Witches and Piskies


There were several witches in Cornwall, probably the best known being Madgy Figgy. She has her own chair on a rock southwest of St. Levan, where she would cast spells to whip up the seas and cause ship-wrecks, because she enjoyed watching the ships flounder. When the ship struck the rocks she would fly over it and watch the wreckers taking the bounty.

One night though she met her match. A woman's body was washed ashore, adorned with jewels so Madgy Figgy claimed them for herself and buried the body in the cliff. That night a light appeared in the cove, settled on the grave, then moved to the witch's chair.this happened every night until a stranger arrived and asked to be shown the graves from the recent shipwreck. He sat beside them throughout the day; the light appeared brighter than ever that night and it led the stranger to Madgy Figgy's hut and settled on the chest containing the dead woman's jewels. Madgy opened the chest and gave the valuables to her visitor saying 'one witch always knows another, dead or living.'

In Zennor there is Witches Rock where all the local witches used to meet on Midsummer's Eve. Legend has it that if you touch the rock nine times at midnight you will be protected from evil and bad luck.

Witches were supposed to have the power to change shape at will and there are many tales of the hare that baffled pursuing hounds, until one day it was wounded by a silver bullet. From that day on Old Mother So-and-So walked with a limp. Another popular familiar was the toad.

At Boscastle there is a witches museum full of things that may have been used by local witches and also with some modern things you can buy and cast your own spells with.

Fairy Folk

There were four main types of fairies; Piskies, Spriggans, Little People and Knockers.

Piskies appeared all over Cornwall and depending on where you lived they were either lucky or not.

In west Cornwall they were thought to milk cows dry while in the north, piskies would ride the horses at night until the creatures were exhausted.

Someone who thought they were lucky was an old furze-cutter who found one asleep in the gorse. The pisky was wearing green cloth and his shoes were buckled. The old man carried him home where he would entertain the family by dancing. However one day the children let it escape and it was reclaimed by his own kind. Having a pisky in the house was always considered lucky.

Sometimes people would get lost in a place they knew well and couldn't find their way home, this was known as being pisky-led. The only way to escape from the spell was to turn your coat inside out. Men would get put under a spell by the piskies music, join in the dancing and then not be able to leave the dance until the fairies released them from the spell, sometimes never.

A Dance of the Little People

A nine year old boy in St. Allen, near Truro, disappeared from his home for over three weeks before he was found asleep on a bed of fern. When he awoke he told of how he had met a beautiful lady who led him into an underground cavern built of pure crystal supported by pillars of glass. He had been fed on fairy food and had enjoyed himself.

Another tale tells of Spriggans on Trencrom Hill. Spriggans were a type of warrior fairy that used to protect the treasure in the hills and some people though that they might be the ghosts of dead giants. One bright moonlit night a miner decided to go and see if there really was treasure buried, so with his lamp and pickaxe set off. He was just starting to dig when a raging storm blew up and the moon vanished behind dark clouds. As the lightning flashed he saw hundreds of spriggans racing toward him. Leaving his tools and his light he ran, petrified, down the hill and took to his bed. A shivering, quaking shadow of his former self, unable to work for several weeks, he was never the same again.


Knockers were the fairies that lived in the mines. They were said to have large heads and faces of old men. Sometimes they were helpful, working ahead of the miners and leading them to rich veins of ore, but most miners were afraid of them. They could be spiteful if their wishes were not respected.

Tom Trevorrow was a tin miner in St.Just who didn't believe in the power of the Knockers so when he heard a noise he told them to be quiet. He was immediately struck on the head by a fall of small rocks but he still carried on working. Soon he heard their voices again this time telling him to leave them some cake. He refused and the next day when he arrived at the mine he found that a rock fall had buried both his tools and his ore that was to provide his months wages. After this he still didn't believe in the Knockers but life in the mine got worse and he became a farm labourer instead.

Most miners left a piece of their pasty or cake for them as a good luck gesture.