#6 Beautiful guardians of the Otherworld…

A sneak peek at some of the denizens of fairyland you’ll meet in The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies…

#6 Mouras Encantadas

Shapeshifting female fairies of Galician and Portuguese folklore.

Illustration ©Andy Paciorek
Illustration ©Andy Paciorek

Generally described as beautiful females, singing and combing their long locks, Mouras Encantadas sometimes appeared in the guise of a serpent, dog, horse, or goat. Dwelling by wells, springs, fountains, caves, lakes, and ancient monuments, they guarded the entrances to the Otherworld. Some believed they were the souls of young maidens left to protect the treasures of the mouros, a race of beings who inhabited the land before withdrawing underground to the fairy realm or Otherworld known as Mourama.

Portuguese archeologist, ethnographer, and writer José Leite de Vasconcelos described the mouras encantadas as spellbound beings, condemned to live in a state of numbness or sleep unless the enchantment could be broken. Offerings of bread or milk were sometimes said to break the spell and allow a moura to become human. Should a mortal succeed in “disenchanting” a moura, she might take him as a husband. Or she might simply vanish.

Variations of the mouras encantadas included the mouras fiandeiras, spinning maidens, who were said to have constructed the ancient hillforts and monuments of Galicia and Portugal, carrying stones on their heads as they spun yarn with a distaff carried at their waist. The moura velha appeared in the form of an old woman, while the moura lavaderia was a washerwoman. Tales of these magical beings are spread throughout Galicia and Portugal, with almost every town having its own variant of fairy local lore concerning the mouras encantadas.

Check back to meet a fairy a day in the run up to the release of The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies on 28 August, 2014.

#5 A roguish yet on the whole benevolent fellow

A sneak peek at some of the denizens of fairyland you’ll meet in The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies…

#5 Puck

Shakespeare’s merry jester.

Illustration ©Andy Paciorek
Illustration ©Andy Paciorek

Puck is now synonymous with the merry jester fairy in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. However, “pucks” already existed in British folklore before Shakespeare’s time as mischievous hobgoblins. “Puck” or “pouke” was an old word for devil, and variations of the name are found in various cultures: puki in Iceland, puk in Friesland and Jutland, pixy and pisky in Devon and Cornwall, phouka in Ireland, pwcca in Wales. Some say that Cwm Pwcca, or Puck Valley, in Wales, part of the romantic glen of the Clydach in Breconshire, was the original inspiration for the setting of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Shakespeare established Puck and Robin Goodfellow as names that can be used interchangeably to refer to a roguish yet on the whole benevolent type of fairy. He drew on traditional country folklore in his characterization of Puck, describing him as “sometime a fire.” In Worcestershire a “poake-ledden” traveler was one who had encountered a mischievous poake sprite in the form of a flickering light that caused him to stray from the path. Puck took on the form of a will o’ the wisp to play his midnight pranks and delighted in leading night wanderers on a merry dance.

Check back to meet a fairy a day in the run up to the release of The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies on 28 August, 2014.

#4 A bushy-browed, fiery-reared, hullaballoo-raising bush spirit…

A sneak peek at some of the denizens of fairyland you’ll meet in The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies…

#4 Hebu

South American bush spirit.

Illustration © Andy Paciorek
Illustration © Andy Paciorek

 

One of numerous bush spirits named in legends from tribes in northeastern South America. The hebu is distinctive in both appearance and habits, as it is without buttocks, displaying from the rear a glowing fire, and in order to look at the sky it must stand on its head, as its eyebrows are so protuberant they prevent any upward sight. Sometimes manifesting as skulls or skeletons and shunning daylight hours, these hairy beings live in forest trees which they smite all night, causing much hullabaloo.

One tale recounts that a hebu whose name was Kau-nassa enticed children to a creek, and while they were playing, always in front of her, she plaited a basket and asked them to get inside for a game. When they did, she quickly placed a lid on top and dropped the basket into the water, where the children drowned.

Next she sought out two more children, a girl and her brother, and asked them to play where she could see them, in front of her. At this, the boy became curious and inched his way around behind her, where he saw the tell-tale sign of a glowing posterior. Yelling her name, “Kau-nassa, Kau-nassa!” he carried his sister away with great haste.

The hebu, incensed at hearing her name called aloud, burst into flame and vanished.

Check back to meet a fairy a day in the run up to the release of The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies on 28 August, 2014.

#3 Introducing the Celtic Noggle

A sneak peek at some of the denizens of fairyland you’ll meet in The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies…

#3 Noggle

(Also Nuggle or Nygel.)

A Celtic fairy water horse.

Illustration © Andy Paciorek
Illustration © Andy Paciorek

A Shetland kelpie, or water horse. It took the form of a pretty small grey horse, about the size of a Sheltand pony, wearing a bridle and saddle, and was generally thought to be less dangerous than the each usige, though anyone who was tempted to ride on its back would be treated to a severe dunking as the little horse darted into the water with its rider. A ride on a noggle did not usually prove fatal, though. Unlike the each usige, which was known to rip its victim to pieces, the noggle would rise from the water with the rider on its back and vanish in a blue flame.

