Thursday, March 5, 2009


"The Elfin King and Queen" by James Browne
(These elves are depicted as human-size,
as described in "The Lord of the Rings")

According to my site meter, hundreds people from around the world have come to my blog by searching the Internet for Pixies, Faeries, Brownies and Elves (because of a post I wrote about these creatures as depicted in vintage Halloween postcards).

Apparently, these supernatural folk provoke a lot of curiosity worldwide! Since my blog for the month of March is celebrating all things Irish, I thought it would be fun to do some posts on Irish and/or Celtic mythological creatures.

"Fairy and Gnome"

There seems to be a lot of confusion regarding the differences between pixies, faeries, elves and other legendary folk like the sidhe, leprechauns, selkies, dwarfs, sprites, brownies, gnomes, goblins/hobgoblins, trolls and leprechauns. In this post I am going to try to sort out these various creatures:

A sprite is a generic-type term that can cover all sorts of small, elusive supernatural beings, especially faeries, pixies and elves.

In the modern world we think of faeries as being diminutive, delicate, female creatures with wings and beautiful gossamer clothing. This type of faerie is so well known I won't go into detail about them here.

"Elf Hooley"

(a hooley is an Irish evening of song and dance)

Elves are sometimes described as youthful-seeming men and women of great beauty living in forests and underground places or caves, or in wells and springs. They are portrayed as long-lived or immortal and having magical powers. This would jive with the interpretation of elves as found in "The Lord of the Rings" by J.R.R. Tolkien.

However, in the modern (or at least American world), elves are depicted and described as being diminutive in size, though both have pointed ears (e.g. The Keebler Elves).

A gnome is a mythical creature characterized by its short size, taciturn nature and subterranean lifestyle. They live in natural areas close to the earth and care for wildlife. Today, gnomes are traditionally thought of as being small bearded men wearing colorful pointed hats. (Think of the ubiquitous garden gnome.) They are more benevolent than other folkloric creatures such as goblins.

A dwarf is a short humanoid creature, much like us, but generally living underground or in mountainous areas. Here they have heaped up countless treasures of gold, silver, and precious stones, and pass their time in fabricating costly armor. They are famed miners and smiths. Generally shorter than humans, they are on average stockier and hairier, usually sporting full beards and wearing armor and carrying axes.

"Troll Bridge" by James Browne
A troll (or Scottish trow) is a fearsome member of a race of creatures from Norse mythology (later introduced into Scotland). The different descriptions of trolls range from fiendish giants – similar to the ogres of England – to a devious, more human-like folk of the wilderness, living underground in hills, caves or mounds. Hiding under bridges is a favorite pastime of trolls.
A goblin is an evil, crabby, and annoying mischievous creature described as grotesquely disfigured. A goblin may range in height from that of a dwarf to that of a human. A hobgoblin is a term typically applied in folktales to describe a friendly or amusing goblin.

"The Leprechaun" by James Browne

Of course, we all know about leprechauns, the mythical creatures that seem to be found only in Irish folklore. They are described as male fae that appear as tiny, wizened old men. They often ply the trade of shoemaker.

A brownie mends socks for his household
A brownie is a legendary kind of creature popular in folklore around Scotland and England. It is the Scottish and Northern English counterpart of the Norwegian nisse and Swedish tomte. (As a proud Norwegian with a bit of Swede thrown in, I wrote a post about the nisse and tomte in December.)

Like the nisse and the tomte, brownies inhabit houses and aid in household tasks. However, they don't like to be seen and will only work at night, traditionally in exchange for small gifts or food. They take quite a delight in porridge and honey. They usually abandon the house if their gifts are called payments, or if the owners of the house misuse them.

That leaves pixies, selkies and the sidhe (pronounced shee), which I find to be the most interesting - and least well known - of the supernatural creatures mentioned in this post. Therefore I am devoting a post to each one in the following days.


Kim Campbell said...

I love selkies!

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

And I love all the wee folks. Thanks for the great post. I have a gnome named Chompsky in my grove.

Sheila said...

There are so many different types..!
And don't forget the Cornish spriggans, and knockers from the tin mines..LOL

Patty said...

Oh wow what a great post. I love learning about this!

Rowan said...

Lovely and interesting post, glad there's going to be more - March is going to be a good month on your blog!

Kentishmaid said...

I find it interesting to recall that at 7 years old I joined the Brownies and became an Imp. All the sixes were given wee folk names- gnomes, pixes and elves being the others in my pack. Somewhere I have the small booklet with the tale of the first brownies- a tale of Wee folk who came into the house by night and tidied and cleaned. The original idea for the Brownies must have come from these many folk tales and legends which are part of the our folklore heritage. How wonderful that you are delving back into these legends Julie, something I would like to do one day, as my Gaelic roots pull hard at me.

Colleen - the AmAzINg Mrs. B said...

What fun (if not sort of...ugly) little creatures! Of course, all of my garden fairies are pretty and dressed really well :-)
Thanks again for all the great images and the information. I always feel like I am smarter on all things mystical when I leave here.

