Piskies; Pisgies

The name pixie is now something of a generic category for nature spirits from England’s Cornwall and Devonshire. Pixies are associated with wells, hills, groves, springs, and rivers. They are mischief makers who like playing tricks on travelers, especially leading them astray.

• They lure people with pixie lights—mysterious dancing, charming, disembodied lights.

• To be pixie-led is to be led on a wild-goose chase, traveling in endless circles before collapsing in exhaustion and confusion.

How will you know it was the pixies’ fault? The sound of their giggling usually gives it away. Hordes of pixies sometimes fall upon lone travelers, forcing them to join in their dance until they drop from exhaustion.

Break pixies’ spells by turning your clothes inside out. This allegedly foils them, or at least your abject humiliation amuses them so much that they will leave you alone.

Although now mainly considered tricky nature spirits, their association with Will o’ the Wisps suggests they once played a different role. Will o’ the Wisps are disembodied lights blamed for luring people to their deaths. The pretty, hypnotic lights appear after dark, and people follow them, sometimes to their deaths. The lights come and go: sometimes they lead people into deadly swamps or over cliffs. Occasionally they lead people to safety, although this rarely makes as good a story. The names pixie lights and Will o’ the Wisps are sometimes used interchangeably. Pixies may originally have served as psychopomps.

Allegedly only two pixies are known by name: Jack O’Lantern and Joan the Wad, called the King and Queen of Pixies. Wa d is a local term for “torch,” so both Jack and Joan are associated with fire and illumination. They are invoked for protection with a rhyme:

Jack o’ the lantern! Joan the wad,

Who tickled the maid and made her mad;

Light me home, the weather’s bad!

A Piskie in Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods plays an old-fashioned role.


A span is an archaic measurement: stretch your fingers out as far as you can. The length from your thumb to the smallest finger is a span. Pixies are as tall as the length of one span. They are generally described as resembling very small people, but images of pixies including those intended as good luck charms often depict them in the guise of an imp or little Demon. Pixies don’t always like to be seen. They are more frequently heard: their irrepressible giggling betrays their presence. “Laugh like a pixie” is an old Cornish saying.




Various wells in Cornwall and Devon are known as pixie wells and reputedly possess healing and magical powers.


Leave dishes of cream outside for them. They also like ale, hard cider, bread, Cornish pasties, and small, pretty things. Be discreet: don’t talk to them or make too much of a fuss over them. They are not effusive spirits.



Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.