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Brownies: Your Nocturnal Household Helper

Have you ever been around a family or loved one when something has gone missing and heard "The brownies must have taken it".

For as long as I can remember it, this was my Welsh/Irish mother's response. In all honesty, I used to think this was a common phrase and that brownies were just common knowledge.

Enter my very Nordic-ass husband proving me wrong every which way.

Now he gets to experience the world of me chalking up to every missing item being related to the household goblin.

Brownie's (or ) are sensitive household spirits whose folk legends begin in Western Europe (there is some tales in Germany but it's much less common). Depending on region they can be referenced as: broonies (Scotland), bwbach (Welsh), kobolds (Germany), etc.

How do they help your household? By helping keep the chores completed of course.

They are known to come out in the night, ensuring that the owners are asleep before getting to work. They prefer to do their work in the shadows and do not like to be seen.

Nowadays, this is more along the common household cleaning and chores such as dishes, sweeping, etc. but back in the day this also often referred to helping around the farm as well. Especially when having to do with animals.

They have been known to herd sheep, prevent hens from laying eggs outside their nests, even milking the cows..

Along with other types of fae, its a rare sight to see these guys for they are masters at hide and seek and remaining discrete. Some legends claim that they also have the availability to turn invisible or even shape shift into animals in order to remain in secret.

Their appearance, much like their name, does vary somewhat depending on what region of Western Europe in which the folktales are from but they are typically referred as ugly looking creatures with brown-tinted skin and human shaped.

illustration by Alice B Woodward

Older tales refer to their size being that of a typical human (which back in day would be shorter than today's average height), but in newer lore, they are referred to smaller sizes you would expect of a goblin.

If you do spot a brownie, you will find it either naked or in rags.

Yes, this is very similar to house elves in Harry Potter. Are you starting to see where the inspiration comes from yet?

Although you might want to be appreciative or free them from their "household shackles" providing them clothes is going to provide the complete opposite reaction. They will find this very insulting and straight up leave.

Then what are you left with? More chores and a brownie-free household.

And there is no concern here about freedom with our little sensitive friends. Although sensitive, they have no qualms with straight up leaving a household if they wish.

There are multiple theories as to why brownies find the gift of clothes (or larger gifts for that matter) insulting.

Some lore says it's because they do their job out of generosity and by giving them what they would consider such a "large" gift is considered payment and therefore an insult.

Others say the complete opposite. That they often find this gift middle of the road and therefore insulting they were not provided with something fancier.

The German tale of The Elves and the Shoemaker indicate the reason behind them leaving when presented with clothes is simply they get to excited and frankly it makes them a bit cocky.

"Now we are boys so fine to see, Why should we longer cobblers be?"

My personal favorite, is they take this as an attempt at baptism. This also connects to other lore that states brownies are VERY afraid of Christian symbols. Including holy water which has reported to provide them unbearable pains.

Any way you slice it, brownies should NOT be presented with clothes if you would like to keep them around. Some say, they should not be presented with any gifts however most lore state that discrete gifts are considered okay.

Think of it as getting paid under the table.

So small gifts such as food is typically acceptable. Pieces of bread, thimbles filled with cream, honey and butter.

Your typical fae favorites.

But the best gift you can provide your goblin friend is by simply helping keep a tidy house. There is nothing worst to brownies then having lazy household owner not helping pull their own weight.

As I previously mentioned, they have no issues packing up and moving (even though some will be tied to families for generations if treated well). However, sometimes if a brownie becomes too offended before he leaves, he can instead turn into a boggart.

This means those helpful tasks we talked about early turn into spiteful ones such as hiding things so they are never found and souring milk. Basically tormenting the household.

Don't worry though, most of the time it's small pranks they pull in order to light a fire under your ass before leaving or boggart attempts begin.

And if you're friend did turn into a boggart not all is lost. There have been tales where they will return back to their brownie self which often results with some type of apology.

Or, on the worst case hand, the only way to relieve one of a boggart is to leave the home.

Think you have a household friend or any other folktales? Let me know in the comments!


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Hi, thanks for stopping by!

My name's Maven and witchy momma and writer documentating the wonderfully mundane aspects of the Occult. I like to share my experience with folk, kitchen, and green magick along with other tidbits I find along my journey.

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Image by Annie Spratt

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