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  • Jo-Anne Blanco

Morgan le Fay Folklore: Cornish Piskies

  Brian Froud, “Cornish Pixie”, from Fairies (2009 Collector’s Edition) by Brian Froud and Alan Lee

A small sprite unique to Morgan’s native Cornwall, the Piskies are the first of the fairy peoples she encounters on her adventures in the Fata Morgana Series. Dressed in earthy green materials such as mosses, grasses and weeds, the Piskies have the appearance of wizened old men and inhabit secret, remote places on hilltops or moors.

Tradition has it that they are mostly benevolent, eager to help around the home or farm, being kind to the elderly and the ill, and bringing good fortune to their favourites. However, they also have a mischievous and, at times, darkly sinister side. They love to borrow horses, ride them all night, and leave the animals exhausted in the stables the next day with their manes and tails tied into plaits or piskie-knots. More worryingly, the Piskies enjoy playing at Will o’ the Wisps, appearing as small coloured lights at night so as to lead the unwary traveller astray. When on the moors, they trick the traveller off the path and into the mire which can prove fatal. This is called being “piskie-led.” The Piskies are also known to create dangerous fairy rings: if a person puts both feet into a Piskie ring, they are taken prisoner; but if they only put one foot in the ring, they can see the Piskies and are able to escape.

There are various stories regarding the origin of the Piskies. One is that they are the souls of unbaptised children, unable to go to Heaven. Another is that they were once angels who, though duped by Lucifer, were not an important faction in his rebellion against God, so, when the Fall came, they were not wholly damned but condemned to exist in a netherworld between Heaven and Hell. A similar story suggests that Piskies are the souls of pagan mortals, born before the coming of Christ, and thus not permitted to enter Heaven but not sinful enough for Hell. All these stories are consistent with the origin tales of other fairies, making the Piskies very much part of the broader fairy family.

Piskies - Unknown Illustrator
Piskies - Unknown Illusrtrator

W. Meason, “A Peep at the Pixies”, from A Peep at the Pixies (1853 edition) by Anne Eliza Bray
A Peep at the Piskies - W. Meason

Among the more well-known Piskies are Jack o’Lantern, Joan the Wad, and Kit with the Canstick or Candlestick. More recently, the Cornish Piskies were featured in the Harry Potter Series as “Cornish Pixies”: troublesome, tiny blue sprites who go on the rampage when let loose, attacking the Hogwarts students, and causing chaos and mayhem.

Cornish Pixie”, still taken from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Warner Bros, 2002)
Harry Potter Piskie

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