Folktale Friday: It’s a Gallitrap!

Mystical grass circles believed to be created by the Cornish pixie, gallitraps (or galley-traps) are an intriguing and largely unexplored piece of British folklore.

Gallitrap FAQs

“Where can I find a gallitrap?”

Gallitraps seem to be exclusively found in the West Country of England. Made up of the counties of Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset, the West Country is bursting at the seams with myth, legend and folklore.

As well as Cornish pasties and Devonshire teas.

# real magic
Photo by Scott Eckersley on Unsplash

In addition to Arthurian legend and the chivalric romance of Tristan and Isolde, the West Country is also the birthplace of folkloric creatures like giants, male mermaids (bucca) subterranean trolls (knockers) and pixies.

In fact, the south-west of England is so steeped in mythology that if you’re in England and something wicked this way comes, it’s probably approaching from the west.

“Pixies you say?”

Yes.

Traditional Cornish pixies (or piskies) were forest dwelling sprites known for light acts of mischief such as “scaring maidens”. At some point in their history though, pixies received a bit of a malevolent makeover.

Perhaps as a result of the writers and poets of the 1800s, pixies began to stand apart from their fancy fairy cousins via the gallitrap which tuned the mischief maker into a murderer.

Just like this monkey.
Photo by Dil on Unsplash

“How so?”

While in many poems and tales of the 1800s the gallitrap is a grass “lasso of truth”, forcing guilty persons to confess their shameful deeds, in other writings its basically a human snare. A device to trap, exhaust and eventually kill its oblivious human victims.

An unwitting soul, perhaps a traveller, will step inside the gallitrap and quickly become bewitched. Thinking nothing is different, they will continue moving forward when in reality they are stuck within the grass ring doomed to walk in circles until they walk themselves to death.

“Dude, why so dark?”

Circles have always held a spiritual an often supernatural significance for mankind.

In Western Europe during the middle ages, naturally appearing rings were often regarded with suspicion, believed to be the portal to, or for, supernatural folk like fairies and pixies. The gallitrap seems to be an extension of this belief taken to its darkest extreme.

Furthermore, walking through the English countryside in the middle ages may not have been as green and pleasant as we imagine it to be. The West Country is a region surrounded by jagged cliffs that drop sharply and suddenly into the sea.

A quick Google search reveals a host of news reports about locals, travellers, tourists, and dogs regularly falling to their deaths from the jagged cliffs around Cornwall, apparently unaware of where they were walking – until it was too late.

Photo by Andy Holmes on Unsplash

It’s not a huge stretch to imagine then, like so many of these legends, the gallitrap was a warning for folks to remain vigilant and watch their step when going for a stroll.

“Is there anyway to escape a gallitrap?”

Legend says if you wear your coat turned inside out or your hat backwards this will confuse a pixie and they will be unable to bewitch you.

So…you could try that.

Pictured: pixie confuser
Photo by Fineas Anton on Unsplash

But maybe “just look where you’re going” is a better piece of advice.

“So what have we learned?”

Having been overshadowed by the more popular legends and creatures of the West Countries, the gallitrap is a largely forgotten piece of folklore phenomena. Due for a revival, it is a warning to watch where you’re walking and to never underestimate a pixie.

Or maybe I’m reading too much into it.

Further Reading and Resources:

https://britishfairies.wordpress.com/tag/gallitrap/

https://pantheon.org/articles/g/gallitrap.html

https://www.cornwalls.co.uk/myths-legends/piskies.htm

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