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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For thousands of years, the sudden appearance of a ring of mushrooms was a sure sign of otherworldly presences. These rings would seemingly appear overnight, or travel from one location to another, with no clear rhyme or reason. Warnings of the dark forces that must create these abnormalities were passed down between generations, and the folklore of fairy rings was established.

These fairy rings (fairy circles, elf circles or pixie rings) are a naturally occurring phenomenon. A fungi creates a ring or arc shape within the soil, affecting the grass in the area, and grows up through the greenery forming a circle of mushrooms. These rings—a lovely surprise and good luck to some, or a dark omen and nasty lawn problem to others—can spread from a very few inches or feet to 164 feet (50 meters) or more.  The ring found in Belfort, France, is thought to be the largest ring ever found. It is approximately 2,000 feet (600 meters) in diameter, and an astonishing 700 years old.

Fairy rings in moss in Iceland.

Fairy rings in moss in Iceland. (Chmee2/Valtameri / CC BY 3.0 )

Sometimes there can be more than one ring in an area, and they will overlap, creating strange, winding patterns in the grass. Often the grass inside the ring is dead and withered, and has a clearly different coloring than the grass outside.

Supernatural Creatures with Mysterious Powers

Fairy rings have an historical, mythical reputation, as revealed by the folklore and warnings surrounding them around the globe, but especially in Western Europe.

A mushroom ring in the woods.

A mushroom ring in the woods. (Alison Chaiken, Flickr/ CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Various places have their own superstitions surrounding the fairy rings, but for the most part the myths involve fairies or supernatural creatures either dancing around the ring, or have the ring serving as a portal between the fairy realm and our world. It was also believed that the circles were formed by shooting stars, lightning strikes, or were the work of witches. These beliefs persisted into the 19 th century, as did the warnings to not stray into a fairy circle, lest you be transported to the fairy realm, and certain doom.

The rings are known throughout Europe. In tradition, they were called “sorcerers’ rings” in France, and “witches rings” in Germany, where they’re supposedly most active on Walpurgisnacht, the eve of April 30, when witches were believed to meet and hold large celebrations coinciding with the arrival of Spring.

Beautiful fairy ring, or profuse circle of Clitocybe nebularis fungus.

Beautiful fairy ring, or profuse circle of Clitocybe nebularis fungus. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

In English, Scandinavian and Celtic and many other traditional European beliefs the rings were caused by fairies or elves dancing. Such events were associated especially with moonlit nights, and the sudden appearance of the rings in the morning were evidence of a dance the evening before.

Images of nude and semi-nude fairies dancing in rings became popular during the Victorian era.

Images of nude and semi-nude fairies dancing in rings became popular during the Victorian era. Public Domain

In Scotland it was believed the fairies sit on the mushrooms and use them as tables for their fetes, while in Wales the story goes that the mushrooms were picked by the fairy folk and used as parasols or umbrellas. Even now in Wales it’s said the rings signify an underground fairy village. Welsh folklore also considers the rings as locations of fertility and fortune, and claim that crops grown around them and livestock feeding nearby will flourish.

In contrast, the Dutch legends had it that the barren center of the ring was caused by the devil placing his milk-churn there.

The Austrian tradition said flying dragons caused the rings, blighting the area so only toadstools could grow there for seven years.

French folklore believed the strange circles were guarded by giant toads that would curse anyone that happened into the ring.

Do NOT Step Into the Ring

It is generally felt that fairy circles are to be avoided as dangerous places as they’re associated with malevolent beings.

If you dare to enter a ring, many myths warn you will die young. You also become invisible to the mortal world, unable to escape the ring, or you are transported instantly to the fairy realm. You might also lose an eye for your foolishness. Either way, you will be forced to dance around the ring until you die of exhaustion or madness.

"Plucked from the Fairy Circle" A man saves his friend from the grip of a fairy ring.

"Plucked from the Fairy Circle" A man saves his friend from the grip of a fairy ring. Public Domain

Comments

Justbod's picture

Great article with lovely photos. The Iceland one is interesting as the patterns remind me strongly of the carved designs on ‘cup and ring’ stones.

A fascinating subject, which still feels magical, even if we do know more about the science!

Sculptures, carvings & artwork inspired by a love of history & nature: www.justbod.co.uk

 

 

 
Moonsong's picture

Such an interesting article! Kind of reminds me of the Smurfs – they lived in a muchroom ring too!

 

- Moonsong
--------------------------------------------
A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world ~ Oscar Wilde

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