Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Shocking Things You didn't Know About Pixies

Naked, bedraggled they dwell on the fringes of human society; in the moors and rocky clefts. They hide having been driven to the fringes by people. It was believed by some that pixies were the previous inhabitants of Cornwall and Devon, banished to the moors when humans invaded their lands. Now pixies shrink year by year every time they use their magic and so will eventually vanish completely.

This is a horrifying picture of the fairies that inspired so many stories, and it may explain why pixies act both to harm and help humanity. For on the one hand they are kind, they have come to develop a symbiotic relationship with humans, on the other hand humans have pushed them to the brink of extinction.

Before delving too deep into the negatives of this relationship it's perhaps best to discuss the positives. For the pixies clearly wanted a connection with humanity, which is why they wandered into villages and farms in order to bring gifts to and help people.

One girl who lived on the moor kept her house clean, was constantly working. So like Santa or the Tooth fairy the pixies came in the night and left her a coin, a practices that would have continued if she hadn't made a tragic mistake, she told people about her luck and so the pixies never again left her another reward. Those who have a relationship with the pixies must keep it secret, they must never reveal it to anyone. For pixies are a secretive lot.

Because of their kindness pixies became the focus of people's folk religion, the guardians of their lands and homes. People would leave bread, milk, and other offerings to the pixies in return for good luck. For the pixies controlled people's fate. 

From many such stories it can be presumed that pixies are good, that one should want them to visit (as long as the house is clean). The picture, however, isn't quite so clear as sometimes pixies bring ill luck and cause nothing but trouble. One young dated a pixie changeling and as a result of the bad luck she carried with her his cows died, his food went bad, everything went ill with him after that until the sad end of his days. So in addition to good luck pixies can bring bad luck. 

Just like humans pixies are complex figures in that they each not only have different personalities, they also have differing moods. So rather than try to understand some stereotypical notion of fairy, its perhaps best to try to understand the emotional state of pixies from similar relationships between human groups.

The hunter-gatherers and the agriculturalists

Although pixies are magical beings, we can perhaps learn something of their relationship with humans by looking at the similar human situations around the world.

In the Congo there are groups of hunter-gatherers (collectively nick named Pygmies) who have been driven to the fringes by the agriculturalists. The two people are competition with each other over the remaining jungle, and as the agriculturists expand the hunter-gatherers have less and less land on which to live.

However, the two have formed a symbiotic relationship. It's difficult to find enough food to live in the jungle. So the hunter-gatherers come to help in the fields for part of the year. During other parts they bring meat, spices, and other treasures from the forest to help the agriculturalists survive, thus each needs the other.

Both think of the other as magical. Pygmies think the agricultural people have the power to curse them, just as pixies feared humanities evil eye. At the same time the agriculturalists valued the pygmies ability to heal them and foretell the future.

Finally, its worth noting that the pygmies were known as amazing singers and dancers for a long time. Ancient Egyptian records even mention this.

This relationship between two people's isn't isolated to Africa. It exists in the Philippines and Malaysia and likely many other places as well.

This relationship can explain a lot between the relationship between humans and pixies. For example, why humans believed that while they should pay the pixies a small amount they should to avoid letting the pixies have too much or else they would feel too fine to work. It explains why the pixies and humans can both get along and be antagonistic towards each other at the same time. Especially presuming some pixies are more angry about their relationship with humans than others.

The difference, of course, is that pixies aren't human. On the other hand humans themselves aren't entirely human. In lore humans were just another branch of the fairy family, so there are some similarities between us and them.

In terms of understanding pixies we can see three primary driving forces for their behavior;

1-They are the focus of a fairy faith, a folk religion of the people of Cornwall and Devon

It seems clear that many  of the pixies have come to embrace their place within human folk religion as "the magical others." They are happy to accept offerings of milk, bread, butter, etc. which are left out for them and to give luck in return for these.

Because pixies tend to be obsessed with hard work, with cleanliness and productivity. They can't stand to simply be lazy and so they are prone to helping people with their work, so long as the people are hard working themselves. Their obsession with hard work is extreme enough that they feel the need to punish those who are lazy and reward those who fit with their notions of what's decent and moral. 

In addition to these Santa Like activities they punish those who deny them. In one of their wars with a human who was trying to get rid of them they made it impossible for butter to churn, they ruined wine, they pixie lead people to get lost, pulled people's noses, pinched them, and caused all manner of trouble. 

What's key here, is that despite the fact that the pixies don't like people to see them, they want people to believe in them. It's not entirely certain what they get out of this relationship, other than a bit of food and clean water. However, as a writer you could speculate that they get a certain amount of magical energy from the rituals people perform to them. Or perhaps the pixies are merely obsessed with respect.

