Mythical Monday: Pixie Day in Ottery St. Mary

Imagine living in a town where pixies are celebrated every year!

In East Devon, England, there is a town called Ottery St. Mary. Each June, on the Saturday nearest Mid-Summer’s Day, they celebrate Pixie Day.

How did the tradition start? 

It all began in 1454, when Bishop Grandisson decided to build a church. The church was to be built in Otteri, which was later called Ottery St. Mary.

The bishop commissioned a set of bells for the church. They were to be cast in iron in the bells works in Wales. When the bells were ready, the bishop arranged for a group of monks to escort the bells from Wales.

Now, this was an age when the people of East Devon believed strongly in pixies and spirits.

To pixies, iron means death. And when they learned about the bells being installed in the church, they became very worried. It would be the end of their rule over the land.

The pixies cast a spell over the monks that were escorting the bells. They became Pixie-Led. Instead of the Otteri road, the monks ended up on the road toward the cliffs overlooking the sea at Sidmouth.

Just as the monks were about to fall over the cliff, one of them stubbed his toe on a rock. “God bless my soul,” he said, and immediately the spell was broken.

So, the bells were brought to Otteri after all, and installed in the church.  The Pixies hated the sound of the iron bells and fled to the nearby cave known as the Pixie Parlour. The sandstone cave is along the River Otter, about a mile south of the Otter Road bridge.

Pixie Parlour at Ottery St. Mary’s

The Pixie spell however, wasn’t completely broken.

Each year on a day in June, the Cub and Brownie groups dress as pixies and come out and capture the town’s bell ringers or parish council members.

They imprison them in a specially constructed Pixie Parlour in the Town Square to be rescued by the Vicar of Ottery St. Mary. The legend is re-enacted each year by the local Cub and Brownie groups.

Cubs and Brownies re-enact Pixie Day every June since 1954

 

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Mythical Monday: More Pixies!

Last Monday here on the blog, I talked about the mischievous pixies and how they can lead you astray on your travels. I’m sure this has happened to me numerous times in Costco, but luckily I have never gotten so lost that I couldn’t find my way back home!

EnglandSouthWestToday on Mythical Monday, I’d like to talk about some legends and stories surrounding the pixies and what they look like. I realized that this post was getting extremely long, so I decided that a third post is in order for next Monday.

There have been some really cool stories and traditions in the west country of England. In fact, there are still those that firmly believe in the pixies and practice traditions to this day!

For now, let’s talk about what are said to look like!

What do pixies look like?

pixie_by_ravenscar45-d4zufq7
Pixie by Malcolm Brown (Ravenscar45)

Pixies have been described as mischievous looking and child-like with pointed ears and noses and red hair. They wear green or red clothing and a pointed hat, though sometimes their cap is of foxglove or a toadstool although some sources describe them as being dark and having wings. 

Their eyes slant upward toward their temples and they are shorter than humans, ranging in height from two feet to the size of a small child.

Traditional stories of pixies describe them wearing dirty rags which they happily discard for gifts of new clothes and they have a penchant for adornment, finery and lovely ribbons. Sounds like a Harry Potter house elf, right?

They are sometimes reported as having shiny translucent wings, and sometimes they are wingless.

Pixie Foxglove
Artwork by Margaret W. Tarrant, 1924

They prefer to live out of doors in gardens or the hollow of a fallen log, and they are also  believed to inhabit ancient underground ancestor sites such as stone circles, barrows, dolmens, ringforts or menhirs.

They can sometimes be spotted alone, but tend to gather in groups of three to five.

Pixies have always been portrayed to look like fairies, although they are themselves a distinct race. In fact, there has been a traditional enmity or even war between the two races.

Besides looking like fairies, contact with metal is said to harm pixies and fairies alike. They are especially repelled by iron or iron ore. 

Pixies moonlightPixies are extremely fond of music, especially when it’s played by frogs and crickets. They love dancing by moonlight in a circle. They dance and frolic around mounds, stone circles, menhirs and dolmens and their bells are often heard on the moor.

If a Dog barks for no reason while staring at an empty spot along a fence or a Cat chases something unseen in a garden, it is very likely that the yard in question is infested with Pixies. There is, however, a way to be sure. Simply take a clod of grassy dirt and turn it grassside down. If, when you return later on, it has been flipped back, there are definitely Pixies in the area.

