Bogles, Bugbears, and Boggarts


A boggart.  Source: public domain.

1.  Introduction

Various names such as bogle, bogey or boggard have been applied to goblins. In Northumberland and Scotland there occurs the bogle, boggle and bogill which are beings in folklore or ghosts (Chatto, 1835; Richardson, 1843). Since 1825 the term has been used as a nursery warning including the southern bogle, boggle and boggard (Widdowson, 1971). Bogle is commonly known earliest in Scottish literature since 1500, including Skellycoats, Brags, and Barguests in the Borders (Scott,  1802-1803), as well as the Northumbrian Hedley Kow a fairy story about a shape-shifting elf particular to Hedley on the Hill, Northumbria (Heslop, 2008). Simply put a bogle is a hobgoblin-like malevolent trickster spirit who, akin to the northern English boggart and southern Puck, is a creature of the Scottish Borders.

2. Bogles and Bogeys

In the tradition of English folklore there are the boggard, boggart and the boggins, which are ghosts. Also there are variants such as the boggle (goblin), boggle-boo, the bull-beggar and buga-boo. Furthermore, others are called the bo-ghaist, boodyman, boogie, boo-man, which correlates with the exclamation ‘boo’ which is “…intended to surprise of frighten children.” (Widdowson, 1971). The exclamation of ‘boo’ is often found in children’s games and stories including Bo-peep, peeka-boo, peep-boh, that originate in 19th century children’s literature. Its source is the Latin bos and its Old Irish cognate of bo. For the Irish there is the bocan (hobgoblin), and the Gaelic form of bochdan or bocan. In the Isle of Man there is the boag, and the boogane, which is a bugbear, sprite or bogle. From this is derived boaganach or ‘frightful’ and boagandoo, or scarecrow. The underlyng root is bug, a variant of bugge which implies fear and terror, a bugbear or scarecrow. In Britanny there is the shepherd or ‘lad of the night’ called byguel-nos. Whereas for the Welsh bygel-nos means phantom in mistake for bugail nos. This means a hobgoblin of the night and the word bwg (bug) means ghost (Llywd, 1767). Other forms in northern English dialects are boggle, and found from Lincolnshire across country to Cumberland.

3.  Bugs and Bugbears

The bug originates in the bugge of Middle English, as does the origin of bogey, from the German bogge. Hence the goblin called the boggle-mann (Edwards, 1974). Bugs are not really fairies and neither are they ghosts or even devils. They have been equated with bogeys, sprites, goblins, hobgoblins and bogles. It is not clear about the connection between the bogle and other supernatural creatures. The bug or Welsh bwg are derived from the Slavonic bog or the baga found in cuneiform inscriptions. Similarly the bugge of Norway is described as an ‘important man’, and the Highland bocan may be cognate with the puki of the Norse and Puck of the English. The bug is an indeterminate and walking apparition that presents a fearsome sight. The bug first appears in the popular imagination and written English during the 14th century. By the end of the 16th century the word was falling out of common parlance because it had acquired another meaning.

In natural and domestic descriptions the word bug was applied to many insects but especially beetles. In one instance the term bug, with its associations of fear, became a generic word for beetle. Nonetheless, it still retained a terror connotation with reference to Beelzebub – the Lord of the Flies and the Prince of Devils. One superstition is that the Middle English word for beetle was budde. Indeed, Cimex lenticularis, the house or bed bug, was a blood sucking parasite of offensive odour and flattened form (Edwards, 1974). In the contemporary context the bug-hunter was not an entomologist but rather an upholsterer.

An original English hobgoblin is the bugbear whose derivation grew out of bug in combination with bear. The word first appeared during the late 16th century. Again, the term bugbear is of nebulous or amorphous origin. Nonetheless, it has similarities with the bogey, the boggart, bucca, and Puck. Other connections include the Welsh for ghost which is bwg, and also the ancient Slavic word for god which is bug or bog. Bugbears have no connection with bears even though they can be portrayed as such. In this role the bugbear is involved as a imaginary nursery bogie for the sinister or cautionary control of children. The intention is to frighten children into going to sleep or otherwise behave themselves. As an ancestral terror the bugbear is a stable companion to the bull-bear, the bull-beggar, and the bully-beggar (Edwards, 1974). The bugbear is an ancient word who is employed as an object of fear, a bear-shaped hobgoblin involved as a devourer of naughty children.

