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Re: It's May, it's May, the merry month of May

  Do you dare enter a fairy ring? The mythical mushroom portals of the supernatural

 

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For thousands of years, the sudden appearance of a ring of mushrooms was a sure sign of otherworldly presences. These rings would seemingly appear overnight, or travel from one location to another, with no clear rhyme or reason. Warnings of the dark forces that must create these abnormalities were passed down between generations, and the folklore of fairy rings was established.

These fairy rings (fairy circles, elf circles or pixie rings) are a naturally occurring phenomenon. A fungi creates a ring or arc shape within the soil, affecting the grass in the area, and grows up through the greenery forming a circle of mushrooms. These rings—a lovely surprise and good luck to some, or a dark omen and nasty lawn problem to others—can spread from a very few inches or feet to 164 feet (50 meters) or more.  The ring found in Belfort, France, is thought to be the largest ring ever found. It is approximately 2,000 feet (600 meters) in diameter, and an astonishing 700 years old.





Sometimes there can be more than one ring in an area, and they will overlap, creating strange, winding patterns in the grass. Often the grass inside the ring is dead and withered, and has a clearly different coloring than the grass outside.


Supernatural Creatures with Mysterious Powers

Fairy rings have an historical, mythical reputation, as revealed by the folklore and warnings surrounding them around the globe, but especially in Western Europe.



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Various places have their own superstitions surrounding the fairy rings, but for the most part the myths involve fairies or supernatural creatures either dancing around the ring, or have the ring serving as a portal between the fairy realm and our world. It was also believed that the circles were formed by shooting stars, lightning strikes, or were the work of witches. These beliefs persisted into the 19 th century, as did the warnings to not stray into a fairy circle, lest you be transported to the fairy realm, and certain doom.

 

The rings are known throughout Europe. In tradition, they were called “sorcerers’ rings” in France, and “witches rings” in Germany, where they’re supposedly most active on Walpurgisnacht, the eve of April 30, when witches were believed to meet and hold large celebrations coinciding with the arrival of Spring.


Beautiful fairy ring, or profuse circle of Clitocybe nebularis fungus. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

In English, Scandinavian and Celtic and many other traditional European beliefs the rings were caused by fairies or elves dancing. Such events were associated especially with moonlit nights, and the sudden appearance of the rings in the morning were evidence of a dance the evening before.



Images of nude and semi-nude fairies dancing in rings became popular during the Victorian era. Public Domain

In Scotland it was believed the fairies sit on the mushrooms and use them as tables for their fetes, while in Wales the story goes that the mushrooms were picked by the fairy folk and used as parasols or umbrellas. Even now in Wales it’s said the rings signify an underground fairy village. Welsh folklore also considers the rings as locations of fertility and fortune, and claim that crops grown around them and livestock feeding nearby will flourish.

In contrast, the Dutch legends had it that the barren center of the ring was caused by the devil placing his milk-churn there.

The Austrian tradition said flying dragons caused the rings, blighting the area so only toadstools could grow there for seven years.


French folklore believed the strange circles were guarded by giant toads that would curse anyone that happened into the ring.

Do NOT Step Into the Ring

It is generally felt that fairy circles are to be avoided as dangerous places as they’re associated with malevolent beings.

If you dare to enter a ring, many myths warn you will die young. You also become invisible to the mortal world, unable to escape the ring, or you are transported instantly to the fairy realm. You might also lose an eye for your foolishness. Either way, you will be forced to dance around the ring until you die of exhaustion or madness.



"Plucked from the Fairy Circle" A man saves his friend from the grip of a fairy ring. Public Domain

To avoid this terrible, cavorting fate, you can take specific measures, such as running around the ring nine times (nine times only, as 10 is too many and will undo the procedure). It is said that to enter the ring without penalty you can run around the ring during a full moon, but only in the direction the sun travels during the day.  If you do this you might hear the fairies dancing underground.

You might also wear a hat backwards, because this is said to confuse the fairies and they will not do you harm.



Can Science Explain the Mystery?

In present day the fungi that causes the natural phenomenon is well understood.  Mycelium is a spreading fungus which grows in fertile, damp environments. In good conditions, the spores will develop into mushrooms (the most well-known being the edible Scotch bonnet, or fairy ring champignon). The mushrooms reach out of the ground and create an easily visible ring. Underground, the mycelium networks out under the grass, moving outward from the center, and feeding upon organic matter and decomposing as it travels. The dead mycelium forms a thick, water-repellant mat that starves the grass roots of nutrients and moisture. Eventually the land within the ring withers and dies from starvation, but the leading edge of the ring remains lush and green, as the feeding/dying and decomposing mycelium releases fertilizers. This cycle can continue for centuries, and the ring grows, shrinks, and moves around the countryside, delighting some people and disturbing others.





