You have probably come across one of these as you walked through woodland somewhere. You will have smiled at the strangeness of those mushrooms growing in a ring shape, as though avoiding the centre for some reason. Of course, there is a perfectly logical, scientific explanation, but the fantasy is so much more interesting. Fairy rings, as they have long been called, have occupied a popular place in folklore for thousands of years.
Fairies are magical beings who create the circles by dancing within them. Myths tell of mortal people entering fairy rings and suffering for it. Some believe that anyone stepping into an empty fairy ring will die young. Those violating fairy perimeters become invisible to those outside and may be unable leave the circle. The fairies force intruders to dance till exhausted, dead, or in the throes of madness.
The only safe way, according to some beliefs, to investigate a fairy ring is to run around it nine times only. A tenth lap would nullify the effect. Doing this allows the runner to hear the fairies dancing underground. It must be done under a full moon, and in the direction the sun travels during the day. It is also said that wearing a hat backwards confuses the fairies and stops them from doing the wearer any harm.
There are many sites in the UK where fairies are believed to be regular visitors, though always apparently at full moon. For example, “The Pixies’ Church” is a rock formation in Dartmoor surrounded by a fairy ring; and a stone circle at Cader Idris in Wales is believed to be a popular spot for fairy dances. A Devon legend says that a black hen and chickens sometimes appear at dusk in a large fairy ring on the edge of Dartmoor.
Victorian society believed that fairies, elves and witches were all closely associated with one another, and malevolent toward humans. Scandinavian and Celtic traditions have it that fairy rings are caused by elves dancing, just as witches and fairies do. One Scottish woman claimed that the mushrooms were used as seats and tables for dining by the magical beings, while a Welsh girl claimed that the fungi were used as umbrellas.