A little faery nonsense

For a long time, there has been a strong association between faeries and mushrooms.

At night, it’s said, the faeries come out to dance around in rings of mushrooms. If there’s a full moon, they’re particularly likely to be out. If you hide in the shadows and keep very, very still, you might manage to see them and hear their strange, otherworldly music.

They may use clusters of mushrooms as a place to meet, or play, or perhaps even worship. And in those places, the mushrooms grow in a ring. It conjures up images of other ancient circular monuments such as Stonehenge. Circles are, after all, powerful symbols in many cultures, both ancient and modern. Circle dances go back into ancient times, existed in various cultures, and may have been considered sacred.

If you happen upon a faerie ring, be sure to avoid it. Legends have emerged over time about faeries punishing humans who step inside their circle with a deathly dance – trespassers are compelled to keep up with a vigorous dance until they collapse from exhaustion or even die. At best, you’ll have some bad luck.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the fae kin, so I stopped to take photos of these strange and delightful little fungi on a cool, wet day. They were small and delicate, all of them various shades of silvery gray. Not being much of a horticulturalist, I can’t tell you the specific name.

And though I didn’t see any faeries that morning, I could easily imagine some whimsical creature sipping on dew or curling up inside for a bit of a nap.

What attracts me to faeries is not their innocence. Faeries are not the harmless, dainty cartoon characters a lot of us grew up with. There’s a darkside to the fae – one that ranges from mischievous to downright cruel, and in the past, were often blamed for all manner of strange and terrible occurrences. Death, disease, missing children, lost objects – faeries could be blamed for anything.

So many cultures have myths about small, magical creatures that are tied to nature and wreak havoc on the human world. It fascinates me, how intrinsic they are to the universal human narrative. And they’re clever, these creatures – they will find ways to twist promises and offerings to their own advantage. They’re often a warning to humans not to tangle with the Otherworld, and certainly not to believe they can outsmart it.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Faeries can do good deeds. They can cure infertility, make gardens grow and livestock flourish. And finding a faerie ring on your property can be good luck – as long as you respect the fae folk and don’t disturb it.

That’s one of the messages that comes from these various fae narratives – to have respect for Those Who Are Not You. Often times it was a fearful respect, as both faeries and humans can be unpredictable and cruel, but there are stories of humans and the fae coexisting peacefully. Faeries can be stunningly beautiful, and eagerly helpful. They can be guardians and allies.

Like many cultural narratives, the fae exist in part to reflect ourselves back to us. By examining their various cruelties and kindnesses, we’re actually examining our own. And while we now know they aren’t real, it doesn’t make them any less alive. There are still places in the modern world where people stay out of the fae folk’s way, and show a reverence for the spaces that legends say are occupied by these strange, shadowy Others. Icelanders will protest the building of roads that might disturb rocks where faeries might be dwelling.

So if you do find yourself inside of a faerie ring, carefully step out of it, and be sure to run around it nine times exactly. That will ward off the bad luck and prevent angry faeries from exacting their strange, cruel revenge.

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