- Origin: Teutonic (Germany)
- Role: Servant and Mischief Maker
What is the Kobold?
It had been such a wonderful idea. Make an offering to the boxwood tree; carve a talisman for the house, and with enough patience there would be a kobold permanently bound to ease on the chores. That was twenty years ago, and now was far different than anyone in the household imagined it would be.
Instead of helping with the work, the angry kobold added to the load. It was breaking dishes, destroying vegetables, and making life miserable. All because we moved the carving dedicated to it. All those years making fine tiny clothes as gifts, and this simple thing turned a helper into a terror.
Nothing would get rid of the kobold. He seemed stubborn in his determination to make life horrible for generations to come, no matter how we tried to remove it. Perhaps we will have more luck with an exorcism…
Kobolds originated as small helper spirits in Teutonic Germany, where they can be found in carvings dating to the 13th Century. They are spirits, or of the faerie realm, and are most commonly found in woods or mines.
Although they are helpers, once attached to a particular human or place they refuse to leave. If angered then the help turns to hindrance, and the kobold becomes an annoying prankster bent on making life miserable for those it once helped.
There are three types of kobolds, all of which are considered to be beneficial helpers unless provoked. The first are household helpers, coaxed from the woods they inhabited by offerings at their tree and carvings at the homes that desired their presence. The second are associated with mines and other underground domains. Finally there are the Klabautermann, associated with ships and seafaring.
All three are shape shifters, capable of taking any form, although they remain short of stature when they transform into humans. They are also capable of invisibility, so will often attach themselves to a human without their knowledge. The unfortunate upshot of this is that the human can offend the kobold without ever being aware of its presence, and then suffer the consequences.
Wood You Be My Helper
Wood spirit kobolds were often sought out as household helpers, and are one of the origins of the house spirit. They can be coaxed from their trees with offerings of honey or water. Although the kobold may take in instant liking to the petitioner, it is more likely to take several attempts to coax the kobold from its tree. In order to facilitate the transaction, a portion of the tree can be taken, while being careful not to upset the residing kobold, and removed to the house where the petitioner wants the kobold to live.
The petitioner will know that their offerings have been answered when branches fall at their feet. The kobold will then follow them home and live in that house forever, assisting in any way it can.
Do You Mine?
Subterranean kobolds are similar to wood kobolds, but instead of living solitary lives they live in communities or kingdoms. This is where the ability to turn invisible really comes in handy, because they can disappear if someone ventures into their domain that they do not want to associate with, they simply disappear.
Unlike wood kobolds, if a mine kobold takes a liking to a human that travels into their domain, they will follow them home, often remaining invisible for the journey. They will then take up residence in the house and help with chores and in other ways, sometimes using their magic in beneficial manners. In the mines, they are known to lead miners to good veins by knocking. The more knocks, the better the vein that is being shown.
The mine kobolds can vary from being beneficial to being harmful. They are blamed for causing mining accidents, replacing good ore with worthless (or even poisonous) ore, and causing all manner of trouble for miners that they see as invaders and thieves.
Koboldly Onto the High Seas
Klabautermann reside on ships, helping to maintain the ship. This is especially helpful in times of stress, as they will hammer at leaks until the crew can fix them properly. They are also known to arrange cargo in the most efficient manner, and to generally help the crew when sailing.
These kobolds are most likely related to the wood dwelling kobolds, as they are believed to arrive via the wood used to construct the ship.
If the three types, they are the ones best left unseen, because to see one is an omen of impending death, either of the crewman that sees the kobold or of the entire ship sinking.
You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry
For the most part, kobolds seem to like helping humans, as long as that help is appreciated. However, if they become offended, ignored, or are outright asked to leave, their mood turns from friendly to foul.
Kobolds should receive regular offerings to show that their help is appreciated. When they do not, they become angry. Asking a kobold to leave creates similar offense, because it also indicates that their help is not appreciated.
When a kobold is angry or offended, all the help they were providing reverses. An example would be that if they used to turn milk into butter during the night, now they would cause the milk to sour for no reason. They might pull thatch from a roof at night, causing a need for repairs. On ships they might tangle the ropes or sails, or distract the crew with laughter and jeers. In mines, the beneficial kobolds will take on the traits of the evil kobolds described above, although not as vicious or deadly.
Even an angry kobold is not considered to be dangerous. They will cause all manner of mischief, but will not generally cause outright harm to humans.
Kobolds remain important in German folklore as house spirits, guardians of the homes they inhabit. They can be most easily coaxed to your home on Midsummer’s Eve, and unlike most other house spirits they appreciate gifts. Clothing is their favorite, and is certain to keep a kobold from feeling neglected or underappreciated.