Thursday, May 23, 2013

Fairy Rings

Fairy beliefs - practically every article written on the subject of fairies suggests that people once believed in them. It is true to say that people would avoid certain actions for fear of tempting fate rather than actually believing in fairies. The modern world of science has similar parallels for example one of the world’s most popular sports, Formula 1 is purely based on science, mathematics and engineering. It is also a dangerous sport and there is no number 13 and it is not that people actually believe that 13 is bad luck but why should one tempt fate and add to the already high risk nature of the sport? (Cars did carry the number 13 until a spate of fatal accidents occurred in the 1920s to drivers with number 13, prompting the French automobile club to stop using the number and the tradition remains to this day.)

Fairy rings also 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. The circular pattern of the mushrooms looks like a place where fairies danced in a ring holding hands.

In an Irish legend recorded by Jane Wilde (mother of Oscar), a farmer built a barn on a fairy ring despite the protests of his neighbours. He was struck senseless one night and a local "fairy doctor" was called to break the curse. The farmer says that he dreamed that he must destroy the barn. - No doubt this particular variety of mushroom was hallucinogenic!

Collecting dew from the grass or flowers from inside a fairy ring can bring bad luck. While destroying a fairy ring is both unlucky and fruitless as it will just grow back. Also science tells us some mushrooms in fairy rings are poisonous and inhaling mushroom spores can cause a respiratory disease called Lycoperdonosis.

Moonshine distillers traditionally discard the first 50ml of distillate known sometimes as the fairy portion. Science tells us that the first few drops from a still contain nasty and unwanted substances like methanol which have a lower boiling point than alcohol and therefore come out of the still first.

Therefore we can conclude that some superstitions were useful in learning scientific knowledge.

Image: A fairy ring on a suburban lawn in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

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