Faerie Changeling FolkloreApril 3, 2020
As humans, we experience many of the same primitive fears—and these fears have the power to transcend culture, time, and geography. One of our most prevalent fears is the fear of death and loss. The legend of the changeling heightens this fear to the loss or death of a child. In the British Isles, Scotland, Ireland, and other parts of Europe, instances of faeries stealing children and leaving a sinister look-alike faerie replacement can be seen in countless folklore legends. Below delve into the nature of these unfortunate happenings and decide for yourself whether or not changelings are faerie fact or faerie fiction!
Changeling Folklore in Ireland
Faeries are attracted to beauty, and human babies are considered to be peaceful, calm, and docile. When a faerie aged, they would often find a beautiful baby to switch places with for eternal youth. This exchange was not equal; however, and the new baby would exhibit menacing behaviors. The new child also might suddenly have deformed features, cry uncontrollably, or be unable to talk.
In addition to becoming difficult and unruly, the faerie baby would also become sickened and weak no matter how much it ate or drank. This baby would not eat as a human child does, but rather everything in sight, usually putting the entire family in a position of hunger and extreme strife.
Changeling Folklore in Scotland
If the thought of faeries stealing an innocent child and replacing it with a surly, faerie replacement wasn’t bad enough—changeling folklore in Scotland gets far more sinister. As opposed to Irish legends, changelings were not just an aging faerie trying to gain eternal youth; however, Scottish lore suggests the faeries made a deal with the devil and needed the child for blood sacrifice once every seven years.
Sometimes the folklore suggested that faeries would not leave one of their own in disguise, but random objects they roused to appear like the poor child. Commonly used items were wooden blocks, stones, or lumps of wax. Soon enough, their powers of disguise would wear off, and eventually, the object would reveal itself, and any resemblance to being human would disappear.
Protection Against Changelings
These folk legends are not treated as far-fetched and caused many to resort to protection rituals in fear that it may happen to their family. Iron is a great enemy of the faeries, and many families would place an iron rod or iron tool near the crib so faeries would be detoured. In Ireland, people were warned not to “overlook” a child—in other words, look upon a child with envy. In all traditions including Irish, German, and Scandinavian, parents were advised to baptize their newborn as soon as possible to divert a faerie abduction.
Some might consider the legend of changelings to be a thing of pure fiction or severe paranoia; however, these legends were highly prevalent throughout Irish, Scottish, German, and Scandinavian culture. The fear of a changeling caused families to take extreme precautions to protect their children and families. Sadly, there are numerous cases of mothers killing their children for a suspected changeling, or entire communities dooming children and grown adults thought to be a faerie in disguise by execution.
No matter how absurd the legends might seem, there always lies a cruel truth about ourselves.