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

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

3 Types of Faeries

Humans as a species love classifications, because if someone can classify something, they feel like they can understand it. In some of his famous works about faeries, Irish author William Butler Yeats described two types of faeries: Trooping and Solitary. Later, Katharine Mary Briggs added a third category for Domestic Faeries.

Trooping Faeries

Trooping Faeries were those that would travel in large troops, which lent them their name. They also were known for holding grand balls and parties and generally wanting to have a good time. They were normally pretty friendly to humans, as long as they were properly respected.

Examples:

Daoine Sidhe

Seelie Court

Tylwyth Teg

Elves

Solitary Faeries

Solitary Faeries were faeries that lived on their own. These faeries tended to be more outright nasty towards humans, some eating humans or keeping them as pets. However, some of them were just mischievous and not necessarily harmful.

Examples:

Redcap (Harmful)

Nokken/Neck/Nixie (Harmful)

Puca/Pooka (Mischievous)

Domestic Faeries

Domestic Faeries were faeries that lived in the houses of humans. Many of these faeries were actually helpful to the humans they lived with, as long as they were properly respected.

Examples:

Brownie

Hobgoblin

Image From: Fine Art America

~Victoria

Bogeyman

Things that go bump in the night and scary things underneath the bed have haunted kids’ nightmares for generations.  The epitome of this fear is the bogeyman, the creature that has lurked inside closets since closets came into existence.  Yet while the bogeyman first appeared in European culture, there are variations that exist throughout the world.

Babau

In the Mediterranean, the bogeyman exists as the babau.  He is a man in a dark coat with either a hood or hat that covers his face.  In Italy, he is generally used by parents to get children to behave; he doesn’t actually hurt the children, just take them away.  In some lullabies, he keeps the children for a whole year in a horrible place.  In other places, such as Slovenia, he is seen as formless. In Egypt, a version of the bogeyman known as the al-Bu’bu is a dark creature who haunts kids who misbehave.

Butzemann

A creature known as Der Schwarze Mann, Butzemaan, or “the black man” is a inhuman beast of Germanic lore who steals children away.  He hides under the bed and eats children who will not go to sleep.  When he steals them away, he’ll lock them in his basement.  A similar creature also appears in the folklore of the Pennsylvania Dutch as a male scarecrow.

El Coco

Common in Spanish speaking countries, El Coco is a monster that originally comes from Portuguese explorers.  It has since evolved from a ghost to a monster who hides under beds and eats children when they don’t go to sleep.  It’s described as a small humanoid with glowing red eyes.  There’s a similar creature known as Cuca who is a female alligator.

Sack Man

Another form of the bogeyman common in Spain and Latin American countries is the Sack Man.  As his name suggests, he carries around a sack to stuff naughty children into.  While his name commonly translates to “sack man”, he’s also called el roba-chicos which means “child stealer”.  Similar entities exist in Easter Europe, Asia, and Haati.

~Elyce

Image from the Evil Dead Franchise

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

Don’t Lose Your Head

Anyone who’s read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving will recognize the iconic spirit of the Headless Horseman.  Seen all over Europe, this unfortunate rider seems to be at his wit’s end as he desperately searches for his lost noggin.  Yet The Legend of Sleepy Hollow wasn’t the first time this poor man was seen in the midst of his search.  The oldest two stories about a horse and his headless rider come from Arthurian and Irish legends.

The Dullahan

Perhaps the scariest version of this legend, the Irish Dullahan is no laughing matter.  A faerie from the Unseelie court, they appear on a black horse, whose hooves kick up sparks, carrying their head under their arm (a Dullahan can be both male and female).  A version of the grim reaper, at times the Dullahan is said to draw a wagon adorned with funeral items as they travel to collect a person’s soul.  When they reach the house of the soon to be deceased, they call their name, causing the person to die immediately.  But woe to anyone who happens upon this faerie while out on a dark night.  If one watches them work, they’ll either have a basin of blood tossed on them (marking them as the next to die) or the Dullahan will remove their eyes with a whip made from a human spine.  Don’t bother trying to lock your door against it, doors and gates fly open as they approach.

The Green Knight

My all time favorite King Arthur story is the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  During a New Year’s party in Camelot, a strange knight wanders into the castle.  Everything about the knight is green, from his giant axe, to his hair, to his skin.  He challenges the knights to a simple trial: one knight could strike him with his axe, if he could return the blow in a year and a day.  Sir Gawain is the only one who steps forward, beheading the knight in one fell swoop.  However, this hardly deters the Green Knight, who simply picks up his head and rides off.  A year later, Gawain sets off to carry out his end of the bargain.  After a series of adventure, the Green Knight delivers his blow, causing a small wound to the back of Gawain’s neck.  In this story, the knight was an ordinary man enchanted by Morgana le Fay, not actually a spirit, and Gawain’s actions broke the curse.

Grimm’s Tales

There are a couple legends of headless horseman in Germany.  The Grimm brothers recount to sightings, as well as other legends.  The sightings, which take place in Saxony, are heralded by the sound of a hunting horn.  One witness describes the horseman to be dressed in a long grey coat on a grey horse, while both say that the hunting horn is a warning not to go out hunting for fear of tragedy.  In other versions, the horseman punishes the perpetrators of horrible crimes.

~Elyce

Wendigo

Monsters and mayhem exist all over the world, slipping into folklore and creeping into late night stories.  Cultures around the world created creatures to help explain what goes bump in the night, things to keep young children from going out into the dark.  These horrible creatures were also used to reinforce the culture’s rules and taboos.  What better way to keep children from doing something than telling them that they’ll become prey to a horrible monster if they do it?  One of these creatures that appears in Algonquian folklore is the Wendigo.  A horrid creature that stalks the night, this creature was once all too human.  While it was once simply a Native American legend, this cannibalistic creature has started to appear in TV shows and video games as well.

