Crash Course Mythology

CrashCourse has introduced a new series on Mythology! For those of us who’ve long enjoyed CrashCourse videos on history, literature, and science, this is welcome news. For those of us in that category who also love mythology and folk tales, this is wonderful news!

The first of a projected 40 or so installments, hosted by Mike Rugnetta, is now available on YouTube. Enjoy!

Spooky Icelandic Christmas Stories

The New England Folklorist is on to something:

I wanted to read something wintry to put me in the holiday spirit, so I picked up a collection of Icelandic folklore: J.M. Bedell’s Hildur, Queen of the Elves, and Other Icelandic Legends (2016). I thought, “Iceland is cold and snowy, so I’m sure these legends will put me in a Christmas mood.”

Although it doesn’t always work out that way, this time I was right. Not only are these legends set someplace icy and dark, many of them are explicitly about Christmas. However, unlike the stories we tell about Santa, Rudolph, and Mrs. Claus, these Icelandic stories are quite spooky. Apparently really terrible things happen in Iceland during Christmas. Malicious supernatural beings are very active there in late December.

For example, in “The Magicians of the Westmann Islands,” a group of magicians who have fled to an offshore island to escape the plague threaten to kill one of their fellow sorcerers by Christmas Eve if he doesn’t return to them. The lone sorcerer has fallen in love with the last woman in Iceland (everyone else has died from the plague) and refuses to return to the magicians. They send an assortment of demons to kill him on, but happily his beloved defeats them with help from her dead grandfather. I don’t know about you, but that’s not the type of story I usually hear at Christmas here in the United States.

There’s more, of course, so do read it all.

Proper Care and Feeding of Domestic Spirits

Via Atlas Obscura:

If you’re lucky, you can live in a home where a hairy little household imp will help keep your kitchen clean, or a domestic god will grant you everlasting good fortune. So long as you keep them happy.

From ancient Greece’s goddess of the hearth, Hestia, to the hobs of Northern England, household spirits have been around for centuries. But most such mythical creatures double as gods of fire and agents of chaos, so failing to tend to their needs can lead to missing items, broken dishes, and calamitous fortune.

As you prepare your home for the holidays this year, here are some tips on how to keep particular household spirits in good standing.

Of Corgis and the Wee Folk

A new article and mental_floss explains “The Ancient Connection between Corgis and Fairies“:

When one thinks of corgis, the first thing to come to mind may very well be, “Isn’t that the breed of dog the Queen of England really likes?” That’s true, of course. But there are plenty of other fun facts to file away about the fluffy canines. For example: Fairies used to ride them into battle.

That’s if you believe Welsh legend, anyway. According to the stories, a pair of corgis—specifically, the breed known as the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, as opposed to the Cardigan Welsh Corgi—were gifted to two human children by the “wee folk,” who used them for any number of tasks.


Paissas: Fair Folk of the Great Lakes Region

Ne-Sou-A-Quoit, a Fox chief, from History of the Indian Tribes of North America

Ne-Sou-A-Quoit, a Fox chief (via Wikipedia)

In the Central Algonquian languages spoken around the Great Lakes, one finds reference to a faery creature called (in various forms) a paissa. There are numerous variations on this term based on which specific language one is dealing with, but the word is almost always pronounced something like pah-ee-sah, and the plural form is paissake (pronounced pah-ee-sah-kee or similar). I’m using the Sauk term for simplicity’s sake. Some of the variant forms are:

  • Apa’iins or Pa’iins (Anishinaabe)
  • Apayaciha (Fox)
  • Pahiins (Ojibwe)
  • Pa’is (Potawatomi)
  • Paissa or Apayashiha (Sauk)
  • Paisa (Illini)
  • Páyiihsa (Miami)
  • Piesiihia (Kickapoo)

In whatever form, the word simply means “small person.” It can refer either to a mythological being or to an ordinary human who is short of stature. For example, “Pa’is” is a common man’s nickname in Potawatomi, similar to “Shorty.”

Paissake are usually described as about two feet tall. In most stories, they are portrayed as mischievous but generally benign nature spirits. They may play tricks on people but are not truly dangerous. In other stories, however, paissake have more formidable magic powers. They are even able to pose a credible threat to humans and even to the semi-divine culture hero Wisahkeha (Wisake, Wisakechak, etc.)—but usually only if they are provoked.

