A goblin is a small, hideous, and often mischievous or evil spirit. The prefix “hob” is sometimes used to denote “good” goblins. In French folklore, goblins are wandering spirits who attach themselves to households, where they alternately help and plague the residents, depending on their whims.

Goblins live in grottoes, but are attracted to homes that have beautiful children and lots of wine. When they move in, they help by doing household chores at night and by disciplining children—giving them presents when they are good and punishing them when they are naughty.

Goblins have an unpredictable, mischievous nature. On some nights, instead of doing chores, they will keep everyone awake by banging pots and pans, moving furniture, knocking on walls and doors, and snatching bedclothes off sleeping persons. Goblins who become tiresome can be persuaded to leave by scattering flaxseed on the floor.

The sprites get tired of cleaning it up every night and decide to depart for more hospitable surroundings. Goblins are similar to Brownies, household spirits in England and Scotland, Domoviks in Russia, and other sprites in other countries.

In Germany, they are called Kobolds, and they work industriously in the mines; they are sometimes thought of as earth elementals. (See Knocker.) Goblins have become associated with All Hallow's Eve and are said to roam that night when the veil is thinnest between the world of the living and the world of the dead. See Bogey; Boggart; Poltergeist.


  • Briggs, Katherine. An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins – Brownies – Bogies and Other Supernatural Creatures. New York: Pantheon Books, 1976.
  • Leach, Maria, and Jerome Fried, eds. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979.


The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits– Written byRosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007

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