Legend

Appearing in the majority of the Algonquian speaking nations, such as the Cree, Naskapi, Innu, and Saulteaux, the wendigo is a supernatural being that arises from cannibalistic actions.  Commonly associated with famine and the winter, it is commonly described as an emaciated, gaunt creature with desiccated skin.  Among some cultures, the wendigo is seen as a giant, growing after each human it consumes so that it’s hunger is never fully satisfied.  In others, the legend is even more terrifying.  Any human can become a wendigo, if they devolve into cannibalism.  Some believe that the wendigo is a malevolent spirit that possesses the individual, causing them to crave only human flesh.

Wendigo Psychosis

There have been many historical accounts of people becoming possessed by the wendigo spirit.  The Jesuit Relations, a record of the Jesuit explorations of New France between 1632 and 1673, reported of one such case in 1661.   According to the writer, the men who had been assigned to gather the Nations had met a strange death over the previous winter.  The writer describes the men as being seized by an ailment that was a combination between frenzy, lunacy, and hypochondria,that gave them such a ravenous hunger that they eagerly pounced on women, children, and each other.  Seeing no other option, these men were quickly dispatched.

Perhaps one of the most famous examples of wendigo psychosis involved Swift Runner, a Plains Cree trapper from Alberta.  During 1878, his family was starving and the only outpost was twenty five miles away through the cold snow.  Rather than attempt to actually get to the food, Swift Runner murdered and ate his wife and five of his children (his eldest son had passed away earlier in the winter).  When this was discovered, he was deemed to be suffering from wendigo psychosis due to the closeness of the emergency food supply and, after confessing, was executed at Fort Saskatchewan.

~Elyce

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

Ravens

Ravens are by far one of my favorite animals, and it probably helps that they’re the sacred animal of the goddess I follow.  These large black birds have a reputation and are commonly associated with death and war.  Often confused with crows, while they look similar, there are subtle differences between the two birds.  To begin with, the raven is larger than the crow, with shaggy feathers around their thicker neck.  When flying, ravens also have a wedge shaped tail and longer, thinner wingtips.  Ravens are also more slender than crows and less social, usually showing up either solo or in pairs unless around food.  Both birds are extremely smart though, known to create complex solutions for problems that affect them.  Ravens generally mate for life and will return the same nesting site year after year.  These birds also have a form of play and can sometimes be seen rolling around in the snow for fun.

crows

(Crow next to a raven)

Myths and Legends

The raven is associated with many different gods and goddesses across the world.  In Greek legend they were associated with the god Apollo and believed to be signs of good luck and messengers to the otherworld.  In Greek legends the raven was originally white, but this changed with Apollo sent it to spy on his lover, Coronis.  When the raven informed the god that his lover was unfaithful, Apollo scorched the bird’s feathers black.  Way to shoot the messenger, Apollo.

The Norse god Odin had two ravens that served as his eyes and ears in the mortal world.  Named Huginn (thought) and Munninn (memory) they are often depicted sitting on each of Odin’s shoulders.  Vikings used ravens in many of their symbols; both Ragnar Lodbrok and King Harald Hardrada have raven banners.  

In England, ravens are closely tied with the Tower of London.  The legend goes that if the ravens ever leave the tower, then the empire will fall.  The first record of these ravens is in 1883, though due to the executions held there, wild ones were probably abundant before that.  When Charles II was in power, he almost removed the ravens when the head astronomers kept complaining that bird poop on the lenses made it impossible to use their telescopes.  However, when Charles II was informed of the legend surrounding the birds, he had the astronomy center moved instead.  After World War II, the bombings of London had only left two ravens alive, a mating pair named Mabel and Grip.  However, Mabel left and a few weeks later, so did Grip.  Soon after this, the British Empire’s colonial holdings crumbled.

Celtic lore closely ties the raven to war and the goddess Morrígan, the goddess of war and death.  During the story of Cú Chulainn, she appears many times, the first being when she is driving a cow across his land.  Not recognizing her, Cú Chulainn takes this as a challenge to his sovereignty and curses her.  At this moment she turns into a raven and flies to a tree.  Realizing who the woman was, Cú Chulainn states that, if he had known it was her, they would not have had to part in anger, to which Morrígan replies that he would gain bad luck either way.  She later appears to him in the form of a young woman and offers her company for the night, an offer he refuses.  In the battle the next day, she appears in three forms, an eel, a wolf, and a red-eared cow, attempting to disrupt the battle.  Cú Chulainn wounds her in each form, only to heal her when she appears in front of him as an old woman milking a cow.  She gives him three drinks of milk and he blesses her with each, thus healing her, a move he regrets.  Before his final battle, she is seen washing his bloody armor in the river, a sure sign that he will die.  Yet, his enemies did not believe he was truly dead until Morrígan, in the form of a raven, landed on his shoulder.

In the mythology of the American Pacific Northwest, the raven plays a key role, where it is believed to be the creator of the world, but also a trickster.  Like many tricksters in mythology, it was the raven who brought light to the world.  When the Great Spirit created the world, he crafted boxes that kept everything separate, which he then gifted to the animals.  Most of the animals opened their boxes and shared the contents, such as wind, seeds, and mountains, with the world.  However the seagull, who had the box filled with light, refused to share his treasure, keeping it under his wing.  Humans begged the raven to help them and so he went over to where seagull was and attempted to flatter him into giving up the box.  When the seagull refused, raven got so annoyed that he drove a thorn into the other bird’s foot, causing seagull to drop the box and release the sun, moon, and stars into the world.  Another story is how the raven first found humans, in a clam shell, and freed them to roam the world.

~Elyce