Mythical Creatures Series
Legend says anyone who tries to see a kobold will meet a terrible end, so if you suspect one lives in your home, or in a cave, or travels on a ship, show it respect and let it be. The little prankster will leave on their own when they are ready.
What is it?
A spirit from Germanic mythology, and legends speaks of 3 types:
House spirits have an ambivalent nature. They play tricks and pranks on anyone in the household if they feel they’ve been neglected or insulted. Famous kobolds include King Goldemar, Heinzelmann, Hödekin. In some regions, kobolds are known by local names, such as the Galgenmännlein of southern Germany. The story of King Goldemar goes as follows:
According to a legend recorded by Thomas Keightley in 1850, King Goldemar was a kobold, a type of house spirit in Germanic belief. Goldemar lived with Neveling von Hardenberg at Castle Hardenstein at the Ruhr River. Goldemar brought good fortune to Neveling’s household, demanding only a seat at the table, a stable for his horse, and food for himself and his animal. The spirit refused to be seen, but he would allow mortals to feel him; Keightley says that “[h]is hands were thin like those of a frog, cold and soft to the feel.” After King Goldemar had lived with Neveling for three years, a curious person strewed ashes and tares about to try to see the kobold’s footprints. Goldemar cut the man to pieces, put them on the fire to roast, and put the head and legs in a pot to boil. He then took the cooked meat to his chambers and ate it with glee. The next day, Goldemar was gone. Hardenstein lay in a rich mining area during the Middle Ages, which may account for why the castle became associated with a subterranean sprite like Goldemar.
Underground spirits haunt places such as mines. The cobold / kobold name comes from from these guys. 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. 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.
Water spirits, also known as klabautermann, live aboard ships and help sailors on the Baltic and North Sea with their duties. This creatures tends to be quite merry, is an expert understanding of most watercraft, and an unsupressable musical talent. He also rescues sailors washed overboard. His image is of a small sailor in yellow with a tobacco pipe and woollen sailor’s cap, often wearing a caulking hammer. This likeness is carved and attached to the mast as a symbol of good luck. Despite the positive attributes, there is one omen associated with his presence: no member of a ship blessed by his presence shall ever set eyes on him. He only ever becomes visible to the crew of a doomed ship. This water kobold is sometimes described as having sinister attributes, and blamed when things go wrong on the ship. Hence why they are portrayed as demon- or goblin-like, and seen to doom the ship and her crew.
While usually invisible, it can materialise in the form of an animal, human, fire (or candle – too strange). They are typically depicted as humans the size of children.
What they look like depends on where they live. Those in the mines might be hunched up, those in the sea dressed in sailor outifts and those in houses in peasant clothing – perhaps to fool ordinary folk.
Appearances in Culture
- A kobold is musically depicted in Edvard Grieg’s lyric piece
- Kobolds are referenced in the Larry Niven novel Protector.
- The Kobold Heinzelmann is an important character in the novel American Gods by Neil Gaiman.
- Terry Brooks’ Landover series features two different kobolds
- The Forgotten Realms series features kobolds as enemies throughout, nearly on par with goblins
- Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke
- The Spirit Ring by Lois McMaster Bujold
- Fablehaven: The Rise of the Evening Star by Brandon Mull features a kobold in a decidely sinister cast
- Revenge of the Shadow King by JS Lewis and Derek Benz has mercenary kobolds working for Morgan Le Fay
Did you know? Belief in kobolds dates to at least the 13th century, when German peasants carved kobold effigies for their homes.
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