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Pixie-Led in the South-West April 16, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback

Beachcombing is back to the fairies. One subject that has intrigued him through this spring is the rare fairy-phenomenon of being ‘pixie-led’, one particularly associated with the south-west of England: hence the name as ‘the pixies’ are the fairies of Cornwall and Devon. To be pixie-led is to be led astray by the good folk while out on the moors or in the woods. Here to start is one eighteenth-century second-hand description:

‘Whitchurch Down (a favourite ride with me and my pony; for it sometimes is a hard matter to get him into any other road) is said to be very famous for the peril there incurred of being pixy-led: for there many an honest yeoman and stout farmer, especially if he should happen to take a cup too much, is very apt to lose his way; and whenever he does so he will declare, and offer to take his Bible oath upon it, ‘That as sure as ever he lives to tell it, whilst his head was running round like a mill-wheel, he heard with his own ears they bits of pisgies [alternative spelling] , a laughing and attacking their hands, all to see he led astray, and never able to find the right road, though he had travelled it scores of times’. And many good old folks relate the same thing, and how the pisgies delight to lead the aged a-wandering about after dark.

Note the sceptical tone here and the idea, one often found in the literature, that pixy-led is actually often whisky-led: though as one early twentieth-century commentator pointed out the experience is not typical of what the drunk actually goes through? Then what about this late nineteenth-century example from Devon? Here you get the chill of the real thing told by a sympathetic voice. It should be noted that turning your jacket or even a pocket inside out was reckoned a way to break the spell.

A few days ago a party of men were ripping bark in a wood about four miles from Torrington. In the evening, when it was time to pick up the tools, one of the men had occasion to separate himself from the party to fetch an iron which he had been using in another part of the wood. He avers, says a correspondent of a contemporary, that in stooping to pick up the tool a strange feeling came over him, and while totally unable to raise himself he heard peels of discordant laughter all around. It flashed across his mind that he was being play led, and though he had many times heard stories of people being in a similar state, his presence of mind forsook him, and he was unable to turn his coat inside out – a sure talisman against the spells of pixies. This was about half-past five in the afternoon. About seven o’clock his wife became uneasy at his non-appearance, and started off to look for him. Happening to meet one of the rippers she asked him whether he had seen her husband. ‘Yes’, replied the man ‘he left work when we did.’ This only added to the poor woman’s troubles, and when ten o’clock came and still no husband, she was greatly alarmed. When she arrived near the place where the man had been working she met her husband dripping wet. ‘Where have you been?’ said she. ‘I’ve been pixy led’ he replied and forthwith told his story. It appears according to his account, that the pixies held him under their spell for nearly five hours, and at the end of that time he was able to crawl away on his hands and knees, and scare knowing where he was creeping tumbled head over heels into a stream. Directly he rose he knew where he was, and made the best of his way homeward. ‘You girt, fule, why didden ‘ee turn your pocket inside out? Was all the comfort he received from his better half: ‘then you would have been able to come away at wance.’ The man firmly believed in pixies, and what strengthens his belief is the fact that a tailor named Short was ‘play led’ in the same wood some years ago, and remained under their magic spell until morning. Cavillers may say that the man was drunk, but is can be proved on the best authority that no intoxicating liquor was drunk that day by any of the party.

Any other examples of being pixy-led from British or other sources or, indeed, other traditions: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com