Magic Portals and Entrances to Faerie #folklore

Most of the time, portals that lead to the eerie, seldom visited and sought after hidden places are called “magic portals”. Only an elite few even know of their location, which they jealously guard, while some may stumble upon them when the stars align.

Magic portals in folklore

The Forest in Folklore and Mythology by Alexander Porteous [1928]

The forest is full of romance, mysterious voices echo in the shadowy glades, filmy forms glide along them, and consequently forests throughout the world have become the theatre of superstition and of miraculous events; while round many of the trees of the forest legend has spread its imaginary lore. A legend connected to the Forest of Dooros in Sligo tells how the Rowan tree was believed to grow in Fairyland or the Land of Promise. This land was one of the chief dwelling places of the Dedannans of Fairy Host. These had brought some of the scarlet Rowan berries from Fairyland, and in passing through the Wood of Dooros one of them fell to the ground unnoticed or unheeded by the Fairy Host. From this berry a great tree sprang up which had all the virtues of those Rowan or Quicken trees which grow in Fairyland. Its berries tasted of honey, and those who ate them became very cheerful as if they had partaken of wine, and even a centenarian, if he ate three of them, returned to the age of thirty. This tree was guarded by a giant called Sharvan, and no one ventured to approach the wood, so greatly was he dreaded. Consequently, for many miles around the tree the country was practically a wilderness.

British Goblins: Welsh Folk-lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions by Wirt Sikes [1880]

Chapter VIII
Fairy Rings

THE circles in the grass of green fields, which are commonly called fairy rings, are numerous in Wales, and it is deemed just as well to keep out of them, even in our day. The peasantry no longer believe that the fairies can be seen dancing there, nor that the cap of invisibility will fall on the head of one who enters the circle; but they do believe that the fairies, in a time not long gone, made these circles with the tread of their tripping feet, and that some misfortune will probably befall any person intruding upon this forbidden ground. An old man at Peterstone-super-Ely told me he well remembered in his childhood being warned by his mother to keep away from the fairy rings. The counsel thus given him made so deep an impression on his mind, that he had never in his life entered one. He remarked further, in answer to a question, that he had never walked under a ladder, because it was unlucky to walk under a ladder. This class of superstitions is a very large one, and is encountered the world over; and the fairy rings seem to fall into this class, so far as present-clay belief in Wales is concerned.

The Welsh sheep, it is affirmed, are the only beasts which will eat the grass that grows in the fairy rings; all other creatures avoid it, but the sheep eat it greedily, hence the superiority of Welsh mutton over any mutton in the wide world.

The Fairy Mythology by Thomas Keightley [1870]

From these abodes they are at times seen to issue mounted on diminutive steeds, in order to take at night the diversion of the chase. Their usual attire is green with red caps. They are fond of music, but we do not in general hear much of their dancing, perhaps because on account of the infrequency of thunder, the fairy-rings are less numerous in Ireland than elsewhere. Though the fairies steal children and strike people with paralysis and other ailments (which is called being fairy-struck), and shoot their elf-arrows at the cattle, they are in general kind to those for whom they have contracted a liking, and often render them essential service in time of need. They can make themselves visible and invisible, and assume any forms they please. The pretty tiny conical mushrooms which grow so abundantly in Ireland are called Fairy-mushrooms; a kind of nice regularly-formed grass is named Fairy-flax, and the bells of the foxglove called in some places Fairy-bells, are also said to have some connexion with the Little People.

The Welsh Fairy Book by W. Jenkyn Thomas [1908]

The Curse of Pantannas

LONG, long ago, at the farm of Pantannas, in Glamorgan, there lived a churlish old husbandman. He hated the Fair Folk who danced on his fields to the light of the moon, and longed to discover some way of ridding his land of them.

Not being able to think of any plan, he went to an old witch and told her of his wish. She made him promise to give her one night’s milking on his farm, and then advised him thus:

“Wherever you see a fairy ring in your fields plough it and sow it with corn,” she said. “When the fairies find the greensward gone, they will never revisit the spot.”

The farmer took her advice. He yoked his oxen and drove his iron ploughshare through every circle in which the fairies had danced at night, and sowed it with corn. The nightly sounds of dance and song ceased, and no fairy was afterwards seen in the fields of Pantannas.

The farmer rejoiced greatly, imagining vain things, until one evening in the spring of the year, when the wheat was green in the fields. The farmer was returning home in the red light of the setting sun, when a tiny little man in a red coat came to him, unsheathed a little sword, and directing the point towards him, said:

Dial a ddaw,         Vengeance cometh,    
Y mae gerilaw.     Fast it approacheth.

