Fairy Rings: Myth and Nature

Elf circles and witches' rings

Fairy rings. While science would call them naturally occurring rings of mushrooms, folklore tells us that these strange formations are actually the work of supernatural beings. They’re portals to other worlds or strange remnants of dancing faerie folk.

Of course, those are just stories, right?

Let’s Talk About Mushrooms

Image: Andrew via CC by 2.0
Image: Andrew via CC by 2.0

When you see a group of mushrooms, you’re only seeing a small part of a much larger network of subterranean mycelia. The mushrooms are the part that grows above ground; they’re the reproductive fruiting bodies. But underneath is the true organism that forms the whole, called the mycelium.

In the case of a fairy ring, the mycelium grows from a single point and develops outwards in a circular formation, gathering nutrients and slowly starving the grass above.

However, eventually, these nutrients run out, and the center of the mycelium dies, allowing the grass to return. Only the outer edges of the mycelium continue to grow.

Image: Wikipedia via CC by 2.0
Image: Wikipedia via CC by 2.0

This is what we see when a fairy ring forms.

As a result, fairy rings can appear either as circles of uneven grass or as rings or arcs of mushrooms.

Don’t Ever Step Into A Fairy Ring

Fairy rings have other names. Elf Circles. Sorcerers’ or Witches’ Rings. The folklore surrounding these strange circles can be found in many cultures, each with slightly different variations.

For example, in German folklore, these rings are thought to be the spots where witches dance on Walpurgis Night, a spring festival that lies exactly six months from All Hallows’ Eve.

In Celtic folklore, on the other hand, fairy rings are said to be caused by dancing faeries (hence the name), or burned into the ground by dancing elves and left to appear in the morning after a moonlit night.

Whatever the case, they say you should never enter a fairy ring, or else you’ll be cursed by their otherworldly protectors. You may even find yourself whisked away into the fairyland, or perhaps even driven mad.

“Most often, someone who violates a fairy perimeter becomes invisible to mortals outside and may find it impossible to leave the circle. Often, the fairies force the mortal to dance to the point of exhaustion, death, or madness.”

So, watch your step.

Image: Les Chatfield via CC by 2.0
Image: Les Chatfield via CC by 2.0

Rob Schwarz

Writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions.

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