Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Dangers of being Piskie-led

West of the River Parrett there are no fairies to be found, but there are plenty of piskies - or pixies to give them their more familiar Somerset name. These little people are generally held to be a distinct type of entity from the fairies. Indeed, according to at least one old Cornish legend, they are enemies of the fairies and agreed on the Parrett as the border between their lands only after a long and bitter war.

Be that as it may, the piskies are deeply embedded in the Cornish countryside. There are many places that are said to be their particular home, and many stories told of encounters between them and humans. These piskies are not thought to be outrightly hostile to humans, but they clearly are not especially well disposed toward us. One of the favourite tricks is to play a prank on travelling humans and so make them piskie-led.

This rather disturbing experience will come without warning and may strike when in familiar surroundings or when passing through strange territory. At its most simple the traveller will be unable to see a road or path, even though it is in plain view. Even today it is possible to drive up and down the same stretch of main road looking for a lane leading to a village and be quite unable to find it - then to return next day and find it at once. There would seem to be only one sure cure for being piskie-led. That is to turn your coat inside out and put it back on that way. Some suggest carrying a piece of iron about your person, or having some bread in your pocket, but this does not always seem to work.

In 1923 a woman named Mrs Hamilton was walking from her home in Tresahor to visit a friend in Constantine. She knew the path well, having walked it a hundred times previously. This time, however, she climbed a stile into a field and at once got piskie-led. No matter how hard she tried she could not find the stile out the other side. Returning back the way she had come she could not find the stile by which she had entered the field either, nor was any gate to be seen. She walked around the field three times finding only blank and impassable hedges on all sides. After an hour or so of this, the woman heard a farmer working nearby and called out for help. At once the spell was broken and she could see the various stiles and gates in their usual positions.

More dangerously, those who are piskie-led may find themselves being lured into serious danger. More than one walker has been treading what seemed to be a broad, firm path only to snap suddenly out of some kind of reverie to find themselves alone on a lonely stretch of moorland surrounded by treacherous bogs. Other walkers vanish completely and are never seen again having perished due to exposure on the high moorlands. Some people believe that those who are piskie-led in this way have offended the piskies without realising it. 

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