TOADSTOOLS

 A round red and white spotted toadstool in the grass
- PUCK -
How now, spirit! whither wander you?
- FAIRY -
Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moon’s sphere;
And I serve the fairy queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be:
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours,
In those freckles live their savours:
I must go seek some dewdrops here
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.
Farewell, thou lob of spirits; I’ll be gone:
Our queen and all our elves come here anon.
— SHAKESPEARE - A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
- TITANIA -
The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems’ thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.
— SHAKESPEARE - A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

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- OBERON -
Hast thou the flower there? Welcome, wanderer.
- PUCK -
Ay, there it is.
- OBERON -
I pray thee, give it me.
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamell’d skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in:
And with the juice of this I’ll streak her eyes,
And make her full of hateful fantasies.
Take thou some of it, and seek through this grove:
A sweet Athenian lady is in love
With a disdainful youth: anoint his eyes;
But do it when the next thing he espies
May be the lady...
— SHAKESPEARE - A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

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OF FAIRIES AND THE NATURAL WORLD


Fairies and nature - these two are inextricably linked. The magic of fairies may even find its origins in the natural world. Take, for example, Shakespeare's references to fairies, formed in some part from contemporary folklore. In one instance, a wandering sprite speaks of the magic he weaves over the landscape in honour of his fairy queen: he dews the cowslips, and the grass, with orbs and droplets. In another case, Titania, Queen of the Fairies, makes it clear that the contemporary changes in weather and other such anomalies are due to her fighting with the Fairy King Oberon. One could argue that the weather is affected by the magical wrath of this powerful couple, or perhaps it is acting in an empathetic manner - being wrathful itself. Then we have the famed lines that pertain to Titania's bed of wild thyme, where her courtiers dance and revel under the moon; in this speech by King Oberon, we learn of a flower that produces a juice so potent it might make a person fall blindly in love with the next person they see. Oberon intends to use this flower against his lovely wife. The point here is that his fairy powers are not unaided, they come in large part from that flower - from nature itself. 

In each of these examples the activities of fairies are played out in verse, and what beautiful verse too - line after line of botanical and meteoric references. Moreover, the magical activities of fairies are so intricately linked with nature that one might say the magic of fairies does not go beyond those natural occurrances,  such as dewdrops on grass, changing weather patterns, sour milk, or blind love. Nature is the means and the end. It becomes clear, then, that the medieval mindset towards nature was one of awe, appreciation, and superstition. And one cannot find fault in such a mind, for who has not, upon looking at the beauties and powers of nature, felt that this was the true magic of the world?


 Toadstools and fairy dells in the backyard.
 A flat topped red and white spotted toadstool.

THE NATURAL MAGIC OF TOADSTOOLS


We now know that over 95% of plants live in a kind of symbiosis with fungi - called mycorrhizal reactions. Mushrooms, being the fruits of the fungus, are incredibly important to all parts of the natural world. They play a key role in grass and woodland landscapes, helping certain plants to grow more vigorously or to decay more rapidly. For instance, the seeds of an orchid plant are so reliant on certain types of fungi, that they may not germinate until they are infected by that fungus. In the case of dead trees, fungus is crucial as it provides the only means for the breaking down of the tough lignin material present in the wood.

In this way, fungi aid in the cycles of life and death, growth and decay. It must be noted, not all fungi are beneficial, as some may be parasitic to plants and can kill food crops. Yet, many are beneficial, and some can even absorb and break down chemical toxins present in the environment around them - making them an ideal solution for the future of our agrarian systems. 

In addition to these magical properties, fungi are beautiful to behold - take the toxic but gorgeous toadstool, for example. And some, like the common Portobello mushroom, are utterly delicious sautéed in butter and herbs.

 

 The fairy dance in a fairy ring.
 Multiple exposure of toadstools and moss on wood.
 An old style photograph of fairies in the garden by a toadstool.