It must have been the fairy ring I was wearing yesterday, that lead me into the bushes. Carefully evading branches, I made my way into a secluded part of the woods. To my delight I found a small circle of mushrooms. A fairy ring! It isn’t hard to imagine how graceful elves dance here in the moonlight, round and round.
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 rangelands.
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. It will disappear without trace in less than five days, but if an observer waits for the elf to return to the ring, he or she may be able to capture it.
Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to wait for the fair elves’ return, so I smiled and left quietly.
In Holland this kind of mushroom ring is called a Heksenkring or Witch Ring. Though it must have been a very small witch to have created this one.
Witches. Who doesn’t remember the Wicked Witch of the East versus the Good Witch of the North in the Wizard of Oz. Fairy tales and folklore? Stuff from movies? Well no. Witches have been hunted – and are still hunted, like in Africa – worldwide. In Early Modern Europe it was seen as a vast diabolical conspiracy against Christianity, resulting in large scale witch hunts.
It is only four hundred years since the Pendle witch trials in 1612 led to ten people being hanged at Gallows Hill in Lancaster, after being found guilty of causing death or harm by witchcraft at Lancaster Castle. Users of supernatural or magical powers and spells, who were in league with the devil – or so people thought. Blaming someone else for your misfortune is easier than accepting your situation and doing something about it yourself, right?
If you have the time, you can watch this fascinating one hour documentary about the Pendle Witches.
Simon Armitage presents the extraordinary story of the most disturbing witch trial in British history and the key role played in it by one nine-year-old girl. Jennet Device, a beggar-girl from Pendle in Lancashire, was the star witness in the trial in 1612 of her own mother, her brother, her sister and many of her neighbours and, thanks to her chilling testimony, they were all hanged.
Armitage explores the lethal power and influence of one child’s words, a story of fear, magic and demonic pacts retold partly with vivid and innovative hand-drawn animation. He discovers how Jennet’s appearance in the witness box cast its shadow way beyond Lancashire, impressing lawyers, politicians, clerics and even King James I himself, and setting a dark precedent for child testimony in witch trials as far away as America. Finally, in a dramatic twist to the tale, he reveals how, twenty two years after the original trial, Jennet’s own words were very nearly the death of her – when she herself was put on trial, accused of being a witch by a 10-year-old boy.
I am enchanted by witches. Cunning or wise women, good witches - not the evil cackling kind. Why would anyone be afraid of them? Their knowledge of plants, their potions and brews – no flavor enhancers or preservatives – was astounding. Living in harmony with nature, honoring the sun and moon cycles. Sharing their knowledge with the people. Or am I romanticizing?
My house is decorated with several witches and I often wear a witch pendant, interspersed with Celtic jewelry. At my front door hangs a witch (left image), a present which I received from a friend about ten years ago. And believe it or not, I have never changed the batteries. EVER. Still this witch laughs her chilling laugh each time the door closes. Or someone claps his hands. Witchcraft I tell ya!
I would love to learn more about witches and their bond with nature. About a natural balance, living in harmony with Mother Earth. I believe in the energy that is afloat in this and other worlds. Energy that we all can influence the good way. And if that makes me a witch – or a neopagan – so be it.
This is a photo of a postcard my friend Suzan sent me. This is the way we are going to grow old together. With lots of tea and talks. And smiles. Though she is allergic to cats.
Last but not least I want to thank Peter Wilkin, who inspired me to write this article.