Friday, 30 July 2010

Friday Fungus: Weeping Widow

Weeping widow seems an odd name for a mushroom that isn’t poisonous – even though most sources advise against eating that’s more for lack of flavour. But weeping widow it is and we can but speculate as to why is gets such a name – it doesn’t look spectacular being a rather ordinary brown mushroom.

Possible reasons relate to it association with ash and willow – well known weeping trees – but the most likely reason relate to the black veil on the upper stem and the way in which the ripe head oozes droplets. It is indeed a wonder that the idea of bereavement can be transferred to nature – that a simple and common woodland mushroom like Lacrymaria velutina can form such a natural metaphor in the minds of our ancestors.

Perhaps we have lost some of the symbolism of widowhood – not the tears, they remain – but the wearing of black, the sense that loss should be displayed physically and the idea of personified respect for what has gone. Maybe too this is for the better – perhaps the black veil and weeds are rightly in our past? The idea that life goes on and that, especially for women, it can continue without the prop of a partner is central to modern understanding. We no long need the veiled remembrance of the juggernaut. Women share rather than join and their life does not end – even metaphorically – with the death of a husband.

The idea of the black, veiled widow is an anachronism and, like our weeping widow mushroom, unpalatable!

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