Creatures of Cornish Folklore … Piskies,​ ​Spriggans​ ​and​ Knockers.

Legend has it that in​ ​days​ ​of​ ​old,​ ​Piskies,​ ​Spriggans,​ ​Knockers​ ​and​ other such ​small​ ​people​ ​were​ ​thought​ ​to​ ​share​ ​the​ ​land​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Cornish people.​

​The​ ​Cornish​ ​Piskey​ ​is​ ​by​ ​far​ ​the​ ​most​ ​notorious of these mythical creatures. ​​The Piskies​ ​always​ ​worked​ ​alone​ ​and​ ​were​ ​therefore​ ​referred​ ​to​ ​as​ ​Piskey.​ ​The​ ​Cornish​ ​Piskies​ ​were​ ​likened​ ​to​ ​little old​ ​men,​ ​all​ ​identical, ​no​ ​taller​ ​than​ ​your​ ​thumb​ ​with​ ​weathered​ ​faces​ ​and ​beady​ ​little​ ​eyes​ ​similar to those of ​a​ ​mouse. They​ ​were​ ​smartly​ ​dressed​ ​little​ ​fellows​ ​with​ ​red​ ​caps,​ ​breeches,​ ​white​ ​shirts,​ ​brown​ ​coats,​ ​stockings​ ​and​ ​black shoes​ which were ​proudly​ ​polished​ ​and​ ​finished​ ​off​ ​with​ ​​glinting​ ​silver​ ​buckles.​

​Piskies​ ​were​ ​said to always​ be ​lively​ ​and​ ​chatty, with ​their​ ​chatter​ likened to the sound of​ ​a​ ​hive​ ​of​ ​bees,​ ​and​ ​their​ ​preferred​ ​mode​ ​of​ ​transport was​ on the backs of ​snails!​ ​It was believed by some that these​ ​jovial,​ ​heel​ ​clicking,​ ​impish ​Piskies​ ​had come​ ​over​ to Cornwall ​with​ ​the​ ​Saints​ ​from​ ​Ireland.​ ​Others​ ​believed​ that ​the creatures​ ​had​ ​once been​ ​Gods​ ​of​ ​Pre-Christian​ ​Cornwall,​ ​originally giant​ ​in​ ​stature,​ ​but​ ​with​ ​the​ ​beginning​ ​of​ ​the​ ​new​ ​religion​ ​they​ had ​shrunk​ ​when​ ​sprinkled​ ​with​ ​Holy​ ​Water.

They​ ​were​ ​mischievous​ ​little​ ​things​; rumoured to sometimes​ ​wildly​ ​ride​ ​peoples​ ​ponies​ ​by​ ​the​ ​cover​ ​of​ ​darkness ​laughing​ ​all​ ​the​ ​way,​ ​but​ ​they​ ​were​ ​​as​ ​kind​ ​as​ ​they​ ​were naughty.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​thought​ ​that​ ​they​ carried out good deeds such as ​tending to​ ​farmer’s​ ​fields​ ​and​ ​crops​ ​on​ ​moonlit​ ​nights,​ ​helping ​the​ ​elderly​ ​in​ ​their homes,​ ​and​ ​taking​ ​on​ ​chores​ ​for​ ​those​ ​suffering​ ​illness​ ​who were in​ ​need​ ​of​ ​help.​Above ​ ​all​ ​their​ ​good​ ​spirits​ ​outweighed their mischief.

Where Piskies were​ ​deemed​ to be ​good​ ​spirits​ ​of​ ​Ancient​ ​Cornwall, The​ ​Spriggans​ ​were​ ​not.​ ​These little creatures​ ​were known as being infamously​ ​bad​ ​to​ ​the​ ​core​ ​with​ ​not​ ​a​ ​single​ ​redeeming​ ​feature.​ ​There​ ​were​ ​many​ ​Spriggans​ ​that​ ​guarded every​ ​clifftop​ ​and​ ​granite​ ​cairn.​ ​​Cornwall​ ​is home to​ ​giant​ ​tombs​ ​known​ ​as​ ​dolmans​ ​and​ ​these,​ ​along​ ​with the hundreds​ ​of​ ​ancient​ ​burial​ ​sites, were​ ​thought​ ​to​ ​contain​ ​treasure​s that had been ​buried​ ​alongside​ ​the​ ​remains​ ​of​ ​the Pagan​ ​people who​ ​populated​ ​the​ ​land​ ​thousands​ ​of​ ​years​ ​ago.​

​The​ ​Spriggans​ ​guarded​ ​these​ ​sites in order​ ​to​ ​protect​ ​the treasures​ ​concealed within.​ ​They ​were said to​ ​use​ ​evil​ ​grins,​ ​spitting,​ ​hissing​ ​and​ ​whatever​ ​threatening means they ​could​ ​to​ ​warn​ ​people​ ​off.

​Their strange​ ​and​ ​creepy​ ​appearance​ ​also aided the Spriggens in their aim to be feared by those who saw them.​ ​Rumoured to be ​ugly,​ ​scary​ ​creatures with oversized heads balanced upon puny shoulders​ and ​the​ ​appearance​ ​of​ ​shrivelled​ ​old​ ​men​ ​their​ ​crimes​ ​included​ ​raising​ ​storms​ ​to​ ​terrify​ ​lonely​ ​travellers and ​summon​ing ​hail​ ​and​ ​rain​ ​to​ ​ruin​ ​crops.​ ​Worst of all​ ​they​ ​were​ ​said​ ​to​ ​steal​ ​babies​ ​from​ ​their cradles​, ​leaving​ ​behind​ ​one​ ​of​ ​their​ ​own​ ​ugly,​ ​large​ ​headed ​brats.

