The Mazzamurello can be seen as the Italian version of the Irish leprechaun, the English brownie, the German kobold, the Scandinavian tomte, the Icelandic jólasveinarnir (=Yule Lad). It is similar to the Welsh Robin Goodfellow, called "pwca" and made famous by William Shakespeare as Puck in "A Midsummer Night's Dream".
Mazzamuriello and other Italian elves
A Mazzamurello signals his presence to the inhabitants of the house by making noises. Its presence may indicate the proximity of a treasure, an imminent danger to one of the residents, or a message of a deceased loved one trying to communicate with the living. Like other mythological creatures, Mazzamurelli are in fact traditionally considered as messengers between the ordinary, earthly world and the magical world beyond.
The poet and writer Gabriele D'Annunzio from Abruzzo mentions the sprite joker in letters to his wife several times. About the Mazzamurello, adept at making objects disappear, D'Annunzio wrote: "He had its hiding place in the coal cellar of my father's house and, since childhood, had me at its mercy" (in "Libro Segreto"). And, explaining why he did not devote more than two minutes to the search of any object he could not find, the poet commented "in any case, the Mazzamaurello will put it back in place when he feels like it" (in "Il secondo amante di Lucrezia Buti").
Another source, however, documents the existence of the legend in even earlier times: in 1578 a law on Neapolitan rents, "Pragmatic de locto et conduco", stated that if a lessee was attacked by a Monaciello, he could leave the house without paying rent. According to legends from Basilicata, the "monacielli" would be children who had died without baptism.
In Apulia a sprite with magical powers is called Scazzamauriello (U scazzamauredd), etymologically "ruining walls", because it can get into houses through keyholes. It prefers the night, and loves to sit on the chest of people sleeping or on the shoulders of those sitting or standing. The victim becomes aware of its presence due to the heavy weight, but cannot move; he vainly cries for help, but no one can see the Scazzamauriello, which is capable of paralyzing its victims.
This whimsical elf is kind to girls, and protects them from the oppression of stepmothers and masters, often doing the housework in their place. He loves children too, and gives them sweets and coins.
Legend has it that if you manage to steal its red hood from a Scazzamuriello's head, the creature, in order to have it back, is willing to deliver a pot full of gold coins and then be gone forever. That's why once peasants justified the sudden wealth of someone by saying, "That one caught a Scazzamauriello".