Pixilated in Cornwall

A Cornish Pixie as imagined in the Harry Potter Chamber of Secrets movie.  Not so handsome but certainly mischievous.
A Cornish Pixie as imagined in the Harry Potter Chamber of Secrets movie. Not so handsome but certainly mischievous.

These days, when someone goes on about pixilation or being pixilated, they are probably talking about problems with their digital photos or some kind of Photoshop software glitch.  Before the computer age, however, being pixilated was a polite way of saying a person was a bit soft in the head—delusional, demented, or just plain crazy.  But it was not always so.  Time was people took pixilation seriously, for it meant the Pixies had put a spell on you—a quite unfortunate turn of affairs generally.

Devotees of the Harry Potter series may picture Pixies as small winged creatures with a bluish cast who are prone towards mischief.  While not entirely accurate, that is still a step up from the Victorian stereotype of cutesy winged diminutive females who flit about flowers and such.  It was the rather arch things that Victorian children’s writers did to the Fairy Folk that led J. R. R. Tolkien to ban all such things from his portrayal of the Elvenkind.  In truth, the ability of the Fair Folk to play with human’s minds in various ways and alter our perception of reality goes far beyond what Tolkien chose to portray.  While still relegated to the realm of fantasy literature, there are enough accounts floating about in the literature to make a case for various such fey folk being real—or perhaps more accurately, inhabiting their own reality.

While I normally devote space here to Southern paranormal mysteries and phenomena, since much of Southern culture and belief is derived from the Celtic realms of the British Isles, I hope I shall be pardoned from devoting today’s discussion to a well known case of pixilation from Cornwall—or at least it was well known in the seventeenth century.

A pixie with red cap according to HM Royal Mail.
A pixie with red cap according to HM Royal Mail.

Anne Jeffries, we are told, was an illiterate girl who entered the service of the Pitt family of St. Teath, Cornwall, when she was nineteen. She was fascinated by the stories of diminutive fairies common to the region and would venture into the night looking and calling out for them.

One day, in 1645, as she was knitting in an arbor by the garden gate, when suddenly fell into a fit. They carried Anne into the house and put her to bed.  She lay unconscious for some time, and it was feared she would die.  When she finally came to her senses, Anne told all and sundry a fantastic story.

Mistress Jeffries related to all who would hear how she had heard a rustling in the undergrowth but assumed it was a young man who was sweet on her, so she called out to him.  But it was no beau he was in the brush.

Anne heard a tinkling sound followed by a musical laugh, then the sound of the gate opening and shutting as six little men all dressed in green came through the garden gate.  She related that the six little men were all quite beautiful. One, with a red feather in his hat, spoke in tender tones to her.  Unafraid, Anne reached out her hand and he clambered onto the palm of her hand and when she lifted him onto her lap, he boldly ascended her torso and began kissing her neck. The other imps followed suite; then one of them put his hands over her eyes (how big was he?), and everything went dark.  Apparently their size might vary at will.  The next thing Anne knew she was swept up into the air and flew to a land far away; opening her eyes, she was Fairyland.

Like Alice in Wonderland, Anne found that she had shrunk in size and she was now the same size as all the wee folk, as well as being clad in their colorful clothing. She later gave a detailed description of this Fairland; it was a realm filled with temples and palaces of gold and silver, bright colored exotic birds and flowers, fish of glittering silver and gold.  All about were gaily clad folk dancing, prancing, or strolling through the verdant scenery.

According to Anne, one of the Pixies had an amorous interest in her.
According to Anne, one of the Pixies had an amorous interest in her.

Anne was surrounded by her six friends, but of the six the one with the red feather made her his chosen beloved. They managed to steal away together and while Anne was discreet in her description of his intent, the suspicion is his interest in her was more than platonic.  Suddenly the other five barged in, followed by a loud crowd. Her pixie lover drew his sword to defend her, but he fell at her feet wounded.

Then the pixie who had originally blinded her again place his hands over her eyes, and once more she was carried up into the air, finally finding herself on the floor of the arbor surrounded a crowd of concerned friends.

The journey to Fairyland apparently had lasting effects.  Anne soon found she now possessed the powers of clairvoyance and healing, with the first person to be healed being the mistress of the Pitt household. Anne became very religious and as fame of here healing powers spread, folk came to her for treatment from as far afield as Land’s End and London. She also appeared to be able to exist without human food. The son of the family, Moses Pitt reported that she forsook the family victuals and was fed by the fairies from harvest time to Christmas.

