Friday, May 5, 2023

Puck: Fairy Lore

by Ty Hulse


Today I would like to talk about Puck.

You know the ruggedly handsome man who helped women with their chores and of whom they had many naughty stories. 

Or as Buccola put it, 

"Nothing pleases Puck more, Latham claims, than to make the morning fire, sweep the house, grind mustard and malt, draw water, and help the maids with breaking hemp, bolting and dressing flax, as well as spinning…. Robin Goodfellow was typically depicted with a huge phallus and a broom. It takes little present-day imagination to come up with reasons why early modern women might have sat around the fire over their darning sharing tales about a figure with such attributes….

That’s right women sewing and spinning loved to tell stories about a huge fairy man who could help them with their chores. 

Puck is connected to the Robin Goodfellow and the hobgoblins,  “rough hairy spirits, which do domestic chores…. Useful as they are they are easily offended and often mischievous. They are not exclusively domestic, but are often associated with streams, pools, and rocks…”

At this point it is worth looking at a related fairy from Puck’s Anglo-Saxon homeland, the Puk or Niskepuk. These stories evolved elsewhere and so don’t represent an original Puck but the similarities in their characters are interesting. Here Puck were often wild fairies that people would bring into their homes by building them nests out of straws or logs with holes in them, they could then capture or offer the fairy some food, often butter or oatmeal to live with them. Those homes with these fairies would prosper, beer brewed better, cattle thrived, household choirs got done quicker, and everything seemed to generally go well. 

That said, inviting a wild fairy into your house is a little like inviting a wild cat into your house. I mean it can go great most of the time, but every once in a while, the mood for mischief will strike, and the cat will pounce on your keyboard while you’re trying to type, or scratch up some of your furniture. Further, niskepuk could steal from the neighbors, but they would fight the neighbor niskepuk if it tried stealing from you. 

Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” it is interesting to note that the fairy and Puck introduce him differently. For the fairy mentions that he is the one who frightens maidens, steals the cream from milk, makes it harder for butter to churn, and beer to brew properly, causes people to get lost. Yet, she also mentions that those who call him Hobgoblin will have their work done by him and good luck. 

Puck, however, speaks of making Oberon smile and of punishing those he feels have violated some fairy morality. He takes the shape of a roasted crab apple in a gossips drink, so that he can bob and cause her to spill ale on herself. He also takes the form of a three-foot stool in order to cause those telling sad or boring stories to fall, so that everyone will laugh and have a marrier time. 

Within these lines we can see the push between Puck’s multiple natures. He is a mischievous trickster on whom bad things were blamed, a helpful figure which was believed to bring fortune, and of course a moralizing figure. 

Contrasting their wild fairy nature in chapbooks, Robin Goodfellow was often said to be the half human child of the fairy king Oberon, who was granted the power of shapeshifting by his father. Which adds a fun layer when watching him cause Oberon trouble during Midsummer Night’s dream. 

It’s difficult to say how early this aspect of his character was added, if it was a purely literary device. 

During this time there was a spike in literacy and Yeomen began writing about the fairies. These writers knew the fairies “well from their mothers and grandmothers, and their new readers knew them, and loved them because they were familiar… they appealed to the court as well as to the country, and the fairy vogue was made.”

Further, in the past, people didn’t want to display too much knowledge of fairy lore which could have led to charges of heresy. When this changed, people wrote more regularly and honestly about the delightful aspects of fairy nature. 

At this time the English world had been turned on its head as it went through rapid changes as well, the religious assumptions were being reexamined. The English Civil War had beheaded a king, holidays like Christmas had been outlawed by his non-king successor. 

People were grasping for something, what people often grasped for during times like this was in part spiritualism and fairies. 

During this time people began to focus on the more frolicsome, frivolous and tiny side of fairies. 

“a little school of friends among the poets, Drayton, Browne, Herrick, and the almost unknown Simon stewards, caught by the deliciousness of Shakespeare’s fairies, and coming from counties where small fairies belonged to the folk tradition, amused themselves and each other by writing fantasies on littleness.”

Nimphidia and the Wedding of a Fey


The fairies are hopping, 

The small flowers, cropping,

And with dew dropping,

Skip thorow the greaves

At barly break they play

Merrily all the day

At night themselves they lay

Upon the soft leaves

The idea of tiny frolicsome and whimsical fairies didn’t begin at this time. Rather these aspects of their nature were emphasized.

Another aspect of Puck was emphasized early on, but faded later, that of Puck as a moralizing figure. Like most house fairies he hated laziness and certain bad behavior writers used Puck as a way teach people the importance domestic morality. 

Over time this was replaced, however, with a focus on whimsy and mischief. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Gnome Mythology

I have a much longer article about the gnomes or zwerg as they are called in Germany in my discussion on Snow White.  Also, I answer some of the most common internet questions about gnomes at the end of this article.

“Once a woman was suffering through a difficult labor alone, when the zwerg that lived underneath her home appeared and served as her midwife, easing her pain and helping her give birth.  (Franz Leibing, 1868)” 

This little memorate of a fairy living underneath a German lady’s home, who has clearly come to care about her, illustrates perhaps the most important thing about the fairies, they are humanities neighbors. Garden gnomes or Gartenzwerge, as they are known in Germany from which they came, were named such because they didn’t live in some distant land, but because they frequently inhabited our gardens. Here these zwerg could bless the crops to grow in abundance or could steal the peas, as they so frequently did.

The German folklorist Grasse (1868) noted that in Wilstermarsch Germany: "Every morning, the housemaids would spill milk for the underground people. Beer and crumbs from the table were also offered to them in a similar way. If the milk wasn't offered, the underground people would steal it. 

People wanted them happy, for everywhere they went they caused the beer brewed better. In Alversdorf, the underground people would steal pots and kettles, and cause other mischiefs. Yet they also blessed people's cattle to never become sick [cattle were a primary means of wealth, so this mattered a lot]. They also left magical pots for people which caused the seeds held in them to grow faster, milk gathered into them to churn richer, and water held in them to make those who drank from them healthier" 

It makes sense that humans would share their food with the zwerg, for fairies needed human food in many tales, or at least food prepared using human ovens and or utensils. 

