The Official Collection of Fantastical Creature Information--Updated Randomly

For all your fantastical creature needs! This is the beginning of my encyclopedia, and I'm collecting as much information as I can on various fantasy creatures. Most of my stuff can be found on wikipedia. However, no source is perfect, so the stuff that is my input is often italicized. Help me by sending me more information at

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008


The kobold is a sprite of German origin. Although usually invisible, a kobold can materialise in the form of an animal, fire, a human being, and a mundane object. The most common depictions of kobolds show them as humanlike figures the size of small children. Kobolds who live in human homes wear the clothing of peasants; those who live in mines are hunched and ugly; and kobolds who live on ships smoke pipes and wear sailor clothing.

Kobolds are spirits and, as such, part of a spiritual realm. However, as with other European spirits, they often dwell among the living. Kobolds may manifest as animals, fire, human beings, and objects. Fiery kobolds are also called drakes, draches, or puks.

Kobolds who live in human homes are generally depicted as humanlike, dressed as peasants, and standing about as tall as a four-year-old child. A legend recorded by folklorist Joseph Snowe from a place called Alte Burg in 1839 tells of a creature "in the shape of a short, thick-set being, neither boy nor man, but akin to the condition of both, garbed in a party-coloured loose surcoat, and wearing a high-crowned hat with a broad brim on his diminutive head." Legends variously describe mine kobolds as 0.6 metre-tall (2-ft) creatures, dressed like miners with ugly features, including, in some tales, black skin.

A legend says that the kobold flies through the air as a blue stripe and carries grain. "If a knife or a fire-steel be cast at him, he will burst, and must let fall what which he is carrying." Some legends say the fiery kobold enters and exits a house through the chimney. Legends dating to 1852 from western Uckermark ascribe both human and fiery features to the kobold; he wears a red jacket and cap and moves about the air as a fiery stripe. Such fire associations, along with the name drake, may point to a connection between kobold and dragon myths.

Most often, kobolds remain completely invisible. Although King Goldemar (or Goldmar), a famous kobold from Castle Hardenstein, had hands "thin like those of a frog, cold and soft to the feel", he never showed himself. The master of Hundermühlen Castle, where Hinzelmann lived, convinced the kobold to let him touch him one night. The kobold's fingers were childlike. Legends tell of those who try to trick a kobold into showing itself being punished for the misdeed.

Types of Kobolds
Legends tell of three major types of kobolds. Most commonly, the creatures are house spirits of ambivalent nature; while they sometimes perform domestic chores, they play malicious tricks if insulted or neglected. In some regions, kobolds are known by local names, such as the Galgenmännlein of southern Germany and the Heinzelmannchen of Cologne. Another type of kobold haunts underground places, such as mines. Another class of kobold lives in underground places. There they put their skills at smithing to work. The name of the element cobalt comes from the creature's name, because medieval miners blamed the sprite for the poisonous and troublesome nature of the typical arsenical ores of this metal (cobaltite and smaltite) which polluted other mined elements. A third kind of kobold, the Klabautermann, lives aboard ships and helps sailors.

Origins and etymology
The kobold's origins are obscure. Sources equate the domestic kobold with creatures such as the English boggart, hobgoblin and pixy, the Scottish brownie, and the Scandinavian nis; while they align the subterranean variety with the Norse dwarf and the Cornish knocker.

Several competing etymologies for kobold have been suggested. In 1908, Otto Schrader traced the word to kuba-walda, meaning "the one who rules the house". According to this theory, the root of the word is chubisi, the Old High German word for house, building, or hut, and the word akin to the root of the English cove. The suffix -old means "to rule". Classicist Ken Dowden has identified the kofewalt, a spirit with powers over a single room, as the antecedent to the term kobold and to the creature itself. Linguist Paul Wexler has proposed yet another etymology, tracing kobold to the roots koben ("pigsty") and hold ("stall spirit").

