As if cave-ins, explosions, and the risk of inhaling poisonous gas weren’t enough, some miners must also contend with tales of supernatural creatures living below the earth. Tales of ghostly miners exist around the world. Here are four of them.
England’s bluecaps appear in mines as small blue flames and lead miners to valuable deposits if treated with respect. The creatures might also warn miners of an impending collapse. Bluecaps expect the same wage as human miners which foremen must leave in isolated corners of a mine. And what happens if the foreman forgets or refuses to pay? Some stories claim bluecaps abandon the mine while others insist the creatures cause the mine to collapse on toiling miners.
In Ukraine there’s talk of shubin, a spirit said to dwell deep within the mines of Donbas. Legends about shubin’s motives vary, but most portray the spirit in one of two ways: a dead miner who offers help and warns others of danger or a former mining master who murdered workers and hopes to claim additional victims. The shubin legend is popular around Donbas and inspired several bars to name their business after the infamous spirit. The creature even inspired its own brand of beer – Good Shubin.
In German folklore, a kobold is a sprite that lives in homes, ships, or mines. Legend has it mine-dwelling kobolds are hunched and ugly and responsible for cave-ins, rockslides, and other mining disasters. According to some tales, kobolds live in rock much like humans exist in air. Other stories claim the creatures are expert miners whose knocking, shoveling, and hammering sounds are audible to humans. In the 16th century, some miners believed mischievous kobolds led them to a metal that appeared to be gold or silver but was actually cobalt, an undiscovered element at the time. The miners named the metal cobalt after the kobolds they believed willfully led them astray.
The knocker, or Tommyknocker, is a creature from Welsh, Cornish, and Devon folklore who also appears in the United States. The knockers are around two feet tall, wear standard miner garb, and are named after the eerie knocking sounds that occur just before a mine collapse. According to some miners, the knockers are mischievous beings that delight in pulling pranks such as stealing miners’ tools or food. Other miners believe the knockers warn of an impending collapse by knocking. Welsh and Cornish immigrants brought the knockers legend to the U.S. in the early-to-mid 1800s, and belief in the supernatural beings lasted until at least the 1950s.
Do you believe spirits dwell in mines or are the stories nothing more than old folklore?
See also: “Mine Apparition“