How to Avoid Being Pixie-Led: Tips for Folkloric Hitchhikers

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If ever ye at Bosworth will be found,

Then turn your cloaks, for this is Fairy-ground.


Bishop Richard Crobet, Iter Boreale, 1625

This entry isn't interested in attempting to prove anything scientifically. Instead, it intends to offer a practical guide for hitchhikers and other pedestrians in danger of being pixie-led. In other words, we don't care if it's in your head or hiding in the bushes. Here's how to avoid losing your way, your time, and possibly your mind, using time-honoured techniques and ordinary household materials.

Fairies, Pixies, and UFOs

Fairies, and their cousins the pixies, are to be found in one form or another in every time and place where there are humans to tell stories about them. 'It is frightfully difficult to know much about the fairies,' wrote JM Barrie, 'and almost the only thing for certain is that there are fairies wherever there are children.' Just about every Native American nation has a form of miniature preternatural person, like the Wemategunis of the Lenape people of Delaware and Pennsylvania. Stories about encounters with these small other-worldly ones are as old as folklore and as new as your tabloid newspaper – especially if you count meeting aliens in close encounters of the third kind.

Some folklore researchers do count all of these mysterious encounters together. They also frequently attribute these 'alien encounters' to neurological phenomena. As Mirjam Mencej wrote in a 2018 issue of the scholarly journal Preternatural, '...various cultural concepts explaining the experience...may have been adopted by people in order to cope with and make sense of what they experienced in a society that does not grant cultural value to altered states of consciousness.' This is all well and good if the individual meeting the aliens is alone. Betty and Barney Hill might raise a few quibbles, as they both saw the creatures together. Folie à deux, perhaps? People will have to agree to disagree. While the Journal of Abnormal Psychology may speak of 'proneness to fantasy and unusual sensory experiences1,' people who were lost in the woods may stubbornly insist, 'I saw what I saw.'

What Causes Pixie-Leading, and Where Is It Most Likely to Occur?

pixie-leading: The action or fact of being led astray by pixies.

Pixie-leading has been a recognised phenomenon in English-speaking countries since at least the 17th Century. It happens when unwary travellers find their ordinary surroundings turning unfamiliar. A pixie-led person can go astray for hours, or even days. Others may seek the lost one through the same terrain and never find them. Often, being pixie-led causes 'lost time': what may seem to the lost individual merely a few hours could, in fact, be days.

The cause of this form of disorientation is said to be pixies or fairies or some other form of local preternatural mischief-maker. The lost person has either offended them in some way – by trespassing on their territory, for example – or attracted their playful attention. It's a recognised phenomenon in some parts of the world, particularly Ireland and Newfoundland.

…he left his home two hours before dawn for the purpose of going to work and that all he remembered was seeing a funeral, when he lost his senses and was carried away by the fairies.

This quote is from a 1 October 1880 lawsuit in St John's, Newfoundland. A workman, John Ebbs, was suing his employer, J Hickey, for lost wages. Hickey replied that Ebbs had been absent from work for 13 days. True, said Ebbs, but it wasn't his fault. He'd been pixie-led and lost time. Hickey didn't dispute this, nor did Judge James Gerve Conroy (a native Irishman). The question was merely one of remuneration. Mr Hickey thought it was unfair to make him pay for fairy-induced work absences. The judge disagreed, and ordered the employer to pay up. Obviously, being led astray by fairies entitled one to workman's compensation.

The Ebbs lawsuit is not an isolated incident in Newfoundland. Barbara Rieti's 1991 award-winning study Strange Terrain: The Fairy World in Newfoundland recounts a plethora of fairy-related incidents within living memory. According to Rieti, 'In the Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive (MUNFLA) there are hundreds of accounts of the fairies…' Being pixie-led may be counted among the 'fringe phenomena', but it is far from uncommon in some parts of the world.

What Can You Do If You're Being Pixie-Led?

You've passed that intersection five times now, and you still can't find what's on the map. The lane you're in isn't headed to the highway: in fact, there's no paved road at all, and the place looks like the land time forgot. You remember hearing weird music, and then…you were lost. The people up on that hill are dressed oddly, and you don't like the way they're looking at you. It's all rather eerie…

Don't panic. Yes, you're probably being pixie-led. But there's good news. You can get back to reality. Just remember to:

  • Avoid drawing attention to yourself. You don't want the pixies or fairies on your case.
  • Avoid giving offence. Nod politely if you pass a suspicious person. Say hello. And keep going. Remember: it isn't politically correct to say 'fairy'. Call them 'the Good People'.
  • If they offer you food, don't eat it. Fairy food may cause you to get stuck in their dimension permanently. Or turn you into one yourself.
  • Quick: turn your clothes inside out. Or turn your cap backwards. The efficacy of this move is obvious, because so few modern American teenagers are kidnapped by fairies. Either that, or fairies don't like modern American teenagers.

Turning one's clothing inside out is a time-honoured remedy for being fairy-led. It's best, however, to avoid confusion in the first place. Besides wearing inside-out clothing, it is recommended to carry iron or put bread in one's pockets. A bell tied to your anorak will also work wonders: fairies and pixies don't like the sound.

In case you're wondering, fairies in Newfoundland are environmentally conscious. Newfoundland's children are, too, once their school has been visited by the 'professors' of the Newfoundland Fairy Rescue and Research Laboratory, an organisation that rehabilitates fairies damaged by pollution and releases them into the wild – after Newfoundland's school children have been allowed to visit them, of course.

1In Spanos, N. P., Cross, P. A., Dickson, K., & DuBreuil, S. C. (1993). Close encounters: An examination of UFO experiences. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 102(4), 624–632.

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