Grimm has provided one of the earlier and more commonly accepted etymologies for kobold, tracing the word's origin through the Latin cobalus to the Greek koba'los, meaning "rogue". The change to the word-final -olt is a feature of the German language used for monsters and supernatural beings. Variants of kobold appear as early as the 13th century. The words goblin and gobelin may in fact derive from the word kobold or from kofewalt.

Alternatively, kobold may derive from the Middle English and Middle French word gobelin and ultimately from the Middle Latin gobelinus. Related terms occur in Dutch, such as kabout, kabot, and kabotermanneken. Citing this evidence, British antiquarian Charles Hardwick has argued that the house kobold and similar creatures, such as the Scottish bogie, French goblin, and English Puck, all descend from the Greek Kobaloi, creatures "whose sole delite consists in perplexing the human race, and evoking those harmless terrors that constantly hover round the minds of the timid."

House spirits
Domestic kobolds are linked to a specific household. Some legends claim that every house has a resident kobold, regardless of its owners' desires or needs. The means by which a kobold enters a new home vary from tale to tale. One tradition claims that the kobold enters the household by announcing itself at night by strewing wood chips about the house and putting dirt or cow manure in the milk cans. If the master of the house leaves the wood chips and drinks the soiled milk, the kobold takes up residence. The kobold Hinzelmann of Hundermühlen Castle arrived in 1584 and announced himself by knocking and making other sounds. Should someone take pity on a kobold in the form of a cold, wet creature and take it inside to warm it, the spirit takes up residence there.] A tradition from Perleberg in northern Germany says that a homeowner must follow specific instructions to lure a kobold to his house. He must go on St John's Day between noon and one o'clock, into the forest. When he finds an anthill with a bird on it, he must say a certain phrase, which causes the bird to transform into a small person. The figure then leaps into a bag carried by the homeowner, and he can then transfer the kobold to his home. Even if servants come and go, the kobold stays.

House kobolds usually live in the hearth area of a house, although some tales place them in less frequented parts of the home, in the woodhouse, in barns and stables, or in the beer cellar of an inn. At night, such kobolds do chores that the human occupants neglected to finish before bedtime: They chase away pests, clean the stables, feed and groom the cattle and horses, scrub the dishes and pots, and sweep the kitchen.

Other kobolds help tradespeople and shopkeepers. A Cologne legend recorded by Keightley claims that bakers in the city in the early 19th century never needed hired help because, each night, the kobolds known as Heinzelmänchen made as much bread as a baker could need. Similarly, bieresal, kobolds who live in the beer cellars of inns, bring beer into the house, clean the tables, and wash the bottles and glasses. This association between kobolds and work gave rise to a saying current in 19th-century Germany that a woman who worked quickly "had the kobold".

A kobold can bring wealth to his household in the form of grain and gold. A legend from Saterland and East Friesland, recorded by Thorpe in 1852, tells of a kobold called the Alrûn. Despite standing only about a foot tall, the creature could carry a load of rye in his mouth for the people with whom he lived and did so daily as long as he received a meal of biscuits and milk. The saying to have an Alrûn in one's pocket means "to have luck at play".

However, kobold gifts may be stolen from the neighbours; accordingly, some legends say that gifts from a kobold are demonic or evil. Nevertheless, peasants often welcome this trickery and feed their kobold in the hopes that it continue bringing its gifts. A family coming into unexplained wealth was often attributed to a new kobold moving into the house.

Kobolds bring good luck and help their hosts as long as the hosts take care of them. The kobold Hinzelmann found things that had been lost. He had a rhyme he liked to sing: "If thou here wilt let me stay, / Good luck shalt thou have alway; / But if hence thou wilt me chase, / Luck will ne'er come near the place." Three famous kobolds, King Goldemar, Hinzelmann, and Hödekin, all gave warnings about danger to the owners of the home in which they lived. Hinzelmann once warned a colonel to be careful on his daily hunt. The man ignored the advice, only to have his gun backfire and shoot off his thumb. Hinzelman appeared to him and said, "See, now, you have got what I warned you of! If you had refrained from shooting this time, this mischance would not have befallen you." The kobold Hödekin, who lived with the bishop of Hildesheim in the 12th century, once warned the bishop of a murder. When the bishop acted on the information, he was able to take over the murderer's lands and add them to his bishopric.

