How to Identify a Changeling


This week I finished reading The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood. It’s one of my favorite books; I loved its rich, creepy setting. I also appreciated that the ending allowed us to wonder if there might have been magic involved after all.

Because Changelings are the subject of this fantastic book, I decided to do a little digging into the topic myself. They have long fascinated me; I even tried to write about a Changeling. The character did not provide much aside from comic relief in the long run, but I remain fond of that story, the first one I took seriously.

If you’ve never heard about Changelings, you’re missing out on a great deal of fun! In many books they cause chaos and tragedy. One thing is for sure: They always bring magic with them.

Here are some characteristics that were once attributed to Changelings.

Is It My Kid?

A Changeling is a fairy child that was put in place of a human infant. Most legends say that it was done because fairies were unable to nourish their own children into strong adults. To compensate, they would give their offspring to unsuspecting humans. In turn, the human babies would be used by Changelings as servants.

Some attributes might give away the identity of a Changeling. The child left in place by the fairies may have red eyes and voracious appetites, losing their tempers if neglected for a moment. Disruptive children were sometimes called Changelings and kept in isolation.

Spirit of the Night, John Atkinson Grimshaw

An Aversion To Iron

Superstitious people believed iron could ward off fairies. You might find a pair of scissors hanging at a window to keep out dark spirits. Parents did this hoping that the iron would keep their children safe.

If a family member showed Changeling traits—a strange appetite or delight for destruction—the suspicious parent would crick them into grabbing some iron scissors. Iron would burn a Changeling, revealing their identity at once.

Scissors could also be placed over the door to a house. If the suspected Changeling felt apprehension going through the door, they would have to be removed.

How, though?

Study for The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania, Joseph Noel Paton

Leave Eggshells About

Many stories claim these odious creatures have a strange reaction to eggshells. One could dispose of a suspected Changeling by leaving eggshells by the hearth. The Changelings found these eggshells hilarious. They would reveal themselves; your intruder will show himself by means of madness and laughter.

GotIreland.com tells this story about eggshells:

The old man told him that most likely the boy had been taken by the “Daoine Sith,” and they had left a “Sibhreach” in his place. Distraught, the father wondered if he’d ever see his son again. The old man instructed him to take several broken eggshells and fill them with water, then place them carefully around the hearth in the boy’s room. He did so, and within no time, the boy was jumping from his bed in a fit of laughter shouting, “I’ve been alive 800 years and have never seen the likes of this!” Hearing that, the father pushed the Changeling into the fire, and it shot up the chimney. The real boy was spit out from the Faerie mound nearby at that very moment, and the father and son were soon after reunited (taken from: J. F. Campbell, Popular Tales of the West Highlands, 1901).


Folklore shows how our ancestors explained strange phenomena and the bizarre ways in which they solved problems. Changelings make for good stories; The Hidden People was a fantastic novel and did the legend great justice!

While we now have more dignified explanations for strange behavior (and we don’t leave eggshells on the floor), it’s fulfilling to know the beliefs of those who came before us.

What is your favorite creature from mythology? I would love to know!

5 Witches in Mythology


When I started research on magic in mythology, I did not realize the phrase would be so broad. Magic can explain many events in myths all over the world. We need to be more specific when learning about magic.

Are we thinking about women in the forest who collect healing herbs? Are we perhaps referring to revelations we found in tea leaves?

I changed my phrasing to witches in mythology. This is still a vague term, but most mythologies separate gods from witches. Greek mythology was the haziest for this article; however, I found these examples too intriguing to leave out.

Each culture has a different definition of witch. Some witches are dark and frightening figures; others are revered by their people. Collecting five stories for this post has been a welcome challenge.

Hecate, Goddess of Witchcraft

Hecate is one of the most controversial figures of Greek mythology. Because worship of her predates the writings we use for reference–for example, Homer–her origin is disputed. Nonetheless, she remains in their tales as a goddess of witchcraft.

She was also the goddess of boundaries—which in the physical world could mean entrances, borders, and crossroads. Spiritually, she stood at the boundary between life and death. Having this power, Hecate could cross into the Underworld and walk it freely.

When Persephone was taken by Hades, Hecate aided Demeter in the search for her daughter. Since Persephone had eaten the pomegranate seeds, she could not escape the Underworld forever.

