Pixies All Over the Place #Folklore

Pixies are a fascinating breed of fae. There are so many folklore tales involving them and they find themselves in so many stories from around the world. I had so much fun reading through all the folklore manuscripts containing tales of pixies – but I had to whittle it down to stories particular to the way I use them in my own writing. Enjoy!

Pixies in Folklore

The Fairy Mythology by Thomas Keightley [1870]


An old woman who lived near Tavistock had in her garden a splendid bed of tulips. To these the Pixies of the neighbourhood loved to resort, and often at midnight might they be heard singing their babes to rest among them. By their magic power they made the tulips more beautiful and more permanent than any other tulips, and. they caused them to emit a fragrance equal to that of the rose. The old woman was so fond of her tulips that she would never let one of them be plucked, and thus the Pixies were never deprived of their floral bowers.

But at length the old woman died; the tulips were taken up, and the place converted into a parsley-bed. Again, however, the power of the Pixies was shown; the parsley withered, and nothing would grow even in the other beds of the garden. On the other hand, they tended diligently the grave of the old woman, around which they were heard lamenting and singing dirges. They suffered not a weed to grow on it; they kept it always green, and evermore in spring-time spangled with wild flowers.

The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries by W. Y. Evans-Wentz [1911]

Pixies as ‘Astral Plane’ Beings.–‘The pixies and fairies are little beings in the human form existing on the ‘astral plane’, who may be in the process of evolution; and, as such, I believe people have seen them. The ‘astral plane’ is not known to us now because our psychic faculty of perception has faded out by non-use, and this condition has been brought about by an almost exclusive development of the physical brain; but it is likely that the psychic faculty will develop again in its turn.’

Psychical Interpretation of Folk-Lore.–‘It is my point of view that there is a basis of truth in the folk-lore. With its remnants of occult learning, magic, charms, and the like, folk-lore seems to be the remains of forgotten psychical facts, rather than history, as it is often called.’

Nature of Piskies.–‘The piskies are said to be very small. You could never see them by day. I used to hear my grandmother, who has been dead fifty years, say that the piskies used to hold a fair in the fields near Breage, and that people saw them there dancing. I also remember her saying that it was customary to set out food for the piskies at night. My grandmother’s great belief was in piskies and in spirits; and she considered piskies spirits. She used to tell so many stories about spirits [of the dead] coming back and such things that I would be afraid to go to bed.’

Piskies.–To Mr. Thomas G. Jago, of Marazion, with a memory extending backwards more than seventy years, he being eighty years old, I am indebted for this statement about the pisky creed in that locality:–‘I imagine that one hundred and fifty years ago the belief in piskies and spirits was general. In my boyhood days, piskies were often called “the mites” (little people): they were regarded as little spirits. The word piskies is the old Cornish brogue for pixies. In certain grass fields, mushrooms growing in a circle might be seen of a morning, and the old folks pointing to the mushrooms would say to the children, “Oh, the piskies have been dancing there last night.”‘

Two Kinds of Pixies.–‘In this region there are two kinds of pixies, one purely a land-dwelling pixy and the other a pixy which dwells on the sea-strand between high and low water mark. The land-dwelling pixy was usually thought to be full of mischievous fun, but it did no harm. There was a very prevalent belief, when I was a boy, that this sea-strand pixy, called Bucca, had to be propitiated by a cast (three) of fish, to ensure the fishermen having a good shot (catch) of fish. The land pixy was supposed to be able to render its devotees invisible, if they only anointed their eyes with a certain green salve made of secret herbs gathered from Kerris-moor. In the invisible condition thus induced, people were able to join the pixy revels, during which, according to the old tradition, time slipped away very, very rapidly, though people returned from the pixies no older than when they went with them.’

Fairies and Pixies.–‘In general appearance the fairies were much the same as pixies. They were small men and women, much smaller than dwarfs. The men were swarthy in complexion and the women had a clear complexion of a peach-like bloom. None ever appeared to be more than five-and-twenty to thirty years old. I have heard my nurse say that she could see scores of them whenever she picked a four-leaf clover and put it in the wisp of straw which she carried on her head as a Cushion for the bucket of milk. Her theory was that the richness of the milk was what attracted them. Pixies, like fairies, very much enjoyed milk, and people of miserly nature used to put salt around a cow to keep the pixies away; and then the pixies would lead such mean people astray the very first opportunity that came. According to some country-people, the pixies have been seen in the day-time, but usually they are only seen at night.’