These zwerg were mischievous to be certain, and could even be dangerous, for as with all fairies and humans there was a contrast between individuals. On the whole, however, they were helpful creatures, not just of the woods, but of the more beautiful lands around our homes and villages. 

the Zwerg were constantly seeking out human food and cooking tools. This connection through food helped to form strong bonds between the humans and the fairies. In one story;  


A zwerg would frequently borrow a pot from a farmer. Once when she came to borrow the pot to boil some potatoes the farmer noticed that she was pregnant and mentioned he would be interested in standing godfather for the baby. Later the zwerg’s husband came and formally asked the farmer to be the godfather to his and his wife’s child. 

Later the farmer grew nervous about the prospect of being a fairy’s godfather and went to the pastor for council. The pastor told him that he had to stand godfather, since one couldn’t rescind the offer to do so. So the farmer went to the baptism of the baby zwerg and the feast in the mountain. As he was leaving the zwerg asked him to look behind the door, where he found garbage, which they asked him to sweep up and carry home with him. Annoyed he did so, but to his joy he discovered that the garbage had turned to gold when he got home. 

Zwerg gave people blessings in return for the food and drink that they shared. Yet, because they were our neighbors they might also share their food with people. It was common for a man to be plowing at the edge of his field, in the middle of nowhere, when he smelled some delicious cakes being cooked. He commented on how much he would enjoy those cakes, and when he’d plowed back to the same spot he found a plate with an offering of the cakes upon them, which he ate and thanked the zwerg for the meal. 

I find these tales of humans interacting with the fairies like neighbors absolutely enchanting. 

A few final notes

In addition to gnome zwerg is often translated into dwarf in English. As in Snow White and the Seven Zwerg. 

The zwerg’s red hats are what they use to turn invisible, so when they stole people’s peas, the people would use sticks to try to knock their hats off so they could see them.

Breaking these zwerg down is more complex than we have time for, and so it will need to be done in a future video, along with the darker side of zwerg and dwarves. 

Learn more about Snow White and the Seven Zwerg

What are gnomes? - Gnomes are zwerg in German fairy tales, the same as the 'dwarves' who helped Snow White. They are a synchronization of Norse dwarves and Celtic fairies. 

What do gnomes do? - Gnomes obviously do a lot of things, although they love dancing and celebrating. Indeed, they seemed to have so much fun most of the time that some people wished to marry a gnome and be happy, and some people even did marry gnomes. They would often give good presents to their nieces and nephews after this. Some gnomes liked to mine, many would bless gardens, or on occasion steal from them. Because of the diversity of the things they did it is difficult to come up with a comprehensive answer for "what do gnomes do?"

What is the story behind gnomes? - If you are wondering about garden gnomes, the story is that gnomes or zwerg as they were called, could bless gardens to grow better, but also might steal form them. If you are wondering about the Dungeons and Dragons and World of Warcraft gnomes, the story behind gnomes is that they were spirits created by alchemists. It is this connection with alchemists that makes them tinkers and researchers in these games. Keep in mind that garden gnome is actually a bad translation of zwerg, so the alchemical gnomes and the garden or fairy gnomes have nothing to do with each other in mythology. 

What is the meaning behind gnomes? There are many, as the zwerg that gnome was translated from could be tutelary spirits of the land, they could be a separate set of magical people, they could be semi-divine beings in old pagan religions. 

Gnomes what are they? I feel like I've answered this already.

What is the meaning of garden gnomes? It is difficult to say what the original meaning was. They started being made in the 17th century, a time when many people began to amuse themselves by writing stories of fairies and decorating with fairy related items. So it may just be that someone thought they were fun decorations, a call back to the folklore of creatures that helped people in their homes, gardens, and farms. 

Thursday, March 30, 2023

10 More Things You Didn't Know About Vampires

By Ty Hulse

"In Popeca, vampires are said to be at their worst before Easter"

The blood drinking, milk curdling, lords of the dead who haunted the living in a terrifying parody of what people believed to be good and decent. 

It's important to remember that there isn't one type of vampire, but many regional variations. Irish vampires might ensnare someone's mind to get them to do as they wanted but in many other places vampires were more likely to crush someone to death. These "things" about vampires then are, as with all things regionally specific. 

1-December is the time of vampires, for there were a series of Holidays starting in November and ending in early January in which they were most likely to come out, sometimes in the form of owls, or mice, or many other animals. In Romania they would all go to the cross-roads and battle each other in a huge night long fight.

2-Vampires might also fight each other over hunting territory like any territorial animal. There are stories of one vampire chasing someone into another vampires territory, at which point the two vampires fight over who gets to feed on the victim for so long the sun came up and the vampires collapsed, returning to being corpses, allowing the person to escape. 

3-Romanian vampires would sometimes cut their victims faces into a permanent smile, putting them on stakes, and positioning them in such a way that they were most likely to scare the living. One girl thought her friends had survived a vampire attack and waved to greet them happily, only to discover the horrifying truth moments later. 

4-In many places there were people who were born as vampires. Really anyone who was born under weird circumstances could be a vampire. In 19th Century Greece if the elder child began to grow sickly a mother might suspect that their youngest was a vampire. These living vampires would send their souls from their bodies in the form of a bluish flame, an animal, or person, to search for blood. They would also drain cows of their milk and blight fields, just as any undead vampire would.

While they were outside their body they were vulnerable, for if anyone moved their body they would die.

In one story from Transylvania a women fed some poor soldiers some porridge. When they'd finished they went to find and thank their hostess, and in the attic they found her with seven other bodies laying down. Afraid they fled. Looking back they saw seven lights descending on the house. These were the souls of the vampires returning to their bodies.

5-People were more likely to accuse those they knew of being vampires than to accuse strangers. This is because vampires were most likely to attack family members and friends. They did this as a subversion of Christian covenants (evil starts at home).

6-If a vampire could kill his whole family, then the entire village within seven years they would be able to move to a new country, become human, and have another family which would become vampires on their deaths.

