This is my post as a participant in Pagan Culture's "All Hallow's Grim" celebration - The Dark Side of Faerie.
If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know that I wander in the woods quite a bit. I love to walk with friends, but often go out alone as well (having told someone where I will be.) The Valley hills are far from vacant. Filled with birdsong, the woods also house deer, coyote, bear, cougar, lynx, moose and more.
There are plenty of common sense ways to stay safe while wandering alone in the woods. I take my cell phone (fully charged.) Even if there is no cell service, the face of the phone is reflective and can be used to signal. It is good idea to have water and some sort of sealed food in your car, as well as a blanket and a lighter or waterproof matches. A small first-aid kit is a great idea too. Wearing suitable clothes and shoes is a must.
While walking, be aware of your surroundings. Are there animal tracks? What do you hear?
Here's the part that should be self-evident: do not follow anything. Do not track animals (unless you are a hunter.) Do not follow flickering lights. And don't bother following trails of mushrooms.
Having given those cautions, I can honestly say that I've done all of those things. I was never one for taking advice. My most recent run-in with the odd, was a brief stop within a circle of trees that I had found after following a trail of mushrooms. The mushrooms themselves, circled the trees and I stood within that circle listening to the buzz of the hummingbirds above me. After a very short time, I wandered back to the car and looking at the clock on my dash, realized that the few minutes I'd been standing there had, in fact, been almost an hour.
A circle of mushrooms is sometimes called a "faerie ring." Considered in folklore to be a gateway to the faerie realm or simply evidence of a faerie fete, the ring is the subject of many myths and cautions. Stories about people losing time, dancing until they lose their toes, or becoming blind after seeing the faeries are common.
A ring also has ties in folklore to witches, who are supposed to be prone to dancing in a circle, leaving a "hexenringe" (witches' ring) and the devil, who apparently leaves rings wherever he sets his milk-churn.
Image: Plucked from the Fairy Circle
Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren't go a-hunting
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owl's feather!
As for the fae's connection to Halloween, W. B. Yeats has this to say:
"On November Eve they are at their gloomiest, for according to the old Gaelic reckoning, this is the first night of winter. This night they dance with the ghosts, and the pooka is abroad, and witches make their spells, and girls set a table with food in the name of the devil, that the fetch of their future lover may come through the window and eat of the food. After November Eve the blackberries are no longer wholesome, for the pooka has spoiled them."
~from "Trooping Fairies"
This Hallows, I'll be leaving offerings out for the passing dead, as well as a generous plate in the side garden. That garden has always been rather 'active' and as long as I am polite and offer a good drink and some occasional treats, everything I plant there grows marvelously without any help at all from me.
And the next time I head up into the hills, I will not follow trails of mushrooms, or flickering lights, or paths into the trees. But if I do, I will be sure to leave a trail of breadcrumbs.