The Old Corpse Road Folklore Collective
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Variants: phouka, puca
No fairy is more feared in Ireland than the pooka. This may be because it is always out and about after nightfall, creating harm and mischief, and because it can assume a variety of terrifying forms. The guise in which it most often appears, however, is that of a sleek, dark horse with sulphurous yellow eyes and a long wild mane. In this form, it roams large areas of countryside at night, tearing down fences and gates, scattering livestock in terror, trampling crops and generally doing damage around remote farms.
In remote areas of County Down, the pooka becomes a small, deformed goblin who demands a share of the crop at the end of the harvest: for this reason several strands, known as the 'pooka's share', are left behind by the reapers. In parts of County Laois, the pooka becomes a huge, hairy bogeyman who terrifies those abroad at night; in Waterford and Wexford, it appears as an eagle with a massive wingspan; and in Roscommon, as a black goat with curling horns.
The mere sight of it may prevent hens laying their eggs or cows giving milk, and it is the curse of all late night travellers as it is known to swoop them up on to its back and then throw them into muddy ditches or bogholes. The pooka has the power of human speech, and it has been known to stop in front of certain houses and call out the names of those it wants to take upon its midnight dashes. If that person refuses, the pooka will vandalise their property because it is a very vindictive fairy.
The origins of the pooka are to some extent speculative. The name may come from the Scandinavian pook or puke, meaning 'nature spirit'. Such beings were very capricious and had to be continually placated or they would create havoc in the countryside, destroying crops and causing illness among livestock. Alternatively, the horse cults prevalent throughout the early Celtic world may have provided the underlying motif for the nightmare steed.
The weather spirit responsible for the south-westerly gales on the Firth of Cromarty. The Firth is well protected from the north and east, but a gap in the hills allows the entry of spasmodic squally gales. These gives Gentle Annis a bad reputation for treachery. A day will start fine and lure the fisher out, then, in a momemt, the storm sweeps round and his boat is imperilled. D. A. Mackenzie suggests that Gentle Annis is one aspect of the Cailleach Bheur. 'Annis' may come from the Celtic goddess Anu, which has been suggested, as the origins of Black Annis of the Dane Hills. It may be, however, that these half-jocular personifications have no connection with mythology.
(Anglo-Celtic) Since, if you "speak of the Devil" he will appear, Puck's euphemistic "disguised" name is "Robin Goodfellow" or "Hobgoblin",in which "Hob" may substitute for "Rob" or may simply refer to the "goblin of the hearth" or hob. The name Robin is Middle English in origin, deriving from Old French Robin, the pet form for the name Robert (which had cognates in the Old English Hrodberht and Old German Rodbert or Hrodebert, all derived from the Proto-Germanic hrôdberxtas. See Robert). The earliest reference to "Robin Goodfellow" cited by the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1531. After Meyerbeer's successful opera Robert le Diable (1831), neo-medievalists and occultists began to apply the name Robin Goodfellow to the Devil, with appropriately extravagant imagery.
He is a mischievous imp who delights in pranks and hazings. Boastful and immature, at his best he resembles a kind of Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn figure, if you can imagine those two endowed with supernatural powers. His name is an Anglicized version of the Irish Puca, Cymric Pwcca, ancient Celtic hobgoblinish spirits having the same general attributes as the later figure.
Though often thought of today as the goat-footed faery king of the woodlands, Robin was probably once another name for the Horned God, and he is believed to be the source for the folk-tales about the forest-dwelling hero Robin Hood.
Time and Age
The passage of time for faeries is clearly not the same as it is for mortal men. Some legends say that faeries are born old and grow younger as they 'age', while many others hold that they are ageless and forever young. While in faerie lands, mounds and burrows, time is usually not consistent with the outside world. There are accounts of men entering a faerie residence and sleeping but a night, while 50 years pass outside. If faeries age only a day for 50 years, then they could quite easily appear immortal compared to humans.
The marriage of a human man with a fairy wife seems generally to have been a marriage by capture, except for the Gwrachs of Wales, who generally yielded to wooing. Like the captured brides, however, they imposed a taboo, which was in the end always violated. Wild Edric is an early example of a captured fairy bride, complete with the taboo and the wife's final return to Fairyland. Many other wives are Selkies or Seal Maidens, captured by the theft of their seal skins. When, after years of married life, they regain their skins, they hurry down to the sea at once. Ralph of Coggeshall's early tale of the Green Children is an unusual one of fairies captured, for of the pair, the boy pined and died and the girl never went back to her subterranean land, but married and lived on like a mortal, keeping still some of the fairy wantonness. There are scattered tales all over the country of the capture of the small helpless fairies, most of whom escape in the long run. The most famous of these are the Leprachauns. The man who is bold enough to seize one hopes to threaten him into surrendering his pot of gold, for the Leprachaun is a hoarder, but there has been no recorded case of success.
