Changelings

Changelings could be things like glamoured rocks and logs, but were also often old fairies that no one wanted to deal with anymore, and so they were given to mortals in exchange for children. There were many myths about how to get one’s loved one back from fairies when they were replaced with a changeling. One of the ways to discover if your child was a changeling in Ireland involved brewing eggshells. The changeling would be so perplexed that it would comment on the act, revealing itself to be far older than a human infant or child. Once found out, the changeling could be exchanged for the true human child.

People who have studied the phenomenon and its history have a dark tale to tell. They believe that the changeling legend was eventually used, specifically in Ireland, as an excuse for people to abuse, neglect, and even kill disabled people, as changelings were often described as being different from normal humans in many ways. However, it was also occasionally used as an excuse to kill anyone who did not quite fit in, much like the excuse of witchcraft was used in other European countries. The last recorded case of this was in 1895, when an ill woman named Bridget Cleary was murdered by her husband and several of his friends. Her corpse was found burned and brutally mutilated, and her husband refused to murder. He instead said that he had succeeded in driving the fairy out, and that his wife would soon be returned to him. He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to fifteen years in prison, but this was in a much more modern age. The stories of changelings are much older than that.

~Victoria

The Evil Eye

The Evil Eye is a common concept in many cultures around the world. The Evil Eye is sort of like a curse, where the person who has been looked upon with it will face misfortunes. The Evil Eye can occur in various ways, depending on the culture. In most, the Evil Eye occurs when someone looks at you and envies what you have. In some cultures, the Evil Eye can be cast, so to speak, on purpose.

The Evil Eye beliefs are most common in the Mediterranean and in West Asia, although these beliefs have spread as far as South America. In many areas in the Mediterranean and Middle East, it is believed that people with green eyes are more likely to be able to cast the Evil Eye than those with brown. Those with blue eyes are the most likely to be able to accidentally, or purposely, use this power.

Eye symbols and talismans are often used as a sort of defense against the Evil Eye. For instance, the above image was one method used by the Egyptians. Normally the eye above is referred to as the Wedjat or The Eye of Horus. It was often used as a symbol of protection and one of its functions was to ward off the Evil Eye.

~Victoria

Four-Leafed Clovers

Four-Leafed clovers are considered to be good luck all over the Western world. However, they’re not always easy to find. In fact, for every four-leafed clover, there’s estimated to be 10,000 normal three-leafed clovers.

Nowadays four-leafed clovers represent luck overall. Some say that the four leaves actually represent faith, hope, love, and luck. In medieval times, carrying a four-leafed clover was supposed to allow you to see faeries, witches, spirits, and other entities or beings that could cause you harm.

Five-leafed clovers also exist. They’re considered to be even luckier than the four-leafed clovers. Also known as rose clovers, the fifth leaf is supposed to stand for money. The most leaves ever found on one clover stem is 56. The clover was found in Japan in 2009.

~Victoria

A Tour Through The Greek Afterlife

So you decided to go and die in Ancient Greece did you?  Well you’re in luck, for today only we’ll be having a tour through the Afterlife.  So hold onto your sandals and pray to Hermes for luck because here we go!

The Styx

The first stop on our tour is the River Styx, and sadly, it’s our last stop for many people.  If you’re unlucky enough that your family didn’t put a coin under your tongue or two over your eyes, then I’m afraid you’re out of luck.  The ferryman, Charon, is stingy as Tartarus and never lets people ride for free.  While in some myths he ferries the river Acheron, you’ll still need a coin to get through.  Once across you’ll be taken to the Judges of the Underworld, who will decide where you go.

Notable People:

-Charon: Stingy ferryman and only way to cross the River Styx.  Said to be extremely filthy with eyes like jets of fire (maybe some eye drops man?).

-Cerberus: Three headed guard dog of the underworld.  Known for keeping souls from wandering back to the living and for being a big softie when it comes to music

Tartarus

Oh man, if you ended up here, you did something horrible in life.  Similar to the Christian version of Hell, it’s a huge pit filled with all the people who defied the gods.  From the titans to Tantalus, you’ll probably never be bored here, as you’ll have your eternal punishment to keep you busy.

Notable People:

-Tantalus: Tried to offer his son as a sacrifice to the gods.  Now he stands in a neck high pool of water with fruit hanging above him.  Every time he tries to reach up, the branches move out of his way and every time he tries to drink the water recedes.

-Titans: The precursors to the Greek Gods, they were thrown down here after the great battle.  Missing are Atlas, who holds up the sky, Prometheus, who created humans and then stole the fire from the gods, and Epimetheus, who fell in love with the doomed Pandora.

