I originally conceived of this post being part of my month-long celebration of all things Irish/Celtic. Since then I have discovered that - with the exception of modern times - the legend of the pixie is unique to Britain. However, I'm going to include them in this month's celebration anyway, because although they may not be Irish - at least in origin - they are definitely Celtic.
Though pixies and faeries seem to have much in common, and are often viewed as interchangeable, they are two distinct species. In folklore pixies and fairies are antagonists and fought a huge battle at Buckland
St. Mary, Somerset. The pixies were victorious and still visit the area. The fairies are said to have left after their loss.
Some adherents find pixies to have a human origin or to “partake of human nature” in distinction to fairies whose mythology is traced to immaterial spirit forces.
"PIXIES IN THE WATER"
Pixies are said to be nearly ageless and uncommonly beautiful, though there are some called pixie who have a distorted and strange appearance. There is a debate as to whether or not pixies have wings.
Pixies are usually described as having green eyes, pointed ears and slanted eyes. In art they are often depicted wearing a green outfit and pointed hat. These are Victorian Era conventions and not part of the older mythology.
In fact, legend has it that pixies generally go unclothed, though they are sensitive to human need for covering. They do have a weakness for bits of finery, and a piece of ribbon appears to be highly prized by them.
In Devon, pixies are said to be “invisibly small, and harmless or friendly to man.” Others say they are no larger than a human hand but can change their size at will. In yet other legends and accounts they are presented as having near human stature.
There are as many discrepancies as to the origin of pixies as there are conflicting descriptions.
Some believe them to be the earliest inhabitants of England. One British scholar took pixie myth seriously enough to state his belief that “pixies were evidently a smaller race, and, from the greater obscurity of the … tales about them, I believe them to have been an earlier race.”
The pixies of Dartmoor in Devon are fond of music and dancing. They dance in the shadows of the standing stones, or gambol on the edges of tumbling stream. Their bells can be heard deep in the heart of the many tors on the moor.
"FOREST OF THE PIXIES"
Those who believe that pixies are benign in nature say they are helpful to humans, sometimes helping needy widows and others with housework (which links them with other household elves such as brownies.) Pixies are said to reward consideration and punish neglect. By their presence they bring blessings to those who are fond of them.
Pixies bless the land. They are forest creatures whom other wild creatures find alluring and nonthreatening. They love humans, taking some for mates.
However, pixies are also seen as being malicious tricksters who enjoy playing pranks on people.
They may steal humans' belongings, or throw pots and pans after kitchen girls. Pixies are drawn to horses and love to ride them across the moor for pleasure, twisting their manes to spur them on. They steal the horses or Dartmoor ponies at night and bring them back before dawn, leaving only the tangled ringlets in the manes as evidence.
Some pixies are said to steal children or to play their favorite trick - leading humans astray. Sometimes pixies may confuse mortals so thoroughly that they never recover and wander aimlessly through the countryside singing or talking a mysterious language. This condition is known as being "pixie-led". If one felt the onset of a pixie spell, one could foil a pixie by turning their coat inside-out.
The term "pixie-led" has been transformed into the modern word pixilated
, which has nothing to do with computer images at all but instead means: behaving as if mentally unbalanced, very eccentric, whimsical, prankish
, bemused, intoxicated or drunk.
Those who deliberately follow pixies often vanish without a trace. For example, a farmhand at Rowbrook
, along the River Dart, is said to have been lured down towards the river by mysterious voices, calling his name: ‘Jan Coo.’ He was never seen again.
"OLI" by Liselotte Ericksson
Pixies are “great explorers familiar with the caves of the ocean, the hidden sources of the streams and the recesses of the land.” Some are said to exude pixie dust, which is left in their footprints.
Pixies can be repelled by objects made from silver as contact with the metal can harm them, another trait they share in common with the fairies of the British Isles.
"AN EVENING EXCURSION" by Liselotte Ericksson
Farmers can stay in good terms with pixies by leaving buckets of water out at night for pixie mothers to wash their babies, leaving out a pitcher of milk for them to drink, and keeping the hearth swept clean for pixies to dance on at midnight.
Before the mid 19th Century pixies and fairies were taken seriously in much of Cornwall and Devon. Books devoted to the homely beliefs of the peasantry are filled with incidents of pixie manifestations.
Even within living memory, some rural families left small gifts, such as bowls of food or saucers of milk, for the pixies in order to placate them. But according to one Cornish author by the name of Drew, the pixies' contact with “normal humans” had diminished by the early 19th Century. “The age of Pixies, like that of Chivalry, is gone. There is, perhaps, at present hardly a house they are reputed to visit. Even the fields and lanes which they formerly frequented seem to be nearly forsaken. Their music is rarely heard.”
"ACORN PIXIE" by Anne Stokes
However, in some regions, belief in pixies has endured into contemporary times. During the construction of Hinkley Point nuclear power station, anything that went wrong was blamed on "the Pixy," with the station being built near Wick's Barrow, an Iron Age burial mound called "Pixies Mound" by the locals.
There were reports in 2001 of pixie sightings in the UK in the Woodham area of County Durham. All of these sightings were from residents of houses in a small street near a meadow. In 2007 there was another pixie sighting in Sandy, Bedfordshire.
As for me, I hope there are still pixies around, just not the mischievous ones!
"WHERE THE PIXIES LIVE"