Lupa has a very interesting post discussing a rather unusual totemic being that she connects with: Black Mold.
While black mold can be found in soil, it’s managed to specialize in colonizing gypsum drywall, a common building material. We may not like this particular innovation, but I feel any species that manages to increase its population due to our influence, rather than becoming endangered or extinct, is at least noteworthy for its adaptability…
The other reason I’ve tried working with Black Mold is because it’s taught me to be more adaptable myself. The first black mold colony I encountered got to sit around and grow for a few months because I didn’t recognize what it was. I had to learn that as soon as I saw that discoloration on the ceiling or wall, something needed to be done about it. Black Mold reminded me that procrastination can lead to being overwhelmed by a problem.
It showed me that taking care of a living space isn’t just about picking up the laundry and cleaning the dishes. It’s also about being mindful of the home’s physical microclimate…
And just as black mold has been shaped by our effects on the planet, so it reminds me that we are still affected by the other beings we share that planet with. We sometimes fool ourselves into thinking we’ve defeated all the problems nature has to throw at us–disease, inadequate shelter, starvation, and so forth. And yet, even in the most comfortable home, Black Mold and its children can creep in, shattering that illusion.
This is the kind of totemic work I hope to be able to do someday. Profound realizations about life from mold.
Lupa refers to totems of this type as “Shadow Totems.” They belong to a part of life that many people don’t want to deal with. I would argue that as a neoshaman, it’s kind of Lupa’s job to deal with just those parts of life, because other people don’t want to. (But that’s a whole other discussion …)
But this got me thinking about demons.
I’ve shared one experience with a demonic entity before. I had always understood demons as psychological dark places within us, and the presence of an entity that had no real elemental association I could determine and which seemed to embody rot was kind of a shock.
I came away from that experience with a new understanding of what that entity was doing and why. It was simply doing its thing. It needed to establish and maintain a certain environment in order to propagate. Unfortunately for my friends, that environment is one that is disruptive to optimal human functioning.
Hell, for all I know, what I saw as a “demon” that night was in fact a fungus or mold spirit itself. A mold god, even.
But here’s the understanding of what we consider “demons” that I came to:
Demons are like weeds. Weeds are plants that we seek to remove from our environment because we do not understand or appreciate their uses (or those uses may be potentially dangerous or harmful if employed improperly), and they take up space and resources from plants whose uses we do understand and appreciate. But to a knowledgeable herbalist or horticulturalist, a plant most consider a weed becomes very valuable and useful. Likewise, spirits that most people do not deem useful or appreciated, or that are harmful if not interacted with carefully and properly, are considered detrimental and demonic.
Things that are demonic to us are sacred and necessary to other beings. Existence does not revolve around us, and we have to deal with entities, energies, and forces that are not conducive to our well-being, because they are conducive to the well-being of something, and that something is part of the Web that sustains us in some way.
Lupa reveals the opportunity inherent in interacting with such an entity. Understanding how that entity interacts with its environment — indeed, with us — can offer profound insights into life in general, and life for us in specific. Black Mold sees our bodies as resources, as food for its offspring, and we generally don’t think about ourselves that way. It makes us uncomfortable to have our worldview flipped and view ourselves and our habitations as something to be consumed by something else so that it can maintain its well-being. But it can help put things into perspective, and it can help us be more aware of what is living near or around us, and how what we do can encourage or discourage it from interacting with us in a way that is detrimental to our well-being.