A mushroom ring creating a circle on the grass. These rings were believed to be portals to the fairy realm, and areas of danger.

Do you dare enter a fairy ring? The mythical mushroom portals of the supernatural

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To avoid this terrible, cavorting fate, you can take specific measures, such as running around the ring nine times (nine times only, as 10 is too many and will undo the procedure). It is said that to enter the ring without penalty you can run around the ring during a full moon, but only in the direction the sun travels during the day.  If you do this you might hear the fairies dancing underground.

You might also wear a hat backwards, because this is said to confuse the fairies and they will not do you harm.

This fellow is probably in trouble – his hat is not on backwards. The Fairy Ring; the Enchanted Piper

This fellow is probably in trouble – his hat is not on backwards. The Fairy Ring; the Enchanted Piper (c.1880)  Public Domain

Can Science Explain the Mystery?

In present day the fungi that causes the natural phenomenon is well understood.  Mycelium is a spreading fungus which grows in fertile, damp environments. In good conditions, the spores will develop into mushrooms (the most well-known being the edible Scotch bonnet, or fairy ring champignon). The mushrooms reach out of the ground and create an easily visible ring. Underground, the mycelium networks out under the grass, moving outward from the center, and feeding upon organic matter and decomposing as it travels. The dead mycelium forms a thick, water-repellant mat that starves the grass roots of nutrients and moisture. Eventually the land within the ring withers and dies from starvation, but the leading edge of the ring remains lush and green, as the feeding/dying and decomposing mycelium releases fertilizers. This cycle can continue for centuries, and the ring grows, shrinks, and moves around the countryside, delighting some people and disturbing others.

Clitocybe nebularis mushrooms in part of a ring.

Clitocybe nebularis  mushrooms in part of a ring. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

We in modern times may scoff at the traditional superstition of the fairy rings, but scientists still struggle to explain the so-called “fairy circles” occurring in Africa. It is reported that in Namibia in southern Africa, bare, circular spots on the sandy grasslands have been occurring for unknown reasons. The circles behave much like the mycelium growths, persisting and then vanishing after decades. But scientists have ruled out a similar fungus, and remain stumped as to why these rings have been appearing in the remote, arid landscape. Local oral tradition explain them as the work of spirits and nature gods.

The enigmatic rings of Africa can be about 6.5 feet (2 meters) to almost 40 feet (12 meters) in size. The circles appear, and then disappear, leaving “ghost circles” behind. Credit: Mike and Ann Scott of the Namib Rand Nature Reserve

The enigmatic rings of Africa can be about 6.5 feet (2 meters) to almost 40 feet (12 meters) in size. The circles appear, and then disappear, leaving “ghost circles” behind. Credit: Mike and Ann Scott of the Namib Rand Nature Reserve

The differences of the lush outside of the ring compared to the dead inside, with no obvious cause, undoubtedly led the people of antiquity to presume that otherworldly affairs were at work. Certainly the abrupt, unpredictable change in the natural world, the age-old circle symbolism, and the fact that these ‘portals’ seemed temporary and mobile were convincing evidence of the supernatural.

To the consternation and frustration of those now seeking unblemished lawns, ridding a yard of a fairy ring can be as tricky as dealing with the legendary fairy-folk. To stop the mycelium from spreading its necrosis, one should pick the mushrooms as soon as they appear. Next, a thorough soaking of water may drown out the problem, but often it requires digging down beneath the white fungus to remove the tainted soil. This can sometimes mean digging down several feet or more to get all the infected dirt, replacing it all with fresh soil, and restarting the lawn anew.

Perhaps it would be easier just to take your chances with the fairies.

Featured image: A mushroom ring creating a circle on the grass. These rings were believed to be portals to the fairy realm, and areas of danger. (Unukorno, Flickr/ CC BY-SA 2.0 )

By Liz Leafloor

References

Sproule, Rob. 2012 . “The Magic to ridding fairy rings” Sherwood Park News[Online] Available at: http://www.sherwoodparknews.com/2012/08/09/the-magic-to-ridding-fairy-rings

Pappas, Stephanie. 2012. “Mysterious African ‘Fairy Circles’ Stump Scientists” LiveScience [Online] Available at: http://www.livescience.com/21228-mysterious-african-fairy-circles-mystery.html

Nelson, Scot.  2008. “Fairy Rings: Toadstools, Stinkhorns, and Puffballs” Cooperative Extension Service, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources [PDF] [Online] Available at: http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/PD-49.pdf

Schwarz, Rob. 2014. “Fairy Rings: Myth and Nature” Stranger Dimensions [Online] Available at: http://www.strangerdimensions.com/2014/03/17/fairy-rings-myth-nature/

Leather, Tony. 2015. “Fairy Rings: Nature’s Magical Mushroom Circle” Scribol [Online] Available at: http://scribol.com/environment/fairy-rings-natures-magical-mushroom-circles

Comments

Thank you for this article. We must release all superstition. Fear and love cannot coexist. Fairy (Fae) Rings are crop circles.!! The energy of the Fae/Angel Realm - brings Heaven to Earth. Mushrooms are one of the was trees communicate with each other. Yes do step into one!! They assist our body/mind to heal from all stuffed down thoughts feelings emotions - the cause of all illness. All circles represent wholeness. A Fae circle is the live/life energy of the COMMUNICATION of HEART. They purify the and our atmosphere .If you find a fae circle it is you calling you to your grace! If you have not yet and want to - wish it! One will come when you allow.

i just found a fairy ring two mornings ago on my lawn. and this was on september 24th.after reading the articles, i don't know exactly what to do with this thing.play cavalier and cut them down along with the grass or stay clear and leave it alone. lol. i'm mowing my lawn for the last time before the season's turnover.i'm sending pictures of it if the site allows me..

Wonderful article, thank you.

Its always neat to hear from others who are like minded and better informed... Thanks for the information you shared

SJDF's picture

Hi I just want to pass along some information I have on this topic, one thing that was not mentioned that is directly related is "Time" seam's to be faster within the fairy realm, the part about death if you entered one is easier to understand if you account for this. The fellow pulling his friend out of the ring dance, is a interesting story. First the man pulling his friend out was being accused of murder cause the other chap was missing several week's, and second after he freed him he died latter in church.
The bit about "Blindness" has to do with another story of a lady who somehow retained the ability to see the fairy's after returning to reality and was stabbed in the eye by a fairy who didn't like being observed. Fairy's don't like to be seen even by the people they like.

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