Gnomes (not to be confused with Dwarves) were small nocturnal creatures originally found in Scandinavia, known for wearing pointy hats. During the migration period, they moved out to populate the rest of Europe. All over the Netherlands (even on Dutch islands) people knew about them. The Dutch named these little men Kabouters, which was derived from the word Kobold (the Germanic word Kuwa-Walda meant "house governer" or "house spirit"). Alternative names for these forest spirits are Klabouters, Klaboutermannen, Kaboutermennekes, Kleinmanneken, Coubouten, Aardmannetjes, Boezemannen (not to confused with the Boezeman) and Eviemannetjes. They appeared all across the country, but were especially frequent on the Veluwe in Gelderland, the Achterhoek in Overijsel, and the south of Limburg. In Limburg they were known as Hetsemannetjes, and in the area of Tilburg they were known as Tillen. Female gnomes were called Witjes, or Haspelvrouwtjes in Brabant.
- 1 Appearance
- 2 Personality
- 3 Kabouter Houses
- 4 Kabouter Types
- 5 Way Of Life
- 6 Enemies
- 7 Folklore
- 8 References
Gnomes generally dress the same everywhere, although their colors and height differ from place to place. They're said to be approximately 6 inches tall. When a gnome is born, they receive a hat which they wear until they die.Through the course of their life, it is carved from the inside, layered from the outside and painted with the appropriate colors. Their pointy hat has protective qualities, especially in the forest where objects fall from the sky. The kabouters' appearance generally comes from the artwork and drawings of Rien Poortvliet.
All males have beards which become grey within 100 years of their life. The male outfit consists of a pointy hat, a smock and overalls. A leather toolbelt hangs from the waist and they may wear felt boots, birchwood shoes, or clogs. The hat of a male gnome is red so that predators can't mistake them for a mouse.
Female gnomes are dressed to stay indoors. Their outfit consists of a blouse, a long skirt and slippers or high-top shoes underneath. Unwed females wear a green hat with two ribboned braids over each shoulder. A married gnome could be recognized by her black hat and headscarf.
Gnomes are nocturnal and known to be sensitive creatures. Usually kind and helpful of nature, they befriend most of the forest animals, even treating them when wounded. They are vegetarians. If one were to leave food for them, they'd find a way to repay it. On the other hand, if one were to disrespect them, they'd either leave the area, or torment the residence. Gnome couples would sometimes offer to trade their own child for that of a human, which is not uncommon in the world of nature spirits.
Males are taught about crafts from their father, and use this knowledge to build a house of their own. Sometimes they help humans with any needed repairs. They enjoy smoking. People claimed you could find their little pipes on the forest grounds.
At an early age, mothers taught female gnomes to cook, spin and knit. They have been known to help women when they're sick or in labor. Another way they helped out humans was by continuing the work on their unfinished handicrafts. If one were to anger a Haspelvrouwtje, she would leave scratch marks on their skin. They're also known to kidnap those they're angry with to their underground tunnels.
Popular belief states that Dutch gnomes live in mushrooms, with the fly amanita in particular. Nothing could be further from the truth! Men build a house before they get married, usually with their father and the help of forest animals. Most common is the "Forest Home", which consists of an entrance at the base of a tree.
The Forest House
A tunnel leads to the roots of another tree, and consists of a trapdoor against predators somewhere along the way. Underneath the second tree, there's a hollow space where the Gnome will have their house built. Before the building process starts, the Gnome male uses dowsing rods to find if there's leylines or water nearby. The porch consists of a watch-cricket, water well and Dowry. A gong functions as a Gnome's doorbell. Hair from roe deers is used to insulate their home. The living room consists of a kitchen and several alcoves which function as bedrooms. A hole leads through the top of their house to the tree outside and offers ventilation. There's a basket where their pets - the arvicolinae - play and sleep. The purpose of these mice is to keep the place free of insects. Their dining table is decorated with a Christmas arrangement which sits there all year. There's no paintings; Gnomes decorate the walls with wood carved portraits and if married; a cuckoo clock hangs from the wall. The bathroom consists of a bathtub, sink and a beautifully decorated seat as well. Feces fall down into a very deep pit.
The Willow House
Gnomes sometimes go on vacation, and often choose to build their holiday homes within the hollow insides of a willow. When ducks nest in the branches of a willow tree, there's a good change they're accompanied by Gnomes.
House Gnomes spend all their time inside and are well educated on human-subjects. Every Gnome king was known to have lived as a House Gnome before achieving royal status.
