Bogles & Buggaboos

I’ve discussed the list of British faery types compiled by Michael Aislabie Denham in two previous posts. It’s notable how many terms his catalogue contains that denote various sorts of bogles and bogies. Here’s a heavily very edited version of the list:

“the whole earth was [once] so overrun with… boggles, bugbears, barguests, boggy-boes, black-bugs, boggarts, scar-bugs, bugs, bull-beggars, flay-boggarts, boguests, gally-beggars, buggaboes, buckies, boggleboes, bogies…and apparitions of every shape, make, form, fashion, kind and description, that there was not a village in England that had not its own peculiar ghost. Nay, every lone tenement, castle, or mansion-house, which could boast of any antiquity had its bogle, its spectre, or its knocker.”

What’s clear to us, if we weren’t already vaguely aware of it before, is that there are numerous closely related terms for different sorts of ‘goblins.’  Furthermore, as I’ve described before, bogies and bogles are very broad categories that tend to incorporate a variety of more precisely labelled creatures, such as the shocks, shugs and galley trots. What I want to do in this posting is to try to distinguish the many types- if possible- and to survey the key features of the family as a whole.

Bogey, bogy or bogy-beast– these words can mean both a devil and an evil goblin (something we’ll see several times as we work our way through Denham’s list)).  Elizabeth Wright, recording English ‘rustic speech’ in Edwardian times, recorded the Northern saying to a child that, “If tha doesna leave off skrikin’, I’ll fetch a black bogy to thee.”  Bogies may be solitary or may go about in troops; their mission, whether alone or collectively, is to cause mischief, terror- or even greater harm- to humans.

Bogles, likewise, are predominantly evil goblins, verging into demons, that instil fear in people.  For instance, Hector Boece’s Chronicle of Scotland (1535, III, 134) mentions “ane bogill all of ratland banis [rattling bones].”  Robert Bailie’s Anabaptism of 1646 assures its readers that “Devils are nothing but only boggles in the night to terrifie men” and in 1696 John Aubrey recorded that the second sight was “assigned… to Bugles or Ghosts.” In this case, he may mean the power of prophecy. (Miscellanies 192).

A closely related word is boggle-bo.  It can- again- denote an image (mental or physical) used to scare children or it can refer to an actual, vicious being.  Coles English Dictionary of 1678 defines ‘boggle-bo’ as an “ugly wide-mouthed picture carried about with May games” and Bailey’s Dictionarium Britannicum of 1730 gives the meaning “a bugbear to fright children.”  However, a Berwickshire rhyme recorded in about 1800 mentioned the threat of a real and predatory monster- “The bogle bo’ of Billy Mire/ Wha kills our bairns a’.”

Another version of the same word is ‘bugaboo;’ its meaning will be familiar by now- it’s a kind of nursery spriteThe True Description of the Mint (1710, vi, 18) explains how for debtors pursued by creditors, “As other People terrify their Children with the tremendous Names of Bugaboo, and Raw-Head and Bloody Bones, so they use theirs with the hideous Word Bailiff.”  Long’s History of Jamaica (1774, vol.2, 416) tells us that the “spectres of deceased friends are duppies; others, like our raw-head-and-bloody-bones, are called bugaboos.”  In William Lisle’s 1625 translation of Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas’ Noe he describes a character who “hath his moods/ And, like a Buggle boo, straies ever through the woods.”

The change of the first vowel in the last few words leads us to another very important term, ‘bug.’ This is a very old word indeed, although today we only apply it (strictly) to a class of beetles.  Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible in 1395 describes a bug as “a man of raggis in a place where gourdis wexen”- in other words, a scarecrow (hence the ‘scar-bug’ in Denham’s list).  Thomas More’s Dialoge of Comfort (1535, vol.1, xviii, D, vii) takes us back to familiar ground: “Leste there happe to be such blacke bugges in dede as folke cal devilles,” as does Coverdale’s version of the Bible in the same year: “Thou shalt not nede to be afrayed for eny bugges by night” (Psalm 91).  Fairly quickly, it seems the supernatural being was demoted from demon to a means of keeping children and livestock in check: see, for example, Jewel’s Defence of the Apolostolic Churche (1567,ii, xvi) “A bugge meete onely to frate Children,” Glanvill’s Blow at Modern Sadducism (1668,149) “Timerous Fools, that are afraid of Buggs,” or dialect terms recorded in Victorian times in the English Midlands- ‘bug’ and ‘boog,’ meaning something that scares a horse.

