The Mythology of Brownies

Welcome to the start of a short series about the Brownie six emblems.  There are nine traditional sixes in Brownies, each named after a mythical creature.

What are the stories behind these creatures?  Where do they come from?  What do they want?  Are they good role models for our young members?

We start today with a look at Brownies themselves.  Over the coming weeks we’ll look at Gnomes, Imps, Elves, and all of the other creatures which our girls love.

“What I am going to do?” their mother sighed. “I can’t keep the cottage tidy. If only we had a Brownie!”

“What’s a Brownie?” asked Tommy.

“A Brownie is a magical little creature, which slips into houses very early before anyone is awake. It tidies toys, irons clothes, washes dishes and does all sorts of helpful things in secret,” replied his mother.

From The Brownie Story

Brownies are household creatures.  They generally live in country houses, but have been known to appear in the city.  They are friendly towards humans – though adults never see them.  Those children who believe in them (and so are able to see them) describe them as small goblin-like creatures with flat faces, pinhole noses, and brown ragged clothes. The clothes, of course, is what gives them their name.

Brownies are usually solitary.  Perhaps this is why they attach themselves to a family, looking after them and even moving house with them.  Brownies also sometimes meet in groups, but this is less common.

Although Brownies do good turns for humans, if they are thanked, or given gifts, they will be very offended and disappear for ever.  A farmer in Yorkshire once left a new set of clothes for a Brownie, and when he snuck downstairs in the middle of the night to find out how his gift was liked, he saw the visitor admiring himself in a mirror, looking very pleased.  But then he heard the Brownie say

“Ha!  A cap and a hood!
Hob’ll never do more good!”

The farmer never saw the Brownie again.  So if you ever see one, make sure you are polite, but never thank it!  Instead, you should leave out a bowl of milk in a place the Brownie might find it.  But beware!  If you forget to leave out milk or cream one night, the Brownie might be offended, and lots of little things will go wrong the next day.

The reason Brownies hate to be thanked is the subject of much debate.  One theory is that they are a clan of spirits who were on the losing side of the great war in heaven, and were outlawed.  Brownies cannot read.

Lots of Brownies call themselves Hob or Hobman, and sometimes Redcap.  These are not their real names, of course, because to know the real name of a Brownie will give you magical power over it.  Perhaps this is why Brownie leaders are known as Brown Owl, Tawny Owl, and Snowy Owl!


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