Ever since visitors have been arriving to experience and enjoy Dartmoor, those with a nose for business have been selling them lucky piskies in all shapes and sizes. But why do they sell so well? Is it just a bit of fun or deep down do we want to believe that these mischievous little folk are still around and can improve our fortunes? Full disclosure, I still carry a brass piskie in my purse that my Mother gave to me over 50 years ago! The piskie in the photo was a souvenir from 1900 and he scares many a visitor to the museum.

So where did piskies come from? They are believed to be pre-Christian and maybe Celtic in origin. The name may have come from the Old English word Pouke which refers to the Devil or an evil spirit. Shakespeare used this to name Puck the mischief maker in Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is not a difficult stretch to see how pouksies became piskies, or pixies, or pugsies, depending on where you live. The Church introduced the idea that piskies were the souls of children who had died without being baptised, obviously to encourage baptism.

The belief in these little folk was everywhere on Dartmoor which is why so many places are named after them. There’s the Puckie Stone, Pixie Glen, two Pixie caves, two Pixie Pools, Pixies Hold, Pixies House and Pixies Wood to name but a few. Bog cotton plant is commonly known as Pixie Grass as it was believed they used it to lure travellers into the bogs it grows on. There is also a red lichen called Piskie Cups (cladonia coccifera) due to its shape.

There are many stories about the good deeds Piskies have done but woe betide anyone who steals from them, spies on them or cheats them. Retribution is swift with babies being stolen, horses ridden to exhaustion, milk and cheese spoiled and people being pinched while they sleep. To keep them sweet a saucer of cream on the doorstep or a few morsels of food will do the trick. William Crossing in 1890 noted that they have a weakness for finery and snippets of ribbon would be highly prized by them.

So, do piskies still live on Dartmoor? There are those who believe they have seen them and many of you may have been Pixie-led while out walking on the moor but broken the spell by turning your coat inside-out! Listen out for dancing music when out on the moor and look out for plaits in ponies’ manes……a sure sign a piskie has been riding them. I think Piskie souvenirs will continue to sell for a long time. Who doesn’t need a bit of good luck?