We might also encounter the compound word ‘bug-boy’ as in Deacon and Walker’s Summarie Answere to Darel (page 222) “They will be deemed no better in effect than Hobgoblings, Bugboies, Night-sprites, or Fairies, to make the yoong children afraid with their supposed shadowes.” More familiar is the word ‘bugbear,’ which is still in occasional use today and which has a very similar meaning: Thomas Nashe in Pierce Penilesse (1592) referred disparagingly to “Meere bugge-beares to scare boyes,” Edward Topsell, in his History of Foure-footed Beastes (1658, 453) described “Certaine Lamiæ which, like Bug-beares, would eat up crying boies,” Hobbes in Leviathan (Book 1, xii, 55) dismissed superstitious belief in “Ghosts of men deceased, and a whole kingdome of Fayries and Bugbears” and, lastly, in 1758, Samuel Johnson noted in the Idler for June 24th how grown-ups “tell children of Bugbears and Goblings.”

In my previous posting on the Denham list, I discussed yet another ‘nursery sprite’ from Somerset called Tankerabogus; it seems highly probable that the final element of this name is derived from ‘bug.’

A bugaboo by JenL on DeviantArt

Bull-beggars are variants upon bugbears.  The name seems to derive from bull-bear or, even bull-boggart.  The being has two forms or aspects.  It can be the typical bogeyman- as may be seen in preacher Arthur Dent’s Plaine Man’s Path-way to Heaven (1601, 123)- “A mother, when her childe is waywarde, scareth it with some pokar, or bull-beggar” (‘Mum poker’ and ‘Tom poker’ are other nursery pristes found in Denham’s list). Secondly, bull-beggars may be a more malign presence.  In Sylvester Judd’s novel Margaret (1851, chapter 5) he described woods as being “The haunt of bul-beggars, witches, spirits, urchins, elves, hags, dwarves, giants, the spoorn, the puckle, the man in the oak, the will of the wisp…”  Readers may recognise many of these terms from Denham.

Bull-beggars seem to have haunted highways in particular, as was the case at Creech Hill, near Bruton in the east of Somerset.  Excavations in 1880 uncovered two burials and- after this- apparitions plagued travellers.  In one reported encounter, a farmer returning home at night saw what seemed to be a body lying in the roadway; approaching it, the shape leapt, swelled to abnormal height- and chased him all the way home. The dividing line between many bogles and ghosts can be uncertain.

Denham’s list also includes ‘buckies,’ a word now unfamiliar to us but which was once found in Devon in a children’s rhyme:

“Bucky, Bucky, biddy Bene,

Is the way now fair and clean?

Is the goose ygone to rest;

And the fox ygone to rest?
Shall I come away?”

This charm was recited before passing through dark places, the ‘biddy Bene’ being a sort of prayer to the bogie.  The shift in sounds in the word suggest that we are not far at all from ‘puck’ or from ‘pixie,’ and that all these supernatural beings are part of a larger family.  In Scotland, a buckie was a naughty boy- a ‘little devil.’