Unable to release her from the spell of the pomegranate seeds, Hecate became Persephone’s guide to the Underworld whenever she returned to Hades.

Hecate is often depicted as being one person with three bodies.

Circe

Another figure of Greek mythology, Circe was a minor goddess. Some stories call her the daughter of Hecate and Aeetes, a king in Greek mythology. She is well known for her knowledge of potions and herbs.

She is mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey when Odysseus visits her island, Aeaea, on the way back from the Trojan war. Circe turns most of Odysseus’ crew into swine. Her ability to change people into animals surfaces again in the fate of Picus. He was an Italian king whom she turned into a woodpecker for resisting her advances.

She becomes enemies with the nymph Scylla, whom I wrote about here. When the sea-god Glaucus preferred Scylla to her, she poisoned the water where Scylla lived, turning the beautiful nymph into a sea monster.

Circe and ‘The unhappy Greeks turned into Swine.’

The Morrigan

The Morrigan is not a witch in the traditional sense. Her ability to shapeshift into a crow is an attribute of witchcraft, and I thought she would fit in this list. She is one of the most famous figures of Irish mythology, linked with war, life and death.

She is one of three war goddesses featured in Irish mythology; the other two are Macha and Neman. The Morrigan is described as being able to predict the names of those who will die in battle. She would use this knowledge to influence wars.

The Morrigan would do this by flying over a battle in the form of a crow. Seeing this crow would strike such fear into soldiers that they would die of fright or fight for their lives.

Crow II monoprint © Peter Gander

Völva the Viking Witch

In Norse folklore, the Völva is what we would call a Seeress. The magic they practiced was known as Seidr, a word which literally means “to bind.” Men could also practice Seidr, but it was less common.

The Völva would have been the spiritual leader and healer in a Nordic society. She wore colorful dresses and carried a beautiful staff to help her carry out Seidr.

One of the Völva’s most important roles was communication with the deceased. She would perform rituals in which she would sing songs to attract spirits. The Völva would sit in a very high chair while singing. She might also be lifted into the air, allowing her to see into another realm.

Japanese Animal Familiars

In Japan, some people were believed to keep spirit animals as familiars. If you had an animal familiar, you were considered a witch. This was usually a family affair, and such families were called tsukimono-zukai.

Animal familiars could bring a family wealth and power, but there was a downside. Having an animal familiar made neighbors superstitious. It was difficult to keep friends, and if you were a woman, marriage was nearly impossible.

If a family wanted to be rid of the tsukimono, this could be attempted through exorcism by a Shinto priest. These rituals did not always work. To learn more about the fascinating myth of tsukimono, read this excellent article.


I am eager to do more research on witchcraft and ‘spooky’ myths as Halloween nears. It’s my favorite time of the year–not only does the weather turn crisp and lovely, but the air is full of mystery!

If myths interest you, check out my post about butterfly myths–and another about star myths!

5 Myths About the Stars


Stars have aided us from the beginning. Before we settled on a common calendar, they told our ancestors when to plant crops. Navigators at sea used the stars to guide them on treacherous journeys. In uncertain times, humans sought messages from these celestial lights.

Though we have developed modern methods of navigation, the stars have not lost their significance. We yearn to see them, write songs about them, and study them from afar. They remind us of that which does not vanish; they remain above us, sources of wonder and romance.

It would be a shame if we did not learn what the stars meant to our ancestors. Here are five interesting myths about stars. These myths come from different parts of the world.

When you finish, go on to read mythology about butterflies.

The ‘Digging-Stars’

According to South African mythology, tribes anticipated the appearance of IsiLimela–the Pleiades–to warn them it was time to begin hoeing the ground. The Pleiades were called the ‘digging stars’ because of this specific role.

These were more than ‘digging-stars.’ Xhosa boys marked the beginning of their manhood from the Pleiades’ first June appearance. Their new lives depended on the appearance of IsiLimela.

Read more South African star myths here!

The Pleiades

Inca Constellations

The Inca culture in Peru also relied on the stars for agricultural purposes. Their belief was that everything in nature is sacred, so they worshiped various Gods such as Inti (the sun) and Chuqui Illa (the God of Thunder.)

Machu Picchu, the famous archaeological site, has long been a mystery. Who was it built for and why in that spectacular location? Recent studies suggest that, aside from being a ceremonial site, Machu Picchu was an astronomical observatory.

