Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Brùnaidh—the Scottish Brownie

Contradictory information regarding the diminutive creatures known to the Lowland Scots as brownie and to those who speak the Scottish Gaelic as brùnaidh abounds. I've seen where the brùnaidh is mistakenly lumped together with the ùruisg and the gruagach but each is a separate species of otherworldly creature, the brùnaidh being of the household, whereas the others are creatures of nature.

Some say brownies evolved from the lore of the elf, and in my mind, they have similar physical characteristics. The included drawing is of an ancient elf, but his image is similar to the one I imagine for a brownie.

My first exposure to brownies was as a young Girl Scout. Scouting Brownies take their name from the folklore brownies, as the wee men are a model for the young girls due to the brownie's penchant to assist in household chores, asking for only a bowl of cream or a honey cake for payment.

I became reacquainted with the brùnaidh while doing research for the first book in my Garden Gate series. My hero is of the MacLachlan clan, who resided at Castle Lachlan on the shore of Loch Fyne. The clan has several legends regarding their clan brownie. The History and Legends of Clan MacLachlan, written and edited by James A. Finegan, states, "The MacLachlan's brounie, known as both Harry and Munn, has been associated with the clan for so many generations that no one really knows when the brounie first appeared." The legends are from 1746 and before.

In the classic work, Faeries, from Brian Froud and Alan Lee—I have the twenty-fifth anniversary edition—brownies are introduced as a species of faerie. The brownie is described as a shaggy male of short stature, no more than twenty-five inches tall, wearing either tattered garments or nothing at all. It is also suggested that brownies living in the Highlands have no fingers or toes, whereas those living in the Lowlands have no noses.

Other references tell a different tale. "In appearance, they (brownies) have been variously described, from squat, shaggy, naked creatures to tall, handsome and well proportioned. They usually kept to themselves, being mostly solitaries, unlike the fairies who were notably gregarious." –Scottish Fairy Belief by Lizanne Henderson and Edward J. Cowan

Although few brownie names are known, there are some who've achieved notoriety: Billie Blin, Aiken Drum, Wag-at-the-wa', and Puddlefoot. With Meg Mullach, also known as Hairy Meg, being one of the few females.

Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, by John Gregorson Campbell is available on the internet for download and provides additional references to the wee men.

As you might include historical figures in your stories, why not take the folklore and, using creative license, tweak the nature of these otherworldly beings to include them in your romance novels? In my unpublished Garden Gate series, I borrowed the incredibly mischievous brùnaidh of MacLachlan legend. Since brownies are known to have a keen sense of responsibility, Munn is duty bound to the Chief of Clan MacLachlan. Part of the twist since many accounts state brownies in general prefer mistresses to masters. In the first book, Just Beyond the Garden Gate, Munn creates all kinds of havoc for the hero and heroine.


An excerpt from the second book in the Garden Gate series, Just Once in a Very Blue Moon

Cloaked in the glamour of invisibility, Caitrina observed the brùnaidh, the wee man who foolishly believed himself hidden in the coppice of trees near the knoll at the edge of the Fir-wood. Munn, the MacLachlan clan brownie, barely stood three feet tall and almost blended into the foliage, dressed in baggy brown leather trews, a knee length leine and a forest green brat.

His unusual blue-green eyes searched the area before he stepped out onto the grassy knoll. He certainly didn't see Caitrina, but when he sniffed the air, his ancient, whiskery, brown face scrunched even more than usual into a nasty grimace.

"I hate that exotic fragrance, the scents of peony and freesia and sandalwood." He sneezed and wiped his big nose with the back of a brown hand. "She has returned. It must be she. That irritating sithiche is back." Even though he mumbled, Caitrina heard his rant.

His face contorted. "What mischief has she conjured? Ach, grundle fundle, I must warn the chief before something terrible happens."

As effortlessly as he'd come to be on the fairy knoll, the little man disappeared into the haze.
Caitrina smiled. Then she, too, dissolved into mist.


I wish I had the gift to draw so I could capture the image of Munn on paper with pencil and share the rendering with you.

Visit with me at Castles and Guns on June 7th when I post my version of a MacLachlan brownie legend—The Legend of the Vanishing Wedding Feast.


  1. I love these posts about mystical beings. Keep it up, Dawn.

  2. Hi, Darcy. Thanks! Glad you liked the post.