7-Some vampires might return to their families and continue to live as they had in life (secretly) they would chop wood, do field work, care for children, spin thread, whatever they'd done in life. Yet they were likely either abusive or dangerous to the neighbors, as women would at times ask their children to kill the vampire (the reason the children were asked isn't always given)

8-People would sometimes burn a suspected vampire, mixing its ashes into a drink to give life energy back to the people the vampire had stolen it from. Others would pass through the smoke of a burning vampire to gain protection against evil. If one bone of the vampire remained unburned, however, the vampire would grow back from it.

9-Vampires could enter unclean homes, homes without clean water, homes in which there was no one, or homes which weren't holy without an invitation. 

10-Many times vampires could ask objects inside a home to let them into the house. Agnes Murgoci wrote in her book on Romanian vampires that "All lamps may be put out and everything in the house turned upside down, so that if a vampire does come, it will not be able to ask any of the objects in the house to open the door."

 especially thread which was spun in the moonlight (at night). It was therefore dangerous to spin any or sew at night as that gave the vampire an ally within your house...

By the way it might interest you to know that many factories run 24 hours a day, so many of your clothes would be made at night.

With that pleasant thought, sleep well. 

11-If a vampire could make you sneeze three times in a row they would have power over you.

  A Worldbuilder’s Guide To Fairies and Fairy Tales (Writer's Guide to Myth and Lore) Kindle Edition 

Monday, March 13, 2023

Goblins Mythology and Fairy Tales

Find on my Etsy

The folkloric nature of goblin is so amorphous as to be impossible to pin down. This is because people began to use it in a fairly general way, to mean one of many different possible fairy creatures, but despite the often-frustrating ways which the English language often mixes words around there does seem to be a group of beings from which many of the ideas of ‘goblins’ sprang. These are tutelary deities, that is fairies of the household, which have been driven from their home, and or wild fairies that people tried and failed to domesticate.

Etymologically the word has two possible origins, one was used to describe traitors and demonic spirits, the second was used to describe household spirits, protectors of rooms and perhaps especially the bed chambers. In this one of the goblin’s folkloric ancestors, the kobold, is well known for its wild and raucous laugh. More than this they were also well known for stealing treasure from neighboring households.

William Sayer’s in their article on the origins of goblins states that:

An Old English protector of rooms can then have been evicted from the home to the wilderness, burdened with a derogatory foreign name…. An Old English protector of rooms can have been both evicted from the home to the wilderness and burdened with a derogatory foreign name. There the goblin survived but surely with an irreversible darkening of mood.

While I state that goblins were likely former domesticated fairies, it is important to keep in mind that household and forest beings were often intermixed, such that forest fairies often became house fairies and vice versa, what’s more it wasn’t always clear which one was dealing with. Robin Goodfellow, or Puck, who dwells within the woods, also dwelt within the home and helped with the cleaning. Pixies were at once a fairy of the moorlands and of the farms, who helped with the threshing and rewarded those who kept their homes clean.

There are perhaps five types of household spirits of interest here.

First are ancestral spirits who continue to live within a house and or with a family.

The second are tutelary spirits that are either connected to the house or the land it is on. That is, the soul of the house, the spirit who owned the land before a house was built, etc. One child, for example, was attacked by the spirit of a tree which had been cut down to make a house.

The third type is the fairy from the wilderness who is invited into the home to become a house fairy.

Third are the fairies which live near the home and help with domestic tasks but are still, essentially wild such as the pixies of Dartmoor.

Finally there are the deities of domestic things, such as the fairies of weaving, or which are involved in churning butter, caring for cows, etc. Even Zeus falls into this category, as he would take the form of a snake to protect homes and so might be found dwelling by a person’s fireplace.

These are, of course, likely intermixed with unrelated fairies such as the zwerg and knockers of mines.

Explore More on Fairy Lore, Worldbuilding, and Tabletop RPGS on my Patreon 

Loki and the goblins

One of the easiest ways to understand ‘domestic goblins’ is to examine Loki as there is so much written about him. Loki in folklore was a house fairy, seemingly very different from the mythological portrayal of him. As Eldar Heide put it: “It seems there were two Lokis. One was a vatte 'domestic spirit' living under or by the fireplace, helping farmers with the farm work and attracting wealth to the farm. The other, the mythical character, was very different but still derived from the vatte.”

Eldar Heide has an engaging article explaining the connection between Loki, the Nordic house fairy or Vatte, and the trickster character of folklore known as the Ash Lad. These Ash Lads and the Vatte would upset the natural order of things, aiding the peasants against the wealthy and kings. This would explain why the mythology we have, which was told and penned down by the wealthy disliked a figure like Loki, after all, robbing from the rich as Robinhood did, or overthrowing the judge as Loki did, might be all well and good for a peasant but it is an evil act in the mind of the nobility.

The ash lad is a dirty boy from a poor family who seems lazy, small, and weak. A dreamer who thinks in unusual ways he prefers to stay at home by the fire, but when forced to go out into the world he turns out to be extremely clever and able to trick powerful beings in order to get what he wants. They also, inexplicably, end up in the court of a King where traditionally they would seem to have no business being, just as Loki found himself in Odin’s court, despite being an outsider. More than this he became Odin’s blood brother.

The king in folklore promises the Ash Lad half the kingdom in return for his help, but then when the ash lad completes the quest the king tries to backpedal on his word, before finally having to give in. "It is understandable that the king is unwilling to accept as his son-in-law and successor on the throne a dirty, ragged, poor low-born boy who is comfortable with effeminacy and humiliation and who is supported by oddballs and hags, and animals from the wilderness. Accepting the Ash Lad amounts to a revolution."

Everyone assumes the Ash Lad will fail because they are so odd and don’t exhibit what would be thought of as heroic traits, but instead they succeed because of their oddness and non-heroic character. He succeeds because he negates the hierarchy and the snobbish establishment. The otherworld is an inversion of the human world, and so while the Ash Lad has trouble navigating or understanding the human world, they are the only ones who can succeed in getting treasures or rescuing someone from the other world.

