Friday, April 11, 2008

Who put the "Hob" in Hobgoblin?

Sometime ago, I took an unofficial poll of the members of a discussion group that I belonged to as to how many believed in the bogeyman as a child. The majority not only believed in the bogeyman but also had fear of him instilled into them as a form of control. Some bogeyman memories were quite cruel as well.

As a child, I not only had the fear of the bogeyman to contend with, but also I had monsters of my own invention. The most feared were the "Grabhanders," cold, ugly disembodied hands, which I was certain lurked around the sides of my bed at night. I believed the hands could grab my exposed feet, hands or other body parts not under the protection of the bed covers. I did not even want to think about what the hands might do after they grabbed me, so no matter how hot and sweaty I became, I always kept myself under those covers.

My beliefs were quite typical of all who have believed in invisible beings. Every race and group of people in history have believed in different kinds of them and kept those beliefs alive through their children. Passing them from generation to generation is what gave them power over us, and only in more recent times have we begun to come out from under those fears. The beliefs evolved into particular, almost real, characters with names, special attributes, and purposes. Allow me to present this brief list of some of those invisible beings from history:

Bogeyman - vague in appearance, shapechanger, usually a malevolent creature, although some are harmless. Bogeymen have no distinct habitat and can appear out of nowhere. They usually haunt families but have been known to become a friend and playmate for children. Bogeymen might have come from the word "bugis" which were pirates from Indonesia and Malaysia. Sailors told their children that if they were bad, the bugismen would come and get them. Over time, "bugis" became "bogey."

Fairy - probably a combination of the words "fae," friend and "eire," green, meaning "green friend." A fairy's appearance can be beautiful. They are said to bestow gifts upon newborn children. They can only be seen clearly by animals unless they use what is known as "glamour," which is the name of their power, to enable humans to see them. The Fairy Folk of Ireland are the Daoine Sidhe whom legend says were members of the Tuatha de Denann that decided to stay in Ireland after they were defeated by the Milesians. Their name means "people of the mounds" where they are said to live.

Other names for fairies include: Hag, a fairy from the British Isles. She's the personification of winter during which she is old and ugly, but she becomes younger and beautiful when the seasons change. Sprite, a creature around water and found only in serene and cool places. Their job is to change the colors of a tree's leaves in Autumn. Bean Sidhe or Banshee, woman of the hills. She foretells death by wailing. The phrase, screamed "like a banshee," comes from this legend. She is said to have long hair and be dressed in a gray cloak.

Elf, a supernatural being shaped as a human, either beautiful or ugly, and worshipped in trees, mountains and waterfalls. Names of some elves include: Fir Darrig, malevolent elf who plays tricks; Ghillie Dhu, Scottish elf who lives in birches; Urisk, Scottish elf who lives in remote pools and rivers; Apicilnic, knee-high "little people" whose presence is an omen of danger and who also steal children; Hedley Kow, shapechanging elf who played naughty tricks; and Mazikeen, winged elf-like beings.

Brownie, brown elves who live in farmhouses and other country dwellings in Scotland. Protective creatures that become attached to families. Children can see them. While their human family is asleep, they perform various labors for them.

Gnome, small creature that dwells under the earth, guarding treasures. Related to goblins and dwarves. They cannot stand the light of the sun, which turns them to stone.

Goblin/Hobgoblin, a grotesque variety of gnomes. Mostly playful yet can be evil and seriously harm people. Originated in France. Usually live in mossy clefts of rocks and roots of ancient trees. "Hobgoblin" is believed to be an abbreviation of "Robin Goblin," the name Druids gave to the first goblins when they entered Britain.

Leprechaun, small sprites believed to bring good luck and fortune. These are known as fairy cobblers because they make shoes for elves but not a pair of shoes, only one. Their name comes from "leith brogan," or maker of one shoe. Legend says they possess a pot of gold. A human may obtain it if they capture a Leprechaun. But capture is extremely difficult, and the captor may not take his eyes off of him for an instant lest he vanish.

Dwarf, small humanoids, half the size of a man. Skillful with their hands, they made beautiful and magical objects including Thor's hammer and Odin's magical ring. They live in caves, holes in the ground, and hollow trees. Can be hostile.

Heinzelmannchen, a friendly German dwarf or elf.

Ogre, large creatures who eat human flesh.

Troll, ugly creatures who live in caves and hunt after dark. Particularly fond of human flesh. Enemies of mankind.

Phynnodderee, a combination of the Scandinavian troll, the Scottish brownie and the Irish leprechaun. Drives sheep home and helps in the harvest if a storm is brewing.

Pixie, little people who are said to live in the downs and moors of Cornwall, England. Playful and like to steal horses and ponies and ride them at night.

Nymph/Satyr/Faun Nymphs are female spirits of nature represented as young maidens who rule over different parts of nature: forests; springs and rivers; ocean and sea; mountains; meadows; lakes; marshes and swamps; and valleys. The male counterpart of the nymph is the satyr (half human in the upper body and half beast in the lower, usually goat). The Italian version of the satyr is the faun.

Centaur, a creature with a human torso and head and the body of a horse. A follower of the wine god, Dionysus. Known for drunkenness and carrying off young maidens.

Green Man, pagan deity of the woodlands of Britain and Europe. Represents spirits of trees, plants and foliage.

I hope this list helps to explain the differences in these mythical beings. When my children were born, I decided that I would start a tradition of making sure they understood that all of the above (including Santa Claus and my own Grabhanders) were in the pretend world of make believe, although Hollywood can make them seem very real. It is a terrible thing to control a child with fear.


Encyclopedia Mythica

Heinzelmannchen by Definition by Ginger Gehres

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