Unfortunately, she developed her power of prophecy at the height of the Puritan Revolution.  One of her prophesies foretold of the King’s ultimate victory, and the humorless Puritans had her arrested and committed to prison in 1646.  The Puritan magistrate ordered that she not be fed, but it didn’t seem to affect her at all. In 1647 she was detained in the house of the Mayor of Bodmin and still was not fed; but in the end she was released unharmed.

At the Pixie House in Tintagel, Cornwall one can stock up on all things Pixie related.
At the Pixie House in Tintagel, Cornwall one can stock up on all things Pixie related.

Anne Jeffries case was in unusual in many respects, not least because her prophecy of the return of the King came true.  Some may doubt that Anne was abducted by the wee folk and that she actually visited a magical Fairyland.  But then strange things happen when pixies are involved, and Cornish pixies are stranger than most.

Red Amanita Muscaria mushrooms are traditionally associated with fairies, elves and pixies.  Magic mushrooms indeed!
Red Amanita Muscaria mushrooms are traditionally associated with fairies, elves and pixies. Magic mushrooms indeed!

Katherine Bruggs, in her classic Dictionary of Fairies (1976), relates this and other Fey tales of the Fair Folk.  For many uncanny accounts from this side of the Atlantic, read Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Dixie Spirits!

Dixie Spirits via Sourcebooks

Strange tales of unexplained phenomena and paranormal activity in the Mid-South.
Strange tales of unexplained phenomena and paranormal activity in the Mid-South.

 

 

Advertisements

St. Nicholas the Necromancer: Christmas Spirits, Part 2

 

Saint Nicholas of Myra is the real life origin of our Santa Klaus. Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus.

While I normally focus my ruminations on strange doings below the Mason-Dixon Line, this go round we are casting our net farther afield.  

As we all know–or y’all should know–St. Nicholas, an orthodox Christian saint, has as his special domain is Yuletide and that in particular he is the patron saint of children.

How St. Nicholas became the patron of children is where the supernatural weirdness enters the tale.

The story goes (and who am I to question Holy Mother Church in matters of faith).  That St. Nicholas, the bishop of Myra, in Lycia an ancient kingdom in Anatolia (modern Turkey), had a strong reputation for piety and good works.  Like St. Valentine, he was known to give young unmarried girls money for their dowry, so they could get married instead of being sold to a brothel by their father (yes Virginia, times were tough back then).  To this day in some places, on his feast they still give bags of chocolate wrapped in gold foil to make them look like money.

St. Nicholas returns the three boys from the dead, a miracle which made him patron saint of children.
St. Nicholas returns the three boys from the dead, a miracle which made him patron saint of children.

One day, news came of a terrible crime.  Three young children had been murdered and their bodies were found pickled by a fiend named Garum, who bore a strange resemblance to Peter Lorrie in M.  Why the killer pickled them is a mite obscure, but the general theory is that he pickled them to prepare their flesh for being turned into meat pies (or the Roman equivalent)—à la Sweeney Todd.

Arriving on the scene of the crime, Old Saint Nick was anything but jolly at what he found.  The children were most thoroughly dead—some renditions of his life claim they had already been chopped into cutlets in preparation for cooking.  Then Saint Nicholas did something no one expected.  He reanimated the dead corpses of the three children and reunited them with their grieving parents.

St. Nick raising the boys back to life.  From the version of the story by Anatole France (1909).
St. Nick raising the boys back to life. From the version of the story by Anatole France (1909).

According to the version told by Anatole France, an angel appeared to Nick and bade him lay his hands on the pickle vat:

The angel said:

“Nicolas, son of God, lay your hands on the salting-tub, and the three children will be resuscitated.”

     The blessed Nicolas, filled with horror, pity, zeal, and hope, gave thanks to God, and when the innkeeper reappeared with a jug in either hand, the Saint said to him in a terrible voice:

“Garum, open the salting-tub!”

Whereupon, Garum, overcome by fear, dropped both his jugs and the saintly Bishop Nicolas stretched out his hands, and said:

“Children, arise!”

At these words, the lid of the salting-tub was lifted up, and three young boys emerged.

“Children,” said the Bishop, “give thanks to God, who through me, has raised you from out the salting-tub.”

The murderous innkeeper ran screaming into the dark and stormy night and has not been seen since.

Saint Nicholas also performed other feats of magic/miracles.  One time, while traveling at sea a terrible tempest arose and his sailing ship was in danger of sinking.  Again Old Nick stretched forth his hands over the waters and the sea was immediately calmed.  It is because of these aforementioned good works and miracles that St. Nicholas is not only the patron saint of children, but mariners, virgins and prostitutes.  This is why you will see icons of St. Nicholas with a boat in his arms and sometimes with gold balls.  The gold balls are a bit enigmatic, but either are analogs to the sack of coins he gives to virgins for their dowries or as rewards to his more shady female devotees for their devotion to him.  The gold balls may also relate to him being the patron saint of pawnbrokers, although how he took them under his wing is beyond me.