2-At the same time some of the pixies retain their wild nature

Pixies are fun loving, wild, and mischievous. They are often seen dancing along the moors and tors, What's more interesting perhaps is their propensity to play pranks on people. They are much more in touch with their own emotions, which can be extreme, than humans are. In addition they are more in touch with the natural world around them, a would which is both wild and beautiful.

One shouldn't be tempted to project some alien behavior on them because of this. Rather, it might be best to think of them as frat boys and sorority girls, bouncing about wildly during their parties, and perhaps a bit antagonistic towards the humans who have fought many wars with them and driven them from their homes. 

In one case a boy was returning home after going to see his sweetheart in a distant village when 

"Suddenly sounds similar to those he had previously heard struck upon his ear, but so plainly as to convince him that he was certainly now labouring under no delusion. Ere he could look around him to discover whence they proceeded the sounds increased tenfold, and it was evident that a very merry party was somewhere close at hand. Instantaneously it flashed into his mind that he had approached a pixy gathering, and stepping at that instant round a huge granite block, he came upon a strange and bewildering sight.

On a small level piece of velvety turf, entirely surrounded by boulders, a throng of little creatures were assembled, dressed in most fantastic costumes. A great number of them had joined hands, and were dancing merrily in a ring, while many were perched upon the rocks around, and all were laughing and shouting with glee. Poor Tom was frightened beyond measure, and knew not whether it was better to proceed or endeavour to retreat. If he could steal away unobserved he might pass on the opposite side of the tor, and this he determined upon doing. But no sooner had he made up his mind to pursue this course, than the little folks observed him, and instantly forming a ring round him, danced more furiously than ever. As they whirled around, Tom was constrained to turn around with them, although, so rapid was their pace. that he was utterly unable to keep up with their frantic movements. Each one, too, was joining in the elfin chorus as loud as his little lungs would enable him, and although they danced and sting with all their might they never seemed to tire. In vain Tom called upon them to stop--his cries only causing the pixies to laugh the merrier--while they seemed to have no intention whatever of discontinuing their antics. Tom's head began to swim round; he put out his arms wildly, his legs felt as if they would give way under him; but yet he could not avoid spinning around in a mad whirl. He would have given worlds to stop, and endeavoured in vain to throw himself on the grass: the mazy gallop still continued, and poor Tom was compelled to take his part in it.

In the height of the din the sun began to rise above the ridge of Hameldon, and at the first sight of the bright orb the noise suddenly ceased, the little folks instantly vanished among the crevices of the rocks, and Turn found himself lying alone on the moor."

As with a lot of folk stories about encounters with fairies there is a lot more going on here than is immediately apparent. First of all it's important to note that most negative encounters with the fairies run something like this. People come across them while they are throwing a wild party and they, in the midst of their marry making, harass the interloper. Other times they lead people astray, cause their milk to spoil, pinch them, etc. Rarely do they ever simply attack a person, however. And even when they do attack people they almost never kill them. 

Again these seem like the pranks of teenagers or college students, not harmless, but they aren't psychotic.

What's important to understand is that pixies can't grow up, they can't mature, not fully. In many ways one can think of Peter Pan as the ultimate pixie. No matter how many chances he had to kill Captain Hook, or what Hook, he preferred to tease him, to play with him. His "childish pranks" such as cutting off Hook's hand weren't harmless, he was a bit devilish at his core, but his attitude was still that of a child.

The wild dance the pixies draw Tom into is also interesting as many early vision quests of witches/shamans run.along similar lines. Over time such behavior caused people to try to avoid becoming witches/shamans and eventually lead to people thinking that the fairies trying to pull them into their world were evil. Whether the pixies were trying to make Tom a shaman/witch or simply playing a prank on him I don't know, but this is still a good example of a witches first experience with the fairies.

Finally, the pixies must flee the coming of the sun. They don't simply vanish, however. Instead they must jump into the little cracks and crevices of the moor. Becoming invisible takes energy, so they aren't invisible all the time and they can't vanish so long as a human is looking at them.

3-They are a neighboring people.

Pixies are people's neighbors, they know this even better than the people who live among them because they see and hear humans constantly. Over time they come to care for good neighbors and hate bad neighbors. The difference is that unlike humans it's often easier for them to get involved in punishing bad neighbors and helping the ones they like. For example, they are more likely to be able to directly get involved in punishing men who abuse their spouses and children, who over drink, etc.

They also help people like they would neighbors, leaving food out for farmers who ask for it, playing with children, etc.

It's worth noticing that of these three forces only one is inherent to the pixies. That is, their wild nature. Their love of song and dance and mischief are inherent to them. The other two, being neighbors with humans and the object of human folk religion isn't something they chose. Indeed, they must always live with the knowledge that humans have forced their world to change. This isn't some distant idea for them, however. Many pixies are immortal so they can remember the time before humans, they can remember the coming of humans, and they may one day yet recall when humans vanished from their world.