4.  Boggarts.

The boggart possesses human attributes which means it is more than a bogey, and believed to be intermediate between a bogle and a brownie. The boggart is nonetheless related to the bogey and more specifically it is attached to a particular house. It is a northern English hobgoblin type of creature who is a mischief maker, even annoying, with a sly personality. The boggart is a nearer relative of the brownie rather than the bug which fits in with its goblin-like character than ghost or phantom. This aspect of the boggart is why, in some folklore traditions, it is often regarded as a ghost rather than a troublesome spirit, especially when they annoyingly amuse themselves by throwing stones and knocking both within and without the household.

The boggart can, at times, appear in human form even though it has poltergeist proclivities. The boggart when regarded as a devil, a spirit or an elemental fury, is also regarded as a noisy ghost (Edwards, 1974). In this respect the boggart resembles the German poltern, meaning to make noise by knocking, and geist meaning ghost. Also for the Dutch there is the Pulter-Claas . As a ‘night-terror’ it has often been confused with the barguest. Other names include bogeyman, bugbear and bug. The boggart is thus connected to the puca of Old English and the bwg of Wales.

The boggart is a determined individual who does carry out useful household chores now and again. He can be quite troublesome though if annoyed or crossed. In an irascible mood he will sour the milk, make the dogs lame and even make objects disappear. As household helpers in Northumberland they are called ‘brownies’ and ‘silkies’ (Briggs, 1957). When angered or offended their trickery can be prevented or remedied by hanging a horseshoe on the door or leaving salt outside the bedroom door. In northern Britain the names ettins, yeturns, and yoturns are also given to the boggart. The malevolent aspect of the boggart can be further seen in their following a household when the family flees the house. They annoy by crawling into beds of sleeping people as well as stripping the bed of its sheets (Harland, 1857).

In appearance their eyes resemble burning coals and possess horns, a tail and claws. Generally a boggart will appear in animal shape – sometimes as a horse. As a good friend of the dog he is known as the Picktree Brog. In Germany, as a mountain demon he is called the berg-gheist. The boggart is not only a household spirit but is also reputed to live in marshland, in fields and holes in the ground, or under bridges. These are the boggarts of evil repute whose malevolence includes the abduction of children. Other forms of folklore nursery bogies, which are not necessarily bugbears, include Awd Goggie who guards gooseberry bushes and Melsh Dick of the Nut Trees. In a protective role Nelly Long Arms keeps children away from weedy ponds and Rawhead and Bloody Bones is known in Somerset as Bloody Bones (Tongue, 1965). Children are frightened away from rapidly flowing water by Peg Powler in the northern counties (Henderson, 1879).

The bugaboo is also a scare-babe spectre of possible Celtic origin who is more or less extinct in England. In Wales the bwcibo is a name for the devil and can be compared to the Old French demon called Bugibus. For Scotland and northern England there occurs the boggy-bo, buggleboo or even bogill-bo. For the Cornish there is the elfin Buca-boo which assorts into two types. One is the bad and frightening form of the Bucca Dhu or black bucca. Again, this bogle, with the Scottish version being a bug, has declined into another nursery terror figure. Literature in 16th century Scotland mentions the bogle. These ‘night-terrors’ or spectral creatures are ill-defined figures of dread, fright, and superstition.

References and Sources Consulted.

Chatto, W. A.  (1835).  Rambles in Northumberland and the Scottish Border.  Chapman & Hall.

Edwards, G.  (1974).  Hobgoblin and Sweet Puck.  Geoffrey Bles, London.

Harland, J. & Wilkinson, T. T.  (1857).  Lancashire Folklore.  Warne & Co, London.

Henderson, W.  (1879).  Folklore of the Northern Counties.  London.

Heslop, R. O.  (2008).  Northumberland Words.  Read Books.

Llywd.  (1767).  Archaeologia Britannica.

Richardson, M. A.  (1843).  The Local Historian’s Table book…Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland and Durham.

Scott, Sir W.  (1802-1803).  Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.  Vols 1-3.

Tongue, R. L.  (1965).  Somerset Folklore.  London.



Filed under Folklore

3 responses to “Bogles, Bugbears, and Boggarts

  1. A comprehensive article- thanks for sharing.

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  3. Pingback: About Fairies in Not the Purest of Heart or Soul | Words Are Powerful

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