Pilous are always heard and never seen. While their name suggests soft fur – pilou in its modern expression refers to a type of cotton – it actually refers to the men who pound apples into cider, using wooden pilons. Pilous walk with a regular, stomping tread, making a rhythmic sound like that of apples being mashed, and that is all anyone knows of them. Nevertheless, Dubois fancifully describes these lutins as resembling large garden dormice, and that is as good a description as any.
Pilous are native to the northwestern tip of France, specifically Brittany and Ile-et-Vilaine. They come out at night in the attic, in the rafters, in the walls, and start marching. They are not evil but mischievous, and delight in the noise they make. In Brittany, where they become Er-pilour-lann, they wield mallets with which they pound the walls of old houses.
Most encounters with them are about their disregard for human comfort. A farmhand once went into the barn to fetch some hay when the thumping begin, the din seemingly coming from everywhere. He called his uncle, who implored the pilous “Would you, please, stop your noise so I could get some hay for my mare?” They stopped, but the moment the uncle stepped into the barn they started up again, louder than ever.
Another time a group of men were in a barn when a pair of pilous started: one, two, one, two. “I’d like it better if there were three of you!” yelled one of the men, and sure enough a third pilou joined in. Other men started requesting more and more, and the number of pilous increased accordingly. The same stunt was later attempted by three bored young girls, but they requested too many, and soon the pilous were rattling their bed and knocking at their walls. The girls wisely went quiet, and the creatures eventually left.
Attempts to put pilous to use have failed. One miser left oakum fibers behind in the attic in hopes that the pilous would stomp them flat, but he returned in the morning to find the material shredded and scattered all over the attic.
d’Amézeuil, C. (1863) Récits Bretons. E. Dentu, Paris.
Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (2005) The Complete Encyclopedia of Elves, Goblins, and Other Little Creatures. Abbeville Press.
Orain, A. (1899) Le Monde des Ténèbres en Ile-et-Vilaine. Revue de Bretagne, de Vendée et d’Anjou, XXI, Paris.
Orain, A. (1901) Contes de L’Ile-et-Vilaine. J. Maisonneuve, Paris.
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