Changelings. Found in folklore throughout Europe (largely Ireland), a changeling was believed to be a fae child left in place of a human child that was then stolen by the fae. As a witch who is learning to work with the fae, these old legends and stories truly fascinate me. How many have a grain of truth to them? I believe many of them do, but not so much the changeling legends. They are entertaining stories, until you really start to think about the history behind them.
During a good part of history, Christianity overtook Ireland as well as many other places in the world. Due to this, Pagan cultures were demonized and said to be the work of devil. Witches! Witches everywhere! There is so much evidence of old folklore being “christianized” and it makes my heart hurt. Who knows how much has been lost due to this! Who knows what we might be able to understand about the world if we had been able to preserve more of the old cultures…One great example of this is Thomas the Rhymer (which I’ll discuss more another time). There are different versions, and you can most certainly tell which was altered to fit a more Christian worldview…
Anyway, as much as I enjoy reading about changelings, I believe that these were stories created out of fear & to try and find a reason for the bad things that happened to people. If a human child was “replaced” by a fae child, it was easy to blame evil and in turn also blame the parent for a lack of faith.
“There are many variations on the following story, but the Brothers Grimm summed up in concise form the main components of a typical changeling story from mid-19th-century Germany:
A mother had her child taken from the cradle by elves. In its place they laid a changeling with a thick head and staring eyes who would do nothing but eat and drink. In distress she went to a neighbor and asked for advice. The neighbor told her to carry the changeling into the kitchen, set it on the hearth, make a fire, and boil water in two eggshells. That should make the changeling laugh, and if he laughs it will be all over with him. The woman did everything just as her neighbor said. When she placed the eggshells filled with water over the fire, the changeling said:
‘Now I am as old
As the Wester Wood,
But have never seen anyone cooking in shells!’
And he began laughing about it. When he laughed, a band of little elves suddenly appeared. They brought the rightful child, set it on the hearth, and took the changeling away.”
Again, there are variations on this story, but this is a basic summation of what was popularly agreed on.
According to legend, when a child was replaced with a fae child, they were said to have everything from deformities, behavioral issues to strange personality aspects. Unfortunately, these may have just been disabilities that are treatable today. It was also said that the changelings should never be harmed, only threatened. If the fae had the real child with them, they may retaliate if the humans hurt the changeling.
To prevent a child from being stolen in the first place, people would leave iron near the baby’s crib. Iron is know to repel fae. Also nearly all traditions agreed that a quick baptism would prevent this from happening. But what happens if a changeling is an adult?
In the late 1890’s a woman named Bridget Cleary was murdered by her husband who claimed she had been replaced by a changeling. I’ll give you a link to the full story, as I cannot tell the story better than this! It’s crazy to me that someone would use folklore to try and excuse something as deplorable as murder…or do you think he really believed this to be true?
What do you guys think about this? I know this isn’t crazy in depth, but I don’t necessarily want this to turn into a blog that is purely scholarly research. 😉
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite poems. W.B. Yeats had faery blood in his veins <3