Fairy Ring at Tobar Ghobnatan, Cork County, Ireland
aka fairy circle, elf circle, elf ring, pixie ring, ronds de sorciers, sorcerer’s rings, witches rings, hexenringe, dragon circles, faerie rings, fairy rings, elf circles, elf rings, elferingewort, cylch y Tylwyth Teg
article by Tom Baurley / Leaf McGowan, Technogypsie Research, © 2013 (12/29/13) – All rights reserved – www.technogypsie.com
Every now and then you’ll discover these mysterious rings in the woods and think immediately they were the mark of faeries / fairies. They are a naturally occurring ring of mushrooms that can be found in the woods, on a lawn, or in a meadow.
~ Ah the many mysteries of these fairy rings. Nothing radiates more folk or fairy lore than does the magical ring of mushrooms that opens a natural gate between the worlds. This is the reason they are called “Fairy Rings”. They are also known as “sorcerer’s rings” (France: ronds de sorciers), “witches’ rings” (German: “Hexenringe“), “dragon circles”, etc. The Germans believe they mark the site where witches had done their dances during Walpurgis Night, while the Dutch claim the circles show where the Devil placed his milk churn. In Tyrol, it is believed they were created by a dragon’s tail had laid there and nothing but toadstools could grow there for seven years. Much of folklore warns humans from ever entering them, for they were guarded by harsh magic, faerie magic, or giant bug-eyed toads that would curse those who entered them. Some say, those who enter a fairy ring would lose their eye. In English, Scandinavian, and Celtic lore – fairy rings are the result of fairies or elves dancing and in such regard they were called “elf rings” or “elferingewort” (translates to “a ring of daisies caused by elves dancing”) as early as the 12th century C.E. in written record. Olaus Magnus in the “History of the Goths” published in 1628 claimed that fairy rings are burnt into the ground by the dancing of elves and in his “Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus” says the brightness of the ring is Puck who refreshes the grass after a fairy dance. Thomas Keightley, a British folklorist, claimed that even in 20th century C.E. Scandinavia the beliefs were still strong that these were created by dancing elves. He warned that those humans entering the ring would allow the trespasser to see the elves, but might also trap the intruder in thrall of their illusions.
Rings are known as cylch y Tylwyth Teg in Wales as late as the 19th century and once again represented a place where faeries are dancing in a group. Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, England, and Ireland still have stories being told of them. Some tell tales of joining a fairy dance within the ring, this act sometimes opening a portal between the worlds, and trapping some humans eternally – especially if they have fairy food and drink after the dance. The parties are known to be done during moonlit nights as the rings only become visible to humans the following morning. In the Philippines, these fairy rings are also associated with diminutive spirits. Theree are 20th century tales of fairies dancing around a hawthorn thereby creating a fairy ring around them with a tree in the center. Ethnographic tales of a Balquhidder Scotland resident who claims the faeries sit atop these mushrooms and use them as dinner tables, while a Welsh woman says they use the umbrellas as parasols and umbrellas, and in Devon that a black hen with chickens will appear sometimes at dusk in a large ring on the edge of Dartmoor, while Manx and Welsh legends from the 1960’s claim fairy rings appear where there is an underground fairy village underneath. The Dartmoor’s “Pixies’ Church” is a rock formation that is supposedly surrounded by a fairy ring, and the Northern Wales Cader Idris site consists of a stone circle where fairies like to dance. Some believe that those trespassing into the fairy ring will meet the wraith of Psyche and Eros as it is forbidden for Psyche to view her love and when she does, her palace disappears and she is left alone. Some say fairy circles are sacred spaces and if interfered with will lead to a curse. There is an Irish telling of a tale that once a farmer built a barn atop a fairy ring despite his neighbors warning him not to – he was struck senseless one night and a local ‘fairy doctor’ had to come over to break the curse, he dream t he had to destroy the barn to make amends. Some believe even collecting dew from the grass or flowers of a fairy ring would bring bad luck. Legends claim one who enters the ring will die at a young age, others claim they are a ‘galley-trap’ so that if a thief or murderer enters the ring they will be hung. Those who enter the ring become invisible to mortals outside of the ring, and visible to the fairies within the ring and unable to escape it. Sometimes the fae will force the intruder to dance to the point of exhaustion, injury, death, or madness. Many Welsh legends talk of this, luring mortals within and then dance them to death.
It is supposedly even more dangerous for a human to enter the ring during Samhain (Halloween) Eve or May Day / May Eve as this is the most sacred dancing nights of the fae and they would be horribly angered if disturbed on such momentous times. There is a tale of a shepherd who accidently disturbed a ring of rushes where fairies were getting ready to dance – in such reaction they held him hostage until he married one of them. One can only gain escape from the ring by outside help. A Welsh method was to cast wild marjoram and thyme into the circle to befuddle the fairies so they can help their friend or family out of the ring. Others claim one needs to touch the victim with iron and that would let them exit. Rescue though could be as simple as someone reaching in and pulling their friend out of the ring. One Langollen farmer claimed he had to have four men tie him to a rope so that when he entered the ring to save his daughter they could pull him out. Christian theory is to rely on the faith to break the enchantment, alternatively using a stick from a rowan tree (wood the cross that Jesus was on was made from) would break the curse or the stating of the phrase “what, in Heaven’s name” would break it. The longevity of the rescue could be as long as a year and a day to wait and the victim would appear in the same spot s/he vanished before being able to pull them out. Time also moves faster in the realm of fae, so what seems like an hour could be days, weeks, or years later. Those rescued could also lose memory of their encounters. It was told of a man who escaped the fairy ring, once he stepped outside of it he crumbled to dust. Another moulders away after his first bite of food after he escaped the ring. In the Aberystwyth region, a woman who was saved from the fairy ring once touched by metal disappears. Most claim that the only way one can safely explore a fairy ring is to run around it 9 times which will allow the runner to hear the fairies dancing underground, while others claims this sprint must be done during a full moon and the runner travelling in the direction of the sun others a widdershins direction will allow the fairies to take control of the sprinter. If the runner miscounts, to do it a 10th round would be a fateful error. If one wears a hat backwards this will confuse the fae and make them inable to pull the wearer into the ring.
