Have you ever been enchanted by the magic of mystical fairy rings?
My home is my castle by Catrin Welz Stein.
A great deal of folklore surrounds fairy rings. Their names in European languages often allude to supernatural origins; they are known as ronds de sorciers ("sorcerers' rings") in France, and Hexenringe ("witches' rings") in German. In German tradition, fairy rings were thought to mark the site of witches' dancing on Walpurgis Night.
The Almost Moon by Francesca Dottavi.
In Tyrol (western Austria), folklore attributed fairy rings to the fiery tails of flying dragons; once a dragon had created such a circle, nothing but toadstools could grow there for seven years. European superstitions routinely warned against entering a fairy ring. Fairy rings are associated with diminutive spirits in the Philippines.
Western European, including English, Scandinavian and Celtic, traditions claimed that fairy rings are the result of elves or fairies dancing. Such ideas dated to at least the mediæval period; The Middle English term elferingewort ("elf-ring"), meaning "a ring of daisies caused by elves' dancing" dates to the 12th century.
William Sullivan - Fairy Dance.
In his History of the Goths (1628), Olaus Magnus makes this connection, saying that fairy rings are burned into the ground by the dancing of elves. British folklorist Thomas Keightley noted that in Scandinavia in the early 20th century, beliefs persisted that fairy rings (elfdans) arose from the dancing of elves. Keightley warned that while entering an elfdans might allow the interloper to see the elves—although this was not guaranteed—it would also put the intruder in thrall to their illusions.
The folklores of the British Isles contain a wealth of fairy lore, including the idea from which fairy rings take their name: the phenomena result from the dancing of fairies. In 19th-century Wales, where the rings are known as cylch y Tylwyth Teg, fairies were almost invariably described as dancing in a group when encountered, and in Scotland and Wales in the late 20th century, stories about fairy rings were still common;some Welsh even claimed to have joined a fairy dance. Victorian folklorists regarded fairies and witches as related, based in part on the idea that both were believed to dance in circles. These revels are particularly associated with moonlit nights, the rings only becoming visible to mortals the following morning.
THE HUMAN BODY IS PART OF NATURE. Portrait 07 by Catrin Welz-Stein.
An early 20th-century Irish tradition says that fairies enjoy dancing around the hawthorn tree so that fairy rings often centre on one. A Welsh and Manx variant current in the 1960s removes dancing from the picture and claims that fairy rings spring up over an underground fairy village.
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. In Welsh tales, fairies actively try to lure mortals into their circles to dance with them. A tale from the Cambrian Mountains of Wales, current in the 19th century, describes a mortal's encounter with a fairy ring: ... he saw the Tylwyth Teg, in appearance like tiny soldiers, dancing in a ring. He set out for the scene of revelry, and soon drew near the ring where, in a gay company of males and females, they were footing it to the music of the harp. Never had he seen such handsome people, nor any so enchantingly cheerful. They beckoned him with laughing faces to join them as they leaned backward almost falling, whirling round and round with joined hands. Those who were dancing never swerved from the perfect circle; but some were clambering over the old cromlech, and others chasing each other with surprising swiftness and the greatest glee. Still others rode about on small white horses of the most beautiful form ... All this was in silence, for the shepherd could not hear the harps, though he saw them. But now he drew nearer to the circle, and finally ventured to put his foot in the magic ring. The instant he did this, his ears were charmed with strains of the most melodious music he had ever heard.
Mortals who have danced with the fairies are rarely safe after being saved from their enthrallment. Often, they find that what seemed to be but a brief foray into fairyland was indeed much longer in the mortal realm, possibly weeks or years.
Electroplate book cover 1896.
Some legends assert that the only safe way to investigate a fairy ring is to run around it nine times. This affords the ability to hear the fairies dancing and frolicking underground.
Fairy rings have featured in the works of European authors, playwrights, and artists since the 13th century. In his Arthurian romance Meraugis de Portlesguez, Raoul de Houdenc describes a scene clearly derived from Celtic fairy-ring lore: The title character visits the Château des Caroles and sees a circle of women and a knight dancing around a pine in the castle courtyard. Meraugis is unable to fight the intense desire to join in, thus freeing the previous knight from the spell. Meraugis is helpless to leave the dance until, ten weeks later, another knight joins it and frees him.
Densely Foggy by Miyakokomura.
Fairy circles feature in works by several Elizabethan poets and playwrights. William Shakespeare alludes to them in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act II, Scene I ("And I serve the fairy queen, / To dew her orbs upon the green" and "To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind"), and The Tempest, Act V, Scene.
Shakespeare's contemporary Thomas Randolph speaks of fairy rings in his Amyntas, or the Impossible Dowry (1638), and Michael Drayton describes one in Nymphidia: The Court of Fairy:
And in their courses make that round In meadows and in marshes found, Of them so called the Fairy Ground, Of which they have the keeping.
Fairy imagery became especially popular in the Victorian era. Thomas Hardy uses a fairy ring as a symbol of lost love in The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886).
Letter to my friend by Magda Wasiczek.
Victorian poets who have referred to fairy rings in their works include Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Eliza Cook, Robert Stephen Hawker, Felicia Hemans, Gerald Massey, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. W. H. Cummings composed the cantata The Fairy Ring, and William Butler Yeats wrote of them in The Land of Heart's Desire (1894).
Meganne Forbes Visionary Artist.
Fairy circles have appeared in European artwork since at least the 18th century. For example, William Blake painted Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing, depicting a scene from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, around 1785, and Daniel Maclise painted Faun and the Fairies around 1834. Images of fairies dancing in circles became a favourite trope of painters in the Victorian period. On the one hand, artists were genuinely interested in the culture such imagery represented, and on the other, fairies could be depicted as titillating nudes and semi-nudes without offending Victorian mores, which made them a popular subject of art collectors. Examples of Victorian fairy-ring paintings include Come unto these Yellow Sands (1842) by Richard Dadd and Reconciliation of Titania and Oberon (1847) by Joseph Noel Paton.