What can we conclude about bugs, bogles and their relatives?  They seem to inhabit a spectrum of entities, running from the reasonably friendly and brownie-like boggarts, who live in close proximity to humans, onwards through a range of increasingly alarming or malign beings, creatures that may haunt humans or may actively hunt them.  Many are only frightening to the young and impressionable; as Katherine Briggs observed, they denote “imaginary fears along the lines of ‘How easy is a bush supposed a bear.’”  However, the bugs shade into a menagerie of faery beasts- black dogs and such like- (as I’ve documented) and they are also synonymous or identical with demons and devils.  Just as their temperaments can vary, so may their appearance, shape and size.  Some of the more terrible shapes- hounds, headless men and suchlike monsters- even seem to be connected to the dead, especially murdered individuals, and so have some link to ghosts.  We’ve already seen the Creech Hill bull-beggar, another example was the Lumb Boggart of Bradwell in Derbyshire, which was associated with a young girl murdered in the vicinity.

Lewis Spence recorded that March 29th used to be known as ‘Bogle Day’ in Scotland.  By 1948, when he noted this in his Minor Traditions of British Mythology, all the details and reasons for this tradition had been forgotten but he suspected that it reflected the need to show bogies proper respect- if not reverence.  In their guise as hobgoblins and brownies, they shared our homes and required propitiation; in their more terrifying forms we needed to appease and defend against them.

Members of ‘the hobgoblin society’
(membership details to follow?)

As Jennifer Westwood commented in The Lore of the Land, “the distinction between bogey beasts and hobgoblins is blurred.”  This uncertainty is made worse by the shape-shifting ability of most bogies, making it hard for us to determine what the ‘natural’ shape of any particular type ought to be.  They can appear as humans, as a range of animals or, in fact, as almost any object they choose (the Glassensikes bogie found near Darlington is a good example of this, being seen as a white rabbit and a black dog and many points in between).  Alternatively, the creature may simply grow in size, as the Frandley Boggart in Cheshire was wont to do, silently swelling from a small man of just four feet in height to a giant.  Another quality the bogles have in common may be the fact that they make noises as part of their strategy to scare us.  An example of this was the boggle of Lowther Castle in Westmorland, which prevented people and beasts sleeping.  One interpretation of the name Tankerabogus/ Tantarabogus is, simply, the ‘noisy bogie.’ What’s more, the boggle of Lowther Castle was never actually seen- perhaps adding to the terror it engendered. 

As a general statement, bogles and their ilk didn’t tend to be very bright, so that they could be tricked and out-witted and- if the worst came to the worst- they might be destroyed by violence or exorcised- as happened with the Lumb Boggart and the Lowther boggle.

As Denham said, almost every ancient building in Britain seemed to have its boggle.  The reason for this appears to be that they had multitudinous forms and habits, meaning that they could be found in almost any location.  However, since these creatures first came to haunt and to terrorise these spots, their reputation has (by and large) tended to decline, so that many are reduced to little more than ‘bogey-men,’ “things that go bump in the night,” and pose no real threat to human safety and sanity.  Not all, though, so beware…

For further reading, follow the links in this article or see my 2020 book, Beyond Faery, published by Llewellyn.

Some Obscure British Faeries

The Chichevache

About eighteen months ago, I examined the long list of faeries and other sprites that had been assembled during the early nineteenth century in the so-called Denham TractsAs I remarked then, one aspect of this list is that it reminds us how many faery names have become utterly unfamiliar and mysterious to us. 

In this posting, I want to go back to the Denham list to have a look of some of the more obscure and puzzling of these words.

caddies: A term from Yorkshire, the diminutive of the rare cad(d)- a spirit. In John Hutton’s A Tour to the Caves, in the Environs of Ingleborough and Settle (1781), caddy is given as a word for a ghost or bugbear.  It is very clearly a sort of supernatural being, as two examples will show.  “One of these cadds or familiars still knocking over their pillow,” was used by Francis Osborne in his Advice to a Son, (1656) page 36, whilst “Rebellion wants no cad nor elfe/ But is a perfect witchcraft of itself,” appears in ‘Elegies,’ by Henry King, Poems (1657).