Margaret's Ramblings said...

We already have a few pixies in our garden and I find them so helpful although they can be a bit cheeky and take the tools after they have been put away for the day and return them to the garden. I think they like the thought of creating the following conversation, "did you put the trowel away?" "yes I did", "well how come I found in the herb bed?" Lol and Fiona and I are creating a little corner for the elves. It will be in a quiet part of the garden, with old wood stumps and wild flowers and a new home for some homeless hedgehogs, lovely post dear, you are so knowledgable. Margaret

gma said...

Wonderful Julie. I love the troll under the bridge!!! Fantastic collection of mischief makers and
beauteous creatures.

Miss Robyn said...

I think I like Gnomes best.. the keepers of the Earth.

Margaret's Ramblings said...

Julia, I have given you an award, you can pick it up on my blog, you deserve it, take care, Margaret

Joyce said...

Very intresting post...I have a Gnome in my yard that my Mother made for me one year for Christmas. It's like the Travelocity one. HA! My hister has one too and one year when we went back home to Iowa my boys who are like imps themselves held my sister's "Gnomie" hostage and left notes all throughout the house telling us where to go and look for him.....we finally found him in the dryer with a rope around him and a bandana over his mouth.
Bad boys.
Gnomie was fine though and not revengeful in the least.

I wish some cobbler's elves or Brownies would come and CLEAN my house...I always feed the little birdies outside my kitchen window "just incase."

Unknown said...

I would love to find a brownie figurine made by Dept 56 in the 90's They were modeled with bodies made of walnut shells and acorn hats. They called them Christmas Brownies and are aprox 6 in tall and brown of course

Anonymous said...

A lot of the fae races are cute!
I am writing a story about Brownies! They seem to do everything around the house and on the farm.

I have winged fairies in two of my other stories. These fairies are both males and females. I am also writing stories about goblins. Goblins from folklore are in another story of mine that is about aliens.

Alina Haq said...

Hi i just turned 13! (:
and i belive in these things. for more reasearch i searched it up and this site came. and i like the blog.....but is this acctually true!?
i read some of your comments and people said theres fairies in there gardens and they became an imp! *WHOA!*
plzz reply! alina x

Julie said...

Hi, Alina,

I wish I could reply to you personally, but you are a "No-Reply" blogger. As to someone becoming an Imp, she meant that's the title she was given after she joined the Brownies, or Girl Scouts.

Regarding whether or not these things are true?? You have to decide that yourself. It's like deciding if there is a Santa Claus. As for me, I like to "believe in the belief in fairies".


Lady Agnew said...

You may want to read the book "A Witches Guide to Faery Folk" by Edain McCoy.
Full of interesting information about all these questions.

mackeiver said...

hi i saw your notice regarding Christmas Brownies,,,I am listing 12 from my collection they are from 1997....check ebay my id is mackeiver, my store is needful things,large and small....will list today 2/1/10 at 6 pm love this site with all the faerie art!

Shannon said...

Absolutely beautiful site you have here.
I am reading Folk of the far away tree by Enid Blyton to my 6 year old son and he is intrigued ny all the different creatures (brownies,pixies,trolls etc)mentioned in the story so I wanted to look up a site that covered all with descriptions and pictures and your's does so wonderfully.

Thanks :)

Teacher Dennis said...

Hi, I'm Dennis - an EFL teacher from Brazil - I was preparing a session on Celtic/Irish culture and myths and run into your blog. Loved it!

Cheers and congrats

Anonymous said...

Well I AM a Goblin.
And I resent being described as deformed and ugly. Actually I lean towards being kinda CUTE, thankyou very much!

Anonymous said...

I have a question. This past fall at late twilight, I heard some wee voices on my porch. However, when I opened the door, I believe I briefly saw small creatures quickly turn themselves in to brightly colored hummingbirds. What might these creatures be?

Anonymous said...

I found this quite educational. While gathering supplies for my grandaughter and I to make faerie gardens, I mentioned brownies and sprites. I didn't know how to explain the mythical creatures and this blog explained it beautifully. I'll be printing it for her so she (and I) will have a reference. So looking forward to the next few topics.

Anonymous said...

You well know that none of these magical beings have vanished from the earth. They all assimilated with man in one form or another through the centuries. Just look around. We have our dwarves, orgres, and trolls crossing our paths for good or ill everyday of our lives at work, in stores and in traffic. The more delicate beings abound in nature itself. Do you really believe pixies are not dragonflies in disguise or a various birds are not really fairies wearing a feathery cloak. Turn away from the rabbit in the tall grass and quickly back again. Did you per chance see the red cap of a gnome fading in the evening mist. These magical creatures are with us. They only show themselves to a trusted lucky few.

Unknown said...

What are these?

Unknown said...

What are these?

Julie said...


Those look like brownies to me!

Toni said...

Definitely Brownies!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, those are Palmer Cox's Brownies.