Many kings would attempt to negotiate with these magical and spiritual outsiders in Germanic lore. Indeed, Odin became blood brothers with Loki, perhaps as a way of getting Loki to help maintain Odin’s vision of the world and his power. Loki in this case being primordial force or spirit that Odin sought to domesticate to obtain power, the way many will seek to domesticate and sometimes forcibly tame fairies to serve as house fairies. This worked for a while, Loki saved the gods on many occasions, helping them out of serious jams and aiding them in obtaining great treasures the way helping spirits often aided shamans. But as is so often the case the trying to tame wild spirits can backfire, and so it was the Loki would inevitably betray and destroy Odin once he failed to keep up his end of the bargain (Warner).

Just as Loki was an outside spiritual force brought into the home of Odin, house fairies were often spiritual forces brought into the home. Just as Loki often went on adventures with Odin’s son Thor, so too did house fairies often adventure with the children of the house, but this often turned out bad for them, as Loki often suffered in adventures.

House fairies and Ash Lads like Loki used cleverness and cunning and wit to obtain treasures for the house. Yet like Odin their family would eventually betray them by acting immorally (notice Loki’s criticism of the Gods), by acting too self-centered and certain (notice his attack on the judge), or by not feeding them properly.

Loki can be thought of as a lesson on how to treat and avoid mistreating a house fairy, for fear that they should become a goblin. For make no mistake, while some house fairies were ancestral spirits, many if not most were still wild beings that had entered people’s homes, more than this they were spiritual beings and such beings are very ambiguous.  

 Explore More on Fairy Lore, Worldbuilding, and Tabletop RPGS on my Patreon 

Spiritual Beings are Ambiguous Beings

Household fairies in Germanic lore were often thieves who stole from the neighbors, and in Slavic lore they were often dangerous to the neighbors. It is possible that their thieving nature originated as a desire to steal from one’s wealthier neighbors and as fear that someone’s neighbors would steal from them. Fairies, as Perkiss points out, are often a reflection of our dark desires and sins. That is, we accuse them of that which we wrongfully did or want to do. So, people loved their house fairies but often feared the fairies of others. There are numerous stories of these fairies stealing from neighbors, trying to smother house guests, etc.

Fairies and ancient deities were ambiguous figures in general. That is, they could act in ways that were both good or bad depending on their mood and relation to the person they were encountering. We must first recall that Zeus would protect people as a domestic deity, but in many stories, he would also assault them.

Consider also Sylvanus, the god of farms and woodlands in Roman lore, who was so beloved that he was one of the most venerated deities in Rome, however, people also had to keep him away from women giving birth for he would harm them and the child. Or Hermes, the god of shepherds who would come down the chimney to snatch children away. Fairies and deities in lore have always been associated with both danger and wealth. What else could we expect from nature which gives us food and predators?


As I have pointed out in the past fairies and deities are frequently their own opposites, having multiple souls that can be both kindly and dangerous and we certainly see that with house fairies. In one Welsh Story, a bwca (house fairy) was insulted by a servant he’d thought was his friend, he attacked her then turned into a bogle, a monstrous goblin fairy, haunting houses and causing trouble for years before finally finding a new friend who could help him settle, then when their new friend died, they turned back into a destructive bogle.

Household fairies were often capricious, in part, because they existed in a precarious world in general, torn between humanity and fairyland. We see the danger of this in the story of “Puss in Boots”. After inheriting nothing but his father’s cat a young man says; “but for my part, when I have eaten up my cat, and made me a muff of his skin, I must die of hunger."

Jacob Grimm presumed that the cat in question was a house fairy, and this makes sense for a number of reasons, and this moment certainly shows the precarious situation house fairies could find themselves in. Although eating them likely didn’t happen often in lore, there are certainly stories of them being threatened with knives or beaten and banished from homes in tears.

 Peeves, Dobby, and the Goblins - It is interesting to note that goblins can often be thought of as poltergeists or the house fairies from the borderlands between Scotland and England called dobies. That is, they are the spirits of a building, place, or ancestral spirits who grow troublesome, or house fairies that are troublesome.

 The Underground Others – It is likely that there were fairies who dwelt underground and loved shiny things or were associated with treasure for longer than people have cared about gold. Whether the zwerg (dwarves) of Germany, the Shirte of the Nenets in Northern Asia, who have beautiful beaded objects and silver and lived underground, or the little people of Yupik lore in Alaska.

 These little peoples most often lived underground and could be associated with industry and mining, or among hunter-gatherers with hunting luck and food. Yet they were also tricky and would put people under their spells, deceive people, and of course steal from people’s food stores. They often had animal features or twisted features that appeared ugly to human eyes, although some could be beautiful, they were all strange.

 These others, or underground people, don’t have to have a common origin per say, although they might. They could, also however, come from the fact that they tap into something that many cultures, from Africa through Asia and the Americas find engaging. They are one of our most important and oldest pieces of folk religion and folklore, because they have emotional and psychological value, because they offer us truths.

 As has always happened people spin false tales about the goblins specifically and fantasy in general. These new tales are as damaging as any spun by the nobility and kings of old. Rulers who clung to power by claiming that the others of lore were demonic figures, were against the heavens, represented something people of their and our day despised. Those in power have always disliked goblins and the underground people, perhaps because they refuse to be controlled.

 This isn’t to say that goblins aren’t dangerous, or that they are safe and good. Goblins are of value because they aren’t safe. They warn us of mistreating those who are helpful, they give us symbols of rebellion, they poke fun at the status quo, they offer us the psychological and emotional benefits of horror stories, and so much more.


Find on my Etsy

Still Wild

House fairies aren’t tame, they are supernatural and often wild entities. Say a curse word around one and it might just burn down the home in revenge. Get in a loud argument and it might just give you a disease out of spite.

 So, what are goblins? Well, in this iteration they are fairies and deities when they are acting destructively as part of their ambitious nature. Or they are house fairies who have been wronged and turned destructive, or they are wild beings which someone attempted but failed to tame. Rather than a species of being then, they can be thought of as an aspect of spirits.

However, Goblins are also Trickster Beings. Something I will explore more in future articles, along with their more violent and funny natures. 

 Get Early Access to all my articles on my Patreon 

+Download the ebook for Understanding Fairy Mythology.