calcars: mentioned by both Reginald Scot in The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) and by Denham, the word appears to derive from the verb calculare.  Halliwell’s Dictionary of Archaic & Provincial Words defines ‘calcar’ as an astrologer, ‘to calke’ being to calculate or to cast a figure or nativity.  In John Bale’s 1538 play Kynge Johan “calking” is mentioned along with conjuring, coining and other frauds (1838 edition, page 71).  Nevertheless, it has also been connected to caucher and related to the French noun ‘cauchemare,’ a nightmare. Overall, though, it seems to be more to do with sorcery and magic than with Faery.

chittifaces:  Skeat’s Glossary of Tudor and Stuart Words and Wright’s Dialect Dictionary define this as someone with a thin and pinched face, a freckled visage or a small baby face.  It also is defined as a puellulus improbulus– a bad little girl. It might be used contemptuously: Thomas Otway’s 1683 play, The Souldiers Fortune, includes the line “Now, now, you little Witch, now you Chitsface” (Act 3, scene 1).

Possibly related is Chaucer’s term ‘chichevache’ which is used in the ‘Clerk’s Tale’ in the Canterbury Tales, line 1188Lest Chichevache yow swelwe in hire entraille!” [swallow you in her insides]. John Lydgate’s early fifteenth century poem Bycorne & Chychevache reaffirms that “Chichevache eteþe wymmen goode.”  This a monster that devours obedient wives (and therefore is very hungry, according to Chaucer’s joke).  In Lydgate’s verse, the creature is contrasted satirically with the bicorn, part panther and part cow, which eats devoted husbands and is, apparently, very well fed and plump.  Denham mentions bygorns in his list as well.

We might also note that in French chevaucher means simply ‘to ride a horse,’ so that a connotation of nightmare may have been incorporated into this name as well.

clabbernappers:  Some topographical and historical research reveals that in Southfleet parish in Kent there once was a large cave known that was called the Clabber Napper’s Hole. The related legend, as transcribed in the Gentleman’s Magazine for 1803 and reprinted in vol.26 for December 1846, was that the occupier of the cave was a kidnapper or freebooter. The article proposed that clabber derived from “caer l’abre,” the dwelling in the woods, though there is no attempt to explain why a Welsh word and a French word would be combined- as is frequent in old and dodgy etymologies where words with suitable meanings are randomly put together with no thought for historical likelihood.  

A more literal interpretation of the name might suggest that it was simply an onomatopoeic word, the meaning of which was a sort of noisy abductor (of children).  The Clabber Napper might, therefore, have been a sort of nursery sprite used to scare children.  If so, it might have been adopted by the putative smugglers to keep people away from their lair, or it might have been used by parents to discourage their children from playing there.

gringes: in some old dialects, to gringe or grange means to grind the teeth (Dickinson’s 1878 Glossary of Words and Phrases Pertaining to the Dialect of Cumberland). On that basis we might imagine another nursery sprite- a monster that grinds its teeth a lot and is used to keep children in their beds at night.

Probably the wrong sort of Miffy…

Miffies: Miffy is a nickname for the devil in Gloucestershire according to Thomas Wright’s Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English vol.2. Presumably it is related to Old French maufé meaning the devil. In addition, ‘miff’ means displeasure or ill humour, hence the modern meaning of being or feeling miffed over something.

Mock-beggars: There are numerous places known as Mockbeggar, Mock Beggar, or some variant thereon. E. Cobham Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 1894, defines Mock-Beggar Hall as an ostentatious dwelling whose mean spirited and stingy owners will turn away the poor from their door.  

This is the literal interpretation of the phrase; however, John Florio’s 1611 dictionary of English and Italian, Queen Anna’s New World of Words, defines ‘beffana’ as a bugbear or scarecrow, which might explain how it got into Denham’s list.

Nickies & Nacks: these are water sprites- Denham also mentions the related nixies (but this is just an adaptation of the German name nixe and first seems to have been used about 1816 by Sir Walter Scott) and nisses, which might be another pronunciation of the word, but is much more likely to be taken from Swedish and Danish, a nisse being a sort of domestic goblin or brownie.  Keightley seems to have been one of the first to use it in print in the Fairy Mythology (1828), so it is again a late borrowing and not an authentic British sprite; the nisse’s role had already been long filled by our own brownies and hobs. 