We in modern times may scoff at the traditional superstition of the fairy rings, but until recently scientists were still struggling to explain the so-called “fairy circles” occurring in Africa. It is reported that in Namibia in southern Africa, bare, circular spots on the sandy grasslands have been occurring for unknown reasons. The circles behave much like the mycelium growths, persisting and then vanishing after decades. But scientists have ruled out a similar fungus, and until just last year they were stumped as to why these rings have been appearing in the remote, arid landscape.

In 2017, scientists published a report suggesting the African fairy circles may be explained by a combination of two ecological forces : groups of root-eating sand termites competing underground for resources and self-organizing plants competing above ground for water. Both have been suggested in the past as a possible cause, but the two forces had not been combined before Corina Tarnita of Princeton University and her team created computer simulations with both in action. Put together, the two processes create patterns that mimic at least some of the circles found in the Namib desert. The researchers don’t suggest their simulation can explain all the fairy circles, though “We get a much more complete description of the patterns”, Tarnita said, by combining the effects of the simulated termites with those of the competitive plants.



The enigmatic rings of Africa can be about 6.5 feet (2 meters) to almost 40 feet (12 meters) in size. The circles appear, and then disappear, leaving “ghost circles” behind. Credit: Mike and Ann Scott of the Namib Rand Nature Reserve

Local oral tradition explains them as the work of spirits and nature gods. The differences of the lush outside of the ring compared to the dead inside, with no obvious cause, undoubtedly led the people of antiquity to presume that otherworldly affairs were at work. Certainly the abrupt, unpredictable change in the natural world, the age-old  circle symbolism, and the fact that these ‘portals’ seemed temporary and mobile were convincing evidence of the supernatural.

To the consternation and frustration of those now seeking unblemished lawns, ridding a yard of a fairy ring can be as tricky as dealing with the legendary fairy-folk. To stop the mycelium from spreading its necrosis, one should pick the mushrooms as soon as they appear. Next, a thorough soaking of water may drown out the problem, but often it requires digging down beneath the white fungus to remove the tainted soil. This can sometimes mean digging down several feet or more to get all the infected dirt, replacing it all with fresh soil, and restarting the lawn anew.

Perhaps it would be easier just to take your chances with the fairies.


By Liz Leafloor
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Re: It's May, it's May, the merry month of May

Cherry, thos photos of emeralds are stunning. I have one lab created emerald ring and one real emerald multiple stone band. I'd love to own some of those in the photos. Of course, you already know my story with jewelry. 

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Re: It's May, it's May, the merry month of May

@RainyDayGirl  are you still making jewelry? You made some lovely things

 

I am sure those emeralds are worth many fortunes , they are so clean

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Re: It's May, it's May, the merry month of May

April may be the cruellest month, but May is the one that has traditionally been given a bad press.

Perhaps it suits the English temperament to look around at spring-time - the rebirth and fresh growth of the lush green land, with rough winds shaking the darling buds - and come up with a list of possible unfortunate happenings that might ruin everything. Or perhaps there's good advice lurking somewhere beneath the surface; I leave it you to decide. So here are five superstitions about May, four of which are warnings, and the final one is more in the way of skincare advice:

1. Don't wash blankets.

The belief that you shouldn't wash blankets in May seems to belong to Southern England in particular, and to be fairly new, from the turn of the twentieth century. Why shouldn't you wash blankets? It's all a bit vague really, attracting a range of warnings from the possibility of blanket shrinkage to imminent death. A proverb from the 1920s states:

Wash blankets in May
You'll soon be under clay.

Removing warm layers from the bed before the weather is reliable leads to feeling chilly, which leads to getting a cold, which leads to death. The same thought lies behind the next superstition on the list.

2. Don't take off any clothes.

Ne'er cast a clout
Till May be out.

This is a much older piece of advice, the first known written version of it appearing in Dr Thomas Fuller's Gnomologia: Adagies and Proverbs in 1732. Casting a clout refers to taking off your winter clothes, but the phrase 'May be out' might mean the arrival of Hawthorn blossom (the Hawthorn tree is also known as the May Tree) in spring.

The West Country takes it a macabre step further by bringing the possibility of dead babies to the front of your mind with this Cornish saying: 

Tuck babies in May,
You'll tuck them away.

To 'tuck' a baby is to dress it in a short coat. But leaving off clothes was generally thought to be a bad move in the west of England, no matter what time of year, unless it was a Sunday when the prayers of the Church congregation would keep you from catching a cold. Don't go out in public without your warm layers on if you're south of Dorset, basically.

3. Don't Buy a Broom

Here's yet another unpleasantly catchy saying from the West Country, with this Devonshire piece of advice: 

Buy a broom in the month of May
Sweep one of the house away.