Garden Gnomes live in the midst of civilization, subjected to changes made by human beings. It should be no wonder these Gnomes have pessimistic personalities. Oftentimes they build forest homes. They don't always live in gardens though. Some of them are House Gnomes who spend a lot of their time outside.
Farm gnomes are the most hardened of Gnomes. With the increased chance of running into malicious animals, not many places on the farm are suited for homebuilding. They opt for the "forest home" building style when possible, if not; they build their house in the rafters.
Windmill Gnomes live in or around windmills. They are not common at all.
Dune Gnomes are coastal and slightly bigger than regular gnomes. Their clothes are grey-tinted. They build homes inside of abandoned rabbit holes.
Way Of Life
The approximate lifespan of a Gnome is 400 years. They grow up slowly and live with their parents for an approximate 100 years of their lives. Most gnomes get married around that age. Remarkably, female Gnomes can only give birth to twins. Females are raised by their mothers and have a good relationship with rabbits. Sheep wool, rabbit wool, flax and hair from the roe deer, are materials the learn to comb with, weave, and twine. They also learn to cook, among other things. All gnomes are vegetarians. Male gnomes are raised by their fathers. They are taught to craft materials and how to build furniture. While they love gold, they don't care for the value it has to us humans. When a certain age is reached, men take part of an initiation ritual which leads to their acceptance within the Gnome community. They start building a house of their own, approximately 20 years before they get married.
Gnomes are superior to humans in a number of ways. If humans were the same size as gnomes, they would be 7 times stronger than us. They run faster and jump higher. A Gnome's senses are superior as well. Their sight allows them to see in the dark, and their sense of hearing is like that of a dog, as well as their scent. A Gnome's touch is like that of a blind person. Taste is the only sense similar to that of human beings. Gnomes can forecast the weather and have a natural sense of direction. Acapuncture is another skill they hone. They use dowsing rods to find water, treasure, leylines and are even said to have telepathic abilities.
The average Gnome gets married at the age of 100, although some never do. A male will have built a home before his proposal, which is then carefully judged by his parents-in-law. Only if they give him consent, will he be allowed to marry their daughter. Marriage takes place during a full moon. Wedding gifts include a dowry and cuckoo clock. A honeymoon is arranged afterwards. Transportation is provided by animals, among which are geese, swans, cranes, foxes and otters. Traveling Gnomes are known to sleep in hollow trees, rabbit holes and deserted bird nests. During their travels, they will visit king and queen of Gnomes for an introduction.
- A typical way the Gnomes greet each other, is by rubbing their noses against each other. It is also used as a means of wishing someone good night.
- When a young Gnome is born, a birth tree is planted. Gnomes visit this tree once a year to carve a new stripe.
- If danger looms, They believe it brings misfortune to destroy a spiderweb.
- Gnomes whistle to warn their friends.
- It is said they speak a language of their own, which they use to communicate with animals. Every Gnome writes in runes and owns a book with secrets they read to their children. They've never laid these wisdoms onto us humans though.
- Gnomes parents sometimes offer to trade their child for that of a human baby.
The Royal Family
Despite their secluded lifestyle, the Gnome community is a strong one. They live in a Monarchist government. Unfortunately, not much is known about the royal kingdom. It is said the king has an abundance of gold. Gnomes don't care for wealth though, and so Gnomes are welcome to come and take it free of charge. Newly wed couples visit the king and queen of Gnomes during their honeymoon and make an official intruction. A famous Gnome king lived in Brabant. His name was Kyrië.
Rats, martens, cats, botflies, European polecats, stoats and adders were among the animals gnomes had to look out for. Their forest homes are rigged with a trap to keep these animals at bay. The one creature that gnomes generally fear is the trolls. Trolls never lived in the Germanic area of Europe but they too are known to be natural enemies of the Gnome. They captured Gnomes and used them as toys for their cruel games. Especially the rare "Snotgurgle" variant is known for killing Gnomes in brutal ways.
Kyrië lived in Brabant as king of Germanic Gnomes. A hunter once killed him, which grieved the entire civilization. This was the main cause for Gnomes to leave that area.
A famous Dutch nursery rhyme speaks of Kabouter Spillebeen; the mischievous Gnome who used a fly amanita as a seesaw.
Tale of the hunchback
In Friesland gnomes enjoy dancing in the middle of wheat fields while singing a song:
- "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday..."
If a hunchback were to continue their song...
- "...Thursday, Friday..."
the Gnomes would reward him by removing the hump on his back.
- Rien Poortvliet & Wil Huygen: Leven en Werken van de Kabouter