Plant and Fungus Totems: Connect with Spirits of Field, Forest, and Garden - Lupa 2014



To Elysia Gallo, for walking me through the process of making yet another book happen, and dealing with surprise deadlines with enviable grace. Thank you again to Laura Graves for once more attending to the details of proofreading and related maddening minutiae. To Christopher Penczak, for responding to my tugging on his sleeve at PantheaCon by writing a foreword of such beauty that it almost needs to have its own introduction. To the many and sundry and awesome Pagans and festival folk and fey beings in Portland and beyond who have been cheering me on as I maintain a careful balance among three and a half careers. And to you, the reader, who has chosen to give this book a try, for whatever may come of it.


By Christopher Penczak

Imagine someone guiding you through the dark trails gently cut through deep green forests of fir and hemlock in the Pacific Northwest. She points out the flora, fauna, and even fungi. She shows you what is edible and poisonous, and hopefully, the tracks of a four-legged friend will cross your path along the way. While she’s a wellspring of knowledge involving habitat and history, she will also surprise you playfully running down the path, jumping over a log, and making some animal calls or bird noises to more deeply connect and hopefully inspire a visitor—or to just have fun. And she’s encouraging you to do the same. Don’t just observe nature, but experience it! Don’t be so serious!

Now imagine that same tour guide, taking you through a university library, pointing out the books and resources that should not be missed on your quest to understand yourself, and your connection to nature. Her choices include biology, ecology, ancient archeology, philosophy, metaphysics, and psychology, and each seems to lead effortlessly into the next, helping you forget these are all separate disciplines. She speaks about them in a way that indicates a classical education but doesn’t talk over your head. Unlike those overly immersed in academia, she defines her terms along the way and speaks with a style that empowers you, rather than pointing out all that you don’t know.

After the tour of the library she takes you out to a coffee shop that is decidedly not a chain, but locally owned and operated with a commitment to the environment, sustainability, and community, to tell you about her own personal experiences in the woods and with the wildlife, and to ask you about yours. She shares about herself and her own world, her experiences, friends, and students without getting lost in it. She doesn’t try to re-create her own experiences for you or say they are the only way to experience, but urges you to use her stories to inspire your own.

Later she comes over dressed in her ritual regalia of fur and feathers and bones, just when you need her most, beating a drum and guiding you into a magickal space for communion with the spirits who guide you. She intuits the proper time and place, the right words to guide you, and creates a space to hold your experience and bring you deeper. She is not afraid of the unsafe places of the spirit world, but makes you aware of the dangers and responsibilities before you embark. She helps you return safely and provides a context for understanding the experience.

I feel safe in saying that if you are holding this book, you are not imagining any of these four scenarios—you have them in your hands, though you might not know it yet. You have a multifaceted guide on the path of self-knowledge through nature. Her name is Lupa.

While there might be limits to what an author can and cannot do through the medium of a book, the essence of her teaching and her path shines through beautifully in Plant and Fungus Totems. Here you have someone who walks her talk. She does not shy away from scientific knowledge, but she lets it enhance and frame, rather than impede, her personal gnosis. She’s not just writing about it from the safety of her desk; she goes out and lives what she writes first, and reports back to you the things that worked best, weaving her own stories and those of others into her account, creating a richer tapestry of instruction for you.

Branching out from her previous work New Paths to Animal Totems, this is not simply a rehash pulling out animal entries and filling in the blanks with plants and mushrooms. Lupa creates something that both complements her previous book, and also stands alone from it for those just interested in the work of plants and fungi. Her threefold approach to totems, be it animal or plant, is far-reaching. Looking at totems from a bioregional stance, a correspondence approach, or an archetypal approach helps engage the vast majority of seekers looking into nature-based spirituality.

For those approaching from a more environmental and ecological stance, the region in which you are rooted, and the life there, is the primary link to the world of totems. Understanding the interconnectivity of everything and what is close at hand is far more important than any old myths or folklore.

For the old occultists, the witches, magicians, and shamans of my own particular strain of totemism, she looks at the systems of magickal correspondences. It’s a time-honored tradition of looking at the spiritual powers and virtues of plants, animals, and minerals, corresponding them to the elements, planets, and astrological signs. Yet she urges us not to get trapped in the cookbook recipe formulas of the popular magick books, but instead to really immerse ourselves in the spirit of the totem. It’s easy to get lost in the formulas and lose the heart. Like a good spirit worker, we are urged to be introduced and build relationships before asking for help. It’s only polite.

And lastly, for those approaching things from the lens of modern psychology, she provides a framework of understanding totems as archetypes, yet does so in a way that does not invalidate the other approaches as being merely psychological. She shares her own experiences and some of her beliefs, but mainly focuses on the ideas and techniques, and lets you use them as you see fit within a context provided in the book. The recommendations for the various combination of the three approaches is powerfully thought-provoking, showing us we don’t have to just pick one way to interface with the world of nature. We have multiple options and can change over time. Just as the plants go through their own cycles in each season, ushering in new stages of development, we too can change in the seasons of our lives.

When many of us begin on the spiritual path, we are likely to have a teacher who embodies one of these approaches. One teacher might emphasize getting outside, but never recommends books or history. Another is all about academia, but in the end, you don’t really have a spiritual experience. Some teachers are all about their own spiritual experiences, but can’t detach enough to encourage you to have your own. It’s rare to get someone who can teach from a place of both experience and education, deftly weaving in concepts like Nature Deficit Disorder and historic facts of the ancient human settlement of

Göbekli Tepe, but with the conversational style and the sense of humor of a friend who does realize that talking to plants and fungi is all a bit out there to the average person. But who wants to be average? I know I don’t. Most importantly, like any true magician of spirit, Lupa gives you real world actions to take—from the meditative and shamanic, to ecological encouragement for green living. You can’t change your life simply by reading a book, but reading a book and putting it into action can change your life, so get started!