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  • Hallucinogenic Fairies on the Isle of Wight? June 9, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback


    There are fairy-dead counties in England, counties from which no or few fairy legends survive, particularly in the south-east. At the top of the league table is fairyless Kent, but not far behind is the Isle of Wight. To the best of my knowledge there is only one nineteenth century-legend (and nothing before) and that involved a close encounter with fairy dust. It is worth including here because it may – there is a slim chance – confirm the idea much loved of shaggy-haired anthropologists and neo-Murrayians that British ‘shamans’ (witches, fairy seers etc) used to imbibe magic mushrooms.

    We are at Puckaster Cove on Wight a name that recalls, but that probably has nothing to do with, Puck. This particular account comes from a recent history of Wight Folklore and Legends by Joanne Thornton

    The moon came out just then and [John] realized he was on the smooth area of Puckaster cove. He could hear tiny voices singing and on looking down towards his feet he saw several tiny people dancing in a ring. While he stood watching, one came up to him which looked like a child of about 5, the fairies began singing that this was Mr Puck. Mr Puck came up to John and climbed up his front holding onto his buttons; he came up to John’s face and shoved some brown powder up John’s nose. This made John sneeze and as he did so he shrank down to the fairy’s size.

    It is not clear where this brown powder originates: but might it be from the puffball that follows? Certainly, after an encounter with a rat, John ends up on a puffball.

    Following this, which for John was a very scary encounter [the rat]; the fairies resumed dancing and mushrooms began to appear in the ring, with a puffball growing in the centre. John was asked to sit upon the puff ball, while the other fairies sat on the mushrooms forming a ring around John. He suddenly noticed that 2 butterfly like wings had grown out of his back, and that he could fly up into the air. This he tried, but decided to come back down and sit back on the puffball, as he was afraid of owls or other predators.

    John was clearly a prudent man. However, if the connection with the puffball seem weak in this modern summary it should be noted that the puffball is repeated again and again in different versions of this tale. The puff ball is claimed to be John’s seat assigned by Puck and is responsible for giving him wings. It also changes colour from white to brown, exploding, its spores making him again the normal size. In the earliest version known to me the powder is described as a kind of brown snuff. Puffballs do give out brown spores. Unfortunately for this theory puffballs do not seem to be hallucinogenic (having said that my source is a not always scientific site called shroomery). Any expert knowledge? drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com

    Fairies are always associated with toadstools and mushrooms: making or sitting on them. But this is the only instance I know anywhere of a fairy story including a fungus as a plot device.

    27 June 2014: ANL, ‘I remember coming across a clump of luminous toadstools in the middle of my parents’ lawn when I was about ten or eleven years old. They looked rather like giant button mushrooms and were an orangey-brown colour in daylight. At night, however, they glowed a bright-green colour. I have never been able to identify the species. It looked quite magical, and I would not be surprised if some fairy lore was generated by such luminous phenomena rather than by the hallucinogenic qualities of some fungi.’ Thanks ANL!