Page 79. " Freshly caught Cornish pixies "

J.K. Rowling describes Cornish pixies as being blue in colour, although most mythological accounts depict them like fairies, with pointed ears, wearing green clothing and a pointed green hat. The stories come mainly from Cornwall, but some think they originated in Christian belief as the souls of young children who died without being baptised. Others say the word pixie derives from the Pictic tribes, who used to cover their bodies in blue. But pixie could also come from the Swedish word ‘pyske’ meaning ‘little fairy’.

In Cornwall there are many legends about these small creatures. One is about a little boy who got lost. For three days his mother, with the help of villagers, searched for him everywhere. On the fourth day she found him sleeping in the same place she last saw him. The little boy told them a story about a bird, who led him into a cave, where pixies dwelt. For three days they fed him honey and sang him to sleep.

Like naughty children, pixies are very mischievous. Some of their favourite pastimes are: confusing people by leading them astray; stealing horses and returning them with a tangled mane; and dancing under the moon and stars.

Page 88. " Givin’ me advice on gettin’ kelpies out of a well "

The Celts believed that kelpies haunted their rivers. These supernatural water horses have the body of a horse but the feet and skin of a seal. They live in lochs and try to lure people into traps by becoming real-life horses. A kelpie's mane is always wet. A common tale claims that once a kelpie gets hold of a human being his skin becomes sticky and adheres to the person, allowing the kelpie to drown him in the loch and eat him.

Reconstruction of Ogopogo Sighting
GNU Free Documentation LicenseReconstruction of Ogopogo Sighting - Credit: Phillip O'Donnell
Some people believe that these creatures really exist. The Loch Ness monster is thought to be a water horse, and other ‘kelpies’ include Ogopogo, found in the Canadian lake Okanagan and Champ, found in Lake Champlain.

Water horse sightings were supposedly more common in the 1700s and 1800s. No one has ever captured one of these ‘creatures’.

Page 88. " bangin’ on about some Banshee he banished "

The Banshee is a female spirit associated with death. According to Irish mythology, the Banshees are able to foretell the loss of the members of certain ancient families, mainly the O’Neills, Kavanaghs, O’Connors and O’Briens.

This female spirit can appear as an old hag, as a beautiful young woman, or else as a matron: three images that represent the different aspects of the Celtic Goddess of War and Death known as Mor-Rioghain, Badhbh and Macha. The Banshees are not always seen, but their piercing cries can be heard at night as warning of an impending death. Belief in this female spirit is still common in Ireland, and some Irish emigrants hear her cries even abroad.

Page 94. " Nearly Headless Nick, the ghost of Gryffindor Tower "

A ghost is the spirit of a dead being that still haunts a particular person or place. Every culture in the world has its own ghost stories and beliefs. Reports of spiritual activities have been recorded since the beginning of times.

White Ladies, Haunted Houses, Phantoms, Ghost Ships: the legends have been the subject of thousands of books and film plots. Are they just angry spirits, threatened in some way, looking for vengeance? And how come did they stay attached to this Earth and did not ‘pass over’ like others do?

Apparently there is a scientific explanation for this phenomenon. According to Professor Michael Persinger, changes in electromagnetic fields can cause the human brain to see, hear and feel things that aren’t there.

Reality shows like Most Haunted have helped to increase interest in paranormal investigation, and recently there has been a boom in the ghost-hunting businesses. Some companies sell equipment like EMF meters; others organise ghost tours. There are even several businesses offering ghost counselling. Do ghosts really exist or are they just a way in which our mind explains death and the mysteries surrounding it?

Page 100. " By the time Hallowe’en arrived "
Jack-o'-Lantern
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeJack-o'-Lantern - Credit: Toby Ord

Halloween is a holiday celebrated with costumes – the more gruesome the better – parties, scary movies, ghost tours, Jack-o’-Lantern carvings and trick-or-treating. Every 31st October, most of us join these festivities without any idea of the true meaning behind this night.

Halloween has its roots in the Celtic festival Samhain, meaning ‘the end of summer’. The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in Ireland, Britain and parts of northern France, celebrated their New Year with the beginning of the cold, wet days of winter and the end of their harvest season.

Winter was associated with death, and it was widely believed that during the night when the seasons changed the border between Earth and the spirit world thinned, allowing spirits – both good and evil – to pass through. On Samhain, the Celts made huge bonfires and sacrificed food and animals to their deities, in order to protect their crops from these spirits. They wore horrifying costumes with masks, normally made from animal’s heads and skins, to ward off the evil spirits from their houses.

When the Romans conquered the Celtic lands, two of their festivals were combined with that of Samhain. One of these festivals, Feralia, celebrated in late October, commemorated the passing of the dead. The other was a festival that honoured the Goddess of Fruit and Trees, Pomana. The symbol of this Goddess is the apple, which is why during Halloween parties some play the game ‘bobbing for apples’.

By 800 AD, Christians had started to influence these pagan beliefs. Pope Boniface IV declared 1st November to be All Hallows Day or, as we know it today, All Saints Day. The word Halloween is derived from the ancient Old Hallows Eve – that is, the night before All Hallows Day.