In return, the family must leave a portion of their supper (or beer, for the bierasal) to the spirit and must treat the kobold with respect, never mocking or laughing at the creature. A kobold expects to be fed in the same place at the same time each day, or in the case of the Hütchen, once a week and on holidays. One tradition says that their favourite food is grits or water-gruel. Tales tell of kobolds with their own rooms; the kobold Hinzelmann had his own chamber at the castle, complete with furnishings. King Goldemar was said to sleep in the same bed with Neveling von Hardenberg. He demanded a place at the table and a stall for his horses. Keightley relates that maids who leave the employ of a certain household must warn their successor to treat the house kobold well.

Legends tell of slighted kobolds becoming quite malevolent and vengeful, afflicting errant hosts with supernatural diseases, disfigurements, and injuries. Their pranks range from beating the servants to murdering those who insult them. One holyman visited the home of Hinzelmann and refused to accept the kobold's protests that he was a Christian. Hinzelmann threatened him, and the nobleman fled. Another nobleman refused to drink to the kobold's honour, which prompted Hinzelmann to drag the man to the ground and choke him near to death. When a kitchen servant got dirt on the kobold Hödekin and sprayed him with water each time he appeared, Hödekin asked that the boy be punished, but the steward dismissed the behaviour as a childish prank. Hodeken waited for the servant to go to sleep and then strangled him, tore him limb from limb, and threw him in a pot over the fire. The head cook rebuked the kobold for the murder, so Hodeken squeezed toad blood onto the meat being prepared for the bishop. The cook chastised the spirit for this behaviour, so Hodeken threw him over the drawbridge into the moat.

Archibald Maclaren has attributed kobold behaviour to the virtue of the homeowners; a virtuous house has a productive and helpful kobold; a vice-filled one has a malicious and mischievous pest. If the hosts give up those things to which the kobold objects, the spirit ceases its annoying behaviour. Joseph Snowe has related the tale of a kobold at Alte Burg: When two students slept in the mill in which the creature lived, one of them ate the offering of food the miller had left the kobold. The student who had left the meal alone felt the kobold's touch as "gentle and soothing", but the one who had eaten its food felt that "the fingers of the hand were pointed with poisoned arrowheads, or fanged with fire."

Even friendly kobolds are rarely completely good, and house kobolds may do mischief for no particular reason. They hide things, push people over when they bend to pick something up, and make noise at night to keep people awake. The kobold Hödekin of Hildesheim roamed the walls of the castle at night, forcing the watch to be constantly vigilant. A kobold in a fishermen's house in Köpenick on the Wendish Spree reportedly moved sleeping fishermen so that their heads and toes lined up. King Goldemar enjoyed strumming the harp and playing dice. One of Hinzelmann's pranks was to pinch drunken men to make them start fights with their companions.

Folktales tell of people trying to rid themselves of mischievous kobolds. In one tale, a man with a kobold-haunted barn puts all the straw onto a cart, burns the barn down, and sets off to start anew. As he rides away, he looks back and sees the kobold sitting behind him. "It was high time that we got out!" it says. A similar tale from Köpenick tells of a man trying to move out of a kobold-infested house. He sees the kobold preparing to move too and realises that he cannot rid himself of the creature. The lord of the Hundermühlen Castle disliked Hinzelmann and tried to escape him by taking up residence with his family and retinue elsewhere. Nevertheless, the invisible kobold travelled along with them as a white feather, which they discovered when they stayed at an inn. "Why do you retire from me? I can easily follow you anywhere, and be where you are. It is much better for you to return to your own estate, and not be quitting it on my account. You see well that if I wished it I could take away all you have, but I am not inclined to do so."

