Word of the Week: Kobold

Oct 25, 2013

With Halloween just around the corner, Americans are excitedly gathering for haunted hayrides, telling scary stories around campfires, and searching for frightening costumes. At this time of year, it’s common to hear stories about the chupacabra, bigfoot, and the headless horseman.

Mythological creatures exist throughout the world, but let’s take a look at one that has existed in German folklore for centuries. A popular supernatural creature is the Kobold, a mischievous household spirit that is usually invisible, but will occasionally materialize, taking the form of a human, an animal, or an object. An ill-tempered Kobold might, for example, take the form of a feather, descend onto the nose of a sleeping homeowner, and trigger a sneeze.  

Kobold Enlarge image A Kobold is a type of house-ghost. (© Wikimedia Commons) Most images of a Kobold depict small, humanlike figures often dressed like peasants. But there are many types of Kobolds. Some are friendly spirits that live in one’s home, taking care of chores and playing malicious tricks if they feel upset, neglected or insulted. Others live underground, haunting old mines. Some reside on ships, accompanying sailors as they navigate the open seas (this type of Kobolt is called a Klaubautermann).

The origin of the Kobold and its etymology remains shrouded in mystery, but this mythical creature is believed to have emerged from Pagan customs many centuries ago.

There are numerous other legendary German creatures that are closely related to the original Kobold, such as the Heinzelmännchen (house gnomes). But while the Heinzelmännchen are good-natured creatures that tend to the house, Kobolds also have a darker side to them, often wreacking havoc. In some cases, the damage Kobolds inflict might resemble that imposed by a poltergeist.

Meister Eder and Pumuckl Enlarge image Meister Eder and Pumuckl - the friendly Kobold. (© picture-alliance / KPA Copyright) A 1961 Bavarian Radio series, which was later turned into a television show, chronicles the life of a friendly Kobold named Pumuckl, who is a descendent of the Klaubautermänner. This popular children’s series features a Kobold who is invisible to everyone until he gets stuck in a pot of glue -- an incident that makes him visible to a carpenter named Meister Eder. In the show, Pumuckl expresses immense disappointment when he is mistakenly referred to as a Heinzelmännchen.

So next time you’re in Germany and your things go missing or you hear a bump in the night, remember that you might have a Kobold living in your building. Happy Halloween!

© Germany.info

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