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The Secret Life of Brownies

Updated on August 23, 2017
The Brownie
The Brownie | Source

The Real Truth about the Scottish Brownie

Brownies are good-natured little fellows, related to the household spirits of the hob species, under the leprechaun order.

They can work diligently for farmers but are better known within houses. Do you think you may have a Brownie in your home?

They appear only at night to perform kind and helpful deeds and to enjoy a little harmless prank or two while weary households sleep.

The Scottish Brownie

You don't hear much about the Brownies nowadays. (A lot of this has to do with the Brownie's aversion to having his photograph taken). But it's a terrible shock to find that brownies are not known everywhere and this increase the fears held for their extinction!

Brownies, as you know, are originally from Scotland and the Outer Isles. But they are not seen much in this hurried century. Although there is much anecdotal evidence that has them following emigrants to Canada and Australia, they are not found elsewhere, and there is uncertainty about their ultimate survival in these troubled times.

It seems this very useful chap has become rare among the Highland mountains although at one time he was the common resident of every family of rank in those countries.

If you have a Brownie, treat him well. He could be the last of his kind!

Family Farmhouse Brownies - Every family had one

Before the Clearances
Before the Clearances

Once every family had a Brownie

It is said that in the old days, before the Land Clearances, every family had their own Brownie.

When families churned their milk a bowl was placed by the back door, when they baked their bannocks a small piece was laid aside, and when they brewed their ale a dribble of wort was poured into a saucer. All of this was done to honour and please the Brownie.

For if you had a happy Brownie pleased with your offerings, he would work all night (a great deal of work, the old people said) and lustily clean up your kitchen and shine your hob so that in the morning the sight of the gleaming would dazzle your eyes.

A very obliging fellow to be sure, and one most welcome around the house.

The Elusive House Guests

No person, except those gifted with second sight, could see the Brownies; but from the privileged few, principally old women, who were thus enabled to now and then catch a glimpse of their goblin guests, correct information regarding their size and color is said to have been gained.” Sir Walter Scott

A helpful, hard-working Brownie
A helpful, hard-working Brownie | Source

Do you have a Brownie in your Home?

First ask yourself if you have Scottish antecedents. Was one of your ancestors evicted from the family holding during the Land Clearances? For many a Brownie left when the family left, and sailed across the ocean with them.

In some way that is beyond our ken, the Brownie will choose one member of the family to faithfully serve. What is remarkable is that a Brownie can leave a particular family branch and go across to a completely different branch.

So, you can never be certain if a Brownie has suddenly transferred to your household from that of your cousin to the 4th degree.

If this is the case, you will begin to notice strange and mischievous activity in your house.

More on Scottish Customs

You don't hear much about Scottish customs, it's not somehow fashionable. not like the traditions of Ireland, for example, which have worldwide attention.

In this delightful book you'll find a wide range of folkloric traditions and the customs of ordinary folk.

Author, Margaret Bennett, is widely regarded as Scotland's foremost authority on Folklore.

How helpful can a Brownie be?
How helpful can a Brownie be? | Source

Strange and mischievous activity in your house

Have you suddenly started losing combs, pens and spoons? These little pranks are an innocent pastime of the Brownie.

Do you hear the repeated swoosh of a broom and the clatter of laundry buckets at night? Have you noticed your kitchen stove is polished?

If this is happening to you, very likely a Brownie has moved into your establishment, for although he is rarely seen, he can often be heard cleaning and scrubbing.

Leave out some oat cakes made on the griddle and a dish of cream at night. If you forget, the Brownie may disarrange rooms and furniture, and make an untidy clutter while you lie in your bed!

Brownies like Oatcakes from the Griddle

Brownies like Oatcakes from the Griddle
Brownies like Oatcakes from the Griddle
Curious Scotland: Tales from a Hidden History
Curious Scotland: Tales from a Hidden History

Scottish history isn't just about Robert Burns and Braveheart. In fact, it's far more complex than you might think

The Celtic Twilight: Faerie and Folklore (Celtic, Irish)
The Celtic Twilight: Faerie and Folklore (Celtic, Irish)

The eerie and puckish world of fairies, ghosts, and spirits as recounted by William Butler Yeats. In this collection Yeats tells of his own experiences with the uncanny supernatural world. A classic from 1902


Keep the Brownie contented

Just to be sure, leave out some supper for the Brownie.