Mine spirits
Mediæval European miners believed in underground spirits. The kobold filled this role in German folklore and is similar to other creatures of the type, such as the English knocker and the Welsh coblynau. Stories of subterranean kobolds were common in Germany by the 16th century. Superstitions miners believed the creatures to be expert miners and metalworkers who could be heard constantly drilling, hammering, and shoveling. Some stories claim that the kobolds live in the rock, just as human beings live in the air.

Legends often paint underground kobolds as evil creatures. In medieval mining towns, people prayed for protection from them. They were blamed for the accidents, cave-ins, and rock slides that plagued human miners. One favoured kobold prank was to fool miners into taking worthless ore. For example, 16th-century miners sometimes encountered what looked to be rich veins of copper or silver, but which, when smelted, proved to be little more than a pollutant and could even be poisonous. These ores caused a burning sensation to those who handled them.

Miners tried to appease the kobolds with offerings of gold and silver and by insisting that fellow miners treat them respectfully. Nevertheless, some stories claim that kobolds only returned such kindness with more poisonous ores. Miners called these ores cobalt after the creatures from whom they were thought to come.

Tales from other parts of Germany make mine kobolds beneficial creatures, at least if they are treated respectfully. Nineteenth-century miners in Bohemia and Hungary reported hearing knocking in the mines. They interpreted such noises as warnings from the kobolds to not go in that direction. Other miners claimed that the knocks indicated where veins of metal could be found: the more knocks, the richer the vein. In 1884, spiritualist Emma Hardinge Britten reported a story from a Madame Kalodzy, who claimed to have heard mine kobolds while visiting a peasant named Michael Engelbrecht: "On the three first days after our arrival, we only heard a few dull knocks, sounding in and about the mouth of the mine, as if produced by some vibrations or very distant blows. . . ."

Kobolds are sometimes indifferent to human miners so long as they are left alone. They are content to simply mine ore themselves, collect it, and haul it away by windlass.

Water spirits
The Klabautermann (also spelt Klaboterman and Klabotermann) is a creature from the beliefs of fishermen and sailors of Germany's north coast, the Netherlands, and the Baltic Sea, and may represent a third type of kobold or possibly a different spirit that has merged with kobold traditions. Belief in the Klabautermann dates to at least the 1770s. According to these traditions, Klabautermanns live on ships and are generally beneficial to the crew. For example, a Klabautermann will pump water from the hold, arrange cargo, and hammer at holes until they can be repaired. The creatures are thought to be especially useful in times of danger, preventing the ship from sinking. The Klabautermann is associated with the wood of the ship on which it lives. It enters the ship via the wood used to build it, and it may appear as a ship's carpenter.

The Klabautermann's benevolent behaviour lasts as long as the crew and captain treat the creature respectfully. A Klabautermann will not leave its ship until it is on the verge of sinking. To this end, superstitious sailors in the 19th century demanded that others pay the Klabautermann respect. Ellett has recorded one rumour that a crew even threw its captain overboard for denying the existence of the ship's Klabautermann0. Heinrich Heine has reported that one captain created a place for his ship's Klabautermann in his cabin and that the captain offered the spirit the best food and drink he had to offer. Klabautermanns are easily angered. Their ire manifests in pranks such as tangling ropes and laughing at sailors who shirk their chores.

The sight of a Klabautermann is an ill omen, and in the 19th century, it was the most feared sight among sailors. According to one tradition, they only appear to those about to die. Another story recorded by Ellett claims that the Klabautermann only shows itself if the ship is doomed to sink.

In media
German writers have long borrowed from German folklore and fairy lore for both poetry and prose. Narrative versions of folktales and fairy tales are common, and kobolds are the subject of several such tales. Kobolds appear in a number of other works. For example, in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust, the kobold represents the Greek Element of earth:
Salamander shall kindle,
Writhe nymph of the wave,
In air sylph shall dwindle,
And Kobold shall slave.
Who doth ignore
The primal Four,
Nor knows aright
Their use and might,
O'er spirits will he
Ne'er master be.

A special thanks to wikipedia and to Yonaz of deviantart for this great image!

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