Nicks, necks and nickies all can be traced back to Anglo-Saxon nicer or nicor, becoming nekir and nyker in Middle English.  All the Germanic languages of the continent have related words with a similar meaning. The nickie, neck or nack is a supernatural being found living in the sea or in inland waters- other familiar terms might be water-demon or kelpie.   In Middle English the word was also used to denote a siren or mermaid.  The creature first appeared in the poem Beowulf as a dreadful creature of the night; it continued to be deadly and terrible in subsequent centuries.

In Layamon’s Brut of about 1200 (lines 10851-2) we are told about a lake in Scotland “Þat water is unimete brade; nikeres þer baðieð inne; þer is ælvene ploȝe in atteliche pole” (The water is immeasurably broad; nikers bathe there; there too is the play of elves in the hideous pool).

The Ayenbite of Inwite (Prick of Conscience) of 1340 (line 61) describes to us the how sea creatures called “nykeren… habbeþ bodyes of wyfman and tayl of visse” (have the bodies of women and the tails of fish).  Like sirens, according to Robert Mannyng in 1338, the nikers will sing to sailors a “mery song þat drecched þam ferly long [tormented them for a long time].”  The Treatise of Ghostly Battle (1500) also describes their tricks to lure men: “The nykare or meremaydene, that cast opone the water syde dyverse thyngis whyche semene fayre to mane, but anone as he taketh hit, she taketh hyme ande devoureth hym.”  This image persisted into Victorian times: in 1853 in Hypatia Charles Kingsley had a character ask “’What is a nicor, Agilmund?’ ‘A sea-devil who eats sailors.’”

The word nick or neck has almost completely faded from English, except for the river spirit known as Nicky Nicky Nye on the Welsh-English border. Its loss is a shame, as it would overcome the confusion between inland and marine mermaids that we now have- and which made me suggest the coinage ‘meremaid‘ as a substitute.

A secondary meaning (but one that is now the common understanding of the word), is demon or devil. So, in 1481, William Caxton’s translation of the History of Reynard Fox contains a reference to “fowle nyckers, Come they out of helle?”  This meaning was preserved in the poem, ‘Nickar the Soulless,’ published by Sebastian Evans in Macmillan’s Magazine for 1863 (and later in Brother Fabian’s Manuscript and Other Poems, 1865).  Nickar, the devil, makes a deal for a man’s soul so that he may see again and marry the naked fairy girl he once saw bathing in a river.  Today, of course, we still refer to ‘Old Nick.’

Spoorns & spurns: ‘Spurn’ generally denoted a fight or a spur but in the Dorset dialect it meant an evil spirit.  Keightley speculated that both “Calcar and Sporn (spurs?) may be the same, from the idea of riding” and hence some kind of nightmare, an evil spirit that rode people in their sleep and caused frightening dreams and paralysis (Keightley, Fairy Mythology, note to page 334).

Tantarrabobs: ‘Tantara’ and ‘tantaran’ was a noise or distubance (as in a tantrum). Tantarabobus, Tantarabobs, or Tankerabogus were variants upon a South Western dialect name for the Devil; it also denoted a noisy playful child. Thus, tantara-bogus was a noisy bogle (Joseph Wright, English Dialect Dictionary).

Thrummy-caps: According to Henry Farnie in his Fife Coast from Queensferry to Fifeness (1860, 112-113) Thrummy-cap was the vindictive ghost of a drowned carpenter who haunted the harbour where he died. James Halliwell-Phillips meanwhile reported that thrummy-caps were faeries from Northumberland and were “Queer looking little old men” who lived in the vaults and cellars of castles (Dictionary of Archaic & Provincial Words, 1848).