-Sisyphus: Chained Thanatos (Death) to a pole so that no one could die.  Is forever stuck rolling a boulder up a hill, as it nears the top, it then rolls back down.

Asphodel Meadows

Neither good nor bad, this is the middle ground of the afterlife.  Here you’ll enjoy wandering through never ending fields.  But this is only after you drink from the river Lethe, which will remove your memories from your previous life.

Notable People:

-None: No one remembers who they are

Elysium

The land of heroes, you’re extremely lucky if you end up here.  Filled with every delight you can possibly imagine, it’s only for those who were chosen by the gods or who distinguished themselves throughout their life.  Given the option of reincarnation, if they end up in Elysium three times, then they go to the Isle of the Blessed, and even better afterlife.

Notable People:

-Socrates: Famous philosopher who was forced to end his life by drinking hemlock

-Achilles: Great Greek hero, with one hell of an Achilles’ heel

Other Important People to Know

-Hades: Ruler of the Underworld and eldest of the Gods.  Sometimes considered a god of wealth, he rules the underworld fairly.

-Persephone: Hades’ queen, she is the daughter of Demeter and Zeus.  She lives in the underworld six months out of the year and is known to be a powerful ruler

-Thanatos: Death himself, he guards the gates of death.  Known for having been chained by Sisyphus.

-Erinyes: Also known as the Furies, these are winged women who avenge crimes done by children towards their parents.  Their names are Alecto, Tisiphone, and Megaera.

~Elyce

Púca, Trickster and Shapeshifter

Also known as a pooka, phouka, puca, phooka, puck, and púka among other things, this creature is an Irish trickster and shapeshifter. There exist similar creatures throughout Britain, Wales, and the Channel Islands. In Wales this creature is known as a pwca, in Cornwall a bucca, and on the Channel Islands as a pouque. Being shapeshifters, these creatures appear in a variety of forms. They can take the form of goats, horses, dogs, cats, bulls, foxes, eagles, or any other animal. In some tales, they naturally have a goblin-like shape (as they are sometimes considered a type of goblin). Sometimes they even take human shape, with only one animal feature (such as ears or some kind of tail) to give them away. A púca normally is described as having gold eyes and black fur or hair.

In most legends, the púca is a trickster that likes to mess with people. For instance, they often take the form of horses and take people on wild, but harmless, rides that end with their rider in a creek or mud puddle. However, these creatures are usually benevolent towards humans and have been known to even guide people out of forests when they get lost. In some stories they are much more dangerous creatures that quite enjoy eating humans, but most of the time they are nothing but well-meaning tricksters that often enjoy a good laugh at a human’s expense. On Samhain (sunset of October 31st to sunset November 1st), these creatures can sometimes be found in forests, hills, and mountains and will offer prophecies and advice.

The only person to ever be able to control a púca was Brian Boru, a high king of Ireland. He managed to capture one in the form of a horse, by sliding a special bridle over its head. The bridle had three of the púca’s hairs from its tail woven in. Once he had the púca in his possession, Brian Boru used it as a steed.

In some areas, there are actually agricultural traditions surrounding the púca. All crops must be gathered before November in these traditions, as anything after has been faerie or púca blasted (or defecated on) and is no longer edible. In addition, a portion of the crops must be left in the field for the local púca to make sure it stays satisfied. The portion left in the field is called “the púca’s share”.

Simple Breakdown (tl;dr):

Origin: Northwest Europe (Ireland, Britain, and the Channel Islands). The name of the creature, and its behavior, varies per region.

Territory: Usually lives in mountains, hills, and forests.

Creature Type: Often considered a type of faerie (similar to goblins). Also falls under the categories of trickster, shapeshifter, and nature spirit. Most often mischevious.  In some locales they are considered to be man-eating monsters.

Attributes:  A púca has gold eyes and black fur/hair. In human form, they usually have one animal attribute, most often animal ears or an animal tail.

Abilities: Animal form and human form shapeshifting and sometimes simple faerie magic. Capable of human speech.  A púca can provide prophecies and warnings on Samhain (sunset on October 31st to sunset of November 1st).

Weaknesses: A púca can be controlled with a special bridle with three of its own hairs woven in. Supposedly one of the Irish high kings, Brian Boru, was the only one to do this.

~Victoria

Egyptian Pantheon

This list is by no means complete, but it does list many of the major Egyptian deities. All of these deities also have several different names and variations in spelling those names.

Geb: Geb is the god of the Earth. He lies flat on his back, with his wife bent over him. She is held away from him by the god Shu. His wife is Nut and his children are Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephthys.

