If you were ever a Girl Scout (or even if you weren’t) you probably know that Brownies are small little people-like creatures that show up in the middle of the night and finished off chores and tidied up houses. As usual, though, there’s a bit more to it than that.
Brownies go by a few names depending on the who and the where, from Scottish to Scottish Gaelic, to Slavic or German, but what is fairly agreed to among all is that brownies are a type of hob (like hobgoblin) or in plainer language, house spirits. It’s said that once upon a time, every house had its own brownie, living in some unused or unknown part of the house, and while brownies are for the most part fairly reclusive and even sometimes lazy creatures, if a family respects and understands the brownie’s humors (not the joke type of humor, the way-of-being type of humor), brownies will step up and do menial tasks very quickly—and sometimes will even appear to people, though usually you had to have the “second sight” to be able to see them.
Brownies could not accept “payment” or bribery of any sort for the work they did, however. If payment of any kind was made, then the brownie had to leave forever, never to return. Where it gets a little bit gray, however, is that traditionally the household was meant to make offerings or sacrifices to the brownies—a show of gratitude, if you will, by way of returning kindness. So long as it was strictly not considered payment. If you failed to do this, the brownie would either stop helping, or possibly turn to mischief against you. Because of this, milk would often be sprinkled in the corners of houses for the brownie’s use, or offerings of food were left out. Many homes had a “brownie stane” or stone, which was basically a stone with a hole bored into it, where they would pour offerings of wort, the liquid that ferments into beer. Also, in many Scottish homes a seat would be left open by the fireplace for the brownie.
Brownies are also associated with water. It’s said that while they didn’t communicate with people, they were known to enjoy each others’ company quite a lot, and would often have celebrations and revelries near brooks, where their voices would mix and be hidden by the babble of the water, and it’s speculated that perhaps the brownies were originally or related to water sprites, but I guess we’ll never know for sure.