This is the first time I’ve done a two part episode. Last week I covered Cornwall’s Small People, who are the faerie tribe with the greatest footprint in Hunt’s Popular romances from the west of England. This week, the other four of Hunt’s tribes. I’d repeat that Hunt’s taxonomy clearly doesn’t include at least two other groups which, in Ars Magica, are faeries. He separates off the giants and the merfolk, and because I’m following his text closely, so will I. Due to a quirk of my podcasting plan I need to record this material immediately, rather than taking time to trim it down further, so it’s more prolix and flowery than it will be when I boil it down for a collated Cornish work.
Hunt again: The Spriggans are quite a different class of beings. In some respects they appear to be offshoots from the family of the Trolls of Sweden and Denmark. The Spriggans are found only about the cairns, coits, or cromlechs, burrows, or detached stones, with which it is unlucky for mortals to meddle. A correspondent writes : “This is known, that they were a remarkably mischievous and thievish tribe. If ever a house was robbed, a child stolen, cattle carried away, or a building demolished, it was the work of the Spriggans. Whatever commotion took place in earth, air, or water, it was all put down as the work of these spirits. Wherever the giants have been, there the Spriggans have been also. It is usually considered that they are the ghosts of the giants ; certainly, from many of their feats, we must suppose them to possess a giant’s strength. The Spriggans have the charge of buried treasure.”
So, these are the ghosts of giants: the plot hooks here are pretty obvious. Let’s move on.
A story from Hunt
“In a lone house situated not far from the hill on which now stands Knill’s Steeple…lived the widow of a miner…Whether it was that they presumed upon her solitude, or whether the old lady had given them some inducement, is not now known, but the spriggans of Trencrom Hill were in the habit of meeting almost every night in her cottage to divide their plunder.
The old woman usually slept, or at least she pretended to sleep, during the visit of the spriggans. When they left, they always placed a small coin on the table by her bedside, and with this indeed the old woman was enabled to provide herself with not merely the necessaries of life, but to add thereto a few of those things which were luxuries to one in her position. The old lady, however, was not satisfied with this. She resolved to bide her time, and when the spriggans had an unusually large amount of plunder, to make herself rich at once and for ever at their expense.
Such a time at last arrived. The spriggans had gathered, we know not, how much valuable gold and jewellery. It gleamed and glistened on the floor, and the old woman in bed looked on with a most covetous eye. After a while, it appears, the spriggans were not able to settle the question of division with their usual amicability. The little thieves began to quarrel amongst themselves. Now, thought the old woman, is my time.
Therefore huddling herself up under the bedclothes, she very adroitly contrived to turn her shift, and having completed the unfailing charm, she jumped from her bed, placed her hand on a gold cup, and ex- claimed, ” Thee shusn’t hae one on ’em ! ” In affright the spriggans all scampered away, leaving their stolen treasure behind them. The last and boldest of the spriggans, however, swept his hand over the old woman’s only garment as he left the house. The old woman, now wealthy, removed in a little time from Chyanwheal to St Ives, and, to the surprise of every one, purchased property and lived like a gentlewoman. Whenever, however, she put on the shift which had secured her her wealth, she was tortured beyond endurance. The doctors and all the learned people used hard names to describe her pains, but the wise women knew all along that they came of the spriggans.”
This fairy is a most mischievous and very unsociable sprite. His favourite fun is to entice people into the bogs by appearing like the light from a cottage window, or as a man carrying a lantern. The Piskie partakes, in many respects, of the character of the Spriggan. So wide-spread were their depredations, and so annoying their tricks, that it at one time^was necessary to select persons whose acuteness and ready tact were a match for these quick-witted wanderers, and many a clever man has become famous for his power to give charms against Pigseys. It does not appear, however, that anything remarkable was required of the clever man. ” No Pigsey could harm a man if his coat were inside-out, and it became a very common practice for persons who had to go from village to village by night, to wear their jacket or cloak so turned, ostensibly to prevent the dew from taking the shine off the cloth, but in reality to render them safe from the Pigseys.” They must have been a merry lot, since to ” laugh like a Piskie” is a popular saying.
