. Although the name of the book might seem to imply occult content, there isn’t much here beyond the discussion of flying ointments, and the book certainly doesn’t tell you how to make them. This isn’t a grimoire of fungal magics, but a tour of fungal folklore. If you’re unfamiliar with the mushroom world, this book is a fun way to learn more about all of the strange things that mushrooms can do. And if you’re an experienced mycologist, you might enjoy learning some new weird and wonderful facts about one of your favorite topics. Either way, The Magic of Mushrooms is likely to appeal to most anyone with an interest in mushrooms!



About the Author:

I couldn’t find any author biography for Sandra Lawrence, but I believe that she might like mushrooms.


The Magic of Mushrooms on Amazon



About the Author:

Sarah McMenomy is a visionary artist, author, and witch. Pulling inspiration from trance states, dreams, auras, psychedelia, and the natural world, she weaves together themes of nature and the occult in her artwork and writing. She has created art and written for books, magazines, games, and more, as well as producing digital fine art prints and acrylic paintings. 
She is the creator of The Entanglement Tarot, a hex-shaped occult Tarot deck designed for spell-craft. 
She is co-runner of Pagan Pages, for which she also writes articles and book reviews, and she also publishes art on her Portfolio site and other work on her Tumblr.