parallel shamanic practices between Nepal and the PNW

Howard Wallace

Feb 23, 1999
I’ve recently been researching and experimenting with local medicinal fungi. In particular the woody polypores that grow on trees and logs in this area. These fungi are part of traditional medicine in China, Nepal, and also the Pacific Northwest (PNW). It turns out that in both Nepal and the PNW these same fungi have been used as shamanic masks. See

This is peculiar because there was little (no?) contact between the cultures of Nepal and the native cultures of the PNW.

BTW- These polypore’s are hard woody fungi, and many of them are large. They contain complex water soluble sugars (polysaccharides) and alcohol soluble triturpinoids. In order to extract these compounds the mushrooms need to be cut up into small pieces, and a khukuri is the ideal tool to do this. After cutting with a khukuri I toss them into a high powered blender to further mince them for efficient solvent extraction.

I make CHAGA tea using a sous vide water bath - the Chaga chunks (1/2" to 3/4" or smaller) in several tall canning jars with the sous vide temperature set to 150° F (65.5° C) for 8 hours. That makes a concentrated batch to which I add another 2 cups of water. It is a delicious and healthy tea - hot or cold. Add 3 table spoons of maple syrup to the jug and some whipped cream to the top of the individual serving if you prefer a bit of sweetness. Check it out - CHAGA. As far as I know - there are no psychotropic inducing properties to chug but many health benefits.

Currently I have a jug of Chaga/Rum and one Chaga/Rye Whiskey soaking for the holidays.
Will be ready just in time :D

The polypores around here are pretty small. A 10" across red belted is a HUGE example. They are pretty though and so I have a few around the house as objet. :) A favorite past time is finding beautiful rare examples and gathering them up for drying and display. Some I clear coated, others I have "bronzed" and mounted on stands, most are dry and left as they are. These need to be harvested with a stout knife. The CHAGA chopped off with a hatchet or similar controllable cutting tool. Your favorite Khukri could do it :thumbsup:

Any excuse to go out and play in the woods. Right? :cool:

Ray, since you appreciate the beauty as well as the chemistry, you may like this Ganoderma applanatum I found in the local woods. Called the artist’s conk because when fresh, pressure on the spore surface causes it to discolor. When dried the discoloration is fixed and permanent.

The artist’s conk also has medicinal value. Gorillas in Africa love to break G. applanatum off the trees and chew on the spore surface. They are so highly prized that if a gorilla finds one it often sparks a gorilla fight for possession, a fight usually resolved by the largest male silverback ambling over and taking the valued mushroom for himself.

In addition to medicinal value, they have spirit value. The unusual framed spore surface on this one is a portal to the dreamworld. I spent a portion of a night contemplating it before deciding to carve a fragment from my Red Flower‘s wedding poem.


For the khukuri aficionados, the karda and chakma make great palette knives for drawing on G. applanatum. Twigs from the forest are a different type of brush for additional effects.

I contemplated varnishing this one but finally decided to leave it natural. I’ve seen natural ones many decades old with pictures still clear.
Cool article! I wonder if the Bhairab mask may have been a representation of these fungi masks passed down and now highly decorated? They seem to serve the same function. I guess they dont eat the new ones tho? We get a lot of "shelf" fungi around here but I dont have a clue what they are. They look similar but no red rings. I find them on dead Pine trees mostly and they dont work well for storing embers.
Howard Wallace Howard Wallace - thought you might enjoy these added to your thread. Other than the chaga mentioned above I have not ventured into learning more about our local polypores as medicine, but I am intrigued, so will try to see if some research (web browsing) reveals any info.

Mostly I gather for their beauty. 10" across in these parts is a "monster conk" Mostly I see them in the 7" to 8" range. The two in the photos below are big. The bottom with the red belt is 11" across and the more complex one, mounted on the bowl - more than 12" across.

BOTH OF THESE came from the exact same spot on the same 8 foot pine stump 2 years apart. The first I harvested was the bottom one. Then this fall I went back and to my astonishment - growing from the same spores was this multilevel beauty. I think these are treasures. Remarkable how differently they grew. One is clearly a red belted polypore but the one above is not so readily identifiable.

Cool huh? :)


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Here are a few that are smaller (less than 5") and of a specie(s) that seems pretty rare. I can't identify them. Both came off pine trees. Not quite as photogenic as the 2 above but these are some of my favorites.

