• Into the Rabbit Hole

Ep. 25 Changelings!


What’s the scariest thing you can think of?

A ghost?

A monster?

Something worse?

A child?

Your… child?

Legend tells of an evil being who is greatly feared among many north eastern Europe. A wicked creature who sneaks into your home, steals your child, and lays in their place.

The myths of old tell us about the Changeling.

All throughout history and across Europe, the tales of these creatures remain eerily similar.

A human child is born and a fae or troll replaces the newborn with a one of their own. This baby beast would then be raised by the unsuspecting humans, and the true baby raised by the fae.

-How and why

One belief is that trolls thought that it was more respectable to be raised by humans and that they wanted to give their own children a human upbringing. A human child might be taken due to many factors: to act as a servant, the love of a human child, or out of malice.

The Scots believed that the fairies had done a deal with the devil, and every seven years they owed him a tithe. The devil demanded a blood sacrifice, but the fairies’ high self-regard would prevent them killing one of their number. The fairies abducted a child in order to pay their blood dues.

The fairy are largely aesthetic beings. Beauty in human children and young women, particularly traits which evoke brightness or reflectivity, such as blonde hair and blue or silver eyes, are said to attract fairies, as they perhaps find preciousness in these perceived traits.

Other folklore says that human milk is necessary for fairy children to survive. In these cases either the newborn human child would be switched with a fairy baby to be suckled by the human mother, or the human mother would be taken back to the fairy world to breastfeed the fairy babies.

Some stories tell of changelings who forget they are not human and proceed to live a human life. Changelings who do not forget, however, in some stories return to their fairy family, possibly leaving the human family without warning. The human child that was taken may often stay with the fairy family forever.

Feeling connected to the fate of a changeling, there are families who merely turn their changeling loose to the wilderness.

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.

My favorite idea is that the exchanged being isn’t even a baby, but rather the older fae who take the babies form so that they can live as humans.

Changelings, in some instances, were regarded not as substituted fairy children but instead old fairies brought to the human world to die. SO kinda back and forth.

Another belief states that the fairies sometimes do not leave a replacement at all. Instead, they may enchant a block of wood or a lump of wax to look like the missing child. In this case, the enchantment will soon wear off and the ‘child’ will die, revealing its real appearance. Throwing the log on the fire was thought to restore the child.

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.

How to tell if your child is a changeling

1. They become wild and unruly where before they had been calm and peaceful

2. They become deformed or frail

3. In Poland they have an abnormally large abdomen, unusually small or large head, a hump, thin arms and legs, a hairy body, and long claws

4. Speak before the natural order

5. more intelligent then a baby should be

6. can play musical instruments (as a newborn)

What to do?

1. confusing the changeling by cooking or brewing in eggshells. This will force the changeling to speak, claiming its real age, revealing its position beyond synchronicity

2. attempting to heat the changeling in the oven (german)

3. hitting the changeling (also german)

4. Putting the changeling in a fire

5. tie a red ribbon around the baby's wrist, put a red hat on its head, and keep it out of the moonlight (polish)

6. not washing diapers after sunset

7. never turning their head away from the baby as it slept.

8. Don’t throw out its bath water until baptized


(Irish children’s rhyme)

“Are you a witch, or are you a fairy?

Or are you the wife of Michael Cleary?”

Bridget Cleary was said to be a quiet, polite independent woman who worked as a seamstress and was married to Michael Cleary. With no children after nearly ten years of marriage, Bridget enjoyed her own company and often took walks around the nearby by ‘Fairy Forts’ on her way to visit neighbour’s and customers.

After a harsh and unforgiving winter, the 26-year-old woman fell ill during March of 1895. Taking to her bed, her husband Michael, fetched for the nearest doctor. However, it would be more or less a week before the Doctor would arrive. In the interim Michael watched his young wife deteriorate badly and in desperation used herbal medicine to help her whilst becoming obsessed with the notion that Bridget had been abducted by Faeries and was now a Changeling. This led to Michael and a few fellow villagers, trying to cast the ‘changeling’ out by extreme methods which ultimately led to Bridget being found in a Shallow grave, her body burned in an attempt to get rid of the Faerie which was ‘possessing’ her.

Even if you had done everything right, you might still be unlucky

Take the story of the Welsh widow woman who the fairies tricked into thinking that her cattle were in distress. While she tended to her stock, the fairies snatched her lovely young son and left a changeling in his place. With the help of a local wise-man, she gets the child back. But how do you get a child back from fairyland? Even if you succeed, you may find the child irrevocably changed. The Irish noted that the child may always long for fairyland. He’d be marked. Gifted. Different. He’d have a touch of the fairy wild in him that would always remain.

The Mên-an-Tol stones in Cornwall are said to have a fairy or pixie guardian who can make miraculous cures. In one case, a changeling baby was passed through the stone in order for the mother to have her real child returned to her. Evil pixies had changed her child, and the stones were able to reverse their spell.

The changeling (Bortbyting) in one Swedish tale, 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 (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.

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