Saturday, March 21, 2020


LEPRECAT page 1b ... supplementing the oldest resources

I'm still hammering away at these older materials, and for me it has been interesting beyond what I expected. So today will still be stuck in the past of the Renaissance. And... I'm going to guess that it will take at least this and another post to get us into the midst of the 1700s. But it's been fun so far, so let's do it.

Agricola: that's Latin for peasant farmer but also for George Bauer, one of the Renaissance's smartest people.

 Bauer was a genius and an early scientist. Among many other accomplishments he wrote the go-to book on metals and mining which stood unrivaled for over a hundred years. DE RE METALLICA was a great classic, but somewhat oddly never translated into English until done by US President-to-be Herbert Hoover. 

Bauer was meticulous in his research. He insisted on his own personal knowledge before including information in his book. His beginning-of-book quote:
   "I have omitted all those things which I have not myself seen, or have not read or heard of
  from persons upon whom I can rely. That which I have neither seen, nor carefully considered  
  after reading or hearing of, I have not written about. " 

In De Re Metallica, near the end of the volume, Bauer says this: 
   " In some of our mines, however, though in very few, there are other pernicious pests. These are demons of ferocious aspect, about which I have spoken in my book De Animantibus Subterraneis. Demons of this kind are expelled and put to flight by prayer and fasting." 

Well, that's boggling. What's he talking about? What does he actually say in that second rarer book?

 The key paragraph is below:


 "Then there are the gentle kind which the Germans as well as the Greeks call cobalos, because they mimic men. They appear to laugh with glee and pretend to do much, but really do nothing. They are called little miners, because of their dwarfish stature, which is about two feet. They are venerable looking and are clothed like miners in a filleted garment with a leather apron about their loins. This kind does not often trouble the miners, but they idle about in the shafts and tunnels and really do nothing, although they pretend to be busy in all kinds of labour, sometimes digging ore, and sometimes putting into buckets that which has been dug. Sometimes they throw pebbles at the workmen, but they rarely injure them unless the workmen first ridicule or curse them. They are not very dissimilar to Goblins, which occasionally appear to men when they go to or from their day's work, or when they attend their cattle. Because they generally appear benign to men, the Germans call them guteli. Those called trulli, which take the form of women as well as men, actually enter the service of some people, especially the Suions. The mining gnomes are especially active in the workings where metal has already been found, or where there are hopes of discovering it, because of which they do not discourage the miners, but on the contrary stimulate them and cause them to labour more vigorously."

Hmmmm .... Very good, George. Very Interesting. BUT: there is a disconnect between these two quotations. The longer one describes the sort of little fellows that we're familiar with above ground and in the home, but the shorter quote seems to be talking about something else. What to do? I'm going to go with my usual philosophy and try to "save the data." In this case, the "data" begins with my Rock --- George Bauer himself. He is the smart one here, and I believe that I must trust that he knows what he's talking about and consequently didn't botch up any descriptions. 

Two things to begin: 1. I have no English translation of De Animantibus Subterraeneis. Yes. I know that some exist, but I'd rather not spend my life tracking EVERYTHING down (you folks can do some of it :=}} ).  2. It appears that even some pros don't have agreement upon these particular issues (the "coballos", for instance.) Here's what I think. 

A. Bauer's long paragraph on the "little miners" is exactly as he wants to characterize them. (there's a bit of debate upon height). Bauer views these little characters as generally friendly; they are NOT the beings mentioned in the shorter quote above which I'll try to reconcile later. Remember Bauer's philosophy: he doesn't include things that he hasn't seen himself or heard about first hand (i.e. believes that the "facts" are in fact facts.) This means that he has personally heard/read reports which contain specific appearance and behavior, as he states. If credible, then we find Bauer describing classic gnomes. Bauer knows that. He says that these are similar to the little folk encountered on the surface as we "go to or from (our) days work, or when (we) attend (our) cattle." These trolls or goblins are mischievous but rarely hostile --- one must rile them to get hostility in return.    So, good.   What about the other reference?