Nut: Nut is the goddess of the sky. She is bent over her husband, Geb, held apart from him by the god Shu. Her children are Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephthys.

Amun: Amun is a god with a ram’s head that ruled over the wind. He was once king of the gods, and he later was combined with Ra as Amun-Ra.

Ra: Ra is the great Egyptian sun god and is often considered one of the most powerful gods. He was later combined with Amun to become Amun-Ra. In one Egyptian creation myth, Ra called all things into existence by saying their secret names. He is often depicted as a falcon with a sun disk on his head.

Osiris: Osiris is the god of rebirth, renewal, fertility, and the afterlife. He is married to his sister, Isis, and is the father of Horus. At a party, his brother, Set, asked Osiris to climb inside a sarcophagus. Osiris did so and Set killed him, chopped him up into little bits, and hurled them all over Egypt. Isis managed to put Osiris back together (except for his genitalia, which she recrafted for him out of wood) and resurrect him with her magic. Because of this, Osiris became associated with not only the afterlife, but the Nile itself. Every year, the Nile floods onto its banks and deposits fresh, fertile soil for farming, which allows life along the river to continue.

Isis: Isis fit the ancient Egyptian ideal of the perfect mother and wife. She is a goddess of nature and of magic and is associated with resurrection, as it is her magic that resurrected her husband, Osiris, when he was murdered by Set, and that allowed her to have her son, Horus. She is usually depicted with a headdress with a throne on it. Isis actually was so popular that the Greeks and Romans even worshiped her. Cleopatra and her family were actually Greek, not Egyptian. She actually was the first of her family to learn the Egyptian language and to actually behave and worship like an Egyptian. She heavily worshiped Isis and actually made herself out to be sort of “Isis on Earth”, making herself very popular with her people.

Set: Set is the god of chaos and desert storms. He is the son of Geb and Nut, the brother of Osiris and Isis, the brother and husband of Nephthys, and the father of Anubis. No one is entirely sure what animal Set’s head is supposed to look like, and it’s been compared to an aardvark, donkey, fennec fox, and a jackal.

Nephthys: Nephthys is the goddess of funerary rites and, like her sister, is also skilled in magic. She is usually depicted as a woman with a headdress with hieroglyphs on it or as a woman with falcon wings. She is the sister and wife of Set and the mother of Anubis. According to the Pyramid Texts, it was before her and Isis that evil spirits quaked with fear. While Isis was the birth mother of Horus, Nephthys nursed him. Like her sister, Nephthys also had some Greek and Roman worshipers.

Anubis: Anubis is the god of burial and mummification and is usually depicted with a jackal’s head. He is the son of Set and Nephthys.

Horus: Horus is a god of the skies and is the son of Osiris and Isis. He directly opposed Set and often tried to avenge his father by fighting his uncle. In one story, Horus loses an eye to his uncle in a fight. The eye he lost became known as The Eye of Horus, or Wedjat Eye, and was used for protection and warding off the Evil Eye. He is usually depicted with the head of a hawk or as a hawk.

Hathor: Hathor is the Egyptian goddess of love and happiness. She is most often depicted with a cow’s head, or as a woman with cow horns with a sun disc in between them. She is the wife of Horus.

Ma’at: Ma’at is the Egyptian goddess of justice, truth, and harmony. She is usually depicted with a feather in her hair, or just as a feather. She is the daughter of Ra, and it is against her that someone’s heart must be weighed when they die. If their heart weighs more than the feather, their heart is devoured. If their heart weighs less or the same, they get to go to the afterlife.

Ptah: Ptah is the god of craftsmen and is usually depicted as a man carrying a staff.

Thoth: Thoth is the god of knowledge and writing. He is usually depicted as having the head of an ibis or sometimes a baboon. The Egyptians believed that Thoth gave them the knowledge of hieroglyphic writing.

Sobek: Sobek is the god of water and of crocodiles and is usually depicted with the head of a crocodile.

Sekhmet: Sekhmet is a lioness-headed goddess of destruction, fire, and war.

Bast: Bast is a cat goddess of protection.

~Victoria

Brownies, Goblins, and Redcaps! Oh My!

Brownies and Boggarts

Many myths abound in Scotland, most having equivalents in the other areas of the British Isles. One of the relatively well-known myths is that of the brownie. Other names for the brownie include brounie, urisk, brùnaidh, ùruisg, or gruagach.   Brownies are tiny little fairies, never winged, of the domestic variety. They live secretly in people’s homes, coming out only at night to help with chores. However, when angered by the carelessness or disrespect of their human housemates, they often become a much nastier version of themselves known as boggarts. Boggarts will perform all sorts of cruel tricks on their housemates, trashing the house, pinching people til they bruise, and breaking things, among others. One way to keep a brownie happy, or to apologize to it and make it turn back into a brownie from a boggart, is to leave a bowl of milk, cream, and/or honey out for them at night. In many of the slightly more remote places in Scotland, this practice is still commonplace.

