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Elemental Magic

Imagine a spell being cast…

Did it involve light?

Did it take place in the dark?

The first spell I thought I witnessed was when I was seven and walking on the beach at night. There was no moon to be seen and the adults’ flashlights were just ahead. I had fallen behind, so I kicked up some sand in pursuit. Suddenly, the disturbed sand was enchanted with countless specks of green light. Sand turned to magic-dust in the absence of light, an absence that allowed me to see the glow. It was the signs of the life-force of creatures long gone, enchanting the night. The beach was already a rare place of magic for me, a once every few years, kind of rare. In the warm wind, under the moonless sky, it was visually confirmed.

Genuine magic…through bioluminescence.

Fireflies were a sure sign of Summer in the South, as surely as the rattle of the jar fly. In my teenage years, friends harnessed the power of black lights and the inevitable Grateful Dead poster came to life through glowing mushrooms with preternatural colors. The posters came down and years passed. Then I read an article about mushrooms that glowed in the dark and I remembered that night on the beach. This time, the magic needed a name. The Linnaean system had become my book of magic, a critical piece of my intellectual framework, but Fantasy was my lifeblood. I was already familiar with mugwort and ratsbane, eye of newt and tongue of frog. I needed to know the essential ingredient to the mushroom’s magic, not bioluminescence as a name, but what made it glow, the cause, not the result.

I had to wait until 2015.

Bioluminescent mushrooms have long been known, but nobody knew what made them glow, the critical element. Luciferins are light-emitting compounds found in other creatures to attract other insects, whether it’s for sex or food. In the case of mushrooms, the oxyluciferins attract bugs that scatter the spores across the forest. We can only imagine how enticing the glow of mushrooms in the heaviness of night in the forest would feel like as an insect.

Delving deeper into luciferins—in as few words as possible—scientists discovered that the enzyme of luciferins, the one that combines with the chemical to spark light, is considered “promiscuous.” One type of luciferin might be able to interact with another and result in new shades of the mushroom’s glow, elemental magic at its finest. I find my mind searching for colors beyond the spectrum—pick a side of it--when new varieties of these enchanted mushrooms magically appear one night, Some creature will see it from a distance and know that there has been a spell cast in the darkness. That spell will draw them closer, irresistibly, for fundamental reasons beyond their control, the primordial power of a light in the darkness.

Imagine a spell being cast…

Hayden Moore

October 30, 2021

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