The Klaboterman – Another Old Man of the Sea

klaboterman01Legend says the Klaboterman lives on sea-going vessels plying the North and Baltic Seas, usually a benevolent partner to the crew. But what is he, and where does he come from?And are the tales about him true? CryptoVille investigates!

Have you ever heard of a Klaboterman?! If you haven’t , you’re not alone. I had never heard of it, either, until I saw this beautiful drawing by Darryl Beven, Graphic Artist, right.  Of course I had to find out what this Klaboterman is and now I’m excited to share with you!

First of all, this creature is part of the fairy dynasty, a Brownie, sometimes called a Nix. Old folklore said it was a helpful, jovial creature that specialized in helping seafaring ships and crews throughout the North Sea and Baltic Sea.

The old tales explain how it had a great love of music and was a proficient musician.

Tales from the last century through today speak of a darker, more mischievous persona that likes to play tricks on its shipmates, even if it means damaging the ship.


Descriptions vary, but basically we’re talking about a creature who can measure somewhere between one to three feet tall. Its clothes vary from sea-green or blue, wearing a red cap, to a red jacket, with traditional sailor’s pants, and a round hat. Another version claims he wears yellow clothes. (Klaboterman image left by unknown artist.)

All agree that he carries a pipe and a caulking hammer. There is never any mention of fairy wings. In fact, this is a very masculine, kind of tough character.

In the old days, its image was often carved into the mast as a symbol of good luck.

Once Upon a Fairy

So how does he fit into the fairy realm? In my reading I saw the Klaboterman referred to as a Brownie and a Nix. It’s not clear if he’s one or the other, but in fact may be a combination of the two. Here’s why:

brownieBrownies (image right by unknown artist) are usually house fairies who, if treated right, are very helpful to their homeowner. They are known to intentionally dress in ragged clothing. It’s just their preference, not that they’re poor in any way.

Brownies are usually solitary creatures who occupy homes and sometimes hollow trees. That’s probably where the Klaboterman link is strongest. More on that in the section called Origins, below.

Brownies love order and tidiness and strongly believe that there is a place for everything and everything must be in its place. This would account for the Klaboterman’s passion for keeping the ship tidy and well run.

The Nix, or Nixen, influence is not as strong. Nix are usually troublesome creatures but they will occasionally warn humans of a danger in the water. They are great fiddle players and music lovers, so that’s  probably the strongest link between the Nix and the Klaboterman.


The origin of a Klaboterman is rather dark. According to the Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology by Theresa Bane, there is a very precise method required to produce a new Klaboterman. (Klaboterman image left by unknown artist.)

First an unbaptized child has to die and then be buried outside of a church yard, in other words in unhallowed ground. Then a tree must grow over the grave of this child and in doing so, the ancients believed its soul would become part of the tree.

Later on, a ship builder would have to choose that tree and cut it down to make a new ship. And that’s how the Klaboterman was “born,” he became the protector and helpmate of the ship.

One Drawback

According to old legends, there is one big problem with the Klaboterman. It’s said if you see him, that means the ship is doomed.

Meaningless Today?

Nowadays the Klaboterman is a more sinister figure. If something goes wrong aboard ship, they blame him.

This alteration in the legend could simply be a function of time. As sailors over the centuries plied the waters and returned home with tales of great adventure, they may have embellished the role of the Klaboterman so that he became something more dramatic than a helpful caretaker.

4-geo-challengerIn a review of the paper, The Klabautermann of the Northern Seas. An Analysis of the Protective Spirit of Ships and Sailors in the Context of Popular Belief, Christian Legend, and Indo-Euporean Mythology by Reinhard J. Buss, Josephine Lombardo states, “Because the tradition of the ship spirit is no longer vital in northern Europe, the author’s stance is of necessity past-oriented. The items … which form the basis of Buss’ study were collected between 1830 and 1940.” (Picture right of Geo Challenger ship by unknown photographer.)

What she’s getting at is that sailors plying the North Sea and Baltic Sea today have no interest in old legends and tales. Such is the modern world that it’s thrown off the mysteries of the past. And maybe that’s a good thing. If you don’t care about fairies.

Wondering about Fairies

For those of us who DO love fairies, we have to wonder where this all leaves the Klaboterman.

Based on the legends and mythology surrounding them, we’ll have to accept that it leaves the Klaboterman in the dim mists of time, a legend only, and not a part of today’s world.

It’s so hard to find fairies – to date, I haven’t. I wonder, if like the Elves in the Lord of the Rings stories, they’ve moved on to another place where they can live  unencumbered by the silliness of this modern era.


What do you think?



  1. At my age, and being a fairly prolific reader, I have never happenstanced Klaboterman (spelling). Fascinating read, and find I might add. But then again, why not?

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