The stereotype of the leprechaun involves lucky charms and pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. True leprechauns are members of the Fairy folk, a type of sidhe. They are unusual because, in a realm dominated by females, leprechauns are virtually exclusively male spirits.
The name leprechaun derives from the Gaelic leith brog “one shoemaker.” He is a cobbler, the only professional sidhe. While the other sidhe are out dancing and reveling, the leprechaun is hard at work. He is, however, always seen working on only one shoe rather than a pair, which may be a shamanic reference. (References to shoes, especially only one shoe, are often oblique references to shamanism. Ancient shamanic dances were often performed with one shoe on and one shoe off or featured dance steps that mimicked limping.) He works on shoes continually, with time off only for an occasional spree. The leprechaun is fabulously wealthy: he buries his treasure in pots and is reputedly a skillful but not always nice practical joker. He may be invoked for financial aid.
Leprechauns may or may not be the same type of spirit as clurichauns. If not, they are closely related. Like leprechauns, clurichauns are virtually exclusively male. The clurichaun may be the nocturnal form of the leprechaun, out on a bender after a hard day’s work.
Alternatively, some perceive clurichauns to be leprechauns lacking a work ethic. Unlike hardworking, wealth-accumulating leprechauns, clurichauns spend all their time drinking. They are virtually always soused although they allegedly retain their good manners, unlike the reputedly sometimes surly leprechaun. Clurichauns come out at night to drink, party and play pranks on people. (In olden days, many were butter thieves. They still like to raid the pantry.)
The only occupation for which the clurichaun displays enthusiasm is as guardian of wine and liquor cellars. The clurichaun will protect your cellar from thieves and can allegedly prevent wine from spoiling and bottles from breaking or leaking. Simply request his presence and explicitly leave him a sample of whatever you have in stock. Leave him offerings on a regular basis lest he decide to begin serving himself. (He may, anyway.)
Leprechaunism is another name for Donohoe Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by delayed or diminished growth and facial features perceived as elfin.
Leprechauns are described as small, wizened men wearing a shoemaker’s leather apron.
Leprechauns are highly commodified spirits; their image used to sell breakfast cereal, beer, and anything even remotely Irish. In recent years, leprechauns, reenvisioned as “evil Fairies” have evolved into villains of horror movies; however this distorted image has no relation whatsoever to true leprechauns who may be grouchy but are by no means vicious killers.
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.