Note: This is an expansion of a short post I made over at According to Hoyt, in response to Mary Catelli and Foxfier. As per usual, this description is based off our own experiences and encounters, as well as those descriptions that were related to us by others.
Dwende is/are the Filipino catch-all term for faeries, brownies, nature spirits. It’s accepted belief that they share ‘space’ with human beings and encounters with them – intended and unintended – are part of the reason why superstitious belief is very strong in the Philippines. (Larry Correia’s Monster Hunters could probably go on safaris in the Philippines.) This post is to give a rough description of the dwende as we’ve encountered them (note I use present tense; even now I hear about encounters from my mother’s household.)
Because dwende are spirits who dwell in the land, they can be found anywhere, even urbanized areas. They are most often found in places where there is a bit of quiet -anything from deep forest to a small, stinking alleyway. Generally they are invisible to human eyes, though people with the gift of third sight or sixth sense can see or feel their presence. They vary in description from the typical small brownie, or small winged fairies, to manifesting as human-sized, or larger, beings; size seems to be relative to their ‘strength’ in ‘power’. They range from strange in appearance, fair, or ugly – not much different from the Western descriptions of fae.
The largest in size we’d encountered personally were the same size as human beings. The smallest (?) had no discernably humanoid shape and manifested as darting flashes of light, or a visible but only glimpsed shape. One example of the latter is an odd white egg that my mother saw out of the corner of her eye, rolling toward her foot. Thinking it was a chick (our pet chickens had the ability to run in and out of our house then) or possibly a mouse, she lifted her foot as she looked down, only to realize that there was nothing there. She got the impression someone was laughing at her as well, and related the incident to me when I got home. Looping back, that implies there to be a form of caste or rank system.
They are, for the most part, harmless and generally do not want to be bothered, but as things go, humans and dwende generally do bump into each other. Filipino folklore – past and present – abound with stories. Wooded or grassy areas are particular favorites for them to make their dwellings in, and the most common type of tale is a human accidentally stepping on a dwende / accidentally destroying their home or wrecking something they built, and the human becoming sick in a way that isn’t curable by medicines. Visiting the doctor will yield no results – sometimes the unsuspecting victim will find that the illness or symptoms will go away if they approach a doctor, only to reappear when they are no longer in the clinic! Then when the person mentions the illness, sometimes a person will advise him or her to visit an albularyo, or faith healer, and then the faith healer will tell that person what to do to appease the dwende.
To pre-empt such accidents, it is common superstition to say tabi-tabi po ‘please excuse me; I am passing through’ to let dwende know that you do not see them and any damage you may do is entirely unintended. Sometimes though, that’s not enough, and you may need to consult with a faith healer anyway. It really differs based on situation.
There are different types of dwende, described as ‘white’, ‘gray’ or ‘black.’ Using game alignments, they would be ‘neutral good, neutral, and neutral evil’; though the latter isn’t as accurate either, though black dwende, if crossed, can make a person very miserable if they so wish, and even can be very dangerous. They also have similar elemental ‘alignment’ – earth, air, fire, water, trees, and so on.
White dwende don’t seem daunted by hallowed ground or holy artifacts; the impression we got was they respect God and Jesus and revere the Virgin. There are stories we’d heard of Church groundskeepers or caretakers saying that ‘that part, there’s dwende there, don’t step on them.’
Grey dwende seem to respect those boundaries of hallowed ground, and avoid it (because they see it as territory?) – so they might do something like claim a tree or rock or some other natural landmark as their ‘territory’ or ‘home’ and that’s ‘their’ place.
Black dwende vary – some people will say the presence of holiness has an effect – that they grow weak, or go out of their way to avoid such encounters. But more often than not humans will leave over dealing with hostile dwende.
Dwende are very territorial – at least the ones where we live are. Someone who had their third eye open said that ‘the whole area has barangays (village?) of many different dwende groups’ and that we were lucky, because we’ve got ‘the only white dwende barangay on our property.’
They cannot cross into other dwende territories unless they 1) are invited in by the resident dwende/ask permission to pass through or 2) are able to ‘hitch’ a ride on a human being. As for humans traversing through these dwende territories, it seems that if it’s a normal causeway, like a street, or pathway or such, they let it slide; it’s a road. This is part of why it is advised that someone who goes off the established pathways to ‘tabi-tabi po’; in case that you stumble on their homes or bump into them or hurt them by accident.
We’ve found that they aren’t fond of loud, unpleasant noise, especially those they can’t excuse as ‘being an acceptable thing to endure as the neighbors of humans.’ This sometimes may be a cause of their ire; and particularly annoyed dwende may cause mischief, ranging from things becoming misplaced, mild illness that can’t be cured, to severe things like accidents and actual harm.
That said actions manifested by the dwende may not be mischievous or even intended. Like people, they can have accidents. They can also accidentally knock things over, or move things around, or brush against a person.
Communication with humans isn’t common; but when they do it is the human they accommodate – either communicating with the person in a dream, or whispering at them when the person is idle, or through visions. Other times they might communicate through an albularyo or a medium to relate grievances and redress.
Dwende do not necessarily have the same morals or outlook as human beings do; there are some common virtues and vices, but there seems to be a range of ‘barely tolerating the neighbor’ feeling, to ‘uncaring’ or sometimes outright hostility. If dwende decide that they like a particular human, they might ‘take care’ of their chosen humans in ways that the human might not initially understand or appreciate, but eventually becomes clear.
I think that covers most of the generalities to serve as a background. If I get more, I’ll relate them here in an edit.
Edit: I forgot to mention, we didn’t really notice any particular aversion to metals of any kind.
Edit again: A conversation I had with my mother, and Rhys, turned up a rather interesting perspective. Dwende have a definable sense of honor, but can be as capricious as Western fae in how they choose to uphold it. As for how they see humanity, and why it may be that prayers or hallowed ground do not affect them, it is probably no different from trying to pray away a tree whose branch broke while you were walking under it, and broke your ribs, or trying to banish the ground upon which you are standing. They’re ‘part’ of the land, and as far as they’re concerned, the land will still be there when we’re gone; and muttering prayers to the Almighty to make them go away won’t work, because it’s a bit akin to asking God to make that tree, or rock, or river go away.
Further, the dwende as such, can be gentle, or terrible, like nature.