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The Folklore of Fairy Rings

Fairy rings are circles or arcs of fungi that magically spring up overnight on the lawn, in a forest or on moorland; there is a lot of folklore and mythology connected to them from all over the world, some good and some bad but all fascinating.

It is generally thought that a fairy ring appears when a fairy, pixie, or elf is present, in European folklore they are the location of gateways into fairy kingdoms, and are places where elves gather and dance, such ideas date back to at least the early medieval period, where it was told the pixies would dance on moonlit nights, the rings being left behind for mortals to see the following morning. In France they are referred to as ‘sorcerers rings’ whereas in Germany they are called ‘Hexenringe’ or ‘witches rings’ due in part to the fact that fairies and witches were thought to be related and the circular dance was a shared tradition, this was especially common in Victorian folklore.  Welsh and Manx mythology removes dancing from the legend but states that a fairy ring will spring up over an underground fairy village. In Austria however, the rings were put down to the activity of flying dragons; legend has it that if a dragon created such a circle, nothing but toadstools would be able to grow in the spot for seven whole years.

Some folklore does show fairy rings as being good things and places of fertility and fortune, especially in Wales, one example is that sheep who grazed inside a fairy ring would live a long life and produce healthy lambs, fertility dances would take place around a fairy ring and to build a house on the site of a ring would ensure prosperity to those who inhabited it.

Whatever culture tales of fairy rings come from, one factor is common throughout and that is that it is a dangerous thing for a mortal human to enter a fairy ring and many legends warn strictly against trying. It is an especially bad idea on May eve or Hallowe’en, should a human violate the ring he would anger the fairies and thus be cursed. A mortal who has entered the ring may become invisible to other mortals and never be seen again once back outside the ring, the fairies may also force the mortal to dance to the point of exhaustion or even death, that is if he didn’t go mad first.

The only safe way, it is said, to investigate a fairy ring is to run around it in the direction of the sun nine times under a full moon – eight times or ten times will not do. By doing this a mortal can hear the fairies dancing underground and no harm will come to him. The ring will slowly disappear without trace in less than a week, but if the mortal waits for an elf to return to the ring, he will be able to see it, although must never try to capture it.