Pixie vs. Sprite (What’s the Difference?)

In the realms of magic and mystery, there are many weefolk with specific traits, characteristics and purposes. But not all little people are the same and are misunderstood as all being Fairies. This is just not true.

Pixies and Sprites are two such races who exist and they are very different from Fairies. Sprites can be the spirit of someone who passed away, a soul or mystical shade with a clear affinity toward water. Pixies can be sprites but they are their own race of fairy-like or elf-like being and associated with trees or forests.

But both of these are classes, races and relatives of Fairy with their own subclasses.

Both Sprites and Pixies belong to Celtic mythology but there are reports from all over the world. Most stories hail from northern Europe in places like England, Ireland, Scotland and France. Some stories come down from Germany and other Nordic regions as well as from places like Japan. 

Pixies

The first record we have of a Pixie sighting was in 1630 AD from England. There are speculations that the word Pixie is actually a regional classification of Fairy from Wales and Scotland.

Their crowning association is that of being troublemakers and participating in child abduction. It is unclear if child abduction comes from all classes of Fairies or is only done by Pixies. Regardless, many tales exert that child abduction is a main concern around Pixie haunts like old oak trees and deep forests.

Brownies are related to Pixies.  These are infamous tricksters who create all sorts of trouble for humans and take pleasure in doing so.  There is a depiction of them in the movie, “Willow” (1988) by Ron Howard.

Etymology

We don’t know where the word “Pixie” comes from other the possibility of the relationship to the Swedish word pyske, meaning “small fairy.” This doesn’t go without some evidence due to Hans Christian Andersen referencing Pixies as coming from Scandinavian countries.

Many words and phrases we use today actually reference the magic and wonder bestowed by Pixies. The word “bewilderment” references how Pixies can lead someone astray, otherwise known as being “pixie-led,” which is a euphemism for being “lost.”

Even the word “pixelated” refers to someone touched by pixies. Sort of puts a new spin on the idea of pixilation with TV and computer screens, doesn’t it?

Traditional Tales

Although many tales suggest that Pixies are helpful to humans and lend an excellent hand in housework, there are many more stories that discuss how troublesome they can be.

One myth describes how Pixies were the original Druids who resisted Christianity. They grew smaller the more they resisted.

Another Christian tale tells us that Pixies were a race of humans who weren’t bad enough for Hell but not good enough for Heaven. Because of this, God destined them to wander the earth for all eternity.

There are even more stories relating how they are a nuisance to travelers not ending up at their intended destination like in the story of “Gullivers Travels” by Jonathan Swift. In this way they are closer to Goblins than Fairies, as indicated by many of Hans Christian Andersen’s tales.

Lewis Carroll, before becoming the author of “Alice in Wonderland,” also explored the world of Pixies and reveals his limited information. He discusses their mischievous behavior and tells us they are very good builders. Their homes take on the quality of a large dog kennel and no one knows how or where they earn their money.

Shakespeare alludes to Pixies in “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” with references to the troublesome Queen Mab and the portrayal of Puck, King Oberon’s assistant.

Sprites

Sprites seem to be more widespread throughout Europe with the earliest sighting recorded around 1300 AD. They are nimble, quick and very artistic. They appear to take after Elves and Fairies more than Goblins. Sprites live in areas that are cool and serene, often seen alongside Nymphs.

It is common for the females to have a golden comb with a capacity to change a tree’s leaves in Autumn. Because of their amusing qualities, Sprites attract humans, causing them to fall in love. Sprites inspire creativity in poets and artists.

They have a close relationship to Sylphs, which are another class of Fairy. Their dominion is the air. But Leprechauns also seem to come under the subclass of Sprite due to their propensity toward granting human wishes.

Etymology

Sprite comes to us from old French and Latin meaning “spirit.” The word “sprightly” refers to the power of sprites meaning “spirited” or “lively.”

An old Germanic word “Nixie,” describes a water sprite. The Japanese have a similar creature called “yōkai.” In Basque mythology, the Lamiak are water-dwelling creatures. But these beings have feet like birds, which is an uncommon characteristic of Sprites from England, Ireland and France. It may very well be another subclass of Sprite, but this is unclear.

Traditional Tales

Although usually considered to be more kind than Pixies, Sprites have quite the temper. If they become upset or feel disrespected, they have no qualms about inflicting madness and insanity on a person.

In Scotland, on the River Tweed, people used to offer salt for protection against the anger of Sprites and to ensure a good catch of fish for the year.

In Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” depicts a sprite named Ariel. She becomes ensnared and trapped by Prospero who coerces her collusion with his evil plans.

The most popular and controversial Sprite is that of the Lady of the Lake among the various tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The Lady of the Lake is the one who bestows the sword Excalibur to Arthur, signifying his right to kingship.

The movie, “Legend” by Ridley Scott (1985) depicts a Sprite named Oona, who entices Tom Cruise’s character to kiss her. She is fast angered when he rejects her advances and when others in their company expose her as being a Sprite.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are many similarities between Pixies and Sprites, but there are also vast differences. They are both part of the Fairy realm. Pixies tend to be more like Goblins but Sprites are closer to Nymphs because of their associations with water.

Although both have violent tempers, Sprites seem to be more friendly to humans although Pixies do help with housework. But there are far more vicious tales surrounding Pixies and their complicity in child abductions.

Sprites seem to concern themselves with the affairs of humans, particularly when it comes to things like love, poetry and art. They tend to act like muses but are quick to get upset whenever they feel wronged in some way.

Pixies appear to be mischievous in general, causing problems for travelers and tricks on unsuspecting humans. Almost all stories about them incorporate this notion of knavish behavior.

The legends, tales and lessons of Fairies are so old and ingrained, many people still believe in them to this day. This is particularly true of people from Ireland, Scotland and England. Some have such an immovable faith, you have to wonder if some of these tales might actually be true.

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