Pillywiggins – silly name, isn’t it? And so are the tiny flower fairies who go by that name. Or at least they used to be. But like so many of the Fae, they’ve been changed by the Fall. And not for the better.
Once they were pretty, good-natured little creatures, most often seen among wildflowers or in the garden or in churchyards. They’re not much given to pranks, unlike some of the other Little People, and normally ignore humans.
They are also rather simple-minded, though sometimes given to imitating humans they happen to encounter. They’ll copy human gestures, for example, if they see a priest in the midst of religious rites at a funeral. Their chief concerns, however, center on the flowers they tend. They often identify with their charges and so they like to wear blossoms and acorn caps.
However, if you should meet up with these little fairies, you would be well-advised to remember that they are not much inclined to adhere to human laws or customs. They are amoral in both the larger and the smaller sense, and may react badly if you try to trap them. You should certainly not judge their behavior by Christian standards.
Also known as Vairies, Farisees, Hotties, Feerins, and Greenies, they are as fond of insects as flowers. So much so, they’ve acquired wings and other features by interbreeding with flutter-bys and dragonflies.
Since the fall, however, the Pillywiggins have had a hard time surviving in a world overrun by lawnmowers and blowers. Having few natural defenses, many have added the chitinous armor of beetles, the stingers of bees and hornets, and/or the jaws of the preying mantis. If bothered, they will sting or bite with abandon.
They’ve also grown highly suspicious of humans and inclined to react to any disturbance in the same way yellowjackets do. They normally live in troops and can rally to each other’s aid in sizeable numbers.
The Pillywiggins have also learned to make use of certain flowers whose natural defenses against pests include a number of alkaloid compounds. In some cases, they’ve learned to distill essential oils containing these chemicals and are selling them to foolish humans in order to acquire the cash required to purchase so many necessities here.
Among other compounds, henbane contains hyoscine (aka scopolamine) and atropine. Ingested, it is strongly hallucinogenic. Ingested in quantity, it can induce a variety of other neurological symptoms, culminating in hypertension, coma and death.
Another source of trouble is bittersweet, sometimes known as woody nightshade. It is a relative of deadly nightshade but not as toxic.
The poison involved here is solanine. It causes nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps, heart flutters, headaches, and dizziness. Too much results in hallucinations, and can lead to loss of sensation, paralysis, severe chills, and death. Humans come to the Pillywiggins for this in hopes of hallucinations but if they are rude or destructive to the flowers, the flower fairies are apt to award them what Waller calls a Darwin Prize.
Ragwort is less dangerous, since it is only poisonous if eaten – the pyrrolidizine alkaloids in it are harmless until converted into toxic forms by digestive processes. These compounds are not hallucinogenic, but can be highly unpleasant or even lethal if included in someone’s salad.
Human picnickers have learned to their great discomfort that annoying the Pillywiggins can lead to food poisoning that has nothing to do with ptomaine or salmonella and which does not respond to Imodium or Pepto Bismol.
However, digitalis (the active ingredient) often causes a great reduction in appetite. So overfed humans have begun seeking out the flower fairies in hopes of purchasing a weight-loss aid their doctors will not prescribe. An overdose of digitalis, however, can cause great digestive upsets and affect one’s vision, turning everything yellow and blurring the outlines of objects. It can bring on serious irregularities of the heart’s beat, tremors, seizures, and of course death.
So my advice is, if you encounter the Pillywiggins, let them be. Do not buy or use their wares. Confine yourself to taking cell phone photos WITHOUT flash. Take great care to do no harm to the blossoms they tend, and do not on any account try to capture flower fairies. The results of such an attempt may well leave you wishing you’d only had a run-in with Africanized killer bees.