They are most active in the spring and are found in flower gardens or among wildflowers particularly in the spring and around Beltaine.

Come back next Monday for my post on How Pixies are Celebrated Today!

Jo-Ann

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have You Ever Been Pixie-Led?

Mythical Monday

Have you ever found yourself lost or wandering around trying to find your way?

Then, Pixie6it’s possible you may have been pixie-led!

Pixies are mythical creature commonly found in folklore particularly in the western parts of England. Up to the end of the 19th century, pixies and fairies were taken quite seriously as part of the ‘little people’, especially in Cornwall and Devon.

Pixies are Notoriously Mischievous

They are not malevolent creatures, but they are very mischievous, and love to torment and play tricks on humans.

Like many Faeries, Pixies dislike rude, greedy and cruel people and often single them out to be the victims of their pranks. They also hate human laziness.

Pixie1
Artwork by Brian Froud

They have been known to steal people’s belongings or throw things at them. They even steal horses at night, ride them wildly and then bring them back before dawn, their manes a tangled mess.

They rap on windows and walls, blow out candles, throw small stones at walls, kiss young girls in the dark and splash water around. Young girls were particularly prone to teasing by pixies. They would knot their hair or pinch one’s skin until it bruised.

So, if you find you have a lot of small items going missing, such as paper clips and pins, you might have a pixie problem. And if you happen to find your pixie’s lair, you just might find all those things that they’ve “borrowed”.

Getting Lost

Pixies are most notorious for confusing travellers. People have gotten lost even on familiar terrain. They can change aspects of the environment to confuse humans, and most reports mention a strange mist.

Pixie2
Artwork by Brian Froud

They lure travellers walking alone. The person would be so confused they could be lost for hours, or worse, vanish without a trace. This is what is known as pixie-led.

When I was doing my research on pixies, I found a fantastic website called Legendary Dartmoor According to the author, Tim Sandles, this really does happen! Dartmoor is located in southwest England in the county of Devon.

From their site:

Probably the best I have ever heard came from an old woman who has lived on the moor all her life. Whilst she had not actually experienced being pixie led herself her grandfather often related how he once earned the displeasure of the little folk and became ‘led’. Apparently one minute he was happily traipsing across the moor on a track he knew well. Suddenly a dense mist descended that appeared to have a very feint green tint to it, along with this the man’s head became ‘zwimmy’ (dizzy) and he began stumbling around trying to find his direction. The actual experience seemed to last for hours and he lost all track of time but when the mist lifted he looked at his watch and only a few minutes had passed. Despite thinking he had been wandering around for miles he had in fact only moved a few yards from the spot he had reached when the mist ascended.

 

Probably the most famous story of people being Piskie Led on Dartmoor is that of the unnamed couple who got lost near Okehampton. So relieved were they to have survived such an ordeal that the husband erected a granite cross next to the well where they were spared, known today as Fitz’s Well.

The author goes on to say:

There seem to be two modern conditions that can lead to people becoming ‘Piskie Led’, the first scenario involves an illegal substance or copious amounts of alcohol and the second is a result of the inability to read a map and compass – stoned, drunk or lost, blame it on the piskies.

How to Avoid Being Pixie-Led

One remedy to avoid being pixie-led during the 17th century was to turn your coat inside out, and if you didn’t have a coat, you could even turn your pocket out. Carrying a piece of bread could also prevent bewilderment.

If you leave gifts like honey, milk or cake, the pixies will regard this as a sign of respect and help with tidying up or helping around the farm. Sometimes doing favours for pixies will backfire though, and they may respond with mischief.

Pixie4
Artwork by Brian Froud

If you find yourself in the mist and suspect you are being pixie-led, find a spring of clear water and drink some to break the spell.

Don’t Invite Trouble!

stellaria-holostea-2Pixies are known to sleep among the Stitchwort plant, also known as Addersmeat, so to pick this plant is inviting trouble from them. Don’t do it!

 

Pixie5
Artwork by Brian Froud

What about You?

Have you ever found yourself lost in a mist, unable to find your way? I’d love to hear your stories. Leave a note in the comments!