Tuesday 18 October 2022

Modern Cornish Piskey Encounters

 Modern Cornish Piskey Encounters

Alex Langstone

There are numerous stories of the little folk within the scope of Cornish folklore, where Piskies, Knockers and Spiggans appear to the unwary, often leading them astray, both from place and through time. The 19th century folklore collections of Bottrell, Hunt and Courtney are full of Piskey lore, and during the following century, the likes of Enys Tregarthen and Cecil Williamson continued to collect the lore of the Pobel Vean from across Cornwall. These tales, from the beginning of the 20th century to the present, seem to illustrate that sightings of these fascinating elemental creatures are still with us, as they continue to map themes from popular culture through modern times, from laundry duties in a stream at dawn, to peculiar characters waving from a ‘flying saucer’ over the skies of St Merryn. Furthermore, during his tenure in Boscastle’s witchcraft museum, Cecil Williamson was regularly asked why there were so many stories of piskies on the Cornish moors. He would answer - because there are so many piskies on the moors. [1]

A curious tale of a Piskey sighting from 1936 at Marsland was collected and recorded by author Marjorie Johnson. [2]

“A few years ago, on the Cornish-Devonian border, I was surprised to see on the cliff above me the figure of a tiny man, dressed in black, strutting round in a rather vain-looking way. So incredulous was I of the existence of the 'pisky' people that I said to myself, 'In a minute I shall see what he really is - a bird, or a shadow'. But no, he went on being a tiny man.”

The same author recorded other relatively modern Piskey stories from Cornwall, including one curious entry which mentions Padstow’s own 20th century folktale collector, Enys Tregarthen. In a letter to Marjorie Johnson, a Mrs Agnes Taylor states that the last time she visited Nellie Sloggett (Enys Tregarthen), she witnessed a Piskey sitting on her shoulder. [3]

In conclusion, and from the same source, we have reports of sea fairies at Looe, where in 1943 a Mrs Clara Reed described the creatures as wearing a skirt of seashells and a bodice of seaweed, and she had a row of shells round her neck and a large shell on her head. The sea sprite was reported to have told Mrs Reed that her husband would recover, despite being taken seriously ill whilst serving in the Army. [4]

In St Merryn, sometime during 1910, two girls saw a red object resembling a boat or ship among the clouds; the object contained a large number of little dwarf-like creatures that were chattering, laughing, and pointing down at the witnesses. [5] Was this interesting and somewhat absurd account, somebody’s first ever sighting of an airship or, maybe even UFO? There is little else written about this, but around thirty years later further north at Kilkhampton, three girls saw a little man riding around their garden in a tiny red car. It was a dark night, and the girls were awoken from their slumber by a noise. One girl heard a buzzing noise, whilst the other two heard bells and music. When they looked out of the window, they all saw a little man in a tiny red car driving around in circles, he wore a red droopy pointed hat and had a white beard, and he looked very happy. [6] One of the girls, Marina Fry later had correspondence with Fortean writer and investigator, Janet Bord, and stated that she was four years old when she had this experience. [7]

During 1964, a Goblin (Piskey?) was witnessed among the reeds of a stream at Treago Mill, near Crantock. Whilst holidaying in the area, Wiccan Priestess Lois Bourne had a chance meeting with fellow witch Raymond Howard whilst out walking on the local coast path. Mrs Bourne and her husband were subsequently invited to Treago Mill for dinner, and consequently found themselves accompanying Raymond Howard on a pre-dawn ‘goblin’ hunt to a nearby stream, and at daybreak, they witnessed a ‘goblin’ washing his socks in the cool clear waters of the brook. Lois Bourne described her supernatural experience thus: 

Sitting on a stone calmly washing his socks was an elfin creature with red hat, green coat and trews, one yellow sock on and one in his tiny hands in the process of being washed. [8]

Treago Mill

Finally, to bring us into the 21st century, within the collection of the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic there is a recent account of a Piskey (or possibly more correctly a Spriggan)[9]. In 2016 an elemental ‘fairy’ type of creature was glimpsed at Boscawen-Un stone circle. The elemental was seen close to the centre of the circle, and a painting produced by the witness gives it a very romantic human appearance, remarkably reminiscent of the Pre-Raphaelite ideal of how a fairy might have looked. [10] 

Fairy as seen at Boscawen Un by Ivan Clark

The museum also has another interesting piece of 1960s art depicting piskies dressed in red, playing cards under a large toadstool, using a human skull as their table. Illustrated below[11]                                                                                 

First published in Meyn Mamvro Autumn 2022 Vol 2 No 6 

[1] From the Pisky Painting write up, exhibit 1642. Museum of Witchcraft & Magic

[2] Seeing Fairies: From the lost archives of the Fairy Investigation Society, by Marjorie T. Johnson, pp 236, 237

[3] Ibid, pp 73, 74

[4] Ibid, pp125, 126

[5] The Folklore of Cornwall by Tony Deane and Tony Shaw, p 65

[6] Ibid, p 65

[7] Modern Mysteries of Britain by Janet and Colin Bord, p 157

[8] Witch Amongst Us by Lois Bourne, p 34 (1979) and Dancing with Witches by Lois Bourne p29 (1998)

[9] Popular Romances by Robert Hunt: The Elfin Creed of Cornwall

[10] Exhibit 3796, Museum of Witchcraft & Magic, Boscastle

[11] Exhibit 1642, Museum of Witchcraft & Magic Boscastle (illustrated below)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.