Our world is not the only plane of existence, and what we see about us is not all that there is to see. We seldom live completely alone, even if we think we do. Our homes are occupied by any number of unseen beings—mostly helpful, a few not-so-helpful—who carry on their daily rounds with just as much purposeful direction as we do.
The human inhabitants of the British Isles have long and deep household associations with their unseen ones, collectively called cofgodas in old English and regionally known by all sorts of names, including Brownies, Hobs, Lobs, Dobbies, Ellyllyons, and Urisks… These generally benign spirits help the family with which they live—finding lost objects, tending to gardens, cleaning barns, grinding oats, keeping the pantry free from pests, guarding the home against evil—so long as they are given respect. This respect involves leaving them a quiet space, and offering them special treats like cakes and cream, left on the mantel or the hearth stone regularly enough not to offend them.
If these household spirits feel mistreated they will become truculent …if not downright nasty. Brownies are given a special “Brownie stone” for them to sit on by the hearth (so they won’t turn into mischievous Boggarts). Ellyllons, Welsh home spirits will change from helping with household chores to disrupting the household’s daily life if they feel neglected, or if they are annoyed.
Annoyed Ellyllons become the annoying Bwbachod, who, tradition has it, are most likely to be irked by Christian and teetotalers. Ahem. Lobs, Dobbies and Urisks also help happily so long as they are attended to with special gifts of cream and bread, or oats and honey. When they feel affronted, however, their names do not change—although Lobs have sometimes been known as ‘lubber fiends’…not exactly a name to be found on happy helpful sorts of house spirits.
Slightly different is the case of the Anglo-Scot Hob, which is more of a spirit that is called to take care of a family rather than a spirit that lives with the family forever. After a Hob has cured the ills of a household’s occupants, the Hob may decide to stay, but should it grow bored with cream and cakes, it will become a Hobgoblin. To be rid of a Hob turned Hobgoblin, specially made clothing would be put out so the Hob took the hint, took the clothes and took leave of the house. There are echoes of this clothes-giving practice found in the fairy tale “The Elves and the Shoemaker” as well as in the Harry Potter book series (where the term Dobby can be found as well).
The British Isles are not the only spots where these household spirits can be found: from the Ancient Roman Penates and Lares to the German Kobolds, the Scandinavian Tomptes and Nisses, to the Slavic Domovois and all the way to the Gashis of Korea, human houses hold more than merely human occupants. The other household world exists side by side with all of us, helping us find lost keys, keeping bent pins from sticking us and….if they are offended (which they must be often these days) making sure we never get our phones fully charged before we leave the house.