There are lots of broom superstitions, from witch transportation onwards, including:

  • Unmarried girls shouldn't step over broom handles or they'll become mothers before they become wives.
  • Laying a broom across a doorway can catch a witch, who will feel obliged to pick it up.
  • Throwing a broom after a person will bring good luck.

Whatever grain of good advice was once lurking within these sayings, May-related or not, has possibly been lost forever.

4. Cats born in May attract snakes

Pity the kitten born in May. Many of these felines never made it to cat-hood because of the superstition that May kittens would be weak and sickly at best. They were held to be useless at catching rats and mice, but extremely good at attracting snakes into the house. A Cornish saying states that: 

Kittens born in May bring adders to the door in August.

Babies born in May were also thought to often be sickly in nature, but probably got taken outside and drowned less often as a result of it.

And now for the skincare advice:

5. Wash your face in May Dew

On 28 May 1667 Samuel Pepys recorded this in his diary:

After dinner my wife away down with Jane and W. Hewer to Woolwich, in order to a little ayre and to lie there to-night, and so to gather May-dew to-morrow morning, which Mrs. Turner hath taught her as the only thing in the world to wash her face with; and I am contented with it.

Dew gathered early on a May morning can, according to superstition, give you a glowing complexion that lasts all year round and even remove freckles. Also, wishing to attract the favour of some young man while gathering May dew will make him your sweetheart, and the benefits don't stop there. It can cure eye problems, spinal weakness, and gout.

However, staying out all night to catch the early morning dew could conceal a different purpose. In 1583 the writer Philip Stubbes recorded that, out of the girls who spent May Day Eve outside in the woods looking for a better complexion, "scarcely the third part of them returned home again undefiled". Here's hoping they kept their clothes on throughout; casting them off could only lead to a bad end (see superstition number two on the list). Perhaps it's not surprising that they all came home with a certain fresh glow to the cheeks.

 

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Re: It's May, it's May, the merry month of May

The Festival of Flora: May Day for the Roman Crowd

The Romans marked the occasion over two millennia ago with the Floralia, or Festival of Flora, a five-day ceremony to honor the Roman goddess of flowers. Flora was regarded as one of the most ancient goddesses of Roman religion , and was one of 15 deities to have her own state-supported high priest, the flamen Florialis . A goddess of flowers, vegetation, and fertility, she received sacrifices in the sacred grove of the Arval Brothers, an archaic priesthood.


This pagan holiday began in Rome in 240 or 238 BC with the hopes of pleasing the goddess Flora into protecting flowers – probably with a focus on the blossoms of fruit-bearing plants. Floralia was forgotten for a time, but re-instated in 173 BC when bad weather threatened and the Senate believed it was necessary to please Flora and request her protection once again.





The Floralia festival was marked by dancing, the gathering of flowers, and the setting aside of white togas in favor of more colorful garments. It was also a time for the Ludi Florales (six days of games), which was paid for by fines collected when public lands were encroached upon. Cicero mentions his role in organizing games for Flora when he was aedile (a Roman magistrate in charge of maintaining public buildings) in 69 BC.

The festival of Flora opened with theatrical performances , which often included mimes, naked actresses, and prostitutes, and it concluded with competitive events and spectacles at the Circus and a sacrifice to Flora. Sometimes the events were very unique, such as in 30 AD, when the entertainment at the Floralia presented under the emperor Galba featured a tightrope-walking elephant.

 
The festival was eventually declared a Roman holiday by Julius Caesar and holiday revelers are said to have worn garlands of fresh flowers while scattering seeds to promote agricultural bounty. This festival began in April, the month of Venus, the goddess of Love, but ran until early May. The official dates were given from April 28 to May 3. Many people see a connection between this spring festival and the later May Day festival. One way the Floralia has lived on is with the wreaths people continue to wear in May Day celebrations.
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Re: It's May, it's May, the merry month of May


@cherry wrote:

@RainyDayGirl  are you still making jewelry? You made some lovely things

 

I am sure those emeralds are worth many fortunes , they are so clean


Yes, I am and I've added wire wrapping, macrame, and hand made bezels to my repetoire. I've been in two art studio tours where several artists sells their crafts, and of course I sell to people I know. However, I also give a lot of jewelry gifts. I go through phases of making a whole bunch of things and then I got for months not making anything. Sounds like a Gemini, doesn't it?  I recently got into making bracelets with bead and jump rings woven on leather cord. 

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Re: It's May, it's May, the merry month of May

You are expanding. I did see some of your wire wrapped pieces, and they were just stunningly beautiful. You really have a talent for this @RainyDayGirl 

 

I wish we didn't lose each others  addys, I would love to see the bezel stuff