From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search
Trolls with the changeling they have raised, John Bauer, 1913.

A Changeling is a creature found in Western European folklore and folk religion, it is typically described as being the offspring of a fairy, troll, elf or other legendary creature that has been secretly left in the place of a human child. The apparent changeling could also be a stock, an enchanted piece of wood that would soon appear to grow sick and die.

A human child might be taken due to many factors: to act as a servant, the love of a human child, or malice.[1] Most often it was thought that fairies exchanged the children. Some Norwegian tales tell that the change was made to prevent inbreeding, to give trolls and humans new blood, humans were given children with enormous strength as a reward. Simple charms, such as an inverted coat or open iron scissors left where the child sleeps, were thought to ward them off. The best way to get rid of a changeling is to threaten it with iron.[citation needed]


[edit] Identifying a changeling

Changelings would be identified by voracious appetite, malicious temper, difficulty in movement, and other unpleasant traits.[2] Medieval chronicles recorded instances of this, which is one of the oldest known pieces of folklore about fairies.[3] Changelings usually can be identified by a greenish tint to their skin. Changelings also hate shoes so they walk about barefoot as often as possible. They are very wise and possess vocabularies betraying vast intellect. Their hair is hopelessly tangled, no matter how many times you brush it, and grows very fast. It is said[who?] that if you cut a changeling's hair, it will have grown back the next morning. Their eyes and hair are usually earthen colors such as green and brown.[citation needed]

According to some legends, it is possible to detect changelings as they are much wiser than human children. When changelings are discovered in time, their parents must return them. In one tale of the Brothers Grimm, there's an account of how a woman, who suspected that her child had been exchanged, started to brew beer in the hull of an acorn. The changeling uttered: "now I am as old as an oak in the woods but I have never seen beer being brewed in an acorn", then disappeared.[1]In Irish folk,tea brewed with foxglove will send the changeling back.

Changelings are picky eaters unless offered something they like. They have pointed ears. They also grow slower than other humans. Compared to other children, Changelings tend to be extremely eccentric in personality and in clothing choices. As young adults, their strange traits will become harder and harder to conceal.[citation needed]

[edit] Purpose of a changeling

Some people believed that trolls would take unbaptized children. Once the child is baptized and therefore part of the Church, the trolls can't take them. One belief is that trolls thought that being raised by humans was something very classy, and that they therefore wanted to give their own children a human upbringing.

Beauty in human children and young women, particularly blond hair, attracted the fairies.[4]

In Scottish folklore, the children might be replacements for fairy children in the tithe to Hell;[5] this is best known from the ballad of Tam Lin.[6]

Some folklorists believe that fairies were memories of inhabitants of various regions in Europe who had been driven into hiding by invaders. They held that changelings had actually occurred; the hiding people would exchange their own sickly children for the healthy children of the invaders.[7]

In other folklore, the changelings are put in place of the child to feed off of the mother of the child. The kidnapped child then becomes the food source of the changlings mother. This is done for survival of their kind. Once the mother of the kidnapped child, and the changelings mother have drained the life from the mother and child, the changling and its mother begin to search for a new suitable food source.

Note: Some changelings might forget they are not human and proceed to live a human life. Changelings which do not forget, however, may later return to their fairy family, possibly leaving the human family without warning. As for the human child that was taken, he or she may stay with the fairy family forever.

[edit] Changelings in medieval folklore

[edit] Cornish

The Men-an-Tol stones in kernow / Cornwall are supposed to have a fairy or pixy guardian who can make miraculous cures. In one case a Changeling baby was put through the stone in order for the mother to get the real child back. Evil pixies had changed her child and the ancient stones were able to reverse their evil spell.[8]

[edit] Ireland

In Ireland, looking at a baby with envy -- "over looking the baby" -- was dangerous, as it endangered the baby, who was then in the fairies' power.[9] So too was admiring or envying a woman or man dangerous, unless the person added a blessing; the able-bodied and beautiful were in particular danger. Women were especially in danger in liminal states: being a new bride, or a new mother.[10]

Putting a changeling in a fire would cause it to jump up the chimney and return the human child, but at least one tale recounts a mother with a changeling finding that a fairy woman came to her home with the human child, saying the other fairies had done the exchange, and she wanted her own baby.[9] The tale of surprising a changeling into speech -- by brewing eggshells -- is also told in Ireland, as in Wales.[11]

Belief in changelings endured in parts of Ireland until recent times; in 1895, Bridget Cleary was killed by her husband who believed her to be a changeling.

