If you're interested in Irish Folklore for St. Patrick's Day or any day of the year, please stay tuned: I will soon be publishing a hub on the subject of Irish Faerie lore which will give a more in-depth explanation of the different types of Celtic Fae. This article should appear on or before February 28th, 2014.
You do already know what a leprechaun is. Right? Throughout your life you've probably already seen them everywhere, from St. Patrick's Day decorations to your favorite childhood cereal (chocked with marshmallowy goodness!).
Actually, you probably only think you know what a leprechaun is. Americans have a fantastic way of warping almost anything into something more appealing. Disney in particular has taken classic fairytales and folklore and turned them into something beautiful. But what if the tales aren't beautiful to begin with?
Most of the stories that we know and love have been changed from their original form. Most of Grimm's Faerie Tales were, quite simply, grim. The happy endings we know aren't the proper endings to these stories, and the same is true of the Leprechaun legend.
Irish Folklore, in particular, is quite gruesome. The faeries that we know and love from Disney and other American adaptations of these stories are proving more and more false. The faeries of the Celtic countries of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall (now an English duchy) are terrifying and sometimes horrifying.
This article will be addressing Leprechauns specifically, but if you're looking for information on Irish Folklore (in a more general sense), you should look for an upcoming page on this account relating to the various different Faeries of Celtic lore.
The St. Patrick's Day Connection
Many Americans associate Leprechauns with St. Patrick's Day. People dress up as the sprites and speak of the "luck of the Irish." Leprechaun decorations, including garden gnomes as depicted on this page, start to appear in upcoming spring gardens on on hedges.
It seems that we associate these mythical creatures with Ireland, bypassing many other myths and legends of Irish (and general Celtic) folklore. Because of the association with Ireland, they've taken up prominence in American celebrations of anything Irish.
To a certain extent, this connection is understandable. Americans have come to associate St. Patrick and Ireland with luck (the luck o' the Irish, Lucky Charms, the Blarney Stone, etc), and because Leprechauns have come to be considered "lucky," we put two lucky things together.
Leprechauns, in folklore, aren't associated with luck, but instead with mischief and a genie-like ability to grant wishes -- if you find their pot of gold.
While the associations aren't altogether false -- these are an Irish mythological creature with powers -- it also has to be said that the connection between a genie-like creature and St. Patrick is unfair and one the Catholic saint would never have endorsed.
By all means, celebrate St. Patrick's day with Leprechaun Costumes and green beer if that's your way to enjoy the holiday! Just know the creatures you're celebrating.
Warning: This Leprechaun Movie Trailer is Scary!
The Leprechaun Movie
True to the legend of the leprechaun, the leprechaun in this movie series is hardly a bringer of good luck and great things for the people he encounters. Instead, he jealously searches for his pot of gold, killing anyone who gets in his way.
Contrary to our common vision of the happy-go-lucky sprite, the movie version of the leprechaun is of a creature who will kill anyone to protect his pot of gold. This is what the legend tells us, that these sprites will go to great lengths to protect their gold. If you find it, they will bargain their way to getting it back by offering to grant three wishes.
The Leprechaun movie is a St. Patrick's Day classic, and one enjoyed by many horror movie fans as part of their March lineup. If you are someone who enjoys scary movies or the real myths behind some of our more fanciful legends, then you should consider watching it this St. Patrick's Day, just for a thrill.
It will also give you a better understanding of where the Leprechaun legend started (though with some differences). Leprechauns aren't luck and wish-granting machines: They are jealous sprites who will do everything they can to protect their pots of gold.
Leprechaun Costumes for St. Patrick's Day
It could be said that dressing as a leprechaun for St. Patrick's Day is a bit macabre, considering that there are no reasonable connections between the saint himself and the mischievous and malevolent sprite.
Many people still choose to do so, however. If you want to dress as a leprechaun, more power to you! You'll find a great selection of costumes on Amazon, or you can check out my hub about Leprechaun Costumes.
Lucky Charms: A Children's Cereal Featuring a Leprechaun
Lucky Charms is a children's cereal which features a smiling leprechaun who claims that Lucky Charms is "magically delicious!" He's known as "Lucky," or "Sir Charms" or "L.C." This implies that leprechauns are associated with luck. But why is this?
The commercial to the right is an older commercial featuring Lucky and the cereal that made him famous.
What Americans Think of When We Think "Leprechaun"
Apart from the obvious notes above, Americans have an entirely different view of the leprechaun than its traditional lore.
So what do we associate with leprechauns?
First of all, we think about luck. But why is this? What is the connection between luck and leprechauns?
Ireland is often associated with the shamrock, because St. Patrick used the shamrock to illustrate the Holy Trinity to the heathens of Ireland. Because Shamrocks and clovers are similar (if not the same -- this is unclear) plants as one another, the four-leafed clover has been associated with all things Irish.
For that reason, the shamrock is considered lucky (and Irish), and the leprechaun, also being Irish, takes on the lucky persona as well.
The Rainbow and the Pot of Gold
A leprechaun hoards his gold and hides it away from anyone who might want to steal it. He is a jealous creature who will do anything to protect that pot of gold. Should you find it, he may give you three wishes.
It is believed that a leprechaun's pot of gold is hidden at the end of a rainbow, probably because no human can ever reach the end of a rainbow (have you ever tried?).
While part of this legend is original (the pot of gold the leprechaun hides), the original legends of leprechauns are more sinister than that.
St. Patrick's Day is Associated with Leprechauns
Every St. Patrick's Day, people dress up in green and celebrate Ireland. This used to be an almost entirely Irish-American tradition (little celebration in Ireland other than the religious holiday) but recently the celebration of St. Patrick's Day has evolved and spread throughout the world.
Some people dress up as leprechauns because St. Patrick's day makes them think of all things Irish, including the Irish sprites known as leprechauns. However inappropriate this association may be, it's a common one.
A Leprechaun is an Irish Sprite, or Faerie
So what's a leprechaun, really? A leprechaun is a type of Irish sprite, or faerie. Sometimes referred to as "elves," they are typical of the Celtic folklore fae, which is to say that they are in no way the pleasant creatures we think of.
Traditional Celtic faeries are frightening, the types of creatures parents would warn their children about. If a child wandered too far, the parents warned, they could be spirited away by faeries to the faerie knoll where they would be kept as slaves.
Like other types of Irish or Celtic faerie, leprechauns are dangerous, sinister and malevolent. Noctornal creatures, they only come out at night and haunt the basements of Irish homes.
If, however, you are lucky enough to find a leprechaun's pot of gold, they are something like a djinn, capable of granting you wishes in exchange for the return of their gold. They are also bound to their pot and should the pot be captured, the leprechaun is likewise.
© 2014 Becki Rizzuti
Becki Rizzuti (author) from Indianapolis, Indiana on February 15, 2014:
Interesting, Shelley! I haven't studied African Folklore thoroughly at all. The last segment I'd gotten into was Australian, writing some fictional characters for a role playing game and playing with ideas from their folklore. I'll have to look into the African Legends. Thanks for sharing!
Shelley Watson on February 14, 2014:
Wonderful, mythical creatures similar to the Tokoloshe the southern African people believe in. Their beds are raised on bricks or tins - so the Tokoloshe can run underneath and not over them.