Today with the help of science, we know and understand the workings of these dark rings, before the influence of the scientific world, many of our ancestors
from the ol' world had they're own explanations and beliefs surrounding these mysterious rings and the mushrooms that they produced.
Folklore about the fairy rings, as they became known around Eastern Europe, extended from Egypt to South America, from Ireland to the Phillipines.
According to some ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, dating 4600 years, mushrooms were the food of immortality and only the pharoahs were allowed to eat the fungi. Many ancients believe that mushrooms had the properties of super-human strength, help in finding lost objects and also could lead the souls up to the realm of the gods.
In New England folklore, a fungus called 'death baby' growing in the yard is a warning of death in a family.
In Norland, Sweden there is a tradition of throwing toadstools into bonfires on Midsummer's Eve ( June 23rd ) to ward off evil spirits.
The Fly Agaric mushroom, with it's red and white spotted cap, has a very powerful psychotropic compound. It was thought to be one of the ingredients of a witch's flying ointment. It was also thought to be used to give visions and out-of-body experiences. It can be poisonous particularly if you don't know the correct amount to take.
Note here: In this blog, I'm not condoning the idea of going and picking mushrooms to consume. If you don't know what you are doing, it can be fatal. So I would suggest that you don't.
Santa Claus has a link to the world of the mushrooms. His red and white outfit were said to symbolize the Fly Agaric. Siberian shamans were know to consume the mushroom. Santa using the chimney to visit homes on Christmas Ever is similar to a shaman's custom of leaving a dwelling by riding it's smoke through the hole in the roof. Also Santa Claus was considered himself, a fairy folk.
Today we know that when we see those dark rings in the grass of our lawns means a fungi below is about to spring up in a day or so.
Fairy Ring n:) - a natural occuring ground circle caused by fungi or other biological agents; figuratively a fanciful ring or circle of mystical or unusual behavior or action. Spots or circles in the pastures or lawns, due to the outwardly spreading growth of fungi - Webster's Dictionary.
Folklore in England, stated they were places where fairies came to dance. People living in rural England claimed to have seen fairies dancing in fairy rings as recently as the 20th century. The mushrooms were thought to be used as stools for the fairies to sit upon during their evening celebrations. Traditions in Scandinavia holds that fairy rings were the results of elves and fairies dancing in a circle.
Some authors wrote that the brightness of the grass of the fairy rings did not come from the dancing itself, but from Puck, who refreshes the grass because the fairies damaged the area of grass while dancing.
In some parts of South America, children's fairytales claims that the mushrooms were used as umbrellas carried by woodland spirits to shelter them from the rain.
A 20th century Irish author claims that fairies enjoy dancing around the hawthorn tree and that explains the rings forming aound the fairy tree.
In Devon, England stories says that a black hen and chickens sometimes appears at dusk in a large fairy ring on the edge of Dartmoor, England.
The oldest fairy ring on record is over one kilometter wide and over 700 years old. Stonehenge even has a fairy ring over 100 meters wide and said to be over 300 years old.
In some folklores, fairies dancing weren't the only cause for the rings themselves. In Germany, fairy rings were called Witch's rings where according to traditions were thought to be the site where witch's danced on Walpurgis Night.
A Tyrolean legend states that the rings were burned into the ground by the fiery tail of a dragon. In Holland, they were said to be marks where the devil rest his milk churn. What was the devil doing with a milk churn? I don't know.
In some parts of Europe, the belief that they were the work of evil spirits or witches carried on into the 19th century.
The fairy rings of the Phillipines were associated with dominating spirits of the region.
In some ol' folklores, fairy rings were thought to be formed by a variety of dark and evil forces such as shooting stars, lightning strikes created by witches.
France has a lot of folklore and traditions when dealing with the fairy rings. Under Louis XVI, France was the leader in the formal cultivation of mushrooms which were grown in special caves in Paris. In fact, some say Louis XVI was the first mushroom grower.
French traditions claims that fairy rings were guarded by giant bug-eyed toads that cursed anyone who violated the circles. Around France, fairy rings were also known as Sorcess' Rings.
Within all the traditions and folklores dealing with fairies and their mystical rings, there where a lot of warnings.
One common theme, belief that dire consequences awaited anyone entering a fairy ring. Some say that any foolish trespassers were to be struck blind, or become lame, or maybe even disappear to become slaves in the fairy's underground world for a hundred years.
In some parts of Europe, you could even loose a eye if you stepped into a ring.
Entering a fairy ring on May Eve or Samhain was very dangerous. When stepping into a fairy ring you would become invisible to the mortals outside and you would find it close to impossible to leave. Often fairies would force a mortal to dance to the point of exhaustion, death or madness. If children stepped into a fair ring by mistake, some traditions claims that the child would die or spend the rest of their life in bad luck. If you were a murderer, a fairy ring isn't safe. There was a fairy ring called a "galley trap", if a murderer stepped into a ring he/she would be magically hanged. How convenient.
Freedom from a fairy ring requires outside intervention. One could cast wild Marjiran and Thyme into the circle to confuse the fairies. Another rescue attempt is to touch the victim with iron or a stick from a Rowan Tree which can be used to break the curse of the ring. Only after a year and a day after the victim has entered the ring can the rescuer help, but the enchantment of being in the ring is still affective.
The time period in a fairy ring can seem like a day, but in the mortal world it could be weeks or years.
The person who is rescued from the ring's enchantments have no memory of their time in the ring.
In most traditions the saved trespasser still faced a grim fate. Some could crumble to dust as they stepped out or moulds away when they eat their first bite of food or simply disappear when they touch any iron.
Celtic legends states that under a full moon is the best time to investigate a fairy ring. One must travel around the ring in the direction of the sun nine times, then you can hear the fairies dancing and frolicking. Never walk around a fairy ring in a counter-clockwise motion for this allows the fairies to place you under their spell and never circle the ring a 10th time for this is foolharded and very dangerous. Another way to prevent from being pulled into a fairy ring is to wear a hat or your clothes backwards for this confuses the fairies.
There were also warnings about building homes in connection with the sacred fairy rings. Fairy rings were said to bring good luck to houses built in the fields where they occurred, but not on the rings themselves nor build your home or barn in the path of a fairy trail leading to the rings.
In Wales, it was asking for doom if you built on top of a fairy ring or even allowed your animals to gaze within it, for their milk would become putrify or rotted.
In an Irish legend, a farmer builds a barn on a fairy ring despite the warnings from his neighbors. He is struck senseless one night then a 'fairy doctor' is called and breaks the curse. The farmer then destroys the barn.
So please if you follow the ways of ol' and the belief of the fae, be aware of the rings and the local traditions in dealing with the wee-folk and their mystical rings.
- written by Grannulus