Clarissa Johal: #FolkloreThursday - Changelings #faerie #fairy #fae

Thursday, April 28, 2016

#FolkloreThursday - Changelings #faerie #fairy #fae

Prinsessan och trollen 
(En kv√§ll vid midsommartid gingo de med 
Bianca Maria djupt in i skogen) 
John Bauer 1913 - Public Domain
A changeling is a creature left in place of a human child who has been stolen by the fairies. Changelings can be one of three kinds - a true fairy child, a senile fairy disguised as a child, or an object, such as a piece of wood, taking on the appearance of a child through fairy magic.

Origin of the Concept


Medieval society needed to explain the unexplainable - infants afflicted with diseases, disorders, or developmental disabilities.

Supposed risk factors

Beauty in human children was said to attract the fairies. According to common Scottish myths, a child born with a caul across their face was already changeling, and of fey birth. Other folklore states that cross-breeding was a motive.

How did one identify a changeling?

A healthy baby may suddenly sicken and fail to thrive. The new replacement may be deformed, cry constantly, and generally misbehave. An older child may be aloof and unable to talk. Some changelings may make it to adulthood and forget they are fae and live a human life. Changelings who remember, may leave their human family without warning, and return to their fairy family.

How to avoid the swap
To prevent a child being snatched, iron was left near the crib, usually in the form of fire tongs or scissors. Baptizing the baby as quickly as possible may also prevent fairy abduction. But sometimes, even these safeguards wouldn't work.

Historical Cases

There are historical cases where parents killed a suspected changeling child. In 1884, Anne Roche drowned 3-year-old Michael Leahy because he couldn't stand or speak. The most famous example occurred in 1895 Ireland when 26-year-old Bridget Cleary was tortured and killed by her husband because she was suspected of being a changeling. 

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Interested in more? Check out these books:

(Non-fiction) The Burning of Bridget Cleary: A True Story by Angela Bourke 
*On my "to read" list

(Fiction) The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue 
*Excellent book, I highly recommend!


1 comment:

Heather R. Holden said...

I've always enjoyed reading about changeling lore. Those historical cases are so tragic, though...wow...