Some science behind the scenes

Fairy ring


A fairy ring, also known as fairy circle, elf circle, elf ring or pixie ring, is a naturally occurring ring or arc of mushrooms. The rings may grow to over 10 metres (33 ft) in diameter, and they become stable over time as the fungus grows and seeks food underground. They are found mainly in forested areas, but also appear in grasslands or range-lands. Fairy rings are detectable by sporocarps in rings or arcs, as well as by a necrotic zone (dead grass), or a ring of dark green grass. If these manifestations are visible a fairy fungus mycelium is likely present in the ring or arc underneath.

The types of mushroom/toadstool


Quite a large number of types of fungi produce ‘fairy rings’, only one of these is partly 'hallucinogenic', the majority produce delirium via either hypoxia or poisoning that can in turn produce hallucinations.  A few contain muscarine which is described in a separate entry and has different effects.

There are about 40 to 60 mushroom species which can grow in the fairy ring pattern. The best known is the edible Scotch bonnet (Marasmius oreades), commonly known as the fairy ring champignon.  Of these only a small number are known hallucinogens, in the list that follows the ones that are, are indicated …………….

  • Amanita muscaria – hallucinogenic, but with reservations
  • Calocybe gambosa – edible non toxic
  • Clitocybe - Hundreds of species of mushrooms compose the fungus genus Clitocybe. Clitocybei geotropa, rivulosa, and nebularis, for example make fairy rings.  A few members of the genus are considered edible; many others are poisonous, containing muscarine. Distinguishing individual species of Clitocybe is generally prohibitively difficult to non-experts. The symptoms of muscarine poisoning include greatly increased salivation, sweating and tear-flow within 15–30 minutes of ingestion. With large doses, these symptoms may be followed by abdominal pain, severe nausea, diarrhea, blurred vision, and labored breathing. Death is possible.  Any hallucinations experienced are thus likely to be caused by hypoxia and poisoning
  • Chlorophyllum - Chlorophyllum is a genus of large agarics similar in appearance to the true parasol mushroom. The genus has a widespread distribution and contains 16 species.  Both Chlorophyllum molybdites and Chlorophyllum rhacodes form fairy rings.  Chlorophyllum molybdites is poisonous symptoms are predominantly gastrointestinal in nature, with vomiting, diarrhea and colic, often severe.  Chlorophyllum rhacodes is edible, but it is virtually impossible to tell the two apart.  Any hallucinations experienced are likely to be caused by delirium and poisoning
    Entoloma sinuatum - This fungus has been cited as being responsible for 10% of all mushroom poisonings in Europe. Poisoning is gastrointestinal in nature, symptoms of diarrhoea, vomiting and headache occur 30 min to 2 hours after consumption and last for up to 48 hours. Acute liver toxicity and psychiatric symptoms like mood disturbance or delirium may occur.  Any hallucinations experienced are likely to be caused by delirium and poisoning
  • Gomphus clavatus – edible according to the Mushroom
  • Leucopaxillus giganteus - Although one source claims that the species is a "choice edible when young", another source warns of the possibility of stomach cramps and diarrhea
  • Marasmius oreades – the Scotch bonnet described above
  • Sarcodon imbricatus – said to be “edible but unpleasant” in sources on the Internet
  • Tricholoma pardinum - Tricholoma pardinum is one of several poisonous members of the genus Tricholoma; its large size, fleshy appearance, and pleasant smell and taste add to the risk of it being accidentally consumed. Eating it results in highly unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms of nausea, dizziness, vomiting and diarrhea. These arise 15 minutes to 2 hours after consumption, and may persist for 4–6 days. These symptoms may be severe enough to warrant hospitalization. Intravenous fluids may be required if dehydration has been extensive.  Any hallucinations experienced are likely to be caused by delirium and poisoning

Seeing the elves and fairies

William Holmes Sullivan

 In effect, one mushroom is hallucinogenic, the rest may either be edible, but may be difficult to distinguish from their toxic relatives.  Eating those that are toxic may well cause hallucinations and delirium. 

And one suspects that this is why people often saw elves in fairy rings – they hallucinated after eating the hallucinogenic mushrooms or after inadvertently eating the toxic mushrooms:

“Fairy rings occupy a prominent place in European folklore as the location of gateways into elfin kingdoms, or places where elves gather and dance. According to the folklore, a fairy ring appears when a fairy, pixie, or elf appears. It will disappear without trace in less than five days, but if an observer waits for the elf to return to the ring, he may be able to capture it”.

 This is the scientific explanation.

But there is a symbolic meaning to fairy rings, which I will explain here for convenience.  The meaning of Fairy and Elf can be found by following the links, but it is also important to understand the meaning of Ring.  As the various systems of the universe are to be found at different levels in the Egg, anyone who had a spiritual experience - whatever the mechanism - and saw spirit beings would have said they were in the Fairy ring.  Thus symbolism has here overlapped with a literal interpretation.

Fairy rings in Ireland in moss - showing where the symbolism came from


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