PeruforLess has a good article about Inca culture and their belief system.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Lost Viking Tales

Most of the known Norse mythology is found in the Eddas, though there’s little mention of stars specifically. If you’re interested in the Norse stories of creation, the Eddas provide a fascinating read. Find the Edda of Snorri Sturluson on Amazon.

I quote this excellent essay on Norse constellations by Jonas Persson:

In Völuspa the origin of the stars and planets are mentioned, as well as their end at Ragnarök. The world was created from the body of the giant Ymer. His skull forms the firmament and is held in place by four dwarves, where sparks from Muspellheim form the stars. Their place in the sky was determined by the gods and some were given paths they will roam.

Having depended on the night sky to guide their ships, it’s inevitable that the Norse people knew astronomy. They had their own constellations, though the names of most of these constellations have been lost.

Star Religion

As a writer I’m pleased to learn that, in Egyptian mythology, the stars were represented by the goddess of writing, Seshat. The Milky Way Galaxy represented the mother goddess Nut giving birth to the sun god, Ra.

We needn’t look farther than the Pyramids to understand the significance of stars to the ancient Egyptians. It is said that the Pyramids of Giza were built in alignment to Orion’s belt.

If this is true, it’s no surprise. According to their religious writings, they believed the gods to be descended from those three stars (read more).

Goddess of Falling Stars


Greek mythology is famous for the gods and goddesses who fought amongst themselves and caused trouble on earth. Among the lesser-known is Asteria, the goddess of dreams and of falling stars.

Asteria’s father was the Titan Coeus. He was the god of the northern axis of Heaven, around which revolve the constellations. From him Asteria gained abilities such as spelling messages in heaven with the stars.

Zeus could not resist Asteria’s beauty (nor can we expect him to, given his record). Once when he had caught her, she transformed into a quail to slip away. Refusing to be defeated, Zeus became a bird and gave chase.

Seeing that Zeus would never leave her be, Asteria dived into the sea and metamorphized into the Italian island now known as Ortigia. Learn more about Asteria.


Stars have captivated us from the beginning. Regardless of where in the world our ancestors lived, the stars did not escape their attention. Further research would reveal more stories about the cosmos from other ethnic groups.

I conclude this list with a beautiful quote:

“Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,
Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.”

― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Mythology of the Butterfly


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The butterfly is a flying flower, the flower a tethered butterfly.
—Ecouchard le Brun

Every spring we look into the flowerbeds, hoping to see their fluttering wings. They’re the daydream of the child, and the memory of the gardener. They inspire awe and wonder, and we create environments hoping to attract them.

Butterflies have enchanted poets and artists since the beginning of time. They are documented in field guides. We watch from April to September, hoping to catch a glimpse of a Swallowtail or a Monarch.

Many people do not know the rich collection of mythology concerning butterflies. Perhaps you’ve heard it said that they carry messages to heaven; you might count the spots on their wings to predict how many children you’ll have.

There are many more tales where those came from. Butterfly mythology is fascinating. Knowing what our ancestors said enhances the thrill that we feel, watching them vanish into the sky.

Here are three pieces of folklore involving these lovely insects:

  • Native American lore is rich. One of their stories is that the serpent god, Quetzalcoatl, was born of a chrysalis. Native Americans are not the only ones to make symbolism of the cocoon; to many, it represents the struggle as we move from one phase to another. We break our cocoons to face fresh challenges with wings and wisdom. The butterfly cocoon is often more beautiful than the creature itself.
  • In many parts of the world, pagan tradition has a special place for this elegant insect. In Ireland, it’s considered bad luck to kill a white butterfly—they’re believed to symbolize the human soul after death. Most of us don’t think much of the white butterfly, our eyes seeking out color instead. In Ireland, this cannot be; we must pay attention, lest we pass a spirit and not pay it due homage.
  • In other places, we should look for the red butterfly. According to Icy Sedgwick, red butterflies often mean important news is on its way. However, the Scots believed red butterflies were witches, an example of how two cultures can see a thing differently. It doesn’t end there: if a sailor saw a yellow butterfly, he might perish on his next journey.

Special mention: if you want a fascinating read, visit Dealan-De’s account of The Wooing of Etain.

When spring comes back around this year, keep an eye out the window for a red butterfly; it might be a witch. And if you are a sailor, be kind to the yellow butterfly, lest you get into a boating accident! Remember that, out in the garden, anything is possible.