[edit] Malta

The ritual impurity[12] of the parturient mother and her child exposed them, according to traditional Maltese belief, to unusual danger especially during the first few days after birth. A changeling child (called mibdul, 'changed') was taken to St Julian's Bay,[13] where a statue of the saint stands, and given a sand-bath. A cordial was also administered, in attempts to return the child.[14]

[edit] Scandinavia

Since most beings from Scandinavian folklore are said to be afraid of iron, Scandinavian parents often placed an iron item such as a pair of scissors or a knife on top of an unbaptized infant's cradle. It was believed that if a human child was taken in spite of such measures, the parents could force the return of the child by treating the changeling cruelly, using methods such as whipping or even inserting it in a heated oven. In at least one case, a woman was taken to court for having killed her child in an oven.[15]

Painting by John Bauer of two trolls with a human child they have raised

In one Swedish changeling tale[16], the human mother is advised to brutalize the changeling so that the trolls will return her son, but she refuses, unable to mistreat an innocent child despite knowing its nature. When her husband demands she abandon the changeling, she refuses, and he leaves her - whereupon he meets their son in the forest, wandering free. The son explains that since his mother had never been cruel to the changeling, so the troll mother had never been cruel to him, and when she sacrificed what was dearest to her, her husband, they had realized they had no power over her and released him.

In another Swedish fairy tale[17] (which is depicted by the image), a princess is kidnapped by trolls and replaced with their own offspring against the wishes of the troll mother. The changelings grow up with their new parents, but both find it hard to adapt: the human girl is disgusted by her future bridegroom, a troll prince, whereas the troll girl is bored by her life and by her dull human future groom. Upset with the conditions of their lives, they both go astray in the forest, passing each other without noticing it. The princess comes to the castle whereupon the queen immediately recognizes her, and the troll girl finds a troll woman who is cursing loudly as she works. The troll girl bursts out that the troll woman is much more fun than any other person she has ever seen, and her mother happily sees that her true daughter has returned. Both the human girl and the troll girl marry happily the very same day.

[edit] Scottish

Child ballad 40, The Queen of Elfan's Nourice, depicts the abduction of a new mother, drawing on the folklore of the changelings. Although it is fragmentary, it contains the mother's grief and the Queen of Elfland's promise to return her to her own child if she will nurse the queen's child until it can walk.[18].

[edit] Spain

In Asturias (North Spain) there is a legend about the Xana, a sort of nymph who used to live near rivers, fountains and lakes, sometimes helping travelers on their journeys. The Xanas were conceived as little female fairies with supernatural beauty. They could deliver babies, "xaninos," that were sometimes swapped with human babies in order to be baptized. The legend says that in order to distinguish a "xanino" from a human baby, some pots and egg shells should be put close to the fireplace; a "xanino" would say: "I was born one hundred years ago, and since then I have not seen so many egg shells near the fire!".

[edit] Wales

In Wales the changeling child (plentyn newid) initially resembles the human it substitutes, but gradually grows uglier in appearance and behaviour: ill-featured, malformed, ill-tempered, given to screaming and biting. It may be of less than usual intelligence, but again is identified by its more than childlike wisdom and cunning.

The common means employed to identify a changeling is to cook a family meal in an eggshell. The child will exclaim, "I have seen the acorn before the oak, but I never saw the likes of this," and vanish, only to be replaced by the original human child. Alternatively, or following this identification, it is supposedly necessary to mistreat the child by placing it in a hot oven, by holding it in a shovel over a hot fire, or by bathing it in a solution of foxglove. [19]

[edit] "Changelings" in the historical record

Real children were sometimes taken to be changelings by the superstitious, and therefore abused or murdered.

Two 19th century cases reflected the belief in changelings. In 1826, Anne Roche bathed Michael Leahy, a four-year-old boy unable to speak or stand, three times in the Flesk; he drowned the third time. She swore that she was merely attempting to drive the fairy out of him, and the jury acquitted her of murder.[20] In the 1890s in Ireland, Bridget Cleary was killed by several people, including her husband and cousins, after a short bout of illness (probably pneumonia). Local storyteller Jack Dunne accused Bridget of being a fairy changeling. It is debatable whether her husband, Michael, actually believed her to be a fairy - many believe he concocted a 'fairy defence' after he murdered his wife in a fit of rage. The killers were convicted of manslaughter rather than murder, as even after the death they claimed that they were convinced they had killed a changeling, not Bridget Cleary.[21].