Wanner, K. J. (2009). Cunning Intelligence in Norse Myth: Loki, Óðinn, and the Limits of Sovereignty. History of Religions, 48(3), 211–246.



Heide, E. (2011). Loki, the “Vätte”, and the Ash Lad: A Study Combining Old Scandinavian and Late Material. Viking and Medieval Scandinavia, 7, 63–106.


Sayers, William. “The Dispossessed House-Spirit: The Etymology of goblin and Some Thoughts on its Early History”

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Positive Psychology: Cute Art

By Ty Hulse

The greatest value of art is in helping people emotionally and psychologically.  

Although often derided by art critics as kitsch, cute works of art have power to change the way people think, feel and act, and most often for the better.

Research into cute imagery by Steinnes, Blomster, et al. (2019) has found that cuteness evokes emotions of kama muta, which media psychology has shown can cause people to act more caring and kindly towards others, while also reducing stress and anxiety.

When paired with a strong active message such as “Recycle Now” cute art increases the likelihood people will take action (Wang and Patrick, 2017).

Of course, anything that can illicit feelings so easily in others can be hijacked for other purposes. A cute brand logo makes people more likely to forgive a company that does something wrong (Septiantoa and Kwon).

And “exposure to cuteness leads men to be more risk-seeking and women to be more risk-averse.” (Li, Yuan & Yan, Dengfeng)

What’s more it’s been shown that people work better when they can see pictures of cute things and are more likely to respond carefully to questions when there is a cute picture on the survey form, or on a test.

There are almost no works of so called great art which have such a powerful and immediate psychological impact on the viewers, and certainly few would actually cause people to act more kindly towards others.

There is a reason, after all, why so much of the internet thrives on cute.

People have a powerful desire to protect that which is small,  

Cuteness, seeming to have a will of its own, also demonstrates aggression by imposing demands. For example, it may demand that we allow it to submit to us. Its immediate visceral impact is often counteracted by the viewer’s sense of having been manipulated, arousing the viewer’s suspicions. It desperately awaits our evaluation of and interaction with it. It is a supplicant awaiting our judgment, a judgment that will give it power over us. Cuteness thereby engenders its own discipline by enforcing particular behaviors of the viewer; in turn, it engages and disciplines its viewer. Its disavowal of power is one of its powers. (Elizabeth Howie)

Cuteness therefore engenders primal emotions, which likely explains why cuteness is so often used in relation to objects of religious art. Claire Maria Chambers points out that Korean Buddhist temples have figures of small chubby monks and “temple devotees ritually bathe a statue of the Buddha as a small boy.” In America Precious Moments toys have become important to a number of Christians. These cute, innocent figurines, often include spiritual and biblical quotes. They are like children but better, “they also sincerely express experiences of comfort, love, and community in the face of the difficulties that the riddle of faith presents for thousands of consumers around the globe.” (Claire Maria Chambers)


Cute is for Adults

While we associate cute things with children, adults are more likely to have the need for nostalgia and the level of stress necessary to fully appreciate the emotions that cuteness elicits.

Cute things reduced stress in work environments. While children do homework that might require this, adults are often much more likely to suffer stress and anxiety in their daily lives.

Cute art can relax those who are stressed, anxious, and fatigued.

Both cuteness and awe have been shown to be connected to increased levels of prosociality and a sense of connectedness to others…

cuteness has been linked to stress reduction and, when paired over time with another stimulus, has also been shown to increase the quality of positive experience with paired stimuli.

….Awe has also been repeatedly linked to stress reduction specifically, but is also linked to more negative affect than cuteness…. Both awe and cuteness however, have the potential to contribute to an upward spiral in positive affect through repeated exposure.

 There are exceptions, however, as with all things. Those who work in healthcare or as online content moderators can suffer from ‘compassion fatigue.’ As a result online moderators who are forced to spend long periods of time caring and struggling with the worst of humanity become more anxious and stressed when seeing something cute as the need to protect builds stress in them.

Still, the presence of such strong emotional reactions shows how readily these images can have a physiological impact on those who witness them.  

So, yes, cute images have power, even if many would deride them.


Author links open overlay panelYuanLiaDengfengYanb

Li, Yuan & Yan, Dengfeng, 2021. "Cuteness inspires men’s risk seeking but women’s risk aversion," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 126(C), pages 239-249.

Wang, T., Mukhopadhyay, A., & Patrick, V. M. (2017). Getting Consumers to Recycle “NOW”! When and Why Cuteness Appeals Influence Prosocial and Sustainable Behavior. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing36(2), 269–283.

Too cute to be bad? Cute brand logo reduces consumer punishment following brand transgressions Author links open overlay panelFelix Septiantoa Junbum Kwon

Awe Versus Aww: The Effectiveness of Two Kinds of Positive Emotional Stimulation on Stress Reduction for Online Content Moderators CHRISTINE L. COOK, National Chengchi University, Taiwan JIE CAI, New Jersey Institute of Technology, USA DONGHEE YVETTE WOHN, New Jersey Institute of Technology, US

Steinnes, Kamilla & Blomster Lyshol, Johanna & Seibt, Beate & Zickfeld, Janis & Fiske, Alan. (2019). Too Cute for Words: Cuteness Evokes the Heartwarming Emotion of Kama Muta. Frontiers in Psychology. 10. 387. 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00387.

Evaluation of Kawaii Feelings Caused by Stuffed Animals to Reduce Stress Michiko Ohkura, Hina Arashina, Takafumi Tombe & Peeraya Sripian

Monday, December 26, 2022

Toys and Children in Lore-building and Worldbuilding

Toys and children's games can be a fun and interesting piece of your worldbuilding and lore-building puzzle, allowing people to feel a connection to fun and sentimental moments within the societies you have constructed.

Take the pewter knight on display at the Muesum of London, for example. This is one of the earliest examples of a mass-produced toy, at the time it came out it would have been relatively rare and a signal that the world was changing to allow such mass production, and that wealth was growing to the point where multiple parents could buy such toys for their children. As with today's concern about video games, there may very well have been concerns about children receiving such gifts and talk of wasteful spending. Certainly, there were concerns about the inordinate amount of time children spent reading in the early days of chapbooks and penny dreadfuls. 