The notion that St. Nick is always a “jolly old elf” has been promoted mostly by the corporate types using him as a marketing ploy to commercialize a season which should be celebrating the advent of Jesus and the triumph of light over dark.  In fact, St. Nicholas had a bit of a temper if you got on his bad side.  During one church council, the bishops and other church officials were hotly debating the Arian Heresy, at the time being actively spread by a priest name Arius, who denied the divinity of Christ.  Well, the “debate” got so heated that “Jolly Old St. Nick” hauled off and punched Arius, knocking him down on the ground and out for the count.  I’m surprised that St. Nicholas isn’t also the patron saint of prize fighters.

Now a person who raises the dead from the grave for any purpose is by definition a necromancer and is necromancy is considered the blackest of the Black Arts.  That Jolly Old Saint Nicholas had the power (albeit God-given) to raise the dead speaks volumes about his spiritual (ie magical) abilities.  He may well be a merry old soul, but he is also not someone to get on the bad side of.

Krampus seems to take particular pleasure in abusing young women, to judge by the images of him.
Krampus is St. Nicholas’ “helper” who punishes bad girls and boys.

One hint that there is a darker side to Old Saint Nick is his “helper” the Krampus.  You never hear about Krampus in the U.S., but in Austria and Germany they know better.  One night on the Jimmy Fallon Show, Christophe Waltz gave American audiences a short education about Krampus. While the “elf on a shelf” is merely a snitch for Santa, Krampus is his enforcer—kind of like what happens if you don’t pay the Mafia loan-shark what you owe him.  The best way to describe Krampus is if Bigfoot had sex with the Devil and they had a child together, who took some really bad LSD, Krampus would be the result.  This creature is seriously demented.

If Saint Nicholas comes with “praise and presents and wisdom,”  Krampus comes with a stick and a bag and if you’re bad you get tossed in the bag and hit with a stick.  Actually, that is the least that Santa’s not so jolly helper will do to you.

More of Krampus' hair pulling of braided hair.  That in modern Austria young men who dress up as Krampus are  filled with spirits that are more alcoholic than spiritual, may explain why they target comely females for hair pulling.
More of Krampus’ hair pulling of braided hair. That in modern Austria young men who dress up as Krampus are filled with spirits that are more alcoholic than spiritual, may explain why they target comely females for hair pulling.

He is fond of pulling pretty girl’s golden braids and doing God knows what else to them when no one is looking, and there are even some hints that Krampus has cannibal tendencies, like the aforementioned innkeeper.

Krampus roasting the hearts of naughty girls and boys.
Krampus roasting the hearts of naughty girls and boys.

Although it is not widely mentioned, St. Nicholas the Necromancer is held in great awe among practitioners of Voodoo, where he is identified with the African entity Gran Solé or in the Santeria Cult, Gran Soler.  In the Spanish speaking lands of the Caribbean, Gran Soler and San Nicolas del Sol are one and the same.  Which brings us to why St. Nicholas is connected to Christmas in the first place.  No one actually knows when Jesus was born, but the early Church fathers placed his birthday around the same time as the Winter Solstice–the pagan feast of Sol Invictus, the unconquered Sun.  All fall, the days grow shorter and shorter, and the sun is “dying.”  But with the Winter Solstice the dying ceases and the sun returns from the “dead.”   St. Nicholas the Necromancer is closely tied with this annual miracle of nature.

 

Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun, closely tied to the Winter Solstice and Saint Nicholas.
Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun, closely tied to the Winter Solstice and Saint Nicholas.

That Nicholas of the Sun can raise the dead at will connects him closely with the Voodoo cult of the zombie as well.  Imagine, if you will, that with St. Nicholas/Gran Solé’s help, at a wave of the hand you could summon an army of reanimated corpses back from the dead to do your will—what kind of power would you wield?  Fortunately, that has not come to pass—yet.

So, let us hope you did not trample too many people on Black Friday, or run over too many pedestrians in your haste for a parking space.  You better be good, you better be nice and better think twice–and forget about the sugar plums and spice–lest Krampus and St. Nicholas the Necromancer decide to teach you a lesson you’ll never forget.

 

Little Saint Nick and his wingman, Krampus, tearing up the highways in their Harley (actually more like a BMW bike).
Little Saint Nick and his wingman, Krampus, tearing up the highways in their Harley (actually more like a BMW bike).

For more weirdness from the land of cotton, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Dixie Spirits.

open-uri20150930-11-1wp63v
Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South
GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF TENNESSEE
Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. True haunting tales of the Mid South