I can imagine some of you forming opinions about my sanity or at the least, my artistic tastes. :rolleyes:
Let's say the photos don't do them justice.;)

Cold day today but nice and dry in the woods - very very minimal snow cover - so my wife and I are heading out with a good knife or two, a sharp hatchet and my pack and we just might come home with more chaga, more polypores or even some whitetail sheds. No matter, if we come back empty handed, it will be a great afternoon.

Later. Ray
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Ray, you obviously see the mysteries in the fungal kingdom. It is probably people like you, on different continents, who first created the fungal masks.
For certain if I could find them bigger - we need a longer growing season - there are masks and other yet to be discovered art in them. Their intrinsic beauty compels me. Even some tiny ones inspire. They do not need human embellishment. I have some all over the house ;)

Will study on local medicinal value. I love the link you provided Howard.

Thanks. Ray
Found this interesting article while researching medicinal polypores in Maine - Birch Polypores - easily found in my local woods -

Used as medicine, as a tinder fungus AND "in more recent times it was cut into strips and used to sharpen knives, especially by those who could not afford leather, giving it its common name, the razor strop fungus." Imagine that!

These birch polypores are not nearly as beautiful or dramatic as the red belted or others but they still offer essential benefits - worth harvesting.

Birch polypores, famously carried by Ötzi on his long, long journey.

So many things forgotten or ignored in the interim.
Having been extremely intrigued by Howard Wallace Howard Wallace 's post and supporting link of SHAMANIC FUNGAL MASKS - and then seeing these example photos (3 below) I looked more into this subject of TREE CONKS as shamanic objects.

I really don't know what compels me to these but I must admit that I have been collecting (and discarding) tree conks since I was a kid. My Mom threw out quite a few over the years because I would bring them in bark and BUGS and all :D

Now though, I have my own house and lots of knives and love meandering in the woods always looking for a few rare collectibles. You can see some of the best ones in my earlier posts above. My wife seems to like having them around too.

BUT - this thing with the masks was all new to me. My first thought was that I have yet to find a polypore in my part of Maine big enough to make a mask for my big head. Yes, I could make some small ones as examples without ever wearing them for my "rituals" ;) but I decided to hunt for a relative Maine Monster Conk and try to make a mask. Learning from the examples above that I could add pieces as needed freed up my thinking about how to proceed. Noses, in particular, were added on these ancient examples. Early this spring I found an old grayed out conk that was 13" wide x 9" + tall and by my local standards - a real BIG one. Normally these colorless ones are passed up but in this case the old gray seemed more perfect for my intent.

I also found a "chin" and a "nose" on other walk abouts over the past few months and so this past rainy weekend, in the spirit of the ancients but with no idea how to proceed, I commenced my first Fungal Mask.

Here was my set up.

You can see my "monster" conk and a couple more diminutive ones along with my
mushroom knife and a puukko.

I soon realized that these little knives, sharp as they are were going to make nary a scratch in the leathery old conk.


OMG - the conk just laughed. :( I had very intention of trying to make the mask somewhat authentically but then was soon compelled to philosophize that contemporary Shamans would use whatever useful tool they now had available to them and so I switched out my tools a bit.

YUP - I got out my SILKY Saw. One slice in and I realized - now what? :confused: Big deal. Now I had a slice and needed to start carving IN to the conk to hollow out the back and still the knives were barely more than scrapers. The core was - as you can see - layered with growth rings, and the texture was akin to cutting through very dense cork. It was resilient, sometime stringy and nearly impossible to simply slice into.


Well, with the multitool and 3 new sharp woodcutting blades - I was able to start hollowing. The puukko proved to be a very useful tool after all. The only knife of the group (some not included in the photo) that I could use, as it is slender and flexible and sharp, so I could actually slice and pare a bit as I worked.

And so I was on my way. I just snuck up on it. Worked a bit of carving - tried it to my face and then worked some more until I had a reasonably good contour without getting too close to the deep furloughs of the front sections.


to be continued... :thumbsup:
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MAINE MADE SHAMANIC TREE CONK MASK (really no shamanism intended ;))


Weren't expecting that were you? :D

I truly took liberties with method, veering far off "traditional". I, of course, had no idea what traditional entailed, in any case. I used epoxy to attach the "nose" and the "chin". It was apparently common to attach other "fruiting bodies" to the primary conk. As I wrote earlier this made my small/big conk a viable mask candidate.