It is very likely that “little people” in these cultures are actually more than one type of faery creature. According to one online source, the Anishinaabe and Cree languages, the cognate term apa’iins is used to refer to at least three different types of being:

  • The apa’iins properly so-called: a dangerous trickster spirit, sometimes with great magical powers.
  • A generally benevolent child-sized creature called either a memekwesiw (Cree) or a memegwesi (Ojibwe)
  • A tiny, insect-like faeries called wiings.

These “little people” don’t fit neatly in Mason Winfield’s “two-tribe” model of benevolent and powerful “Healers” and mischievous if not malevolent “Tricksters.” In broad terms, however, the model may still work. On the one hand, “paissa” occasionally refers to powerful eldritch beings. On the other hand, the term “paissa” can refer—and more often does—to mischievous but benign creatures. There are still two tribes, but rather than “Healers” and “Tricksters,” it seems to be more “Dangerous Tricksters” and “Benign Tricksters.

Cannibal Dwarves: Hostile Little Folk of the Great Plains

The San Pedro Mountains Mummy, claimed by some to be the remains of a Nimerigar

The San Pedro Mountains Mummy, claimed by some to be the remains of a Nimerigar (Wikipedia)

For the most part, the Fair Folk of North America are more congenial than their European counterparts. Though exceptions certainly exist, they are more likely to be friendly to mortals than the average sídhe or pisgy, for example.

One clear exception is found among the peoples of the Great Plains. The little folk of that vast region between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River are most often depicted as a race of dangerous cannibals. These “cannibal dwarves” or “wild people” are known to virtually every tribe in the region—and even into the Rocky Mountains. They are called by a multitude of names, including:

  • Gada’zhe, mong-thu-jah-the-gah, or ni’kashinga man’tanaha (Omaha-Ponca)
  • Hecesiiteihi (Arapaho)
  • Mi’-a-gthu-shka or mialuka (Osage)
  • Nimerigar (corruption of Shoshoni nemetakah, numu-tuhka)
  • Nirumbee or awwakkulé (Crow)
  • Nunnupi or nunumbi (Comanche)
  • Vo’estanehesano (Cheyenne)

Cannibal dwarves are dangerous and aggressive by nature. Like the faeries of Europe, they sometimes kidnap children or use their magical powers to harm people. They hunt with bows and poisoned arrows, and are able to inflict wounds without breaking the skin—also a point in common with their European cousins. They have their own villages, trails, and other places. They can only be seen, however, when they want to be or are taken unawares.

Descriptions of these little folk vary somewhat from community to community. In Arapaho legend, they are immensely strong. According to the Omaha, they are tiny one-eyed cyclopes. The Crow see them with pot bellies and no necks. In other Siouan traditions (Osage, Omaha, and Kansa, for example), they sometimes have wings.

Whatever the particulars, these beings are usually said to be the size of children (generally 2–4 feet tall), dark-skinned, and extremely aggressive. They usually have squat necks and sharp teeth. Some storytellers say they have the power to turn themselves invisible, while others say they are hard to spot simply because they move with incredible speed. Some suggest that their warlike temperament comes because they must be killed in battle in order to reach their dwarfish afterlife. Others say that they are gluttons who habitually kill more than they can eat just because they can.

These beings are almost always hostile to human beings. There are some Crow legends, however, in which a nirumbee helps a mortal, especially during a sacred fast or in return to a kindness done to them. Furthermore, they are said to have played a major role in shaping the destiny of the Crow nation through the dreams of the Crow chief Plenty Coups in the early twentieth century. They thus can be seen as imparting spiritual wisdom despite their overall hostility to humans.

Faeries and Pixies of Exmoor

The Faery Folklorist offers numerous tales of the Fair Folk of Exmoor and nearby areas in the West Country of England. The common name for such beings in this part of England is either pixie (in Devonshire) or pisgy/piskey (in Cornwall).

I think it’s about time more attention was paid to the extraordinary fairy folk and pixies of Exmoor! These wonderful little characters are often sadly overlooked and overshadowed by their more famous relatives, the Piskies of Cornwall and Pixies of Dartmoor. Below you will find a beginners guide to the fairies and pixies of Exmoor, including their habits and habitations, and an insight into their curious behaviour.