Noggles could be identified by their tails, which curled over their backs like a half-wheel. They were often found in the vicinity of water mills and were fond of causing mischief by seizing the wheel at night and preventing it from spinning. They could be driven away by the sight of a long steel knife or a burning brand.

Check back to meet a fairy a day in the run up to the release of The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies on 28 August, 2014.

#2 A penchant for music, dancing and revelry…

A sneak peek at some of the denizens of fairyland you’ll meet in The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies…

Many of the fairies’ favorite times of year are connected with music, dancing, and revelry. In tales from around the world, fairies have a love of music, and are often to be found dancing in moonlit fields and meadows, forming light circles of grass known as fairy rings. It is said that anyone entering a fairy circle at midnight can see the fairies and may join in their dance―but exiting may not be so easy.

To mark the start of the bank holiday weekend, today’s fairies are the Sheoques of Ireland, whose love of revelry is infamous. One woman in Ireland was said to have returned after a seven-year sojourn with the Sheoques bereft of her toes―she had danced them all off.

 #2 Sheoques, the

Small land-dwelling fairies in the folklore of Ireland.

FairyRevels
Illustration © Andy Paciorek

According to W. B. Yeats in Irish Fairy Tales (1892), the name derives from the Irish sidheog, “a little fairy.” Yeats describes the sheoques as the spirits that haunt the sacred thorn bushes and the ancient raths, or ringforts, that are found scattered throughout the Irish countryside. The land fairies are said to have enticed many a mortal down into their dim world. Yeats writes:

Many more have listened to their fairy music, till all human cares and joys drifted from their hearts and they became great peasant seers or ‘Fairy Doctors,’ or great peasant musicians or poets like Carolan, who gathered his tunes while sleeping on a fairy rath; or else they died in a year and a day, to live ever after among the fairies.

Though generally benevolent, sheoques were in the habit of stealing human children, or sometimes adult men or women, and leaving a withered fairy changeling, “a thousand or maybe two thousand years old,” in their place.

In one account from the 1800s, a man wrote to one of the Irish papers, telling of a case in his own village and how the parish priest made the fairies deliver the stolen child up again. In another account, it was said that a woman from the village of Coloney, Sligo, was taken in her youth. Yeats writes:

When she came home at the end of seven years she had no toes, for she had danced them off. Now and then one hears of some real injury being done a person by the land fairies, but then it is nearly always deserved. They are said to have killed two people in the last six months in the County Down district where I am now staying. But then these persons had torn up thorn bushes belonging to the Sheoques.

Check back to meet a fairy a day in the run up to the release of The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies on 28 August, 2014.

#1 A most mischievous and unsociable Cornish sprite…

A sneak peek at some of the denizens of fairyland you’ll meet in The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies…

#1 Pisky

(Also piskey, piskie.) The Cornish breed of pixy.

Pisky
Illustration © Andy Paciorek

Cornish piskies are different from their English cousins the pixies – or pigseys, as they’re known in Devon and Somerset.

While the pigsey, or pixy, is on the whole harmless:

“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.” (Robert Hunt, Popular Romances of the West of England, 1862)

The Cornish pisky is an altogether tricksier customer:

“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.” (Robert Hunt, Popular Romances of the West of England, 1862)

The little fellows were also known for causing a nuisance to farmers – riding their horses, and chasing their cows. Though tales such as the pisky threshers show that the piskies could be a helpful and hardworking bunch too, should they choose to be. Hunt conceded that the piskies must have been a merry lot, since “to laugh like a piskie” was a popular saying.

Joan the Wad and Jack O’Lantern are sometimes named as the queen and king of the Cornish piskies. Coleman Grey was a pisky foundling, brought up by a human family until his own kind came to claim him. In other stories, piskies play the familiar fairy trick of stealing away a human child and replacing it with a pisky changeling.

Who was Robert Hunt?

Robert Hunt (1807-87) was one of the first people to publish a collection of Cornish folk tales. He started collecting the myths and legends of old Cornwall in 1849. Some he collected from traveling droll-tellers (wandering storytellers) as they spun their stories by the fireside, some he garnered from fellow Cornish folklorist and collector William Bottrell. Hunt and Bottrell were like the Cornish equivalent of the Brothers Grimm. It’s thanks to them that many of the old tales have survived – and that the Cornish pisky lives on to indulge in his merry mischief-making.

Check back to meet a fairy a day in the run up to the release of The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies on 28 August, 2014.

Enter the fairy realm – but consume nothing, or you may never return…

In the latest instalment of the best-selling Element Encyclopedia series, Lucy Cooper examines the history, legends, and folklore of fairies. Be charmed by the Djinn of Arabia, meet the bushy-eyebrowed Hebu of South America, and investigate the Cottingley Fairies, as you lose yourself on this enchanting journey of magical beings.

But beware: the forest is dense and shadowy, and that beckoning flicker may just as likely be friend as foe…

Loaded with hundreds of fascinating entries, this complete A-Z guide is packed with delightful illustrations, stories, and fairy lore spanning the globe.

Whether you’re a seasoned fairy-spotter or a new visitor to Fairlyland, The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies is an essential addition to your fantastical bookshelf.

The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies will be released on 28 August, 2014.