Forget Dolby and those other house elves in Harry Potter. Not to mention garden gnomes that I can’t see without remembering a 1980’s (pre-computer graphics) movie where they were serial killers. Hard to raise a knife, much less gambol about a crime scene, when made of concrete which made it, unintentionally, wildly funny.
Instead, let’s focus on little folks that reside in San Miguel. An elf (leprechaun, fairy, goblin or alike) is called duende, from a contraction of the phrase for owner of a house. A duende often refers to a gnome-like mischievous spirit inhabiting a house. Duendes live inside the walls of homes, especially in the bedroom walls of young children.
In Spain duendes became a fundamental component of classic literature and culture. In the 16th century, there was a law in Spain that said that anyone who moved into a home and later realized it was infested with duendes was free to abandon it.
Beliefs about duendes vary from region to region – some believe they are the souls of infants who died before they could be baptized, others simply portray them as naughty spirits that hide in a person’s home to wreak havoc. But most duende variants seem to have a special relationship to children, probably because parents began using them as a tactic to scare their kids into doing their bidding. Hence the stories parents used about how duendes were coming to kidnap and eat you if you didn’t clean your room, clip your toenails, stayed out too late, etc. (Much like La Llorna though, in folklore, the Crying Woman appears equally often with adults.)
One can get the duendes to leave by blaming them for any misfortune but they are known to disappear then a few weeks later leave you with hens that stop laying or pigs that grow thin.
Not always house elves, as duendes’ natural habitat is by a spring. Here in town they prefer the area featuring two springs between Stirling Dickinson’s former home and his one-time orchid gardens. Here they live in little caves and are fond of enjoying brightly colored children’s toys. When doing my walking tour though the oldest neighborhoods, I leave behind little Minions and other plastic toys here. They join the collection that can found among the rocks left by others to appease the locals or are toys “borrowed” by the resident duendes.
Duendes also enjoy the path between San Domingo and Cruz de Puebla. The loose rocks offer many duendes cave-like homes and graffiti art featuring a 1920s image of German actress Marlene Dietrich. Plus the springs are close by but don’t flood up that high.
Another option for duende real estate is the creek area between La Presa and La Aurora by the Fabrica Aurora. Here is a tree a local hotel placed windows and a door on that I’ve often referred to as condo owned by Keebler elves when they want to bake cookies south of the border.
Other baking elves work at El Duende pizza.
The street in centro, Chiouitos is named for little folk that once frequented the area. A resident claims to leave out wine and cookies daily for the duendes to enjoy while making her bed. For wine and cookies, I’ll make her bed! By Joseph Toone
Joseph Toone is the Historical Society’s short-story award winning author of the SMA Secrets book series. All books in the series are Amazon bestsellers in Mexican Travel and Holidays. Toone is SMA’s expert and TripAdvisor’s top ranked historical tour guide telling the stories behind what we do in today’s SMA. Visit HistoryAndCultureWalkingTours.com, and JosephTooneTours.com.