Animistic Origin of Belief in Pixies.–‘I should say that the modern belief in pixies, or in fairies, arose from a very ancient Celtic or pre-Celtic belief in spirits. Just as among some savage tribes there is belief in gods and totems, here there was belief in little spirits good and bad, who were able to help or to hinder man. Belief in the supernatural, in my opinion, is the root of it all.’

The Pixy Belief.–‘The piskies, thought of as little people who appear on moonlight nights, are still somewhat believed in here. If interfered with too much they are said to exhibit almost fiendish powers. In a certain sense they are considered spiritual, but in another sense they are much materialized in the conceptions of the people. Generally speaking, the belief in them has almost died out within the last fifty years.’

Piskies.–‘A man named Bottrell, who lived near St. Teath, was pisky-led at West Down, and when he turned his pockets inside out he heard the piskies going away laughing. Often my grandmother used to say when I got home after dark, “You had better mind, or the piskies will carry you away.”

Tintagel Folk-Beliefs.– ‘In Tintagel I used to sit round the fire at night and hear old women tell so much about piskies and ghosts that I was then afraid to go out of doors after darkness had fallen. They religiously believed in such things, and when I expressed my doubts I was driven away as a rude boy. They thought if you went to a certain place at a certain hour of the night that you could there see the piskies as little spirits. It was held that the piskies could lead you astray and play tricks on you, but that they never did you any serious injury.’

The Evil Eye, by Frederick Thomas Elworthy, [1895]

In 1890 some men were ripping bark in a wood near Torrington. One of them declared that on stooping down to pick up a tool a strange feeling came over him, and while totally unable to raise himself he heard peals of discordant laughter all around. It flashed upon him that he was pixy-led, but his presence of mind forsook him, and he was unable to turn his coat inside out, a sure talisman (sic) against the spells of pixies. As the man did not return at the usual time, his wife, hearing from the others that he left work when they did, at ten o’clock went to look for him. Arriving at the place where they had been working, she met her husband dripping wet. “Where have you been?” she said. “I’ve a-bin pixy-led,” says he, and then he told her how the pixies had held him fast for five hours, and that at last he crawled away, not knowing where he was going, and tumbling head over heels into the stream. As soon as he could get up he knew where he was and made his way homewards. “You girt fule, why didden ‘ee turn your pockets inside out?” was all the comfort he got from his better half; “then you would have been able to come away tu wance.” The man firmly believes in pixies, because a tailor named Short was pixy-led in the same wood some years ago. It is known that he was sober. No intoxicants had been tasted for the day by either of the party (abridged from Western Daily. Mercury, June 6, 1890).

Popular Romances of the West of England collected and edited by Robert Hunt [1903, 3rd edition]


THERE is a celebrated piskie haunt at Costellas in Cornwall (says Mrs Bray), where they have been seen sitting in a ring–the men smoking after .the most approved fashion of the Dutch burgomaster, and the women spinning, perhaps in emulation of the frugal vrow.

I never heard of this place. Like the rest of the “good people,” piskies are fond of music, and the sound of their “harp and pipe and symphony,” is occasionally heard at nightfall. It is said that a man once passing one of the piskie rings, and hearing them dancing and singing within it, threw a large stone into the midst of the circle, when the music at once ceased and a dreadful shriek arose.

The appearance of the pixies of Dartmoor is said to resemble that of a bale or bundle of rags. In this shape they decoy children to their unreal pleasure. A woman, on the northern borders of the moor, was returning home late on a dark evening, accompanied by two children, and carrying a third in her arms, when, on arriving at her own door, she found one missing. Her neighbours, with lanthorns, immediately set out in quest of the lost child; whom they found sitting under a large oak-tree, well known to be a favourite haunt of the pixies. He declared that he had been led away by two large bundles of rags, which had remained with him until the lights appeared, when they immediately vanished. [a]

The pixies of Dartmoor, notwithstanding their darker character, aided occasionally in household work. A washer-woman was one morning greatly surprised, on coming down-stairs, to find all her clothes neatly washed and folded. She watched the next evening, and observed a pixie in the act of performing this kind office for her: but she was ragged and mean in appearance, and Betty’s gratitude was sufficiently great to- induce her to prepare a yellow petticoat and a red cap for the obliging pixie.

