Yesterday, on a sleepy Sunday afternoon, while the rains had broken for a short time and the sun had finally appeared, I ventured up into the hills. I pulled over at a place that had been calling me for a while, but where I had never stopped. Wandering along, I found a trail of mushrooms.
With all the rains this week, mushrooms popping up everywhere is not a surprise. But finding a ring of mushrooms around a small stand of trees was a pleasant discovery.
"For centuries, the sudden and rapid eruption of circles of mushrooms from the soil led people to believe that dark or terrible forces were at work. Lightning strikes, meteorites, shooting stars, earthly vapours, and witches have all been proposed as agents of their origin.
In France fairy rings were called sorcerers' rings and in Austria, witches' rings. A Tyrolean legend claims that the rings were burned into the ground by the fiery tail of a dragon. In Holland they were said to be the marks where the Devil rested his milk churn. In Europe, the belief that fungi were the work of evil spirits or witches persisted well into the 19th century.
In England, as their name suggests, they were places where fairies come to dance. The mushrooms around the perimeter were seats where the sprites could rest after their exertions. People in rural England claimed to have seen fairies dancing at fairy rings as recently as the start of the twentieth century."
I stopped and pondered the mushrooms for a short time and walked into the shade of the encircled trees. I swear I had only been there for fifteen minutes, but when I finally went back to my car, I noticed that an hour had passed. Time is different in the hills. I get distracted by the birds and the creak of the trees swaying with the wind. I'm sure it had nothing to do with my standing in the middle of a ring of mushrooms...
"Fungi have been the focus of many other superstitious beliefs and traditions. In New England folklore, a fungus called the "death baby" growing in the yard is a harbinger of imminent death in the family. In the district of Norrland in Sweden there is a tradition of throwing toadstools into bonfires on midsummer's eve (June 23) to ward off evil spirits. Look into the folklore of any culture and you're almost sure to find other examples.
Even Santa Claus has been linked to fungi. One anthropologist has suggested that his red and white outfit symbolize Fly Agaric. Siberian shamans were known to consume this mushroom, and Santa's use of the chimney is similar to a shaman custom of leaving a dwelling through its smoke hole during a festival."
Whether there were faeries around, I could not say, but I was buzzed by hummingbirds, chattered at by chipmunks and the wind whispered secrets in my ear. Not a bad reward for following a trail of fungus.
Quotes from: The Fungus Among Us (A fascinating site with all kinds of mushroom lore & facts.)