Legends tell of three major types of kobolds. Most commonly, the creatures are house spirits of ambivalent nature; while they sometimes perform domestic chores, they play malicious tricks if insulted or neglected. Famous kobolds of this type include King Goldemar, Heinzelmann, Hödekin. In some regions, kobolds are known by local names, such as the Galgenmännlein of southern Germany and the Heinzelmännchen of Cologne. Another type of kobold haunts underground places, such as mines. The name of the element cobalt comes from the creature's name, because 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. A third kind of kobold, the Klabautermann, lives aboard ships and helps sailors.
Kobold beliefs are evidence of the survival of pagan customs after the Christianisation of Germany. Belief in kobolds dates to at least the 13th century, when German peasants carved kobold effigies for their homes. Such pagan practices may have derived from beliefs in the mischievous kobalos of ancient Greece, the household lares and penates of ancient Rome, or native German beliefs in a similar room spirits called kofewalt (whose name is a possible rootword of the modern kobold). Kobold beliefs mirror legends of similar creatures in other regions of Europe, and scholars have argued that the names of creatures such as goblins and kabouters derive from the same roots as kobold. This may indicate a common origin for these creatures, or it may represent cultural borrowings and influences of European peoples upon one another. Similarly, subterranean kobolds may share their origins with creatures such as gnomes and dwarves and the aquatic Klabautermann with similar water spirits.
Origins and etymology Edit
The kobold's origins are obscure. Sources equate the domestic kobold with creatures such as the English boggart, hobgoblin and pixy, the Scottish brownie, and the Scandinavian nisse or tomte; while they align the subterranean variety with the Norse dwarf and the Cornish knocker. Irish historian Thomas Keightley has argued that the German kobold and the Scandinavian nis predate the Irish fairy and the Scottish brownie and influenced the beliefs in those entities, but American folklorist Richard Mercer Dorson has discounted this argument as reflecting Keightley's prejudices toward Gotho-Germanic ideas over Celtic ones.
Kobold beliefs represent the survival of pagan customs into the Christian and modern eras and offer hints of how pagan Europeans worshipped in the privacy of their homes. Religion historian Otto Schrader has suggested that kobold beliefs derive from the pagan tradition of worshipping household deities thought to reside in the hearth fire. Alternatively, Nancy Arrowsmith and George Moorse have said that the earliest kobolds were thought to be tree spirits. According to 13th-century German poet Conrad of Würzburg, medieval Germans carved kobolds from boxwood and wax and put them "up in the room for fun". Mandrake root was another material used. People believed that the wild kobold remained in the material used to carve the figure. These kobold effigies were 30 to 60 cm (one to two feet) high and had colourful clothing and large mouths. One example, known as the monoloke, was made from white wax and wore a blue shirt and black velvet vest. The 17th century expression to laugh like a kobold may refer to these dolls with their mouths wide open, and it may mean "to laugh loud and heartily". These kobold effigies were stored in glass and wooden containers. German mythologist Jacob Grimm has traced the custom to Roman times and has argued that religious authorities tolerated it even after the Germans had been Christianised.