Saturday, 29 March 2014

Hunting Dark Alfs: Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric)

I spent a lot of time with my great-aunt Victoria Edmonstone as a small child.  Her seanathair (old father or grandfather) came from Ireland.  A doctor, he disappeared in the Victorian goldfields after the Eureka stockade uprising in mysterious circumstances.

She was the first to tell me about the little people, the dark alfs.

She thought that they lived in red mushrooms in the deep woods.  They have vast stores of gold coins and travel the sky using rainbows.  They bury their loot at the end of rainbows.  She loved rainbows and would chase them with great determination.

I believe everything she told me - and I have always chased rainbows as well.  So far with mixed results.

It has been storming in the mountains.  So this morning, I went hunting the dark alfs.

Up the winding road, towards the deep woods.

Past a flock of sheep, unconvinced of the weather.

Over the flooded causeway at Farringdon.

Finally, at the highest point of the mountains, in the far distance, lots of gold coins scattered under the pines.

Fly Agaric - Amanita muscaria

Sadly, closer inspection revealed nary a dark alf nor coin.

Fly Agaric - Amanita muscaria

Fly Agaric - Amanita muscaria

Fly Agaric - Amanita muscaria

Fly Agaric - Amanita muscaria

The fungi is Fly Agaric - Amanita muscaria. It originates in the Northern Hemisphere and was introduced in Australia.  

Victoria Edmonstone would never have seen the fungi.  Her stories came from parents who had never seen them either.  When she told me her old stories, she was repeating those told by her seanathair to his children, around the fires of the Victorian goldfields.

Like some other fungi, Fly Agaric is poisonous and will make you sick or kill you.  It is psychoactive - and, in some cultures, was used by the brave or foolhardy to induce intoxication - after preparation processes to remove the toxin that havent been convincingly duplicated.  Some suggest the Viking berserk can be traced to the fungi.  Back in the 1970s, one of the Dead Sea scholars wrote about its possible use in early Christian communities. 

So no dark alfs and the gold coins disappeared with the rainbow.  But maybe I found an explanation for those old stories of my great-aunt.

References: Australian Atlas

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Peter Quinton
Palerang, March 2014

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