A Guide to the Curious World of Pixies

Friday, 20 October 2017  |  Kate

We sell the most beautiful hand-made pixie clothing. It's gorgeous. But what, exactly, is a pixie, and where do the ancient stories originate?  

Pixies are also called pixy, pixi, pizkie, piskies and pigsies. In English folklore they mostly live on the remote moors of Devon and Cornwall, which suggests the legend has Celtic origins. On the other hand the Swedish word pyske, meaning tiny little fairy, hints at Scandinavian origins. There are similar beings in Scotland and Ireland, which live under ancient stone circles and barrows. Some say pixies are a racial remnant of the Pictic tribes, who were tattooed and painted blue, something pixies are widely thought to do. Interestingly, the Christians of old adopted pixies as the souls of children who had died un-baptised, neatly fitting the ancient myth on top of their own, newer religion.

About pixies

Pixies are usually harmless, merely mischievous. They love to dance and socialise, mirroring the Cornish plen-an-gwary and Breton Fest Noz celebrations that date way back to medieval times. These days pixies are often portrayed as having pointy ears and green clothing, something that emerged in Victorian times, but the old stories have them in rags, even naked. No wonder they are thought to love nothing better than a bit of bling! Pixies love horses too, and ride them for fun. They are also great explorers, known to be familiar with the deep, remote caves that lie under the sea.   

Do legends of pixies hint at early hominids?

Over the past few years archaeologists have discovered several fossils of brand new hominids, including  the infamous 'Hobbit', Homo floresiensis, found in 2003 at the Liang Bua cave on the Indonesian island of Flores. There are plenty more, and scientific research suggests that some of these hominids were around at the same time as early Homo Sapiens. Could these real-life 'little people' from many thousands of years ago be the source of pixie stories, a kind of racial memory passed down through countless generations and ultimately consigned to mythology? It's a fascinating thought. As Wikipedia says: "One British scholar stated 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."

Celebrating Pixie Day in Devon

Pixie Day takes place every June in the pretty East Devon town of Ottery St. Mary, marking the legend that says pixies were once banished from the town to live in caves close by called Pixie's Parlour. The event can be tracked way back to the earliest days of Christianity in Britain, when a local bishop apparently decided to build a church in Otteri, as it was then called, commissioning new bells from a foundry in Wales, which would be accompanied on their long and dangerous journey by a bunch of monks.

The Pixies didn't like the sound of this one bit, since the bells and the new religion they signified would mean the end of their rule. They cast a spell to redirect the unfortunate monks to the dizzying cliff edge at Sidmouth, only saved from disaster when one monk stubbed his toe and invoked the Christian god to bless his soul, breaking the pixie spell.  The bells made it to the town, but every June the pixies come out of hiding and imprison the local bell ringers in Pixies' Parlour, ultimately rescued by the town's Vicar. These days Cubs and Brownies re-enact the old story.

Find out more about 'little people'

There are all sorts of different little people in myth and legend. If you'd like to read more about them, try A Field Guide to the Little People by Nancy Arrowsmith and George Morse, published in 1977 by Hill and Wang, complete with 79 entries describing the 'habitats, appearances, and deeds of fairies, leprechauns, elves, and other tiny imaginary creatures of folklore'. There's also Faeries by Brian Froud, Fairies by Janet Bord, and an Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures by Katharine Mary Briggs.

That gives a whole different dimension to our pixie clothing, doesn't it! 

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