After saying this, the mannikin disappeared. The farmer tried to laugh; but there was something in the angry, grim looks of the little man which made him feel very uncomfortable.

Spring, however, turned into summer, and summer into autumn, without anything happening, and the farmer thought that he had been very foolish to fear the threat of the little man in the red coat.

In the autumn, when the corn was golden in the fields and ripe for the sickle, the farmer and his family were one night going to bed. Suddenly they heard a mighty noise, which shook the house as though it would fall. As they trembled with fear, they heard a loud voice saying:

Daw dial.     Vengeance cometh.

Next morning, no. ear or straw was to be seen in the cornfields, only black ashes. The fairies had burnt all the harvest.

The farmer was walking through his fields, gazing ruefully at the destruction wrought by the fairies, when he was met by the same little man as before. Pointing his sword threateningly, the elf said:

Nid yw ond dechrau.     It but beginneth.

The farmer’s face turned as white as milk, and he began to plead for pardon. He was quite willing, he said, to allow the fields where the fairies had been wont to dance and sing to grow again into a greensward.

They could dance in their rings as often as they wished without interference, provided only they would punish him no more.

“No,” was the stern reply. “The word of the King has gone forth that he will avenge himself on thee, and no power can recall it.”

The farmer burst into tears, and begged so sorrowfully to be forgiven for his fault that the little man at last pitied him and said that he would speak to his lord. “I will come again at the hour of sunset three days hence and bring thee my lord’s behest.”

When the time came on the third day, the sprite was awaiting the farmer at the appointed spot. “The King’s word,” he said, “cannot be recalled, and vengeance must come. Still, since thou repentest thee of thy fault and art anxious to atone it, the curse shall not fall in thy time nor in that of thy sons, but will await thy distant posterity.”

This promise comforted the farmer. The dark-green circles of grass grew again, the gay elves danced in them, and the sounds of music gladdened the fields as of old. The dread voice came at times, repeating the threat,

Daw dial,     Vengeance will come,

but the farmer passed away in peaceful old age, and his sons followed him to the churchyard without feeling any effects of the curse pronounced by the King of the fairies.

More than a hundred years after the first warning had been uttered, Madoc, the heir of Pantannas, was betrothed to Teleri, the daughter of the squire of Pen Craig Daf, and the wedding was to take place in a few weeks. It was Christmas-tide, and they made a feast at Pantannas to which Teleri and all her kin were bidden.

The feast sped merrily, and all were seated round the hearth, passing the hours with tale and song. Suddenly, above the noise of the river which flowed outside the house, they seemed to hear a voice saying:

Daeth amser ymddial.     The time for revenge is come.

A silence fell on the joyous company. They went out and listened if they could hear the voice a second time; but long though they lingered, they could make out no sound except the angry noise of the full river plunging down its rocky bed. They went back into the house; gradually their fears were chased away, and all was as before.

Again, above the sounds of mirth and the noise of the waters as they boiled over the boulders was heard a clear voice:

Daeth yr amser.     The time is come.

A dread noise crashed around them, and the house shook to its foundations. As they sat speechless with fear, behold, a shapeless hag appeared at the window. Then one, bolder than the rest, said, “What dost thou, ugly little thing, want here?”

“I have naught to do with thee, chatterer,” said the hag. “I had come to tell the doom which awaits this house and that other which hopes to be allied with it, but as thou hast insulted me, the veil which conceals it shall not be lifted by me.” With that she vanished, no one knew how or whither.

When she had gone, the voice proclaimed again, more loudly than before:

Daeth amser ymddial.     The time for vengeance is come.

Terror and gloom fell upon all. The guests before long parted and went trembling home, and Madoc took his betrothed back to Pen Craig Daf, doing all that a fond lover could to dispel her fears, for she had been struck to the heart with nameless dread.

The hours of darkness succeeded one another wearily, and no Madoc returned to Pantannas. Morning came, but still no Madoc; and his aged parents, already shaken by the vision of the hag and the strange voices which had interrupted their joyous feast, were almost beside themselves with anxiety. As the day wore on, without any sign of Madoc, they sent messengers in all directions to seek news of him, but all they could discover was that he had turned his footsteps homewards after bidding farewell to his betrothed at Pen Craig Daf. All the countryside turned out to find him. With minute care they searched every hill and dale for many miles around, and dragged the depths of every river, but never a trace of him could they find.

