Fairy rings and dances

According to folklore, fairy rings are magical circles in which witches and faeries meet to sing and dance at night.

The wild enchantment of the faerie music can lead passersby inexorably towards the ring which like a faerie or a kiss or faerie food and drink, can lead to captivity forever in the world of Faerie. 

If a human steps into the ring he is compelled to join forces with the faeries in their wild prancing. Inside time is different and what seems like a couple minutes could actually be several days. The captive can be rescued by a friend who, with others holding hid coat tails, follows the faerie music, reaches into the ring {keeping one foot firmly outside} and pulls the dancer out.

Fairy rings is also the name for the circles of inedible mushrooms that grow in grassy areas in North America, Europe, and Britain. Also called hag tracks in Britain, they are believed to be created by witches’ dancing feet.

Dancing is one of the favorite occupation of fairies. Sometimes they make themselves visible on purpose and invite the uncautious walker into the circle. Once part of the dance, the latter is no longer subjected to the laws of physics of his own word.

In his study of the supernatural lapse of time in Faerie-land  (“Science of Fairy Tales; An enquiry into Fairy Mythology” by Edwin Sidney Hartland), Hartland speaks of a Pembrokeshire example of a visit to Faerie-land.

Young shepherd joined a faerie dance and found himself in a glittering palace surrounded by the most beautiful gardens, where he passed many years in happiness among the faerie people. There was only one prohibition: in the middle of the garden there was a fountain, filled with gold and silver fish, and he was told he must on no account drink out of it. He desired increasingly to do so, and at last plunged his hands into the pool. At once the whole palace vanished, and he found himself on the cold hillside among his sheep. Only minutes had passed since he joined the faerie dance.

But sometimes it can work the other way. A dance of several minutes may take a year and a day of common time or, as long as two hundred years in the mortal world. This is fairly typical of encounters with the folk of “Tir na n’Og” (Ed: Literal translation from Irish Gaelic – “Land of the Young”), people from the land of the ever young. We might even say, the land of the eternal present.

Rhys and Llewellyn, two farmer’s servants, who had been all day carrying lime for their master, were driving in the twilight their mountain ponies before them, returning home from their work. On reaching a little plain, Rhys called to his companion to stop and listen to the music, saying it was a tune to which he had danced a hundred times, and must go and have a dance now.

He bade him go on with the horses, and he would soon overtake him. Llewellyn could hear nothing, and began to remonstrate; but away sprang Rhys, and he called after him in vain. He went home, put up the ponies, ate his supper, and went to bed, thinking that Rhys had only made a pretext for going to the ale-house.

But when morning came, and still no sign of Rhys, he told his master what had occurred. Search was then made everywhere, but no Rhys could be found. Suspicion now fell upon Llewellyn of having murdered him, and he was thrown into prison, though there was no evidence against him. A farmer, however, skilled in fairy-matters, having an idea of how things might have been, proposed that himself and some others should accompany Llewellyn to the place where he parted with Rhys.

On coming to it, they found it green as the mountain ash. “Hush!” cried Llewellyn, “I hear music, I hear sweet harps.” We all listened, says the narrator, for I was one of them, but could hear nothing. “Put your foot on mine, David,” said he to me (his own foot was at the time on the outward edge of the fairy-ring). I did so, and so did we all, one after another, and then we heard the sound of many harps, and saw within a circle, about twenty feet across, great numbers of little people, of the size of children of three or four years old, dancing round and round.

Among them we saw Rhys, and Llewellyn catching him by the smock-frock, as he came by him, pulled him out of the circle. “Where are the horses? where are the horses?” cried he. “Horses, indeed!” said Llewellyn. Rhys urged him to go home, and let him finish his dance, in which he averred he had not been engaged more than five minutes. It was by main force they took him from the place. He still asserted he had been only five minutes away, and could give no account of the people he had been with.

He became melancholy, took to his bed, and soon after died. “The morning after,” says the narrator, “we went to look at the place, and we found the edge of the ring quite red, as if trodden down, and I could see the marks of little heels, about the size of my thumb-nail.”