He wha (who) tills the fairies’ green
Nae (no) luck again shall hae (have)
And he wha (who) spills the fairies’ ring
Betide him want and wae (woe).
Traditional Scottish verse
It is now difficult to recapture the mediaeval mindset of those who saw doom in stepping inside a ring of mushrooms. These fairy rings were presumed to be places inhabited by fairies, pixies and elves, all of whom lived, danced and carried on inhuman rites therein. A human who stepped inside, or damaged, the ring was doomed to want and woe.
There are about sixty species of mushrooms capable of producing such rings merely by starting somewhere, depleting nutrients at that spot, then propagating outward to nutrients beyond the depleted zone. This simple natural process would seem an unlikely one to produce widespread and long-lasting supernatural angst. Yet, it did just that.
In the spirit of tomorrow’s date, I caution trick-or-treaters who might come my way: Entering the ring on Halloween (even inadvertently) was considered especially dangerous.
The mushroom may be the Violet Webcap; the architects are undoubtedly the (invasive) Celtic pixie.