The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore
Medieval toy knight from about 1300

More than this, however, how a children in your world plays with toys, and what toys are available can help show bits of your world's history or current political climate. 

In the Medieval most of the knights for children to play with were on horseback, despite the fact that making these horses required more metal and more work to create. Obviously, peasant children at the end of the Medieval and into the Early Modern dreamed of being knights, rather than foot soldiers or archers. This makes sense, but only because most of us know enough about history to know that knights were the cool heroes of stories. 

Imagine a world in which archers were the most popular toys, as might have been the case in early Japan, when samurai used bows more frequently than swords. Or a world where wizards, griffin riders, warrior clerics, are greater than knghts.
If there are a lot of 5e style druids in your world, horses might only be used for logistics, as it would be far too easy for a druid to get horses to throw their riders and cause chaos in the ranks of those who they are supposed to be helping. In such a world horse rider would be the boring job in the military and children might dream of being foot soldiers. The point is, the toys children play with, while a background element could help you include interesting bits of lore in your world that get people to think. 

A simple scene of a mother buying something for a child, or child pleading for them to buy something can be used as a way of letting the characters know what is important in a village. 

Market stalls being on the street can provide the player's many opportunities to overhear conversations and see things that can contribute to their understanding of the world. 

Knight Puppets for fighting around the end of 12th century

Just as interesting for lore-building are children's rhymes. According to one theory for example, the rhyme "London Bridges Falling Down" comes from a song about a Viking raid which goes;

London Bridge is broken down. —
Gold is won, and bright renown.
Shields resounding,
War-horns sounding,
Hild is shouting in the din!
Arrows singing,
Mail-coats ringing —
Odin makes our Olaf win!

While this as the origin of the other song is debatable, both rhymes are interesting and can potentially point to interesting history and so can make for fun background elements.

You can see a few more links to Medieval toys below. 

You can also see a 14th century example of a ceramic knight at 

A fancier version of you knights, likely owned by the children of the king Maximilian I in 1500 can be seen here

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Halfling Cultural Dimensions for Worldbuilders

Halflings take pleasure in simple things that most everyone else recognizes as good but which most don’t think is enough to fill their lives; such as their gardens, a calm evening in their parlor, good food, and simply doing their job. More than any other genus halflings love their homes, families, and their place in the world. This means that few of them ever leave the place where they live, yet some are struck by a desire to wander and explore the world. These halflings especially can come to enjoy treasures collected and won through luck and skill. Such treasures might include seeds for plants, a folk songs or recipes from distant lands, as much as any treasure that could be sold. 

Halflings feel close bonds to the other members of their community and will rarely seek to make waves which might disrupt the lives of others. Their willingness to simply accept things as they are, their lack of the obsession with creating, inventing, permanence or success that other genus have leads others within their communities to frequently feel a sense of repressive boredom. 

The halflings are joyful, however, and enjoy things that can bring what they see as authentic joy, such as family and entertainments, however, and are frequently especially skilled at stories, plays, and songs. As such they are hospitable and cordial, desiring to maintain stability and avoid confrontations which could lead to a shattering of the peace. They will, in most cases, simply endure unpleasantness until it goes away, but if the thing that makes them uncomfortable doesn’t seem likely to pass they can react with cunning and violence as needed. 

Cultural Dimensions

Halflings have their own unique cultural dimensions which reflect the deities that created them, their traditions, and most especially their natural luck. 

You can learn more about the Cross-Cultural theory of cultural dimensions and how to use it in Worldbuilding here.

In general, however, the members of a culture are surveyed with their numbers for each dimension being averaged, telling us where on the dimension the culture is. For example, a halfling on culture which scores a 70 on the Ambling Dimension would be very ambling, while one which scored are 30 would be contented.

The purpose of these dimensions is to help make it easy for you to quickly think of new cultures allowing you to give different personalities to various halfling villages. 

I have created one of these sets of dimensions for Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, and Seelie Goblins on my Patreon. 

Ambling – hearth

All halflings take pleasure in simple things, good food, restful squishy chairs, pleasant company, and a fun book being some of their many delights. They rarely ever seek wealth or fame, as ambition for its own sake isn’t something they want and it would be hard for them to imagine simply being happy playing in mounds of gold like a dragon when they could instead lay in the heather with a picnic of delicious cheeses and wines. Of course, their desires do require some effort, and the type of effort they enjoy going to is a major part of their culture. 

Ambling Halflings enjoy the pleasures of the natural world and things that come from the outdoors. They might spend a lot of time breeding the perfect apple trees and delight in eating the apples straight from the tree or dried in the sun, reserving things like pies for rare occasions. They enjoy ambling through the wood searching for the perfect blackberries to mix with simple farmers cheeses and honey. 

Hearth Halflings enjoy the pleasures of home. They enjoy being inside, and so many of their projects and foods reflect this. Their projects generally tend to focus on their homes and the gardens immediatly near them. They will spend a lot of time with friends, playing games and the like.  

Comfotable – Avidness

Halflings love their homes and simple beauties, but the amount of emphasis they put on each of these is an important reflection of their culture. 

Comfortable Halflings enjoy working and relaxing in their homes or the fields and forest near them. They like nothing more than to simply putter around the house or the nearby wilderness, nibbling on some fruit or cakes and seeing that everything is just so. When they make a quilt, they do their best to make certain it is snuggly and comfy, because that is what they want out of it, after all, something they can curl up in without worry. 

Avid halflings love to discover and create beautiful things. They are more likely to spend time exploring, looking for the prettiest spot and prettiest moment they can, rather than simply relaxing by a stream. What’s more it’s not enough to simply have a snuggly quilt, because they enjoy the process of making it as much or even more than using it, and so will find ways to drag out the time it takes to get all the little details right so that when it’s done they and others can forever see the beauty in it, and they can remember the process of exploring the quilt as they created it. 

Cordial – Enthusiastic 

Halflings are friendly and kindly hosts. Within their own communities they don’t usually just say hello, they engage those they see in conversation, clasp hands, and likely hug. 

