Brownies in Faerie Lore

Faeries podcast - free - Brownies in faerie (fairy) loreFaerie / fairy podcasts - Brownies in faerie loreBrownies are a kind of faerie.  They’re in the category of Hob, a “house spirit” in the U.K. (Possible connection with Hobbits?)

A Hob may be a word that evolved from the English given name of Robin, related to Robin Goodfellow, another name for a Brownie in southern England.

Hobs appear to be related to the Swedish Tomte or Tomtars, with a history similar to Ireland’s Tuatha De Danann.  In both cases, these faeries retired to the “hollow hills” or Brughs: Hollow faerie mounds in which several families live (or lived).

A Hobgoblin is a cousin of the Brownie, and — perhaps because he’s more of a practical joker — the Hobgoblin is sometimes considered a poltergeist rather than a faerie.

Dobby in the Harry Potter stories seemed to be related to hobgoblins; a Dobie is another term for a brownie, in some areas, or it can mean a ghostly entity in other areas.

Brownies are usually:

  • Solitary faeries, seen alone or in very small groups.
  • Male (but some are married, and that’s usually the only time a female Brownie is seen).
  • 2 1/2 to 3 feet tall, but some are described as being six or seven inches tall.
  • Naked and very hairy, or dressed in brown clothing, with shaggy brown hair.
  • Associated with a pond, pool or stream. (Brownies may have webbed fingers, making swimming easier.

Brownies may become attached to a family or one member of the family.  Brownies usually prefer rural homes and farms, where they may work at night, farming or cleaning.

Brownies are most prevalent in northern England and in Scotland.

Favorite Brownie foods include a bowl of cream or rich, whole milk; cakes with honey; and corn muffins, possibly served with honey.

However, you must be very clear when you set out the treats for the Brownie:  This is not a payment for his (or her) work.  In most cases, if you try to pay a Brownie, he’ll leave.  He doesn’t work for payment.

In contrast, areas such as Lincolnshire have Brownies that like to be paid, and specifically with clothing.  On New Year’s Eve, Brownies in Lincolnshire have each been paid with a traditional white linen smock.

Other Brownies will leave if you try to give them any kind of clothing.  This raises the question: Do they resent the payment, or does the gift of clothing set them free, as with Harry Potter’s Dobby?

Similar names and words

“Brownie” may be spelled Browney, Brouny, or Browny.  However, the Brownie should not be confused with the Cornish Browney, a spirit or faerie that protects (or perhaps is) the bees.

Brownies may be related to the Brown Man of the Muirs, a spirit or faerie that protects and guards the wild beasts along Scotland’s Border Country.

Brownies and devils

In his book, Daemonologie, King James I said that brownies are devils, but they do no harm.

Devil’s Bridges

Devil’s Bridges are a category of bridge from Medieval (not Roman) times.  They exist in England and in Europe.

The name may come from one of three sources:

1. The bridge was built by the Devil.

2. The bridge was built with the Devil’s help.

3. The bridge proves the might of the bridge builders, and makes less of the Devil.

This kind of folklore relates to fairy (faerie) tales.  In the typical story, the bridge builder makes a deal with the Devil:  If the Devil will build the bridge himself, in one night, the Devil can then take the soul of the first person to cross the bridge.

After the bridge is built, the Devil tricks the bridge builder into crossing the bridge, so the bridge builder loses his own soul as payment.

This relates to stories such as Rumplestiltskin, in which flax is spun into gold overnight, and the young woman must guess the name of Rumplestiltskin, or later give up her first child to the dwarf or goblin. (Of course, she outwits Rumplestiltskin and declares his name, so she forfeits nothing.)

One bridge called “the Devil’s Bridge” is in Carnforth, in Lancashire, England.

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Music: Moods of Man, written and orchestrated by James Underberg.

10 thoughts on “Brownies in Faerie Lore”

  1. Aww. I’d love to meet a little fella one day! I kinda do picture them as mini Frodos though and totally agree with them possibly being related. – Love & Laughter from your witch Wolffire!

  2. Tomte is Swedish, not necessarily Scandinavian. I’m from Denmark, and we have no ‘tomter’ but we have ‘Nisser’. Today ‘tomter’ and ‘nisser’ would most likely be described as the same kind of creature, and are portrayed as Santa’s pixies or gnomes, or whatever they are (I’m sorry for my lack of knowledge on this point). In Denmark is ‘Nissen’ portrayed as little pranksters. They’re not human size, they are maybe at the size of a garden gnome, maybe smaller. I think it’s the same for ‘tomten’. Though if you go back in time, there is a bigger difference between these two creatures. A ‘tomte’ is a lot more like the brownies. ‘Nissen’ has always been a grumpy little gnome type, or pixie, as that is what Nisse translates to. You would only give ‘Nissen’ food, so that he wouldn’t make trouble.

    I just thought I would share this.

  3. I am not sure if the creature I saw fits into this category or not. It was in a tree in the woods, looked to be maybe a foot tall or more but seems the biggest part of the body was his face. Very grumpy looking expression, big nose, thick furrowed eyebrows. He was scoping or scanning the forest out and did not seem to notice me at all. I just want to know what he is??!

    1. Tonya, he could be a brownie. He might be something else. Many of these labels are arbitrary. If he was a foot tall, looked sort-of human, and he was in the woods, he was probably a faerie of some kind. Not noticing you means he wasn’t there to protect the woods, so he may have been a random visitor. Or maybe he did notice you and decided you weren’t dangerous to the forest, so he continued his work of scanning for dangers.

  4. My clothes keep tearing easily. Is there a faerie related to torn clothes? Ie maybe it is mad at me for some reason? Should I give it a gift or offering? Could it be some form of brownie? I dreamed a couple of times of a boy like the feral boy in The Road Warrior. Once he was eating my sandwiches and I scolded him in my dream so in real life my husband and I left out a sandwich for him the next day.

  5. @Ella Andrews

    Angry Brownies (Hobgoblins) are called BOGGARTS. (Pronounced; “Bog-art”, not “Bow-gart”.) Boggarts are standard goblins, with a disposition for mischief and mayhem.

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