Hobgoblins

Hobgoblins are creatures that are very similar to brownies, except for the fact they are technically a variety of goblin. However, they are much more friendly than their goblin cousins. They act much like brownies and will help keep house during the night if properly respected. However, they also will become quite nasty if they are not. These little goblins normally hide under or behind the stove, or “hob”. To this day, the inside of the stove is called an oven in the UK. The stovetop itself, with the burners, is called a hob. So this little goblin’s name quite literally means “stove goblin” to those of us outside the UK.

Goblins

Goblins are little creatures that range from odd-looking to grotesque, from mischievous to evil. However, in almost all the legends surrounding them, they are sneaky tricksters with at least a bit of magical knowledge. They also tend to be greedy and spiteful. These creatures are probably the most well-known ones on this list, with appearances in Tolkien’s writing, the Elder Scrolls video game series, plenty of fantasy genre works, countless fairytales, and even in famous literature like “The Goblin Market”, a poem written by Christina Rossetti in 1859.

Redcaps

Redcaps (also known as powrie or dunter) are a variety of goblin that lives in old forts and ruins along the border of England and Scotland. These goblins are described as stout little old men with red eyes, sharp claws, and razor-like teeth. They have iron boots, pikes, and red caps. They are known for killing any travelers that stray into their homes, then using the blood from their victims to dye their caps red. However, despite the heavy weapon and boots, redcaps are very fast and, according to legend, impossible to outrun. It is said that if the blood staining the redcap’s hat dries out, then the redcap will die.

~Victoria

African Tricksters

Tricksters exist in folklore all over the world. From Loki of Europe to Coyote of the Americas, tricksters abound in folklore. They are often used to teach lessons or to explain why certain things exist in the world around their respective cultures. In some stories, they steal things from the gods and give them to mortals in an attempt to help them. In Africa, there are two major tricksters that I was able to find that weren’t Egyptian. Those two tricksters are Anansi of the Ashanti people in Ghana, and Elegua and Eshu of the Yoruba people in Nigeria.

Anansi of the Ashanti

Anansi is the trickster god of the Ashanti, a group from Ghana, that is so popular that belief in him as spread throughout West Africa and the Caribbean islands. There are even legends of him in the southern United States, where his name is Aunt Nancy. He also knows every story, and is said to switch forms between spider and man, and sometimes stop somewhere in between. One of the most famous tales about Anansi involves how he came to know all the stories in the world, and how he gave them to humanity. Anansi quite likes humans, and found that they tended to be bored and restless around their campfires at night, and so he decided that he would ask the sky god, Nyame, for his box of stories, so that he could give them to the humans. Nyame laughed at him and told him that he would have to bring four things to get the box of all the stories in the world: a snake that could swallow a goat, a leopard with teeth like spears, a nest of hornets with stings like hot needles, and a fairy that no one could see. Anansi, with the help of his wife, Aso, was able to catch all four beings that Nyame named as his price. He tricked the snake by saying that his wife did not believe how long it was, and so he needed to measure it with a stick, which he proceeded to tie the snake to with his spider thread. The leopard, he trapped in a pit and tricked into trying to climb his sticky threads. The hornets, Anansi threw water on their nest and on himself, and tricked them into coming into a gourd he held for safety. The fairy, Anansi trapped with its favorite food and a doll he had tied with his spider silk. When Anansi brought all of these to Nyame, he was given all the stories in the world, which he gave to humanity.

Elegua/Eshu of the Yoruba

Elegua and Eshu are two facets of the same god, worshipped by the Yoruba people of Nigeria. Elegua represents the beginning and end of life, and is depicted as a child or an old man. He is always mentioned first in any ritual to speak to the gods, because without his permission, the doors to the other deities stay closed. He likes candy, alcohol, dancing, and children’s toys. He is seen as a very kind deity who is mostly about fun and games, and tends not to act negatively towards humans unless provoked. Eshu, the darker side of Elegua, however, tends to play much more harmful tricks. Many houses welcome Elegua into their homes ritually, but very rarely is Eshu invited. The people do not consider Eshu evil, they just consider him the much darker side of Elegua, whose harmful tricks are not really something they want in their homes.

