Folletti: Italian Wind Sprites

Alan Murray-Rust [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Alan Murray-Rust [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Folletto” is  used in Italian as a generic term for any sort of imp, goblin, elf, or the like. There is also, however, a specific kind of Italian faery that is sometimes qualified as a foletto di vento or “wind sprite.” These are actually associated as much with farms as with wind and weather. They are short, agile trickster-figures, able both to fly and to become invisible. They tend to be destructive, mischievous if not outright malevolent.

Folletti  are of ancient origin. They have probably been in the Italian consciousness since Roman times, although there is a bit of controversy over their precise lineage. They seem, in fact, to merge two distinct “portfolios” of activity.

According to some, folletti are a late variation on the Roman di penates, the gods of the pantry thought to guard a household’s food, wine, oil, and other supplies. It is said that folletti may remain on their chosen farm for centuries, protecting it from the worst kind of dangers. They are easily offended, however, so be sure to leave them a bowl of porridge on the front stoop every night if you want to keep the peace.

The other leading theory for the origins of folletti di vento links them to the mythology of the Celts who lived in northern Italy in ancient times. Indeed, folletti are similar in some ways to the spriggans of Cornwall—albeit with a somewhat nicer disposition. Like spriggans, folletti have impressive power over wind and weather. As stated above, they can fly by traveling in whirlwinds. They have also been known to cause rain, snow-storms, and floods, destroying both crops and homes. At other times, they might engage in less harmful activities like curdling milk or tangling horses’ tails.

Folletti sometimes take the form of snakes, hedgehogs, or other creatures with strong connections to the earth. They might use foxes as messengers and spies.

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