When many weeks of unavailing search had gone by the father and mother sought an aged hermit who dwelt in a cave high up the country, and asked him when their lost son would come back to them. He told the lamenting parents that the judgment threatened in olden times by the fairies had overtaken the hapless youth, and bade them hope no more to see him, whether he were alive or dead. It might perhaps come to pass that after generations had gone by he would reappear, but not in their lifetime.

Time rolled on, weeks grew into months and months into years, and gradually all came to believe that the hermit had spoken true. All, that is to say, except one. The gentle maiden, Teleri, never ceased to believe that her beloved was alive and would come again. Every morning when the sun burst open the gates of dawn, she would stand upon the summit of a high rock, looking over the landscape far and near. At even, again, she would be seen at the same spot, seeking some sign of her lover’s return until the sun sank behind the battlements of the west. Madoc’s father and mother died, and their mortal remains were laid to rest, but Teleri never failed of hope. Year after year she watched until her bright eyes became dim and her chestnut hair was silvered. Worn out with fruitless longing, she died before her time, and they buried her in the graveyard of the old Chapel of the Fan. One by one those who had known Madoc died, and his strange disappearance became only a faint tradition.

Teleri’s undying belief that her lover was still alive was, however, true. This is what had happened to him. As he was returning home from Pen Craig Daf, the sounds of the sweetest music he had ever heard in his life came out of a cave in the Raven’s Rift, and he stopped to listen. The strains after a while seemed to recede further into the cave, and he stepped inside to hear better. The melody retreated further and further, and Madoc, forgetting everything else, followed it further and further into the recesses of the cavern. After he had been listening for an hour or two, as he thought, the music ceased, and suddenly remembering that after the strange events of the night his parents would be anxious for his return, he retraced his footsteps rapidly to the mouth of the cave. When he issued forth from the hollow, the sun was high in the heavens, and he realised that he had been listening to the music longer than he had at first thought. He hastened towards Pantannas, opened the door and went in. Sitting by the fire was an aged man who asked him, “Who art thou that comest in so boldly?”

A sense of bewilderment came over Madoc. He looked round him. The inside of the house seemed different from what he had been accustomed to. He went to the window and looked out. There appeared to him to be several curious differences in the aspect of the country also. He became dimly conscious that some great change had passed over his life, and answered faintly, “I am Madoc.”

“Madoc?” said the aged man. “Madoc? I know thee not. There is no Madoc living in this place, nor have I ever known any man of that name. The only Madoc I have ever heard of was one who, my grandfather said, disappeared suddenly from this place, nobody knew whither, many scores of years ago.”

Madoc sank on a chair and wept. The old man’s heart went out to him in his grief, and he rose to comfort him. He put his hand on his shoulder, when lo! the weeping figure crumbled into thin dust.

The Coming of the Fairies by Arthur Conan Doyle [1922]

The claim that the fairy rings so often seen in meadow or marshland are caused by the beat of fairy feet is certainly untenable, as they unquestionably come from fungi such as Agaricus gambosus or Marasmius oreades, which grow from a centre, continually deserting the exhausted ground, and spreading to that which is fresh. In this way a complete circle is formed, which may be quite small or may be of twelve-foot diameter. These circles appear just as often in woods from the same cause, but are smothered over by the decayed leaves among which the fungi grow. But though the fairies most certainly do not produce the rings, it might be asserted, and could not be denied, that the rings once formed, whatever their cause, would offer a very charming course for a circular ring-a-ring dance. Certainly from all time these circles have been associated with the gambols of the little people.

The Old North Trail by Walter McClintock [1910]

The soil was rich and black and the prairie covered with luxuriant grass. I saw everywhere many “Fairy Rings,” both large and small, made by the peculiar growth of a species of fungus, or puff balls. They are identical with the mushroom growths common in our eastern fields, and popularly known as “Fairy Rings,” or “Fairy Dances,” supposed to be caused by fairies in their dances. Kionama’s idea of them was, that they were buffalo wallows, which had gradually filled up. But Onesta advanced the Indian belief, that they had been caused in olden times by the dances of buffalo, the large circles by old buffaloes, and the small circles by buffalo calves. Puff Balls, called Dusty Stars by the Blackfeet, because supposed to be meteors fallen during the night, grow around the circles and emit A, puff of dust when pressed.