The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper

Pixy (also pixie). The term “pixy” has come to be widely used for small elf-like beings, generally described as no more than a hand span in height. Originally, they were particular to the West Country of England. In Cornwall they went by the name of piskies and were said to be a slightly different breed from their cousins in Devon and Somerset. In Devon, they were also known as pigseys.

The Folkloresque: Reframing Folklore in a Popular Culture World edited by Michael Dylan Foster, Jeffrey A. Tolbert

Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology by Theresa Bane

Further reading:

Peep at the Pixies OR Legends of the West by Mrs. Bray [1854]

A Book of Folk-Lore by Sabine Baring-Gould [1913]

Tales of the Dartmoor Pixies by William Crossing [1890]

The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies by Robert Kirk and Andrew Lang [1893]

Pixies in Modern Culture

There’s a band called “The Pixies”. According to Wikipedia:

The Pixies are an American alternative rock band formed in 1986 in BostonMassachusetts. The Pixies were associated with the 1990s alternative rock boom, and draw on elements including punk rock and surf rock. Their music is known for its dynamic “loud-quiet” shifts and song structures.

There’s also a movie called “Pixies”. Wikipedia says:

Pixies is an animated feature film released by Arcana Studio in June 2015. It is based on the 2012 graphic novel of the same name. Pixies is written, produced and directed by Sean O’Reilly, the author of the graphic novel, who was nominated for the 2016 Leo Awards for best Direction in an Animation Program for his work on the film.

Joe Beck has lost the love of his life thanks to a Pixie’s Curse and he now needs to figure out how to get his girl back, learn more about the mysterious Pixies and undo a bad deed he did long ago

Goodreads has a whole list of books featuring pixies. Including Tithe by Holly Black which I had enjoyed very much – on several occasions.

Pixies in My Writing

I first used Pixies as guardians of Faery Trees (somewhere in my various notes and scribbled stories) with basic personality traits for their race and a fondness of wearing ribbons. They have since evolved and have been part of many stories since (some published, some soon to be published).

The Origin of the Fae: Pixies

Usually the size of a human thumb, they can change size and appearance at will just like all fae. It takes a lot of magic, though.
They love ribbons. Their clothes are usually made of ribbons – in any colour. Some clans may have a preference in style or colour.
They always live in thorn trees, including fruit trees that have thorns (apple and lemon trees, for instance).
Pixies love mushrooms. They will plant them anywhere. When they have revels, mushrooms will grow in a circle around the place of the revel – sometimes growing huge overnight. It is unlucky to remove or harm these mushrooms: pixies will cause mischief in various forms. In some occasions, they will live in mushrooms: special Faery Trees that happen to be thorn trees will be guarded by pixies who live in mushrooms at the base of the tree.
Pixies also have a love of growing tulips, cannas and other bulb flowers. They will encourage the growth of these plants wherever they live.
They love to have fun. They are mischievous creatures who enjoy riddles. They also like playing games. They can grant wishes, but it usually ends up causing the pixies hilarity and not the outcome the wisher wanted. Pixies also like to tangle hair. Pixies usually don’t harm others, but when it is a choice between their own survival and that of another creature, they will always choose themselves.
Pixies are great at creating glamour. As a group, they can create illusions so strong that even other fae cannot see through it. Some might even do it as a favour…

pixies English Afrikaans
Sketch I made of how pixies look in my writing.
once book extract
Get it here.

What do you think of pixies? Do you think that they really have revels, leaving behind mushrooms? Check out this Pinterest board dedicated to pixies.

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11 thoughts on “Pixies All Over the Place #Folklore”

  1. Ronel, I think it’s fun to believe in imaginary things like Pixies. I want to create a pixie garden someday for my little granddaughter to enjoy. There’s nothing like sparking a child’s imagination!

    1. A pixie garden sounds awesome! Remember to add pics to your blog when you do it 🙂 Imagination is so important — one of my “brothers” and his sweet wife are having a baby at the end of the month and my gift to the little one was a bag of books (I know nothing about babies, but I do know about books for children. LOL.). Thanks for stopping by, Cathy.

  2. Pixies, fairies, or nature spirits, whatever you call them, they’re all the same. The Talmud says not a single blade of a grass grows without an angel standing by. Of course I believe in it all! ;0)

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