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Faerie Folklore: The Changeling
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Faerie Folklore: A Not-So-Pretty Fairy Tale
In today's culture, we see fairies parading about with wings and cute little sparkly outfits. We think of Tinkerbell and pixies and we smile...we delight in fairy tales and the innocence and child-like memories that the fairies bring to us. But what were the fairies of ancient times really like? Were they as beautiful and as kind as mainstream culture today tells us to believe?
In fact, the ancient peoples of Europe, specifically the Celtic people, believed in the "wee folk" or the "fae", but they not only believed in them...they feared most of them. The faeries gave the ancient people reasons to fear them, as they were mysterious and many times more than mischievous. When things went bad with the peoples' crops, many of them would blame the fae or the wee folk.
And when children were born deformed or ugly, the ancient people believed that these children were actually not children at all...but were "changelings". Changelings were believed to have been the offspring of the faerie folk, in many cases children of the trolls, that were used to replace a stolen human child. Many people believed that the faeries wanted to raise human children as their own and use them for their evil will, while others believed that the faeries would switch out the human child for the changeling because they wanted their faery offsprings to be raised in lavish, classy human homes.
There is much faerie folklore surrounding the belief in the changeling, and much of it was believed so adamantly that in one case a woman was murdered, as her husband believed her to have been a changeling. This happened in 1895 in Ireland!
Ireland is still filled with believers in the faeries, and some are even still wary of the changeling. It is said that a new mother or a new bride or a couple who is young and vibrant is most at risk for having their baby stolen and replaced with the changeling. Before Christianity became the dominant religion in Europe, the changeling was thought to be nothing more than a grotesque baby of the wee folk, but as Christianity began to rise in Europe...the view of what the Changeling was changed. So did the faerie folklore in general.
Before Christianity, the people of Ireland and elsewhere throughout Europe saw faeries and the wee folk as sort of older, ancient spirits...a race that was forced into hiding when the humans began to take over the earth. But when the Church converted many "Pagans" to their strict and staunch religion, faeries were turned into "demons" and "devils". So you can bet that the Changeling was also turned into a spawn of Satan.
How did one get their own child back after the devils had stolen the child and given the poor soul a Changeling? Some said that if you threw the changeling into the fireplace, that the Changeling would jump up and out of the chimney and the human child would be returned to its mother. The Church used the faerie folklore to scare the people into conversions, and claimed that any child who wasn't baptized would be at particular risk for being stolen by the faeries. If the child was baptized, then the faeries or "devils" couldn't steal it.
In other countries such as Scotland and England, the people believed that adults could be kidnapped by the faeries, as well as the children. If a person was caught in the path of a faerie ride or raid during one of the Pagan holidays, they were at risk and most likely going to be carried away by the faerie folk. In many cases these faeries were the Elf people...and they enjoyed kidnapping humans and whisking them away into a party that lasted forever. Once the human was returned to the normal realm, years and years have passed by and many times the human's family was long gone.
Is the changeling a real thing? Did the faerie folk replace human children with their own distorted offspring in a time when the faeries roamed the earth and mischief ran rampant? Or was this all silly superstition, created by imaginative minds and lack of excuse for imbred or diseased children? We may never know...