Cordial halflings tend to enjoy pleasant conversations with very little substance. Indeed, happiness to them comes from avoiding anything that might cause discomfort. When they meet a stranger or friend they’ll ask them about foods they like, particularly good meals they had, terrible rainstorms they might have been caught in, or beautiful things they’ve seen. 

Enthusiastic halflings believe in actually getting to the heart of who a person is, that’s how friendships are formed. They might ask questions like; When was the last time you cried and what were you crying about? Or What do you do for fun? Why do you enjoy it? Many who aren’t aware of these halflings culture will feel ambushed by their probing questions and the way they will often share intimate details about their life unprompted. 

I absolutely need feedback and your thoughts on this so that it can be the best resource possible for worldbuilders. 

Cultural Dimensions for Worldbuilders

One of the most used and studied Cultural Psychological theory, Greete Hofstede's cultural dimensions are a series of six aspects of culture which span across human nearly all human societies.  These dimensions act as an easy way to understand aspects of a culture and have been some of the most researched and best attested to theories in Cross-Cultural Psychology.

This is advantageous for worldbuilders because it provides them with new ways to think about the cultures they are building. Playing with these dimensions, along with histories, and the elements of culture can provide you with innumerable different cultures to populate your worlds. 

The cultural dimension are based on Numerical Scale of 1 to over a 100. For example, if a culture has an 80 on the individualism vs collectivism scale, the members of it will tend to be individualist in their thinking, while a culture that scores a 20 will be more collectavist, while those that score 40-60 would tend to be more in the middle of this cultural dimension.

As a cross-cultural psychologist I would ask that people avoid ethnic bias. It is a mistake to presume that any cultural dimension is better than another, the different dimensions have allowed those who display them to survive in different situations. This is why research has shown that people who grew rice and people who grew wheat have different cultures based on the requirements for growing these crops. That is Fiszbein, Jung, and Vollrath found in a comprehensive study of the US that farming higher labor-intensive crops was highly associated with collectivism, while low labor-intensive crops was associated individualism. So cultures that grow rice tend to be more collectivist because rice requires more labor and the management of complex waterworks which benefit a community; “Traditional rice farmers dealt with the labor demands by forming reciprocal labor exchanges. A legacy of rice production therefore yields collectivism, and a depressed drive to innovate... the close cooperation within a village suggests that benefits from innovation are rapidly adopted by the entire village. Thus, the benefits of innovation are largely external to the innovator, reducing the incentive to exert effort in this direction.” (Zhu, Ang, and Fredriksson) 

Wheat, on the other had tends to be a more individual activity and so encouraged individualist cultures. This is tendency is increased by the raising of cattle as a secondary source of food, for people would have to set out on their own or in small groups “to secure water and grass for the herd in distant locations. This increased their interaction with strangers and encouraged trade which fostered the exchange of ideas. Such exposure to novel ideas and the opportunity to trade new innovative products in larger markets should have heightened the focus on innovation effort. The lower labor input requirements also imply that wheat farmers are able to attend to their own plots with less help from other villagers than is the case for rice farmers.”

The Six Dimensions

Power distance index (PDI): This is the extent to which people accept an unequal distribution of power. That is, how much they accept control from their parents, a ruler, nobility, bosses, or others in positions of power. Workers in high power distant societies often want their managers to act as benevolent dictators, rather than as friends. Further, a lower number in this dimension indicates that people are far more likely to question authority. 

Individualism vs. collectivism (IDV): For many this is one of the most difficult dimensions to understand and a lot of mistaken ideas have sprung up about it so I caution you to be careful trying to apply this to the real world. 

Collectivist cultures have strong ties and loyalties to their families and ingroups, whom they seek to help, even to the detriment of those outside this group. 

Collectivist cultures are more likely put their family's and group's desires above their own desires, and as a result they would be more likely to take on the role their parents or other members of their group wished them too, rather than trying to express their own identity. 

Individualism, with its emphasis on 'self-actualization' may come in part due to more frequent encounters with strangers and members of an outgroup and less reliance on a large ingroup. This might explain a study by A study by Deborah Cai & Edward Fink which found that individualist cultures are more likely to attempt to avoid conflicts all together, while collectivist cultures are more likely to try to compromise. On the other hand, both are equally as likely to try domination as the way to get what they want when conflict arises.

In Short:

Collectivists will tend to put more emphasis on the rights of families and communities over those of individuals. They tend towards rules which promote unity and will seek to work and cooperate with others and tend to be self-sacrificing. 

Individualists see individual rights and the ability to choose the role one wants in society as important. They value their independence.  

Whether you mean to or not the themes of this cultural dimension are likely to creep into your story one way or another. Case and point, individualism can be thought of as the Disney Animation Values in which Ariel, Bell, Merida, etc. seek to follow their own dream, rather than accepting the role society, their parents, or both have placed on them. That is, these stories feature an individualist character stuck in a more collectivist society which they feel is repressing them. 

Of Disney's "Mulan" the researchers from Jining Medical University in China State that; 

The American version of Mulan adds some American individualistic features. When the emperor heard the news of the Xiongnu attack, he ordered the general to post a recruitment notice throughout the city, and said: "Small soldiers can also make great achievements." The emperor's words show the importance of personal ability and strength. In the battle with Chanyu, Mulan saved the emperor, at this time Mulan's personal strength surpassed the others, which proved that the small soldiers mentioned by the emperor could also make great achievements. The layout of this plot highlights the individualism of the United States. American individualism believes that competition is more exciting than cooperation, and individual glory transcends collective glory. During the battle with Chanyu, Mulan did not follow the orders of the general, adhered to her own point of view and finally won the war. American individualism emphasizes the consciousness of "oneself", the individual will transcend the collective will, and believes that the individual has the right to fight for the protection of his private ownership and to adhere to his own views and beliefs. This cultural feature focuses on individual will and achievements and respects individual decision-making. (Lei Wang, Bing Han, and Guofei Xu)

This isn't bad, per say, the best films and books reflect the culture which made them. Still, it can be useful when trying to depict different cultures in your story to realize that they would value different things. 

