Magic, Mystery, a little Whisky, and a Cat

Things That Go Bump in the Night–Bauchans and Brownies

Welcome to Day two of the Fabulous A-Z Blogging challenge.  The B topic is not quite as blood-curdling as yesterday’s Joint-Eaters.  But don’t let the fairy tales fool you–Bauchans and Brownies have their dark sides, too.

Many cultures have creatures who are variations on this theme. The Scandinavians call them tomte, the Slavic domovoi and the German Heinzelmännchen. They seem to be a kind of hobgoblin—loyal to a family or place. They can be friendly and helpful or . . . not. But even their supposed misbehavior might be attempts to do good.

For example, a bauchan named Coluinn the Headless or Coluinn Gun Cheann protected the MacDonalds of Morar by killing any man who traveled the nearby Smooth Mile. While Coluinn may have intended to do good, this habit caused a certain amount of consternation since Coluinn was not only merciless and indiscriminate , but also headless. As happens in the Highlands, the friend of one of the slain decided to take revenge and ultimately defeated the bauchan. Coluinn reportedly left the area and retired in seclusion on the Isle of Skye.

Another bauchan tale involves Callum Mor MacIntosh whose farm in Lochaber was

haunted by a bauchan. The bauchan helped Callum through a hard winter by cutting firewood. The two often fought –but in the Highlands, a daily knock-down brawl is just part of a healthy bromance. When Callum took his family to New York, the bauchan came along.

While bauchans may roam the woods, brownies are generally house spirits who perform helpful little domestic chores. They do expect gifts in return and will abandon a house or family who does not show appropriate appreciation. Calling the gifts payment insults them since they consider themselves members of the family. Dobie in Harry Potter was some kind of brownie or bauchan as were the elves in “The Shoemaker and the Elves.”

Brownies are often associated with dairy maids who left offerings of milk and cream in hollowed out stones.  In return,  the brownies helped tend the cows and kept the milk sweet. Failure to treat them with respect could get your cows scattered and turn the milk sour overnight.

Having a brownie or bauchan is a two-edged sword—once you get them, they will stick with you whether you like it or not. They can be mischievous and down-right destructive. Giving them clothes is really one way to get rid of them and so is sprinkling holy water on them.  They appear as hairy little brown creatures skittering along the baseboards and stairwells.

The legend spawned the Brownie branch of the Girl Scouts. I wore my acorn hat with pride and occasionally got up early and set the table for breakfast—as instructed by the Brownie leader who was nowhere near as magical as the term implies.  Like any self-respecting Brownie, I abandoned the chore when nobody seemed inclined to leave any little gifts—though I did sometimes find my own reward in the form of chocolate chip cookies my mom kept in the freezer.

Seriously, the best way to steal cookies is early in the morning while wearing your brownie uniform.

Does anybody out there have a Brownie experience–either the goblin kind or the Girl Scout kind? Leave a comment and a Like.

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