A knocker is in the folklore of Cornwall, England, a spirit that lives and works in mines, especially tin mines. Knockers are friendly and helpful, but can be mischievous; they are not evil and malicious like the German KOBOLD mine spirit. Knockers also are called BUCCAS (the Cornish term for seagoing Goblins), as well as Gathorns, Knackers, Nickers, Nuggies, and Spriggans. In mines north of Cornwall, the spirits are called BLUE-CAPS and Cutty Soams. In American folklore, mine spirits are known as tommyknockers.
Knockers are so named because of the knocking sounds they make in mine shafts as they work, perhaps in imitation of human miners. They are believed to be the ghosts of Jews who worked the mines, or of the Jews who crucified Christ and were punished by being sent to work below the earth. Jews did not work in Cornish mines until the 11th and 12th centuries. Perhaps because of their alleged associations with punishment for Christ, knockers cannot tolerate the sign of the cross, and so miners avoid marking anything with a cross or an X. The aversion may also stem from the Christian displacement of pagan religions and spirit beliefs.
According to lore, knockers are industrious beings, toiling away through the night. They are associated with rich lodes of ore; thus, miners pay attention to the locations where they heard the supernatural knockings. Knocker laughter and footsteps are said to be heard, and sometimes the spirits are said to manifest in doll-sized form. They have been said to help miners in trouble. Whistling, however, offends them; consequently, it is unlucky to whistle in mines. Food and tallow must be left for them in payment, otherwise they will cause trouble.
In American mines, tommyknockers mirror the behavior of their Cornish counterparts, though some have been attributed vicious streaks akin to the kobolds. In the late 19th century, the Mamie R. Mine on Raven Hill in Cripple Creek, Colorado was said to be haunted by malicious tommyknockers that beckoned to miners and then jumped up and down on beams until they collapsed upon the men. The tommyknockers also were blamed for snapping cables and for premature blasts, and they were said to snicker at the miners as they wrought their evil deeds.
Friendlier tommyknockers in other Colorado mines were said to be protective and helpful, although they yielded to practical jokes upon occasion. Miners generally regarded their supernatural companions with fondness, and liked to talk about them and make space for them at the bar at the end of a shift. Tommyknocker stories frequently were written up in the press.
Mine spirits of all names are said to continue to haunt abandoned mines.
- Briggs, Katherine. An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins – Brownies – Bogies and Other Supernatural Creatures. New York: Pantheon Books, 1976.
- Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain. London: Reader’s Digest Assn. Ltd., 1973.
- Martin, Maryjoy. Twilight Dwellers: Ghosts, Ghouls & Goblins of Colorado. Boulder: Pruett Publishing Co., 1985.
The Knockers are spirits of Cornwall’s tin mines. They live in the mines but they work them, too: they are divine miners. Their name derives from the sound they make as they work. Their location can be identified by the sounds.
Knockers may be mischievous, playing tricks on human miners. They are temperamental and can be dangerous but are sometimes very friendly and helpful. Knockers have been known to rescue miners in trouble.
The Knockers are understood to be the ghosts of pre-Christian people who once inhabited Cornwall and worked the mines:
• They may be the ghosts of a long-lost pre-Celtic tribe. They were kind, generous, ethical people and so when they died, they were too good to be sent to Hell. However, as Pagans, there was no room for them in Heaven and so they were left to haunt tin mines.
• They may be the ghosts of Jews who may or may not have once formed small communities in Cornwall, serving in the international tin trade, possibly in the company of Joseph of Arimathea who is credited with bringing the Grail to Britain.
• They may be the ghosts of Jews sent to labour as slaves in Cornwall’s tin mines by the Romans following the destruction of Judea.
Knockers are nocturnal, working the mines all night long although they will appear during the day, too. They are associated with rich lodes and so human miners pay close attention to noises indicating the Knockers’ location.
Knockers are highly opinionated. Whether they manifest helpfully or harmfully depends largely on whether miners humour their whims:
• The Knockers do not like whistling. It really gets on their nerves. Miners take care not to whistle in or even near mines.
• Knockers never work on Christian or Jewish holidays, especially not on Easter, Christmas Day and All Saints Day. Many miners traditionally avoided working at these times, too, so as not to offend them.
• Knockers loathe the sign of the cross; miners avoid marking anything with a + or x.
• It is considered an antagonistic sign of poor manners to enter a tin mine for the first time without asking permission from the Knockers.
Knockers dwell in the mines; the only people they have contact with are those who join them there. Knockers are only reported leaving mines to visit miners.
Knockers are described as little men about the size of toddlers; they dress in miner’s clothes.
Knockers expect food offerings, especially from those who have benefited from them. A portion of whatever you’re eating is sufficient. Offerings are left in mines. Traditionally, they were also left tallow with which to craft candles. Modern Knockers might appreciate flashlights or similar light sources.
- Tommy knockers
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.