These little fellows were great plagues to the farmers, riding their colts and chasing their cows.
The Piscy or Pixy of East Devon and Somersetshire is a different creature from his cousin of a similar name in Cornwall. The former is a mischievous, but in all respects a very harmless creation, who appears to live a rollicking life amidst the luxuriant scenes of those beautiful counties. The latter, the piskies of Cornwall, appear to have their wits sharpened by their necessities, and may be likened to the keen and cunning ” Arab ” boy of the London streets, as seen in contrast with the clever child who has been reared in every comfort of a well-regulated home….The darker shades in the character of the Cornish fairy almost dispose me to conclude that they belong to an older family than those of Devonshire.
Thorns has noticed that in Cornwall “the moths which some regard as departed souls, others as fairies, are called Pisgies.” This is somewhat too generally expressed ; the belief respecting the moth, so far as I know, is confined to one or two varieties only. Mr Couch informs us that the local name, around Polperro, of the weasel is Fairy. So that we have evidence of some sort of metempsychosis amongst the elf family. Moths, ants, and weasels it would seem are the forms taken by those wandering spirits. * The Cornish had formerly a great belief in piskays or fairies. If a traveller happened to lose his way, he immediately concluded he was “piskay led.” To dispel the charm with which the ” piskay-led ” traveller was entangled, nothing was deemed sufficient but that of his turning one of his garments inside-out. This generally fell upon one of his stockings ; and if this precaution had been taken before the commencement of the journey, it was fully believed that no such delusion would have happened.
In the little hamlet of Treonike, in the parish of St Allen a child was led away by faerie music and then found a few days later.
“It is said that a man once passing one of the piskie rings, and hearing them dancing and singing within it, threw a large stone into the midst of the circle, when the music at once ceased and a dreadful shriek arose. The appearance of the pixies of Dartmoor is said to resemble that of a bale or bundle of rags. In this shape they decoy children to their unreal pleasure. A woman, on the northern borders of the moor, was returning home late on a dark evening, accompanied by two children, and carrying a third in her arms, when, on arriving at her own door, she found one missing. Her neighbours, with lanthorns, immediately set out in quest of the lost child ; whom they found sitting under a large oak-tree, well known to be a favourite haunt of the pixies. He declared that he had been led away by two large bundles of rags, which had remained with him until the lights appeared, when they immediately vanished.”
The four leaf clover
“One midsummer’s day in the evening, the maid was later than usual milking, as she had been down to Penberth to the games. The stars were beginning to blink when she finished her task. Daisey was the last cow milked, and the bucket was so full she could scarcely lift it to her head. Before rising from the milking-stool, the maid plucked up a handful of grass and clover to put in the head of her hat, that she might carry the bucket the steadier.
She had no sooner placed the hat on her head, than she saw hundreds and thousands of Small People swarming in all directions about the cow, and dipping their hands into the milk, taking it out on the clover blossoms and sucking them. The grass and clover, all in blossom, reached to the cow’s belly. Hundreds of the little creatures ran up the long grass and clover stems, with buttercups, lady’s smocks, convolvuluses, and foxglove flowers, to catch the milk that Daisey let flow from her four teats, like a shower, among them.
Right under the cow’s udder the maid saw one much larger than the others lying on his back, with his heels cocked up to the cow’s belly. She knew he must be a Piskie, because he was laughing, with his mouth open from ear to ear. The little ones were running up*and down his legs, filling their cups, and emptying them into the Piskie’s mouth. Hundreds of others were on Daisey’s back, scratching her rump, and tickling her round the horns and behind the ears. Others were smoothing down every hair of her shining coat into its place.
The milkmaid wasn’t much startled to see them, as she had so often heard of fairies, and rather wished to see them. She could have stayed for hours, she said, to look at them dancing about among the clover, which they hardly bent any more than the dew-drops…Her mistress came out into the garden between the field and the house, and called to know what was keeping the maid so long. When the maid told what she had seen, her mistress said she couldn’t believe her unless she had found a four-leaved grass. Then the maid thought of the handful of grass in the head of her hat.