Uncertainty avoidance (UAI): This is societies willingness to accept uncertainty. Obviously, countries with a high uncertainty avoidance will tend to have strict codes of behavior and guidelines that dictate how one should think. They believe that there is one truth which dictates everything. Those with a low degree of uncertainty avoidance will accept differing ideas and are more accustomed to ambiguity.

Masculinity vs. femininity (MAS): Masculine societies in this case prefer heroism, assertiveness, and believe that one should be rewarded for their success. In counter to this are cultures which seek cooperation, modesty, and believe that those who have struggled should be cared for. 

Here again we see a clear connection between the environment people needed to survive in and the cultural traits they exhibited. In this case cultures in more temperate climates tended to be more masculine, while those in "In cooler climates with prolonged winter, meeting basic needs for food, safety, and security is much more demanding, which promotes intense parental care for the family." (Hofstede) Similarly, men in cultures in extremely hot climates such as that of the Aka pygmies and the Batek of Malaysia will provide a lot of fatherly care for their children. 

These differences might be accounted for by the fact that more extreme temperatures require parents to spend more time and resources caring for their children, as Hofstede proposes. On the other hand, war tends to be easier in moderate climates, thus the threat of raids might encourage masculine cultures. If true this dimension could be thought of as environmental vs physical dangers. 

It is important to realize that while many tend to think of the care giving and cooperative nature of femininity as akin to Collectivism, cultures like Sweden can be very Individualist and Feminine, while China is Collectivist and Masculine. 

Long-term orientation vs. short-term orientation (LTO): Cultures with a long-term view attempt to adapt and solve problems pragmatically. Those who have short-term orientation value traditions and steadfastness in the face of adversity. 

Indulgence vs. restraint (IND): Indulgent cultures allow people the freedom to gratify their natural desires, to enjoy life and have fun. While cultures that show restraint have strict social norms. 

Dimensions within a Fantasy World

Exactly how these dimensions work within the cultures of your fantasy world is obviously up to you and in many cases, it would be impossible to know exactly how a magical environment filled with vampires, demons, dragons, giants, etc. would impact people's culture. Would such creatures force people to stay closer to home, thus making them more nurturing, or would it force the parents to be 'tougher'? Obviously, only you can answer that question based on the nature of the threat and of course the story you are telling but asking the question will hopefully give you ideas for your world. 

In addition to human cultural dimensions, I have worked to create seperate elven, halfling, dwarf, goblin, and gnomish dimensions. Obviously, you are free to change, ignore, or use these as you want, it just could be useful to think of how their cultures might work. 

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Fairy Tales and Fantasy for Artists - Fear and the Sublime

Index       Romantic Desires: The Philosophy of Fairy 

"THE FIRST and the simplest emotion which we discover in the human mind, is Curiosity. By curiosity, I mean whatever desire we have for, or whatever pleasure we take in, novelty. We see children perpetually running from place to place, to hunt out something new: they catch with great eagerness, and with very little choice, at whatever comes before them; their attention is engaged by everything, because everything has, in that stage of life, the charm of novelty to recommend it." (Burke, 1757)

Burke’s treatise on the Sublime had a huge influence on artists and writers. The Enlightenment and Industrialism dominated the ‘learned’ thought of the time, and then he came along and argued that darkness, obscurity, things that causes us awe and terror and which are beyond our understanding are perhaps more valuable than logic. Being frightened and made uncomfortable by a piece of or literature “was regarded as a positive experience” as such “Sublime art could not be achieved by slavishly following rules, but rather was an experience that existed above and beyond rules in the realm of artistic imagination.” (Christine Riding and Nigel Llewellyn) The point was to break with what gave people comfort. Loose and wild brush work, wild imagination, and terrifying subject matter were all aspects of the sublime. 

It is rather ironic that a large part of what fueled the rise in supernatural literature during second half of the 18th century was the rise in consumerism and wealth which allowed a burgeoning middle class to purchase stories to read. And while the enlightenment figures bemoaned consumerism and the reading of books which would lead people to have fantastic ideas, the reality is that the middle and lower classes of Britain and Europe in general didn’t give up on their belief in magic for a long time. Thus allowing them into scholarly conversations was bound to lead to discussions of ghosts and fairies that the figures of the Enlightenment derided. 

Into this debate came the artist Henry Fuseli’s painting of nightmares tormenting a woman in a dramatic pose. Fuseli’s paintings are works of counter Enlightenment and some of the earliest rejections of the Industrial Revolution. Many artists of this time began to believe that rationality harmful and would hurt humanity. Facts would, in their mind, destroy morality and certainly social norms changed dramatically following the Enlightenment. 

Fuseli flipped the art world on its head by depicting “immoral pagan motifs because he fully realized the fantastical potential of Northern European legends. Therefore, he has been labeled a Romantic Classicist, straddling both of the major styles at the end of the eighteenth century. Similar to other Romantic artists, Fuseli was intrigued by the idea of the sublime, that which is not aesthetically beautiful, yet still appeals to the viewer’s inner psyche and invokes strong emotions. He was likely familiar with Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Inquiry into Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, which was published in 1757, not long before Fuseli started his artistic career. He had a great intellectual curiosity and was exposed to many different philosophers and writers while traveling across Italy and Germany, inspiring his eccentricities. He represents both a true scholarly genius, as evidenced by the literary sources of his oeuvre, as well as an innovative artist, illustrating enigmatic and passionate works. His art mainly focused on the Gothic Sublime - rather than classical Greco-Roman themes - deeply rooted in fear and sensationalism.” (Caroline Giepert Professor Spieth)

Fear and sensationalism would dominate fantasy literature for a long time, and arguably still do, as most of the movies made with fantastical elements are likely horrors, with ghosts, demons, and the like. Certainly pulp magazines and the earlier penny dreadfuls, in which many of the genres of fantasy were established, sold copies based not only on sensationalist art but their sensationist covers. 

This painting is important for another reason, because it helped bring about the idea that a painting could have nothing to do with a myth, history, or real person or place. Rather this painting came from the artists own mind, something that hadn’t been done in British paintings for quite some time before.