Traditional Scottish Rhyme warning about fairy rings:
He wha tills the fairies’ green
Nae luck again shall hae :
And he wha spills the fairies’ ring
Betide him want and wae.
For weirdless days and weary nights
Are his till his deein’ day.
But he wha gaes by the fairy ring,
Nae dule nor pine shall see,
And he wha cleans the fairy ring
An easy death shall dee.
They start to grow when a spawn (mycelium) of a mushroom falls in a selected spot and sends out a underground network of fine tubular threads called hyphae which grow out of the spore evenly in every direction, forming a circular mat of underground hyphal threads. These produce mushrooms that grow upwards in similar patterns as below ground and eventually the underground mycelium at the center of the circle dies out, but its living edges keep growing year to year and the diameter of the ring keeps increasing and as the ring’s underground network dies out until the surface ring can no longer be detected. These are very common with the Agaricus campestris that measures normally around six feet in diameter. But also the Marasmius oreades, nicknamed the fairy ring mushroom, will form a large irregular ring that have been recorded upwards of 1,200 feet in diameter. Science has two prevalent theories as to how fairy rings are formed – one idea is that a sporocarpus delivers a spore underground and the presence of that fungus there can cause withering or color changes in the grasses above it. These spores give blossom to fungi and mushrooms through the soil after rainstorms, but also grows a huge network of thread-like mycelia in the soil and while the mushrooms look like individual fungi, they are all a part of the mycelia just beneath the soil’s surface. The other theory is that the rings are formed by connecting oval genets of the mushrooms with other neighboring mushrooms. In this way if they grow in a ring or an arc, they are continuously grown from the center of this object. Fairy rings also create a necrotic zone during their composition and decomposition – this is an area in the grass or local surface plant-life that has withered or died away. Fairy rings can cause arcs, circles, rings, double arcs, sickle-shaped arcs, and other geometric formations during this process. The Fungi will deplete the soil of other usual readily available nutrients like nitrogen which makes the plant life in the circle to become discolored while others will cause luxuriant growth as they release chemicals which act like hormones. Some theories believe they are dependent on wildlife such as rabbits – as in the case example of the fairy rings on Shillingstone Hill in England, where chalky soils on higher elevation slopes and meadows produce numerous rings – and its believed the rabbits mow the grass short and add to it nitrogen-rich droppings that feed the soil the nitrogen the mushrooms need, feeding the mycelium. Later generations of fungi grow outwards as the parent generations have depleted the nitrogen levels, and as the rabbits keep dropping n’ cropping the grass, they ignore the fungi, take away competition by the consumption of the grasses, allowing the mushrooms to prosper. Once a circle of mushrooms reaches a 6 meter diameter, the rabbit droppings will replenish the nitrogen levels in the center and a secondary ring can grow within the first. There are two recognized forms of fairy ring fungus – (1) tethered – found in woods and are formed by mycorrhizal fungi living in commensalism with the trees. (2) free – mushroom fungi that are not connected with other organisms and are often found in meadows as they contain saprotrophic mushrooms. Within this type the Calvatia cyathiformis will affect the local grass to grow more abundantly while the Leucopaxillus giganteus causes the grasses to wither. The are 60 species of fungi that can grow in fairy ring patterns – the most popular is the edible Scotch bonnet (Marasmius oreades) that is also known as the fairy ring champignon. The largest ring recorded was near Belfort, France at nearly 600 meters in diameter (2,000 feet), over 700 years old, and was the Infundibulicybe geotropa fungus. Southern England’s South Downs rings formed by Calocybe gambosa also seem to be several hundred years old.
Species that form fairy rings:
Agaricus arvensis, Agaricus campestris, Agaricus praerimosus, Amanita muscaria, Amanita phalloides, Amanita rubescens, Bovista dermoxantha, Calocybe gambosa, Calvatia cyathiformis,
Clitocybe dealbata, Clitocybe nebularis, Clitocybe nuda, Clitocybe rivulosa, Chlorophyllum molybdites, Chlorophyllum rhacodes, Cyathus stercoreus, Disciseda subterranea, Entoloma sinuatum, Gomphus clavatus, Infundibulicybe geotropa, Lepista sordida, Leucopaxillus giganteus, Lycoperdon gemmatum, Marasmius oreades, Sarcodon imbricatus, Tricholoma album, Tricholoma orirubens, Tricholoma pardinum, Tricholoma matsutake, Tuber melanosporum, and Vascellum curtisii.
Fairy Ring at Tobar Ghobnatan, Cork County, Ireland