Many miners in the 19th century both in the United Kingdom and America but not only, believed in the existence of more or less helpful mine spirits. The supernatural creatures most commonly encountered underground are the Mine Goblins or Kobolds, in Germanic folklore, characters that sometimes stole miner’s unattended tools and food.
This folklore began in Cornwall, England, where miners believed in spirits that lived and worked in mines. The most common of the subterranean British breeds are the Knockers of South-west England and the Coblynau of Wales. They were considered to be friendly and helpful and, even if they could also be mischievous, they were not evil or malicious like the German Kobold mine spirits.
Knockers went by many names: Buccas, Knackers, Nickers, Nuggies, and Spriggans, while in America, these mine spirits were known as tommyknockers.
“Knockers” derives from the noises that they are heard to make in the darkness of the pit-shafts, noises which can lead miners to rich veins of ore. Knockers however can be most unfriendly if displeased.
They object to cross symbols, which led some people to suspect that they were the ghosts of archaic Jewish miners. Some believed these Jews were sent by the Romans to work in the mines to punish them for the death of Christ. It is said because of this, knockers cannot tolerate the sign of the cross, so miners avoided making anything with a cross or an X.
This aversion, however, may also stem from the Christian displacement of pagan religions and spirit beliefs.
Like other Mine Spirits, though, they also loathed swearing and whistling and any offending miners would likely be showered with a hail of pebbles.
According to the legend, they were very industrious, and they were seen working through the night but not only. They are associated with rich lodes of ore and thus, miners pay attention to the locations where they heard the supernatural knockings. Miners reported hearing laughter and footsteps, and sometimes they reported seeing them. They were most often described as very small in stature, wearing tiny versions of standard miner’s garb. Miners recounted seeing them working alongside the living.
They were also known to help miners in trouble, but It is stated that whistling offended knockers, so miners believed it to be unlucky to whistle in mines.
The solitary Cutty Soams of Northern England and the Knockers of Chaw Gully in Dartmoor, Devon, were altogether more nasty however.
They were commonly believed responsible for the deaths of miners and it has been said that rich seams of minerals and precious ore were left unmined because of their vile presence.
The Coblynau (also known as Cobyln or Koblernigh) of Wales similarly could lead to rich pickings and held the same taboos, but they were generally reported of being of a more cheerful nature. Sometimes they were also observed above ground participating in strange, manic dancing.
In American mines, tommyknockers behaved similarly to their Cornish counterparts. Though a few were attributed with traits more similar to the vicious German Kobolds.
Miners believed these spirits lured them into a shaft and then they would jump up and down on beams until they collapsed upon these men.
Tommyknockers were also blamed for snapping cables and for premature blasts, and they were heard laughing at the miners as they did their evil deeds.
Belief in knockers lasted well into the 20th century.
Often, when one large mine was closed, the owners sealed the entrance.
Today these spirits are believed to haunt abandoned mines.
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