Probably the most​ ​mysterious​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Cornish​ ​elfin​ ​creatures​ ​was​ ​the​ ​Knocker​ ​or​ ​Knacker​ ​which​ ​lived​ ​in​ ​the​ ​mines. Although​ ​sightings​ of these ​were​ ​​​few​ ​and​ ​far​ ​between,​ ​the​ ​descriptions​ ​of​ ​these​ ​creatures​ ​always​ ​tallied.​ ​They​ ​were described​ ​as​ ​very​ ​ugly​ ​beings​ ​no​ ​more​ ​than​ ​knee​ ​high​ ​to​ ​an​ ​average​ ​sized​ ​man,​ ​with​​ ​large​ ​hooked​ ​noses, skinny​ ​limbs,​ ​mouths​ ​that​ ​stretched​ ​from​ ​ear​ ​to​ ​ear​ ​and​ ​a​ ​love​ ​of​ ​pulling​ ​hideous​ ​faces.​ ​Their​ ​activities​ ​with barrows,​ ​shovels​ ​and​ ​picks​ ​became​ ​familiar​ ​to​ ​every​ ​underground​ ​worker.​ ​Some​ ​people believed that​ ​they​ ​were​ ​the​ ​spirits​ ​of old​ ​miners​ ​a​nd ​some​ ​said that​ ​the​ ​Knockers​ ​were​ ​lost​ ​souls​ ​allowed​ ​entry​ ​to​ ​neither Heaven or​ ​Hell.​ ​

Their name derived from the knocking on the mine walls that occurred just before a cave-in. Some miners claimed that The Knockers were nasty spirits and the knocking sounds were the sounds of them hammering at supports and walls to cause a cave-in. Others saw the creatures as well-meaning and believed the knocking was their way of warning miners that a life-threatening collapse was imminent. According to some the Knockers were the helpful spirits of Cornish miners that had died in the many mining accidents across the county.

Cornish​ ​miners​ ​worked​ ​within​ ​the​ ​depths​ ​of​ ​the​ ​rocks,​ ​surrounded​ ​by ​darkness​ ​with​ ​the​ir only source of light​ ​coming from​ ​candles.​ ​In​ ​quieter​ ​moments​ ​the​ ​dripping​ ​of​ ​water,​ ​the​ ​faint​ ​tapping​ ​of​ ​another​ ​miner​ ​working ​in a ​far​ ​off level ​and​ ​noises such as ​the​ ​random​ ​clattering​ ​of​ ​falling​ ​stone​ ​all​ ​added​ ​to​ ​the​ ​mysterious​​ surroundings of the mines.​ ​Cornish​ ​people,​ ​miners included,​ ​were​ often ​of​ ​a​ ​naturally​ ​superstitious​ ​nature​ ​and with the ​eerie​ ​conditions​ the miners worked in ​underground​ ​it​ ​is​ of ​no​ ​surprise​ ​that​ ​even​ ​the​ ​most​ ​sceptical​ ​of​ ​miners seemed to believe​ ​in​ ​these​ ​underground​ ​spirits.​ ​Even​ ​those​ ​who​ ​remained​ ​unconvinced​ ​of​ ​the creature’s​ ​existence​ ​kept​ ​their scepticism to themselves​ ​for​ ​fear​ ​of​ ​repercussions. ​ ​Although​ ​friendly​ ​little​ ​fellows​ ​the​ ​majority​ ​of​ ​the​ ​time​ ​it was feared that the Knockers ​could​ ​be malicious​ ​when​ ​crossed,​ ​so​ ​it​ ​was​ ​wise​ ​to​ ​treat​ ​them​ ​with​ ​respect.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​believed​ ​that​ ​they​ ​should​ ​never​ ​be sworn​ ​or​ ​shouted​ ​at​ ​and​ ​any​ ​miner​ ​that​ ​did​ ​so​ ​was​ ​considered​ ​a​ ​fool.​

​The​ ​Knockers​ were rumoured to ​only​ ​worked​ ​profitable​ ​ground​ ​and​ ​would​ ​make​ ​themselves​ ​known​ ​only​ ​to​ ​those​ ​whom​ ​they favoured.​ ​Bad​ ​luck​ ​may​ ​even​ ​follow​ ​those​ ​who​ ​were​ ​particularly​ ​disrespectful towards them.​ ​One​ ​way​ to​ ​show​ ​The Knockers respect​ ​they​ ​desired​ ​was​ ​to​ ​leave​ ​them​ ​some​ ​food,​ ​traditionally​ ​the​ ​end​ ​of​ ​a​ ​Cornish​ ​pasty;​ ​a​ ​small​ ​offering​ ​in​ ​exchange​ ​for​ ​profitable​ ​mining​ ​and​ good ​luck.​

Even ​today​ ​it​ ​is​ ​believed​ by some ​that​ ​although​ ​the​ ​mines​ ​are now closed​ ​or​ ​abandoned,​ ​The​ ​Knockers​ ​still​ ​reside​ ​within,​ ​keeping​ ​an​ ​ever​ ​faithful​ ​watch,​ ​waiting​ ​for​ ​the​ ​day​ ​when they​ ​can​ ​once ​again​ ​guide​ ​the​ ​Cornish​ ​miners​ ​towards​ ​the​ ​rich​ ​ore​ ​within.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.