Brownies- no, not that kind!

One of the more benign creatures in Scottish folklore is the brownie. These creatures usually attached themselves to a family and performed

A Scottish Brownie. Courtesy of

household tasks for them such as cleaning the kitchen, tidying the house, etc. Brownies were solitary creatures and avoided being seen by humans at all costs. It was very rare for two brownies to be staying within the same household although this sometimes happened. Brownies usually chose to live and work in a castle or big house or else on a farm or mill. These usually provided lots of cosy hiding places for the creatures to sleep in during the day and then at night they could perform their duties unseen.

Brownies could be useful so long as their hosts obeyed the unwritten rules. However if the members of the household insulted their lodger, which was very easily done, the brownie could easily turn on the family and abandon the house. If this happened, bad luck usually befell the people dwelling within and often their houses would fall into ruin. The problem with obeying the unwritten rules is that very often people only discovered what they were after breaking them.

There is one story of a brownie who lived at Leithenhall, near Moffat in Dumfriesshire in the south of Scotland. The brownie had lived in the house for 300 years and each time a new laird took over the brownie presented himself to him. Between the death of one laird and the arrival of his heir the house lay empty for years. The brownie was cold and hungry and mourned the death of the previous owner. When the new laird arrived the brownie appeared before him in the usual fashion. The master was shocked at the haggard appearance of the creature and ordered servants to provide him with food, drink and warm clothes. The brownie took great offence to this and immediately departed from Leithenhall and left it to fall into ruin. It was absolutely unforgivable to present a brownie with new clothes as it was a huge insult to how he carried himself. A modest reward of a warm fire and a small plate of food for his services was required to keep a brownie happy.

If a master managed to incur the wrath of a brownie by criticising him, the revenge wreaked upon him could be devastating. One such incident occurred in Cranshaws, Berwickshire in the Scottish Borders. A brownie had been cutting corn for his family for years and would bring it into the house. One year he overheard one of the family members saying that the harvest had not been well mowed. By morning, the brownie had removed the whole lot to the top of a cliff and flung it to the wind. The family went without their harvest and the brownie left, causing their farm to fall into disrepair.

Most of these folktales take place in the south of Scotland and the Highlands and Islands. One reason for this could be because there is more farmland in these rural areas. Brownies brought luck to the households they worked for and if they were kept happy and the family obeyed all the rules they could bring good fortune to their family for many years. However, get on the bad side of a brownie and the consequences could be dire.



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