~Victoria

Elementals

Ever since the four classical elements of the Western world were created in Greece, humanity has been fascinated with them. People have always enjoyed separating things into various categories, and so have been dividing things into the four elemental categories for a long time. For instance, many people associate the element of fire with the summer and the element of earth with the winter. In his 16th-century alchemical book, Liber de Nymphis, sylphis, pygmaeis et salamandris et de caeteris spiritibus, a man named Paracelsus described four mythological creatures as belonging to the four elements.

Earth Elementals: Gnomes

The Elemental of Earth is the gnome, or gnomus in Latin. Paracelsus got the word gnomus from the Latin word genemos, which literally meant “earth-dweller”. Paracelsus described gnomes as short little wrinkly men with beards. They were supposed to be antisocial towards humans, capable of moving as easily through the earth as humans could the air, and were two spans tall. A span is the space between your thumb and forefinger when your hand is completely extended.

Water Elementals: Undines

The Elementals of Water are undines, or undina in Latin. Paracelsus got the word undina from the Latin word unda, meaning “wave”. Undines are always described as female and are usually equated with water nymphs, like naiads and nereids. Undines are also described as not having a human soul. As a result, it was said that many undines married humans. They lived much shorter lives, but got an immortal soul. In some stories, the offspring of a human and undine would be a human born with a “watermark”, which needed to be kept wet to prevent it from being painful. Undines were said to move through the water as easily as humans moved through the air.

Air Elementals: Sylphs

The Elementals of Air are sylphs, or sylvestris in Latin. Sylvestris was the Latin word for “wild man”, and many people believe that the word was mixed with the word nympha (“nymph”), to create the word sylph. According to Paracelsus’ original descriptions, sylphs were taller than humans, not to mention rougher and coarser. However, they were the most similar to us in the fact that they move through the air, like us, not through one of the other three elements. Sylphs eventually came to be viewed more like small, winged, mischievous wind fairies.

Fire Elementals: Salamanders

The Elementals of Fire are salamanders, or vulcanus in Latin. Vulcanus comes from the name of the Roman god of fire and the forge, Vulcan (Hephaestus was the Greek version of the same god). Salamanders were lizard-like and were described as moving through fire as easily as humans move through air. Many people believe that the reason that salamanders were associated with fire was that they actually came running out of fires. Essentially, salamanders would hibernate in the winter, and would often fall asleep in safe places like piles of logs. When people went to burn wood from their woodpiles in the winter, they’d see salamanders scrambling out of the fire as they awoke.

~Victoria

Selkies: The Seal Shapeshifters

Selkies were people of Irish, Scottish, and Faroese lore that could turn into seals using their magic sealskins. For those who might not know, the Faroe Islands are a group of islands between the north of Scotland and the southeast of Iceland. Selkies can also be known as silkies, sylkies, and selchies, among other things. Most people believed them to be absolutely gorgeous, whether male or female. In fact, these creatures were actually very friendly and would often marry humans, if the humans wanted to live a life beneath the waves.

Selkie woman often weren’t exactly willing partners to the human men they married. In countless tales, a human man would fall in love with a Selkie woman. He would then steal the woman’s sealskin, forcing her to marry him. Normally, he’d hide the sealskin somewhere he thought she could never find it, like the thatching on the roof of their house. She’d bear him children and be the perfect wife, but she would always long to return to the sea that she had once called home. In some stories, the wife would happen upon the sealskin, or her children would find it and show it to her, and eagerly take it back. In others, the husband would eventually return it to her. Either way, the outcome was always the same: she would don her sealskin and disappear into the sea, unable to resist the call of the ocean, even to stay with her family. However, in some stories, a selkie woman who has left her family can sometimes be seen playing with her human children in the waves.

Selkie men, on the other hand, usually were far more willing partners. They were thought to be unbelievably handsome men with a knack for seducing human women. They specifically showed themselves to human women who were vulnerable, such as those waiting for their husbands to come back from fishing trips or the like. To contact a male selkie, it was said that a woman need only shed seven tears into the sea. A male selkie would then appear to marry her and take her away.

The most sinister selkie story I’ve come across actually is a Faroese legend. A long time ago, a fisherman from the town of Mikladur on the island of Kalsoy happened upon a group of selkies dancing. He watched them dance and the stole the sealskin of one of the maidens. She was forced to marry him and bear his children. Eventually she finds her sealskin in the chest where he kept it, since he happened to leave the key at home on accident. By the time he came back from fishing, his wife had disappeared back into the sea and left him with their children. Eventually he found her with her selkie husband and selkie children. In his rage, he murdered her husband and her children. She then cursed the men of Kalsoy, demanding that so many of them lose their lives to drowning and falling off cliffs that they would be able to link their arms around the entire island. According to the legend, deaths like this continue to this day.

~Victoria