Origin: United States
Cornish miners immigrated to the United States in the nineteenth century, initially working en masse in Pennsylvania’s coal mines and then, following the Gold Rush, moving farther west. Skilled, experienced miners, they were much sought after by mine owners. The indigenous spirits of Cornwall’s tin mines—the Knockers—were left behind, but the Cornish men were sensitive and soon gained knowledge of the spirits of these new mines, whom they dubbed Tommyknockers. (If they have other names, they’re unknown.)
• Tommyknockers may always have been subterranean spirits.
• They may be souls of dead miners who now haunt the mines.
Tommyknockers are unpredictable. They may be helpful—warning miners of danger—or they may cause trouble or even death. Tommyknockers are sometimes blamed for fatal accidents in the mines.
The Tommyknockers’ name derives from the characteristic noise they make. Whether that noise is benevolent is subject to interpretation:
• Knocking may indicate the location of a rich lode or vein.
• Knocking may be a warning that a collapse or cave-in is imminent.
• Knocking may be a harbinger of doom, indicating a Tommyknocker in a bad mood.
Many miners traditionally left offerings for the Tommyknockers in the hopes that this would persuade them to serve as watchmen and guardians. Tommyknockers might serve as a guardian angel, or conversely, they might tease and torment a man. It is considered bad manners to enter a mine for the first time without asking permission of the Tommyknockers.
Manifestations: Tommyknockers are little men about the size of toddlers. They traditionally dress in miners’ clothes and are sometimes described as appearing greenish. Tommyknockers may appear in dreams or visions but rarely, if ever, physically leave mines. If you do not enter the mine, you will not encounter a Tommyknocker. (The few legends of Tommyknockers leaving mines involves their visiting miners, old compatriots.)
Home: Mines—working mines as well as abandoned or ghost mines.
Offerings: Food and beverages left in mines. Tommyknockers are sometimes blamed for missing miners’ tools, so perhaps it’s best to give them their own.
Although it shares their name, the Stephen King novel Tommyknockers has little to do with mine spirits.
Back to American Folklore
Back to Tales and Legends
From the Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.