Since Richard brought them up last night, I thought I’d take a quick dip into the folklore associated with various “little people” and bring a few of them – in this case, the most obnoxious of them – into the light.
Redcaps are murderous sprites, so named because of their tendency to keep their hats a crimson color by dipping them in the blood of their victims. They are a Scottish villain, living in ruins where great injustices were done. Their targets are travelers. If a person is caught trying to get from one place to another and a redcap is around, they should brush up on their scripture; reciting Biblical verses to them is the most certain method of driving them off.
Svartálfar were one of the groups of Nordic elves, which were effectively a parallel race to human beings. Unlike the other Norse elves, the “black elves” were prone to making life miserable for humans. Specifically, they liked to visit sleepers and whisper nightmares into their ears. Magical or not, anyone who sneaks into a place to mess around with sleeping people is incredibly creepy.
Kelpies bring us back to Scotland, and serve as reminders never to go swimming or horseback riding. They were evil spirits who would inhabit lakes or rivers, typically appearing as a large, friendly horse. When people would accept rides, the kelpie would move at a tear toward the nearby body of water, where they would drown the victim. Their favorite prey in this form was children. On occasion they would also shapeshift into the form of an attractive adult and attempt to lure a young lover into a waterside tryst. Or, if they were feeling less playful, sometimes they’d shift into the form of a huge man, grab someone and then drown them.
Changelings were elves or fairies swapped out with human infants. While the changeling would make the lives of everyone around them miserable as they pretended to grow older, the abducted child would be raised to work as a slave. The myths about changelings also provided a cure: a changeling could be tortured into admitting its origins and, having done so, would then return the stolen child to the parents. This belief led to documented cases of severe child abuse as parents strove to get rid of the “obviously swapped” child who was causing them trouble.
Kobolds are often portrayed as the most pitiful of all evil spirits, likely developing that reputation from their classification in the original Dungeons and Dragons game and continuing to see the characterization in places like the Kobolds Ate My Baby RPG. For historical reference, they were anything but weak… but the German creatures could absolutely be dangerous. The most famous of them was King Goldemar, who brought luck to the house of Neveling von Hardenberg. The kobold was invisible, but could be touched. He increased von Hardenberg’s skill with music and made him lucky when gambling. He would even occasionally spy for von Hardenberg. Then one day, someone in the household decided to try to make him trip onto some ashes, so his footprints could be seen. Goldemar’s reaction was to dismember the prankster, spit-roast every portion of the body, and consume the meat before leaving with a curse upon the house.
Sure, we see the good side of elves and sprites in modern fantasy stories, but in the myths there were a lot of evil ones. I think we’re well served to have gotten rid of them.
Question of the night: What’s your preferred mythological beast?