What's a Woodgnome, Daddy?

Well, that's the question, isn't it? Who is this peculiar mischief-maker? Just what sort of sprite is a woodgnome? I'm sure he never turns up in Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen. The literature isn't much help, but the following authoritative quotes may be useful.


Possibly cognate with the Russian leshy. Of all the inhabitants of Faerie, woodgnomes are among the most furtive and sly, slipping through the pages of history in the secretive fashion of those who wish to evade the attention of the authorities. The classical writers do not mention them at all, presumably including them among those genii loci that haunted springs and hidden places; or else classing them as a form of satyr, a mistake easily made. The first reliable reference in literature is Anna Commena's mention in the Alexiad that the Emperor had once seen a 'gnome of the sort that dwell in woods' whilst hunting. Later writers then more or less ignore the species, a preference which continues almost unabated until the present day. Our most detailed information comes from the Elizabethan magus John Dee, who wrote in a letter to his companion Matthew Kelly that he had summoned and spoken with 'ane silvane impe, calling himself a woodegnome' whilst riding through Epping Forest. The spirit, appearing as 'a very boastful, shiftless fellow of the bignesse of a youth, but with a man's countenance' claimed that he had once dwelled upon Olympus as the demigod Silenos, but since the old gods were overthrown had wandered the wilderness and shrunken down to a mere fairy. He also claimed to be a lord among the people of Danu, the inventor of the alphabet, and the Scribe of the Fairy Court. Dee concluded that 'truthfulnesse was to him unknowe' and dismissed the sprite with an injunction to do no harm, which did not save the party from being pelted with pine cones and the droppings of their own horses.

Kipling too knew of the tribe: in 'The Road through the Woods' he wrote:

Only the keeper sees
That where the ring dove broods
And the woodgnomes laze mid the trees
There was once a road through the woods.

The lines were later amended to improve the rhythm and the woodgnomes were, perhaps fortunately, lost to posterity.

from 'An Unnatural History of Faerie' by Prof. Merriweather Gray.

Gnome, Wood: see Woodgnome


Woodgnome: see Gnome, Wood

entries from 'The Big Dictionary of the Wee Folk' by Muriel Scatterwit

there be three things, yea, there be things three,
that the more you beat them the better they be:
a woman, a woodgnome, and a walnut tree

Traditional English verse, author unknown



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