Folk-lore of Shakespeare by T.F. Thiselton Dyer [1883]

   The so-called fairy-rings in old pastures—little circles of a brighter green, within which it is supposed the fairies dance by night—are now known to result from the outspreading propagation of a particular mushroom, the fairy-ringed fungus, by which the ground is manured for a richer following vegetation. An immense deal of legendary lore, however, has clustered round this curious phenomenon, popular superstition attributing it to the merry roundelays of the moonlight fairies. In the “Tempest” (v. 1) Prospero invokes the fairies as the “demi-puppets” that

“By moonshine do the green-sour ringlets make,
 Whereof the ewe not bites; and you, whose pastime
 Is to make midnight mushrooms.”

   In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (ii. 1), the fairy says—

“I do wander everywhere,
 Swifter than the moon’s sphere;
 And I serve the fairy queen,
 To dew her orbs upon the green.”

   Again in the “Merry Wives of Windsor” (v. 5), Mistress Quickly says

“And nightly, meadow-fairies, look, you sing
 Like to the Garter’s compass, in a ring;
 The expressure that it bears, green let it be,
 More fertile-fresh than all the field to see.”

And once in “Macbeth” (v. 1), Hecate says:—

“Like elves and fairies in a ring.”

   Drayton in his “Nymphidia” (1. 69–72) mentions this superstition:—

“And in their courses make that round,
 In meadows and in marshes found,
 Of them so called the fayrie ground,
 Of which they have the keeping.”

   Cowley, too, in his “Complaint,” says:—

“Where once such fairies dance, no grass does ever grow.”

And again, in his ode upon Dr Harvey—

“And dance, like fairies, a fantastic round.”

   Pluquet in his “Contes Populaires de Bayeux,” tells us that the fairy rings, called by the peasants of Normandy “Cercles des Fées,” are said to be the work of fairies.

   Amongst the numerous superstitions which have clustered round the fairy rings, we are told that when damsels of old gathered the May dew on the grass, which they made use of to improve their complexions, they left undisturbed such of it as they perceived on the fairy-rings, apprehensive that the fairies should in revenge destroy their beauty. Nor was it considered safe to put the foot within the rings, lest they should be liable to the fairies’ power. The “Athenian Oracle” (i. 397) mentions a popular belief that “if a house be built upon the ground where fairy rings are, whoever shall inhabit therein does wonderfully prosper.”

Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology by Theresa Bane

The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore by Patricia Monaghan

The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper

Entrances to Fairyland

In spite of – or maybe sometimes because of – the dangers, glamor, and taboos, fairyland has always exerted an irresistible pull on humans.

Fairy Hills

In Celtic lore in particular, tales of fairy hills abound. Fairies are said to dwell beneath or within the mounds and hills… There are many tales in which people have accidentally stumbled upon these fairy mounds and into the realm of fairy. It is said that walking nine times around the hill at full moon will reveal the secret entrance to the fairies’ abode.

According to Kirk, every quarter-year, with the changing of the season, the inhabitants of the Scottish hills moved from one place to the next. It was considered dangerous to walk about at night at these times, for the entrances to fairyland were open and the little people were abroad. The “fairy paths”, the well-trodden routes running in straight lines between fairy hills, were especially to be avoided at these times.

Fairy Rings

Circles of grass known as “fairy rings” mark the fields and meadows where fairies dance and cavort during their moonlit revels. In some places, these appear as bright, lush patches of grass, in others bare circles of earth. Sometimes circles of mushrooms sprout from fairy rings, some of which are believed to be hundreds of years old.

Barrows and Megaliths

Ancient standing stones, barrows, and cairns the world over have fairy portal associations.

Fairy Rocks

In America, the Iroquois people summon spirits by knocking on a special stone. In Somerset, England, a fairy rock touched with the correct number of primroses opens the way to fairyland, but the incorrect number of flowers angers the fairies.


In folk beliefs around the world, wells and springs traditionally represent an entranceway to the spirit world. The idea of a “wishing well”, where a wish is granted in exchange for the offering of a coin, has roots that stretch back to ancient times.

Trees growing near a well or spring are often believed to possess special healing properties.