It’s not wholly clear how or why this relates to the above, but ‘thrum’ means a weaver’s ends, the extremity of the warp on the loom that can’t be woven.  It is a piece of material about nine inches in width.  Thrum therefore meant a frayed fringe or tuft, so that a thrummy-cap would be a ragged or shaggy looking hat knitted from these off-cuts of coarse woven woollen cloth.  Perhaps, rather like the Redcaps of the same area, the Northumbrian thrummy-caps were associated with the distinctive headgear.

Tints:  As a noun, the word is defined as being an obscure northern term for goblin. Another sense of the word ‘tint’ is a tiny touch, scrap or taste whilst ‘tinte’ means lost (coming from a Middle English verb of that meaning, tine, to lose (J. Wright, English Dialect Dictionary). Tinted was therefore ‘lost’ or ‘neglected.’ As well as to lose or to be lost, tine/ tyne could also mean to trouble or to be troubled or distressed.

There is a story in which an Eskdale goblin named Gilpin Horner was heard two men crying out “Tint, tint, tint,” the word in this context apparently meaning ‘lost.’   They responded to his cry, “What de’il’s tint you?” (Who the devil’s lost- or even taken- you) and the goblin then appeared to them, “something like a human form, but surprisingly little, distorted in features and misshapen in limbs.”  The men fled and Horner pursued them and took up residence in the home of one of the pair.  It was “undoubtedly flesh and blood” as it ate and drank with the family and had a taste for cream.  This treat it stole to eat whenever it could; it was also cruel to the children if they provoked it.  One day, though, a voice was heard calling the goblin’s name and it leapt up and left for ever. (George Allan, Life of Sir Walter Scott, Baronet: With Critical Notices of His Writings, 1834, 247-248). 

In another legend from the Borders area, a man tried to taunt the duergars of the Simonside Hills in Northumberland by going out one night calling “Tint! tint!” The duergars at first appeared with little lights near a bog, trying to lure him in- much like a will of the wisp– but the story concludes with an “innumerable multitude” of them with “hideous visages” and clubs in their hands, surrounding the man.  He tried to fight them off with his staff but they had no physical forms and, every time he struck out, he only seemed to multiply the number assailing him, until he collapsed in a faint until morning (Charles Tibbits, Folk-lore and Legends: English, 1890,182-183).

Wirrikows: the Scottish wirry-cowe, worricow, and variations thereon, was a bugbear or goblin; the name might also be used for a scarecrow or for the devil himself. The name probably comes from a combination of the words ‘worry’ (in the sense of harassment) and ‘cowe’ or hobgoblin.  Denham mentions “kows or cowes” separately in his list.  An example is the Hedley Kowe of Hedley near Ebchester, which was a mischievous bogie that could take a variety of forms in order to play tricks on its hapless victims (see my Beyond Faery, 2020). 

Examples of the Scottish word’s usage are found in Thomas Donaldson’s Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect of 1809: “Where harpie, imp, an’ warricoe/ An’ goblins dwell” and in Sir Walter Scott’s 1816 novel Black Dwarf– “They do say there’s a sort o’ worricows and lang-nebbed things about the land” (ii, in Tales of my Landlord, 1st Series, I, 51).  

The wirrikow was, apparently, a dreadful thing to meet: James Hogg refers in The Brownie of Bodsbeck (1818) to “the waefu’ [woeful] wirricowe.”  In James Lumsden’s play, Doun I’ Th’ Loudons (1908, page 276) the sprite is described as “Hump-backit an’ bow’d- a wirricow- And scrimply [barely] fowre feet three!”  He had a red face, according to Hogg (“haffats in a lowe”) and would make people scream with fear and alarm.  For example, she “Scream’d at ilk clough, an’ skrech’d at ilka how, As sair as she had seen the wirry-cow” (A. Ross Helenore, 1768, 77).

A Nixie, by Arthur B Davies

As I said at the start, much has been lost from British folklore, with only tantalising scraps remaining. However, with some digging in etymological and dialect dictionaries, we can start to restore some idea of what our ancestors knew (and feared).