In the folklore of southwestern England, a pixie or pisky is a tiny elflike spirit or mischievous fairy dressed in green who dances in the moonlight to the music of frogs and crickets.
Pixies are usually depicted as wingless, with pointed ears, and often wearing a green outfit and pointed hat. Sometimes their eyes are described as being pointed upwards at the temple ends.
Some pixies are said to exude pixie dust, which is left in their footprints or floating behind them as they fly.
It is said that, if travellers felt the onset of the pixie spell, they can turn their coats inside out to confuse them and escape, a technique normally used for all fairies.
Pixies can also be repelled by objects made from iron as contact with the metal is said to harm them, another trait they share in common with other fairies of the British Isles.
Pixies are said to enjoy playing tricks on people, for example by stealing their belongings or throwing things at them. At night, they steal horses (like many fairies) and bring them back before dawn, leaving only tangled manes as evidence of the prank.
On Dartmoor, in Devon, travellers who became lost on the moor were sometimes said to have been "pixie led," in other words, deliberately led astray by the little people.
Those who deliberately follow pixies often vanish without a trace. For example, a farmhand at Rowbrook, situated on the steep, wooded flanks of the River Dart valley, is said to have been lured down towards the river by mysterious voices, calling his name: ‘Jan Coo.’ He was never seen again.
They are considered to be particularly concentrated in the areas around Devon and Cornwall.
Pixies were first discussed at some length by Mrs. Anna Eliza Bray in The Borders of the Tamar and the Tavy, 3 vol. (1837)
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. When shown this respect and attention, pixies would sometimes even help the family by tidying up the household during the night.
Theories and analysis
Theories about origin and existence
One myth states that pixies were a race of people who were not good enough for Heaven or bad enough for Hell and were therefore forced to remain on Earth forever. Another legend claims that they were Druids who resisted Christianity and were subsequently sentenced by God to grow smaller and smaller until they accepted Christianity.
More recently a theory has developed that they are named after the nation of Picts that inhabited Scotland during the post-Roman period, whom some believe are descended from an indigenous group of people predating the arrival of the Celts in Britain during the Iron Age, the word 'pixie' apparently being formed from a mixture of the words 'Pict' and Sídhe (see also Banshee). However, this is not proven, as many scholars believe the Picts to have been largely a Celtic people, as evidenced by the fact that they were called Priteni (Irish Cruithni) by the Welsh, an archaic Celtic name for "Briton". Additionally, the name Pict is derived from Latin picti, "painted people", making the Pictish origin of pixies unlikely as the word would not have been used by the Celts to describe their neighbours.
It has been speculated by some medical professionals that the legends of pixies and elf|elves, was inspired by a genetic disorder known as Williams syndrome. Some of these afflicted have pointed ears and sloe eyes and elongated faces that make them look like "real" pixies and the syndrome is often called "Pixieism".
Art / Fiction
Pixies in modern culture
- Pixies commonly appear in popular culture. Fantasy books and movies such as The Black Cauldron feature the creatures. In film, their first appearance was in the 1912 film As Others See Us.
- Holly Black's Spiderwick Chronicles: Pixies are small and mischievous creatures that can usually be found in one's backyard.
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets:Defence Against the Dark Arts professor Gilderoy Lockhart brings a cage of Cornish Pixies to class as part of a lesson. The pixies are small, blue, anthropoid creatures which fly without the aid of wings and create havoc when released.
- Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl series: Pixies are one of a number of magical species that have been driven underground by humans and the pollution they have caused on earth. Pixies fly using mechanical wings. Opal Koboi is the megalomaniac, genius pixie of Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception.
- Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels:The Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky feature a race of fairies named "Pictsies", which are truly Pictish pixies.
- The Fairly OddParents:The Pixies are dull, wear grey suits, speak in monotone voices, wear pointy caps as opposed to the fairy crown-things and, unlike the fairies, treat magic like a business. Instead of wands, they carry cellphones which make the traditional Fairly Odd Parents 'Ping!' when a fairy uses magic, except the ping is pixelated. The female pixies are not seen. The Head Pixie (H.P. for short), Mr. Sanderson, and the other male pixies are voiced by Ben Stein.
- The Monster Rancher video games and anime series:Features anthropoid pixies that resemble angels and fairies.
- The influential alternative rock band Pixies:Directly named for the creatures.