Further reading:

Magic portals in modern culture

A quick list of portals that spring to mind:

  • The rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland.
  • The wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
  • The closet doors in Monsters, Inc.
  • Platform 9 ¾ in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
  • The portals created by Dr Strange.
  • The Tardis in Dr Who.
  • The portals to demon realms and hell dimensions in Angel.
  • The hell mouth in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
  • The way the Time Bureau watches work in Legends of Tomorrow.
  • Portals created between different Earths with speedforce in Flash.
  • The Duat in the Kane Chronicles.
  • The gates of Avalon in the Wings book series.
  • Dark spaces in closets and underneath beds that lead to Faerie in The Iron King.
  • The chasm Gandalf falls into only to emerge later as Gandalf the White in The Lord of the Rings.
  • The invisible veil that separates Earth and Faerie in the Wicked Lovely book series.
  • Secret doors and a mausoleum that lead from the Underworld to the human world in the Abandoned trilogy.
  • Holes at the bottom of trees and in hills that lead to Fae boroughs in the Modern Faerie Tale trilogy.
  • The small clearing in the woods that mirrors the world below and the human world in Wintersong.
  • The portals that take contestants to the arena in The Hunger Games
  • The mirror in Spell of the Highlander.
  • The standing stones in Kiss of the Highlander and Dark Highlander.
  • Mirrors to Otherworld in Grimm.

I can go on and on, but I think you get the idea.

Magic portals in my writing

The In-Between

The In-Between is a shadow world, a prison.
Only powerful Fae can move easily between it and the other Realms (only the Faerie Queen, the Dark King and the Assassin can accomplish this – even Ankou stays away, but only because death doesn’t exist there). Others need special ingredients that come at a price: the first fire given to man by Dragons – Eternal Flame; water from a sacred spring carried in a special crystal chalice; wood from the heart of an oak tree – only a Dryad’s tree will work.
The In-Between takes the life-essence from those trapped there, though it doesn’t kill them. It sloughs away their body and soul.
Those who are powerful – or in great need – can communicate with someone close to them on the outside. But it takes even more of their life-essence to do so. The In-Between is a cruel place.
Fae – led by the Caìt Sìth – have to take light to the In-Between to keep balance between darkness and light or all the Realms will fall to the all-consuming darkness of the In-Between.

The Wild Wood

The Wild Wood was formed after the Rift that tore Faerie to pieces.
It is a place neither in the Mortal Realm nor Faerie, yet is filled with magic and wonder. Wild Fae live there – they have changed over time in ways that other Fae hadn’t.
It is the easiest way to travel between Realms – but it is extremely dangerous. Wild Magic runs through the Wild Wood. But if you can find a copse of trees that connect to the Wild Wood, you can safely travel to where you need to go – especially if travelling out in the open is too dangerous.

Faery Rings

The only safe rings to use are those with white flowers, white stones and white mushrooms. These rings will take you safely to wherever they end up. Pairs of faery rings work together, creating a portal from one location to another.
The grass inside a faery ring will always be different than the grass outside of the ring – something to do with their portal quality and where they lead to.
Pixie rings are technically faery rings, but they do not have stones and always have tulips among the mushrooms. These rings shouldn’t be trusted: pixies are fond of pranks.
Never destroy the mushrooms of a faery ring, as it will cause great tragedy to you. If a faery ring needs to be dismantled before it can be finished (the mushrooms sprout first), carefully remove the mushrooms without breaking them, put them in a plastic bag, seal the bag and dispose of in the garbage – it will end up somewhere safe for the fae to create a new ring.

Faery Circles

Their only defining characteristic: a different grass type growing in a circle within another type of grass. Sometimes it is obvious: kikuyu growing in veld grass. But the true faery circle, the one created by the Cù Sìth, usually has a type of lily in the circle that still looks like grass to fool the eye.
Faery circles can take you wherever you wish to go and do not need another faery circle to deliver you safely at your destination. Faery circles are rare – the Cù Sìth do not believe in allowing great power to be accessible to just anyone.
A dead faery circle will have nothing growing inside: it will be a circle of barren soil surrounded by grass. This can mean various things, but usually it means that all the magic in the area is depleted by a great battle. Or that the Cù Sìth who had created it was dead and had been the last of their bloodline.

Magic Portals

Momentary. Created by human magic-users (warlocks, witches, druids, etc.). Something strong has to be channelled to create these portals: standing stones, meteoroids, the full moon, the blood, bones and scales of dragons, etc.

Caves and Tunnels

Thanks to the dwarves and duergar, what happens within the earth can be in either Faerie or the mortal realm. Caves and tunnels can lead anywhere… even dangerous places no-one should ever go.

magic portal English Afrikaans
faery circle English Afrikaans
faery ring English Afrikaans
in between English Afrikaans
wild wood English Afrikaans

fae realm book extract
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once book extract
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7 thoughts on “Magic Portals and Entrances to Faerie #folklore”

  1. Oooh, I love the idea of this. It’s not like but does make me think of multiple dimensions, where things happen exactly where you are but in a different dimension. I know–not the same. I’m going to look for portals where I live.

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