Feeling Hag-gard…

I am not feeling at my best at the moment, in fact far from it. So as part of my attempt at rest and recuperation a walk to breathe in the restorative air of Devon’s coastline was in order.

There is something about the whole of the Jurassic Coastline that is amazing, not simply the natural beauty, but also the realisation of the sheer depth of time, and how we are small part of millions of years of activity.DSC_0120[1]

Sidmouth – the location for my walk – is the gateway to the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, and archaeologically there are signs its long history all over town (indeed a previous walk took in some of the town’s features). The start of today’s walk was Connaught Gardens played a strategic defensive position, the evidence of which can still be seen in the gardens still.

The gardens themselves were a fortification, and a lime kiln, and the evidence for the kiln can still be seen at Jacob’s Ladder (and I can really recommend the cake at the cafe….)

DSC_0129[1]

The stormy weather of recent weeks has really played havoc with the coastline, and it took me a while tyo realise that I was standing on top of the promenade’s railings and that the stones had completely covered them!

DSC_0132[1]

I also love the graffiti on the cliff. I obviously don’t condone the damage of a World Heritage Site, but I love to see the care taken by people to preserve their presence.

DSC_0135[1]Back on the beach I started to pick up Hag stones, natural perforated stones which have numerous folkloric meanings and associations. Also known as Odin/ adder/ fairies/ holey/Hex stones they are said to have amazing and magical properties.

DSC_0142[1]Hag stones are particularly prevalent in the folk history of the South West of England, and were used to ward off evil spirits, influence by the dead, and witchcraft. In Dorset fishermen used the stones to protect against witches or spirits from boarding the boat. On Dartmoor they were known as Hex stones, and placed on window sills to protect the house.

Hag stones were worn around the neck to ward of the evil eye and spirits, but also illnesses such as plague and whooping cough, and actually thought to be able to cure a whole range of diseases. They were also used as treatment for snake bites. The stones were also able to prevent pixies, fairies and witches from interfering with livestock, in particular effecting the milk of cattle. If hung over a bed or round a bed post, it would stop Succubus or other such nightmares harming the occupant while they slept.

Moreover it is often said that if you look through the hole of a Hag stone you can see fae creatures such as fairies and pixies, or malevolence that had concealed itself from view.

DSC_0143[1]

Maybe I should start wearing one, I might gain some benefit from its protective and magical nature!

12 ways to avoid being pixie led…

The church in the village where I live is chiming the hour at 10 past, which confused me greatly. My normal explanation for such things is that “it’s the pixies” – in this case because they dislike bells. This got me thinking, how do you protect yourself from the malevolence of pixies and fairies, and avoid being enchanted or led astray on the walk home?

This is my simple guide:

1. Turn your clothes inside out. Simple and effective, even a pocket inside out will do – this seemingly confuses the piskies and allows you to go about your business (will also break the spell of anyone pixie led, as it is thought to change the afflicted person’s identity)

2. Put a pin in your clothes. Pixies and fairies are repelled by iron (both in ore and worked form), so this seems to be the lightest way of carrying some on your person.

3. Wear a holed stone amulet or bells (also works for cattle). As I mentioned above, pixies aren’t overly keen…

4. Oatmeal in a pocket: For some reason pixies and fairies aren’t keen on the oaty goodness

5. Holy water. Often thought of as fallen angels (not good enough for heaven, not bad enough for hell), holy water is said to make the fairies and pixies keep their distance. A soggy solution, but effective.

6. Open scissors over a baby’s cot: One for home, stops the baby been taken and replaced by a changling.  Although it is up to you which you consider the more dangerous…

7. Don’t travel on your own. Or at night, or in a storm, or mist. In fact best to stay in all together.

8. Don’t ignore them. In some places it pays to be polite – like at Santon in the Isle of Man. Always best to say “Laa Mie” (or hello if you not versed in Manx) as you cross the bridge.

9. But if you see one, don’t let on… Remember the tale of the mortal midwife who, after delivering a fairy child, secretly put drops in her eyes that allowed her to see the fae. On recognising the father at a fair she called out to him (and therefore showing him what she’d done), and he responded by taking her sight.

10. …and don’t ask them their names. Very-bad-idea…

11. Best not to eat any food offered either. As you’ll be under an obligation you won’t be able to get away from; they always want something in return.

12. In fact, just don’t provoke them... Seriously, do you still think running widdershin around a fairy ring is a good idea??

The battle of the fairies and the pixies

I have been researching folklore and archaeology for about thirteen or so years. It’s becoming a little more mainstream now, but when I started I was known as “the girl that talks about fairies”…. I grant you, this isn’t the worst thing I could have been known for but it was, and still has been, a slight millstone around my neck. This is in greater parts down the fact that some people think I actually believe in fairies, or that I want to be one. As such, when discussing my research I spend a good part of my time explaining what I’m NOT talking about (the cutesy flower fairy image of the Tinkerbell variety). I also make it clear that fairies and pixies aren’t the same, and that there are real differences in where they occur in the landscape.

One of my favourite stories to recall is the battle of the fairies and pixies on the Devon/Somerset border. I discovered the story while writing my PhD a number of years ago, but I still love it.

Basically it goes like this:

There was a time when the fairies who dwelt in Somerset and the lands to the east of the River Parrett wanted to cross the border and enter Devon to settle and extend their territory. However, the Devonian pixies, who already lived there, refused them entry. Soon war began between the two beings, and it violently and terribly raged across the landscape.

The final battle was fought on the Somerset side of the Blackdown Hills, a range of steep valleys and ridges that straddle the Devon/Somerset border well known to be the dwelling of pixies, spunkies, and ghosts of the Monmouth Men (a story for another time…). It is said that the precise spot is at the village Buckland Saint Mary that lies some 9 miles south of  the county town of Taunton and near to the modern A303. During this final confrontation the fairy host were defeated and driven away back into Somerset and Dorset, and some further afield across the water into Ireland. They were never to return to Devon, or try and conquer the lands again.

The wonderful Mrs Bray tells us that the king of the fairies was none other than Oberon, and it was during this battle “his majesty received a wound in the leg which proved incurable; none of the herbs in his dominions have hitherto had the least beneficial effects, though his principal secretary and attendant, Puck, has been in search of one of a healing nature ever since” (Bray, A. E. 1853, A Peep at the Pixies, or Legends of the West 11–12).

So that is why there are only Pixies in Devon 🙂

by HABLOT K. BROWNE

by HABLOT K. BROWNE