B. Here he speaks of pernicious pests and violent demons --- NOT our little miners. 

In his De Animantibus Subterraneis he is talking about all sorts of critters which dwell in caves and, therefore potentially, mines. Some of these things can readily be viewed as "pernicious pests." Three of the worst of these are: B1: a poisonous snake, which bite causes hemorrhaging; B2: a poisonous frog, called a "Fire Toad", due to coloration; and B3: some kind of rodent, which is very aggressive in attacking and biting. OK so far. I can easily imagine all those being real. But I can also doubt that any of those need "prayer and fasting" to get rid of them. 

What needs that? This gets us into deep and pretty ignorant waters. What the miners are talking about here is the possibility of an entity which would need exorcism --- something fundamentally evil, "of the Devil." There is little doubt that the miners BELIEVED in such demons during Bauer's time. There were still strong theological vibrations from Michael Psellus' doctrine of six types of demons, two of which could be underground. Psellus was an example of the Church's drive to bring all of the peasant Old Religion concepts under the rubric of the Demonic --- remember our recent idiot-friend, Richard Bovet, described previously. 

So, what am I going to do with all that?  I'm going to keep the long paragraph and push the shorter one to the edge of the desk. Why? Cop-out? I don't see it that way. Bauer is faithfully reporting what the miners are reporting to him. Note that when they talk of the "little miners", the coballos, they are vividly descriptive. Not for the demons of Psellus. I can readily buy that the miners KNOW the coballos far better than they know any demons. I can also readily buy that when a mine has several accidents, it is considered cursed or haunted by something evil. One might, as in some poltergeist instances today, get the local priest over for some prayer and fasting. ... for a theological concept that no one sees nor can describe.

That's my stand. I gladly take the "little miners"  description for my leprecat, while leaving the demons to their devices, whether they exist or not. 

C. "Coballos". This term apparently is a conundrum. It seems all mixed up with a lot of maybe-relevant/ maybe-not ideas. Bauer is clear about it. Coballos are the "little miners." They are also similar in appearance and behavior to the goblins or trolls which cavort about on the surface. A German word for home is "hob", so a hob-goblin would be one of the little people who was attached to a home. So, for Bauer, there are three sorts of Little People all of whom look and act basically identically: coballos (in mines and underground), hobgoblins (serving in guest homes), and goblin/trolls (our classic fairy-gnomes, who cavort about in forests, fields, and rural roads.) 

That's pretty easy to understand. Once the British get hold of this, though, the language begins to bolix up a bit. Coballos become Kobolds, and Kobolds become in-house servants, at least in some places (Brownies in others). Goblins become nasty, and hobgoblins worse. Trolls would be REALLY bad actors. And there seems to be endless disagreement in the labels everywhere. This is a LITTLE bit important since you cannot take a rapid read of a sentence and confidently say you know what the writer is talking about. 

I rather like Bauer's simpler view. ... but I also like the Gnome and Dwarf words. "Fairy" turns out to be the worst choice of all --- and every modern attempt to collect "fairy data" needs to seriously regard the fact that potential reporters are going to interpret it wildly differently, and consequently much incident-encounters will be lost. (i.e. "I saw a gnome, but never a fairy, so I guess this collector doesn't want that.") 


Wow ... Agricola led me away farther than I'd intended. I'll mention just one other thing this time and retreat into my gloaming again for a few days.


Another John Aubrey collected tale:  

 As Aubrey continued his quest into all things wonderful, he received many testimonies from persons (many of some degree of prominence) that he knew or knew of. One of these was from John Lewis of Glaskerigg in 1656. 

Lewis stated this: " We have in this country several silver and leaden mines, AND NOTHING MORE ORDINARY THAN SOME SUBTERRANEAN SPIRITS, CALLED KNOCKERS (where a good vein is), both heard, AND AFTER SEEN, little statured about a half a yard long; this very instant, there are miners upon a discovery of a vein upon my own lands, upon this score, and two offered oath that they heard them in the daytime."  --- capital letters are mine.

Lewis went on to note that while some might link these with witchcraft, he and a local Colonel do not. ( and the old people would absolutely NOT link them either.) 

Coballos in Germany, Knockers in Western Britain. Two-foot tall gnomes doing their happily mischievous things, and, as many of these critters behave, seem not to be able to produce much or anything new or inventive themselves. Thus Bauer thought of them as coballos, which at root is an imitator. 

All for today folks.

Blessings, health, and peace to you all. 

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