[edit] Changelings in other countries

The ogbanje (pronounced similar to "oh-BWAN-jeh") is a term meaning "child who comes and goes" among the Igbo people of eastern Nigeria. When a woman would have numerous children either stillborn or die early in infancy, the traditional belief was that it was a malicious spirit that was being reincarnated over and over again to torment the afflicted mother. One of the most commonly-proscribed methods for ridding one's self of an ogbanje was to find its iyi-uwa, a buried object that ties the evil spirit to the mortal world, and destroy it.

Many scholars now believe that ogbanje stories were attempting to explain children with sickle-cell disease, which is endemic to West Africa and afflicts around one-quarter of the population. Even today, and especially in areas of Africa lacking medical resources, infant death is common for children born with severe sickle-cell disease.

The similarity between the European changeling and the Igbo ogbanje is striking enough that Igbos themselves often translate the word into English as "changeling."

Aswangs, a kind of ghoul from the Philippines, are also sometimes said to leave behind duplicates of their victims made of plant matter. Like the stocks of European fairy folklore, the Aswang's wood duplicates soon appear to sicken and die.

[edit] Changelings in the modern world

[edit] Neurological differences

The reality behind many changeling legends was often the birth of deformed or developmentally disabled children. Among the diseases with symptoms that match the description of changelings in various legends are spina bifida, cystic fibrosis, PKU, progeria, Down syndrome, homocystinuria, Williams syndrome, Hurler syndrome, Hunter syndrome, and cerebral palsy. The greater proneness of boys to birth defect correlates to the belief that boy babies were more likely to be taken.[22]

As noted, it has been hypothesized that the changeling legend may have developed, or at least been used, to explain the peculiarities of children who did not develop normally, probably including all sorts of developmental delays and abnormalities. In particular, it has been suggested that children with autism would be likely to be labeled as changelings or elf-children due to their strange, sometimes inexplicable behavior. This has found a place in autistic culture. Some high-functioning autistic adults have come to identify with changelings (or other replacements, such as aliens) for this reason and their own feeling of being in a world where they don’t belong and of practically not being the same species as the "normal" people around them.[23] In the book The Stolen Child, Keith Donohue talks about the life of a changeling from the point of view of two boys, one of which was evidently autistic.

[edit] Changelings in popular culture

In Episode 12, Season 3 of So Weird, titled "Changeling", Annie and the boys are stuck babysitting a changeling.

In Episode 2, Season 3 of Supernatural, titled "The Kids Are Alright", Sam and Dean discover that many of the neighborhood children are actually changelings, following several mysterious deaths in the neighborhood. In this episode the changelings are controlled by a mother changeling who feeds on the kidnapped children.

A changeling appeared in Mike Mignola's comic book short story Hellboy: The Corpse.

A changeling appeared in the first Courtney Crumrin comic book mini-series.

[edit] Literary uses

The changeling theme has frequently appeared in literature, especially in the genres of fairy tale and fantasy. Notable 20th and 21st century appearances of changelings in literature include the following:

  • Outside Over There a children's story by Maurice Sendak, in which goblins replace Ida's baby sister with a changeling made of stone.
  • The Stolen Child a poem by William Butler Yeats, is about a boy replaced by a changeling. The poem was the inspiration for the 2006 novel of the same name by Keith Donohue.
  • The Changeling (1916), poem by Charlotte Mew (1869-1928). Written from the point of view of a changeling.
  • The Broken Sword (1954) by Poul Anderson A mortal child is exchanged for a changeling. Although near identical in appearance to the original, the changeling is a moody loner prone to fits of the berserkergang.
  • Changeling (1981) by Roger Zelazny. Novel describing the adventures of both changelings, maladapted in their respective new worlds.
  • Faerie Tale by Raymond E. Feist (1988) The discovery of a fairie mound in upstate New York leads to dangerous contact between the human and fairie worlds, including a changeling exchange.
  • The Iron Dragon's Daughter (1993) by Michael Swanwick. Jane, the heroine, is a changeling who was stolen by the fairies to work in a factory.
  • The Moorchild (1997) by Eloise McGraw. The central protagonist of this Newbery Honor-winning novel is an inept fae who is forced to become a changeling.
  • Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (1999) by Gregory Maguire. Clara is believed to be a changeling.
  • Tithe : A Modern Faerie Tale (2002) by Holly Black. The protagonist, Kaye, discovers that she is a changeling glamoured to look like a human.
  • Low Red Moon (2003), "So Runs the World Away", "The Dead and the Moonstruck" (both in To Charles Fort, With Love, 2005), and Daughter of Hounds (2007) by Caitlín R. Kiernan. Changelings are referred to as the Children of the Cuckoo and are raised to serve a subterranean race of werewolf-like creatures called the ghul or the Hounds of Cain.
  • The War of the Flowers (2003) by Tad Williams. Theo is revealed to be a changeling.
  • The Stolen Child (2006) by Keith Donohue. Alternates viewpoints between a changeling in his new life, and the stolen boy Henry Day's new life as a changeling.
  • Stones Unturned (2006), third book in The Menagerie series by Christopher Golden and Thomas E. Sniegoski. Principal character Danny Ferrick is a changeling.
  • Faery Baby (2006) by Lin Spicer. The main character Faery Baby is swapped with a human child as she experiences 'failure to thrive'. Her name is later turned to Fae. Her parents were Titania and Oberon who reluctantly switched her.
  • In The Witch's Boy by Michael Gruber, an ugly baby boy by the name of Lump was left at a witch's doorstep calling it "the devil's boy." the witch raised the boy as her own and it was almost the reverse process of the changeling.
  • Poison (2006) by Chris Wooding. The main character, Poison, sets out on a journey to find her little sister Azalea, who is swapped for a changeling.

[edit] Notes

In William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Titania and Oberon are fighting over the possession of a changeling boy, and because of their argument, nature is in upheaval, and all the subsequent action of the plot ensues.

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b Katharine Briggs, An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Boogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures "Changelings" (Pantheon Books, 1976) p. 71. ISBN 0-394-73467-X
  2. ^ Carole B. Silver, Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness (1999), p 47 ISBN 0-19-512199-6
  3. ^ Briggs (1976) "Changelings", p. 69
  4. ^ Briggs (1976) "Golden Hair", p. 194
  5. ^ Silver (1999) p. 74
  6. ^ Francis James Child, ballad 39a "Tam Lin", The English and Scottish Popular Ballads
  7. ^ Silver (1999) p. 73
  8. ^ Wentz, W. Y. Evans (1911). The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries. Reprinted 1981. Pub. Colin Smythe. ISBN 0-901072-51-8 P. 179.
  9. ^ a b W. B. Yeats, Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, in A Treasury of Irish Myth, Legend, and Folklore (1986), p. 47, New York : Gramercy Books, ISBN 0-517-48904-X
  10. ^ Silver (1999) p. 167
  11. ^ Yeats (1986) p. 48-50
  12. ^ Tarcisio Zarb, Folklore of an Island: Maltese Threshold Customs, PEG Ltd (1998)
  13. ^ T. Zammit, 'Tas-Sliema u San Giljan' in 'Stejjer u Kitba Ohra' Malta (1961)
  14. ^ Tarcisio Zarb, Folklore of an Island: Maltese Threshold Customs, PEG Ltd (1998), ISBN 99909-0-087-3
  15. ^ Klintberg, Bengt af; Svenska Folksägner (1939) ISBN 91-7297-581-4
  16. ^ The tale is notably retold by Selma Lagerlöf as Bortbytingen in her 1915 book Troll och människor.
  17. ^ The tale is notably retold by Helena Nyblom as Bortbytingarna in the 1913 book Bland tomtar och troll [1].
  18. ^ Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v 1, p 358-9, Dover Publications, New York 1965
  19. ^ Wirt Sikes. British Goblins: The Realm of Faerie. Felinfach: Llanerch, 1991.
  20. ^ Silver (1999) p. 62
  21. ^ Silver (1999) p. 64-65
  22. ^ Silver (1999) p. 75
  23. ^ Kim Duff, The Role of Changeling Lore in Autistic Culture, presentation at the 1999 Autreat conference of Autism Network International

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

Personal tools