In looking it over by the candlelight, she found a bunch of three-leaved grass, and one stem with four leaves. They knew that it was nothing strange that she should see the Small People, but they didn’t know what plan to take to get rid of them, so that they might have the whole of Daisey’s milk, till the mistress told her mother about it. Her mother was a very notable old dame, who lived in Church-town. The old woman knew all about witches, fairies, and such things…Our Betty told her daughter that everybody knowed that the Small People couldn’t abide the smell of fish, nor the savour of salt or grease ; and advised her to rub the cow’s udder with fish brine to drive the Small People away.
Well, she did what her mammy told her to do. Better she had let it alone. From that time Daisey would yield all her milk, but she hadn’t the half, nor quarter, so much as before, but took up her udder, so that one could hardly see it below her flanks. Every evening, as soon as the stars began to twinkle, the cow would go round the fields bleating and crying as if she had lost her calf; she became hair-pitched, and pined away to skin and bone before the next Burrien fair, when she was driven to Church-town and sold for next to nothing. I don’t know what became of her afterwards ; but nothing throve with the farmer, after his wife had driven the Small People away, as it did before.”
The Buccas or Knockers. These are the sprites of the mines, and correspond to the Kobals of the German mines, the Duergars, and the Trolls. They are said to be the souls of the Jews who formerly worked the tin-mines of Cornwall. They are not allowed to rest because of their wicked practices as tinners, and they share in the general curse which ignorant people believe still hangs on this race.
THE FAIRY TOOLS; OR, BARKER’S KNEE. THE buccas or knockers are believed to inhabit the rocks, caves, adits, and wells of Cornwall. In the parish of Towednack there was a well where those industrious small people might every day be heard busy at their labours digging with pickaxe and shovel. I said, every day. No ; on Christmas-day on the Jews’ Sabbath on Easter-day and on All- Saints’ day no work was done. Why our little friends held those days in reverence has never been told me. Any one, by placing his ear on the ground at the mouth of this well, could distinctly hear the little people at work.
There lived in the neighbourhood a great, hulking fellow, who would rather do anything than work, and who refused to believe anything he heard. He had been told of the Fairy Well he said it was ” all a dream.” But since the good people around him reiterated their belief in the fairies of the well, he said he ‘d find it all out. So day after day, Barker that was this hulk’s name would lie down amidst the ferns growing around the mouth of the well, and, basking in the sunshine, listen and watch. He soon heard pick and shovel, and chit-chat, and merry laughter.
Well, ” he ‘d see the out of all this,” he told his neighbours. Day after day, and week after week, this fellow was at his post. Nothing resulted from his watching. At last he learned to distinguish the words used by the busy workers. He discovered that each set of labourers worked eight hours, and that, on leaving, they hid their tools. They made no secret of this ; and one evening he heard one say, he should place his tools in a cleft in the rock ; another, that he should put his under the ferns ; and another said, he should leave his tools on Barker’s knee.
He started on hearing his own name. At that moment a heavy weight fell on the man’s knee ; he felt excessive pain, and roared to have the cursed things taken away. His cries were answered by laughter. To the day of his death Barker had a stiff knee ; he was laughed at by all the parish ; and ” Barker’s knee ” became a proverb.
The Browney. This spirit was purely of the household. Kindly and good, he devoted his every care to benefit the family with whom he had taken up his abode. The Browney has fled, owing to his being brought into very close contact with the school- master, and he is only summoned now upon the occasion of the swarming of the bees. When this occurs, mistress or maid seizes a bell-metal, or a tin pan, and, beating it, she calls ” Browney, Browney ! ” as loud as she can until the good Browney compels the bees to settle.
The story of making clothes for brownies is found everywhere in Cornwall.
For statistics. See Realms of Power: Faerie
Small People as Sprites p.85, but powers vary by story.
Piskies as Sprites (p.85) but change the physical description).See also Fool’s Fire p.92.
Spriggans: There’s no quick way to do these, but I’ be tempted to just use the stats for Size 3 giants, but change the physical description so they have ridiculous Strength for their size.
Photo credit: Foter.com