Breaking Through to Faery

Thank you to everyone who attended our Breaking Through to Faery: Re-enchantment and the Gothic Folklore of Fungi event on 19th November. We had 177 bookings and the event sold out after just a few days of the tickets being released! There were some accompanying posts on Twitter in the build up to the day including threads on Mushrooms in Fiction and Mushrooms in Film and Seeing Fairies. We launched a new hashtag #GothicFungi #BeingHuman2022 and a full Breaking Through to Faery Twitter ‘Moment’ after the event.

Fungi-inspired snacks – these ones are definitely edible!
Eat Me!

We conceived ‘Breaking Through to Faery’ to create a sense of wonder in the everyday and to re-enchant the local landscape after the confines of lockdown and the pandemic.  It was developed around the themes of folklore, fungi, enchantment and the Gothic and it celebrated a unique collaboration between the Open Graves, Open Minds research group (OGOM) at the University of Hertfordshire and the newly launched Centre for Folklore, Myth and Magic in Todmorden, West Yorkshire.

Todmorden is an ex-mill town in Yorkshire; it is a place of folklore and natural beauty. It is hoped that our attendees were inspired by their journey into the botanical gothic and that they will discover more about the natural environment and its folklore. We would like our theme of re-enchantment to combat the sense of ennui many people feel as a result of the pandemic. We hope to foster creativity, generate excitement, and reawaken a sense of awe and wonder about life in regions such the Calder Valley, celebrating its folkloric landscapes and gothic possibilities.

This is the moment when I found fairyland hidden in a rotten tree stump; it really exemplifies the sense of enchantment about the natural world that we wanted to capture!

event poster

The event was funded by the Being Human Festival. Being Human is the UK’s only national festival of the humanities. A celebration of humanities research through public engagement, it is led by the School of Advanced Study at the University of London, the UK’s national centre for the pursuit, support and promotion of research in the humanities. The festival works in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy to support humanities public engagement across the UK.

The theme of this year’s festival was ‘Breakthroughs’. We interpreted this as existing at the intersection of folklore and the Gothic. Fungal networks beneath the ground can break through into the seen world as magical fairy rings; we saw our event as similarly enchanting and transforming, connecting our research to the communities around it.   

Proudly showing off a newly created mushroom
creating mushrooms with grandad

Attendees took part in a range of activities and were introduced to a new concept of botanical gothic:

Family Craft Activity: ‘Build a Mushroom Forest in Papier Mache’

With lead-in activity involving children from Shade Primary School, led by Holly Elsdon, exploring storytelling on the theme of fungi and enchantment and introducing the idea of foraging

Gothic Flash Fiction Writing

40-50 words on the theme of breakthroughs, or fungi, fairy enchantment and the Gothic. Led by Sam George and Bill Hughes from OGOM Project (to be published on the OGOM blog).  

Here are some sample entries:

Silently, covertly, we spring up in the gloom to share our secret commonwealth. Nobody sees us or understands us, except the fairies, fauns and elves, and those uncanny ones clandestinely hovering betwixt humans and angels.

Arcane messages surge along the silver mycelial fibres underground. Above, we are surrounded by these alien consumers of the dead, this Faery Circle, like fungal dolmens. We should never have strayed inside. Yet now we break through to enchanted communion with another world, beyond the living.

Fungi Identification Activity

With Roze from Thyme for Tiffin. 

Roze from Thyme for Tiffin Above
inspecting Birch Polypore
getting up close and personal with jelly ears!
ooh handling Birch Polypore

Tea and Fungi-Themed Cakes

Made by Thyme for Tiffin from locally sourced fungi and flowers.

Exhibition: Photographing Fungi

By Holly Elsdon (with words by Clare Slack).

Illustrated Talk: Journeying into the Botanical Gothic

With Sam George, Convenor of the OGOM Project

There were some fantastic mushroom-inspired crafts and displays throughout the centre on the day too. It was a real fungi feast for the eyes! The fungi exhibition is still open so do visit it and you can pop into the Centre and see all the wonderful toadstool-inspired creations too.

If you attended, we do hope you enjoyed it. We will be gathering our feedback shortly and we’re looking forward to getting your responses. Thank you to everyone who took part. Special thanks go to Holly Elsdon at the Centre for Folklore, Myth and Magic for her energy and creativity and to Dr Bill Hughes of OGOM for his work on the admin and his warm support on the day. Gothtastic!

About Sam George

Associate Professor of Research, School of Humanities, University of Hertfordshire Co-convenor OGOM Project
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