My great grandmother told me to place a mug of a milk and the occasional bun on the table to keep the Brownie contented. I do this as I know Brownies keep a home neat and tidy. If I were a modern-thinking new-age sort of person I would say that the Brownie clears a house of negative energy, for I am sure that a Brownie does this to my own home.

Although he hasn't been inclined to wash any dirty dishes that I've left on the bench.

A Word of Caution

Don't ever make the mistake of confusing a Bogle with a Brownie!

Like the Boggarts of Yorkshire, a Bogle is more wicked than mischievous, and sometimes modern day Scots (who have forgotten their childrens' tales) will mistake them for poltergeists.

Always beware of Bogles!

What do you think, are Brownies still with us?

Do you believe in the Brownie?

© 2008 Susanna Duffy

Leave a Message for the Brownie - (Make your writing neat or he will refuse to read it)

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    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 4 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      @anonymous: You may possibly have a Pixie in your home - not a Brownie. How unfortunate!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      You are a lovely creature dear Brownie, I am quite sure I have one in my home.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Very good info,but you left one thing out. According to my Irish Scots grandmother you should never thank yoy brownie or acknowledge his existence in any way except to leave out food. To do so would offend him-he WANTS to work! He only needs to be fed. Gran fed hers every other day,a piece of shortbread or some oatmeal with some cream in a shotglass. She said he fed off the energy contained within the food as well as off its intent. Must've worked-her house and garden were spotless and beautiful!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Dear brownie, i wish to get to know you better. i want to get to sleep at night, if that's not to much to ask, because i have noticed many taps and clicks and many of blurs in my room at night. I will leave you a muffin tonight. Its alright if you don't want it, i will try something new tomarrow night. Thank you

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Dear Brownie, My sincerest apologies for not recognizing your presence. Americans are woefully untaught about such nicities of social politeness. I will leave you your supper from now on and be pleased to do so. I haven't any fresh milk tonight, I hope some beer will do.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Hello my dear friend, I have noticed some things have gone missing from my house and I would like them back. I am leaving chocolate out tonight in hopes of welcoming you to my home. I hope you enjoy it. And thank you for allowing us to be so blessed. This was a charming article.

    • WhiteOak50 profile image

      WhiteOak50 6 years ago

      After finally catching up with the Angel School Bus, I am fluttering around Fairy Folklore-ville to drop off some Blessings. Just wanted you to know I am here because your page caught my attention. Leaving you with a *Blessing* for doing such a great job on this page.

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 6 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      Seems like all the Brownies I knew stayed in Scotland - I haven't met any over here in the States! Blessed.

    • Stazjia profile image

      Carol Fisher 7 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      I'd love to have a brownie as I hate housework. Lovely stories, though.

    • CastleRoyLisa profile image

      Lisa 7 years ago from Rhode Island

      I am loving your secret life lenses this one I agree so charming and as wonderful as the others another wonderful lens and read! thank you I have enjoyed so much.

    • KarenTBTEN profile image

      KarenTBTEN 8 years ago

      I believe the Brownie scout handbook still may carry the tale of the brother and sister who wished there was a Brownie to do the housework, but learned to become Brownies. The story was there when I was little, and there was a period of time when I was very intent on being a Brownie: sneaking out in the middle of the night to do the housework, then sign an invented name on the window pane. It didn't work out like I planned.

    • profile image

      grannysage 8 years ago

      I had to wander in here because I wasn't sure if we were talking about the fairy kind of brownie or the eating kind of brownie. Or maybe brownies like eating brownies! I'll put some out tonight. I really need help around the house. But they need to stop pulling the cats tails. That upsets them. Lovely lens on a lovely topic. Another great one!

    • Mickie Gee profile image

      Mickie Goad 8 years ago

      I agree. Just charming. You are a talented lensmaster.

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      anonymous 9 years ago

      I have a house brownie!