AND I used some rasps and sanding to form the lip and to better fit the chin. I wasn't completely comfortable with just the epoxy holding the chin so after a lot of cogitatin' I decided to bore some holes and glue in a dowel on each side. Learned from that that even using successively larger drill bits - the final 3/8" bit still twisted out chunks of the chin - not unlike trying to drill through compressed cloth. Next time I will carve out a little block of the surface and with the plug removed drill into that hole. Then replace the plug.

More liberties on the back. I wanted to securely attach a cord to the back so that I could wear it - at least once. In historical examples reference was made to holes bored in the outer edges used for attaching some form of head strap.
These typically got torn out over time. My solution was as you see here –>

The branch sections are pinned with small wood pins and secured to the back and into the mask with epoxy.

The back of the mask was blackened with a torch to stiffen the fibers and to create the effect of deep dark eyes
and a real mouth by hiding the light fibers that were shining through.

The paracord and the nylon head strap seem secure. I was able to wear the mask while walking around
the woods for the photo shoot :) as directed by my wife.

I was dissatisfied with the damage around the chin - the bits of breakage - that I created with the drill bit trying to set the dowels. I knew the mask wasn't complete until I made a "repair". Toyed with the idea of filling the cracks and the painting a band but was concerned that that would visually separate the chin from the rest of the mask. What to do o_O OK - how about a beard? But how - with what? I had some very nice and dry foliose lichen. That was pretty cool but not quite what I had in mind as it is too leafy.

SERENDIPITY - some might say MAGIC :) happened next - as I was driving down the driveway I saw a branch broken off the old ash tree hanging in the forsythia bush and hanging from it was another type of lichen.

OMG - there was my beard!!! :D

FINALLY - Here is the finished mask.

Hope you have enjoyed this WIP. Was fun sharing and maybe will be inspiring to others.


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Excellent work, Ray. Even if no shamanism was intended, you may experience some of the connections that inspired people in far flung places to do similar work.

Here is a photo of a shu she ling zhi (Ganoderma applanatum) that Red Flower and I recently found in the PNW forests. This has uses in traditional Chinese medicine. It was given as a gift to Chinese friends celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. Should we encounter another of this size we may contemplate a mask.

Sorry Howard I only get to see 1 of these 2 photos. That top one is a BEAUT! Love the coloring. And - yes - there might just be some residual white magic in the air around here.:thumbsup: :)

Thanks for the inspiration.

This has been one cool thread! Kinda off the beaten path, but I simply loved it. The photographs are definitely interesting as is the historical related factoids. Howard, you are a lucky man to have such a lovely wife as Red Flower. Gentlemen, thank you for such an enjoyable if one of those elephant ears could be found growing here in Corn Patch.....
Thank you Fodderwing Fodderwing and Bookie Bookie for your appreciation and comments. Has been fun and interesting, and the mask part inspired by some "off the beaten path" post by Howard Wallace Howard Wallace .

Bookie sounds like you could use some of the healing magic of one of these medicinal fungal mask yourself,
with the appropriate ritual, of course. ;) Maybe time to conjure up a corn cob & tassel mask of your own. Isn't corn a healing plant? Worth a try :) Take care.

Yessir, that corn IS a healing plant. Serious stuff, it is. Th' two uncles that live just south of the valley of the three forks of the Wolf make medicine all th' time. Taking a teaspoon or a tablespoon don't much cut it though. You sip a whole pint jar of it and believe you me, you ain't got care inna world. Sickness be damned. Drink down another one and you can walk on water and fly like a bird.
Yessir, that corn IS a healing plant. Serious stuff, it is. Th' two uncles that live just south of the valley of the three forks of the Wolf make medicine all th' time. Taking a teaspoon or a tablespoon don't much cut it though. You sip a whole pint jar of it and believe you me, you ain't got care inna world. Sickness be damned. Drink down another one and you can walk on water and fly like a bird.

Sounds like a good solvent for use with herbs and medicinal mushrooms. (Helps to tell the significant other that it's medicinal!)