The rule first laid down by Kirk that a fairy can only be seen between two blinks of an eye holds good with him. However fast your grip, you must keep your eye on him through rough and smooth, or he will slip between your fingers like water. Perhaps the same rule held good for the pixy at the Ovkerry, of whom William Crossing wrote in his TALES OF DARTMOOR PIXIES. An old woman who lived on the Moors was going home with an empty basket from the market after selling her goods. When she got near the bridge which spans Blackabrook at the Ockerry a small figure leapt on to the road and began capering in front of her. He was about eighteen inches high, and she recognized him as a pixy. She paused for a moment, wondering if she should turn back for fear of being Pixy-Led; but she remembered that her family would be waiting for her, and pressed steadily on. When she got to the bridge the pixy turned and hopped towards her, and she suddenly stooped down, picked him up, popped him into her empty basket and latched down the lid, for she thought to herself that instead of the pixy leading her she would lead the pixy. The little fellow was too tall to leap about in the basket, but he began to talk and scold in an unknown gibberish, while she hurried proudly home, longing to show her catch to the family. After a time the stream of gabbling stopped, and she thought he might be sullen or asleep. She thought she would take a peep at him, and lifted a corner of the lid very cautiously, but there was no sight or feel of him, he was gone like a piece of dried foam. No harm seems to have come to her, and, in spite of losing him, she felt proud of her exploit.
I Skillywidden and Coleman Gray tell of little fairies who were carried into human houses but got back to their own family in the end. In the sadder tale of BROTHER MIKE the little captive never escaped, but pined and died. Ruth Tongue has a story of a rather rare waterspirit, an ASRAI, who pined and melted away under the heat of the sun like a stranded jelly-fish when a fisherman caught it and tried to bring it home to sell. Most of these fairies, great or small, seem powerless to avenge the wrong offered to them, though other fairies avenge much more trifling injuries with Blights and Illnesses, or even death.
A Cornish example of the Captured Fairies, this is the name of a little Pisky boy who was adopted by a human. It is given by Hunt in POPULAR ROMANCES OF THE WEST OF ENGLAND, from T. Quiller Couch in NOTES AND QUERIES: 'There is a farmhouse of some antiquity with which my family have a close connection; and it is this circumstance, more than any other, that has rendered this tradition concerning it more interesting to us, and better remembered than many other equally romantic and authentic. Close to
this house, one day, a little miserable-looking bantling was discovered alone, unknown, and incapable of making its wants understood. It was instantly remembered by the finder, that this was the way in which the piskies were accustomed to deal with those infants of their race for whom they sought human protection; and it would have been an awful circumstance if such a one were not received by the individual so visited. The anger of the piskies would be certain, and some direful calamity must be the result;
whereas, a kind of welcome would probably be attended with great good fortune. The miserable plight of this stranger therefore attracted attention and sympathy. The little unconscious one was admitted as of the family. Its health was speedily restored, and its renewed strength, activity, intelligence and good-humour caused it to become a general
favourite. It is true the stranger was often found to indulge in odd freaks; but this was accounted for by a recollection of its pedigree, which was not doubted to be of the piskie order. So the family prospered, and had banished the thought that the foundling would ever leave them. There was to the front door of this house a hatch, meaning a half-door that is kept closed when the whole door behind it is open, and which then serves as a guard against the intrusion of dogs, hogs, and ducks, while air and light
are freely admitted. This little being was one day leaning over the top of this hatch, looking wistfully outward, when a clear voice was heard to proceed from a neighbouring part of the townplace, calling, 'Coleman Gray, Coleman Gray!' The piskie immediately started up, and with a sudden laugh, clapped its hands, exclaiming, 'Aha! my daddy is come!' It was gone in a moment, never to be seen again.
Oakmen are male dwarf faeries who are the guardians of sacred oak groves. They are not very friendly towards people, but no one has ever been harmed by one. They are described as having huge heads being squat, dwarfish people with red caps. There land of origin is Germany and Scandinavia but scattered references have also been found in Northern England though very few folktales about them: there is no doubt that the oak was regarded as a sacred and potent tree.
Most people know the rhyming proverb 'Fairy folks are in old oaks'; 'The Gospel Oak' or 'The King's Oak' in every considerable forest had probably a traditional sacredness from unremembered times, and an oak coppice in which the young saplings had sprung from the stumps of felled trees was thought to be an uncanny place after sunset; but the references to 'oakmen' are scanty. An oak coppice was often considered an evil and dangerous place to travel through at night, especially if it was a blue-bell wood. Oakmen are created when an oak stump sends up shoots. One should never take food offered by them ; they may offer delicious food to passing mortals, but as soon as the fairy magic on them is reversed, you will see they are, in reality, bits of poisonous fungi. It is unwise to wander around felled oaks, as oakmen may be lingering around them, angry at the loss of their parent tree. They guard the wild animals of the forests and dwell near clumps of bluebells. If you damage bluebells in the woods the Oakmen will make sure you get lost! They can be found in oak groves, especially in the Black Forest of Germany.
The oak derives its Gaelic name, (Old Irish daur, Welsh derw) from the Sanskrit word duir, or "door" and since trees have their roots in the unseen world, they are believed to be doors to these realms. Druids, who worshipped within sacred oak groves, derived their name from this word, combined with the Indo-European root wid, 'to know', becoming the "Wise Ones of the Oakwood." Bluebells were known as fairy flowers. Beatrix Potter in THE FAIRY CARAVAN gives some description of the Oakmen, squat, dwarfish people with red toadstool caps and red noses who tempt intruders into their copse with disguised food made of fungi. The fairy wood in which they lurk is thrice-cut copse and is full of bluebells.
THE FAIRY CARAVAN is her only long book, and is scattered with folktales and beliefs. It is probable that her Oakmen are founded on genuine traditions. In Ruth Tongue's FORGOTTEN FOLK TALES OF THE ENGLISH COUNTIES there is a story from Cumberland, 'The Vixen and the Oakmen', in which the Oakmen figure as guardians of animals. This rests on a single tradition, a story brought back by a soldier from the Lake District in 1948, and may well have been subject to some sophistication, but these two together make it worth while to be alert for other examples.
The Oakmen may have actually been some type of humans who worshipped in tree settings like the Druids of the Celtic lands. Because of the need for secrecy they may have gathered only at night and in the guise of non-human beings, in much the same way witches once gathered in secret. But the fact that they have come into legends as Dwarves means we have to take their existence as faeries seriously, also.
The Knocker, Knacker, Bwca (Welsh), Bucca (Cornish) or Tommyknocker (US) is the Welsh and Cornish equivalent of Irish leprechauns and English and Scottish brownies. About two feet tall and grizzled, but not misshapen, they live beneath the ground. Here they wear tiny versions of standard miner's garb and commit random mischief, such as stealing miner's unattended tools and food.
Their name comes from the knocking on the mine walls that happens just before cave-ins – actually the creaking of earth and timbers before giving way. To some of the miners, the knockers were malevolent spirits and the knocking was the sound of them hammering at walls and supports to cause the cave-in. To others, who saw them as essentially well-meaning practical jokers, the knocking was their way of warning the miners that a life-threatening collapse was imminent.
While some variety of "Little People" was common to all Celtic and northern Germanic peoples, the origin of knockers probably comes from early Welsh mythology, in which they may have been the pre-Brythonic inhabitants of the Celtic west of Britain. Skilled in the arts of mining and tunnelling, they taught these arts to the Britons. These legends may have influenced Tolkien's concept of the Dwarves, consummate miners and stoneworkers who taught these skills to men.
According to some Cornish folklore however, the Knockers were the helpful spirits of people who had died in previous accidents in the many tin mines in the county, warning the miners of impending danger. To give thanks for the warnings, and to avoid future peril the miners cast the last bite of their pasties into the mines for the Knockers.
In the 1820s, immigrant Welsh miners brought tales of the knockers and their theft of unwatched items and warning knocks to western Pennsylvania, when they gravitated there to work in the mines. Cornish miners, much sought after in the years following the 1848 gold rush, brought them to California. When asked if they had relatives back in Cornwall who would come to work the mines, the Cornish miners always said something along the lines of "Well, me cousin Jack over in Cornwall wouldst come, could ye pay ’is boat ride", and so came to be called Cousin Jacks. The Cousin Jacks, as notorious for losing tools as they were for diving out of shafts just before they collapsed, attributed this to their diminutive friends and refused to enter new mines until assured by the management that the knockers were already on duty. Belief in the knockers remained well into the 20th century. When one large mine closed in 1956 and the owners sealed the entrance, fourth, fifth, and sixth generation Cousin Jacks circulated a petition calling on the mineowners to set the knockers free so that they could move on to other mines. The owners complied.
The most noble tribe of all the fairies in Ireland. A big race who came from the planets and usually appear in white. The Irish used to bless the Gentry for fear of harm otherwise. One of the many euphemistic names for the fairies, used in Ireland. As Kirk says, 'the Irish use to bless all they fear Harme of'. The class of aliens referred to as the "Nordics" may be the Gentry. They often appear in dreams as seven foot tall glowing beings, known as "the Shining Ones."