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!

3 Myths About Autumn


We are entering September, the beginning of earth’s slumber. Though we might still get some hot days in the weeks to come, soon it will be palpable when the trees shrug off their burdens–something we should learn to do.

A lot of people are melancholy at the thought of autumn, especially if winter is considered lacking in magic or wonder. To appreciate every moment, even in the colder seasons, it might help if we learned how our ancestors approached them.

Autumn and winter do not need to be boring. The right activities enable you to make as many memories as you did in the summer. Some people go out of their way for Halloween parties; others focus on recipes for holiday treats.

However it is that you celebrate the chill, these myths about autumn will provide context as foliage turns golden. Humans tell stories by nature; myths bring wonder to even the most sleepy of times.

Persephone & Autumn

In Greek mythology, the seasons revolved around Demeter, the goddess of the harvest. Her mood determined whether days would be be sunny or chilly. It was not until Demeter suffered great heartbreak that the four seasons began.

Demeter’s daughter Persephone was a lovely child. Flowers would spring up in the earth wherever Persephone walked. As she grew into a beautiful woman, Persephone caught Hades’ attention. Her abduction is one of the most famous Greek myths; a great many stories hinge on this event.

When Demeter was unable to save her daughter from the spell of the Underworld, she fell into a depression. The crops died and plants dried up, causing farmers to go into a panic.

Zeus was forced to strike a deal with Hades that would allow Persephone to leave the Underworld for six months every year; that was when the cycle of four seasons began.

Proserpine, Roman goddess of the Underworld, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The Horae

Also known as the hours, the Horae in Greek mythology were goddesses of the four seasons. They were also wardens at the gates of Mount Olympus.

They are mentioned in two groups. The first was associated with Aphrodite and Zeus. The Horae in this group are linked to the classical three seasons of the year: Thallo as the goddess of spring and blooming, Auxo the increaser of plants, and Carpo linked to the harvest.

The second group, associated with Themis and Zeus, focused on law and order. Dike was goddess of moral justice, Eunomia goddess of order and good laws, and Eirene goddess of peace and wealth.

It’s interesting that these virtues are linked with the seasons; good qualities are therefore considered necessary as the change in the weather for the health of society.

Norse Gods of Weather

Though not specifically about autumn, Norse mythology held that there were gods who had power over the weather.

Skadi was the goddess of winter and snow. She brought coldness to the atmosphere. Vikings feared her because a terrible winter would freeze the crops and they might starve. Some scholars believe that Scandinavia was named after her.

Thor was the god of lightning and thunder. He had a pair of goats pulling his chariot; whenever he rode across the sky, the sound of their hooves could be heard below.

Freyr was the god of summer and rain. Vikings believed that, if they made appropriate sacrifices to him, they would be given plentiful harvests and good weather.

Thor went up against Jormungand by Charles Edmund Brock

This time of the year is great for storytelling. We can enjoy traditions that come with Halloween–like our favorite ghost stories. There also scary novels, poems, and even recipes to learn.

As I learn more stories associated with autumn, I’ll share them here. Do you have a favorite ghost story? A tradition you would like to pass on? Feel free to leave a comment!

5 Myths About Sea Monsters


Humans tell stories to shed light on the unexplained, giving it a face we can imagine. It’s been our custom for centuries, and one of the most frightening mysteries our ancestors faced was the ocean.

Whether they were fishing or embarking on voyages into the unknown, they had no guarantee of a safe return. The ocean was a moody mistress; they personified her by giving her faces.

Now we know more about the world under the sea, but there remain mysteries that will never be explained. Stories make things interesting; why not learn some ocean folklore to uphold the ocean’s personality?

Siren Art by Mark Heine

Each-uisge

Not all sea monsters are giant squids of Jack Sparrow fame. The human imagination is adept at giving a shape to fear; something like water is impossible to keep in a set form.

Each-uisge is a sea monster of Scottish folklore. Its literal translation is water-horse. This monster is a shapeshifter; it can turn into a horse, pony, even into a handsome man!

Should somebody mount it while it is in horse form, they are only safe if the ocean is out of sight. A glimpse of the water changes the rider’s fate. The water-horse’s skin becomes like adhesive, making the rider helpless to dismount as the each-uisge dives into the sea.

Highland people are wary of wild horses—nobody wants to be drowned by a pony!

The Flying Dutchman

Ghost ships have marked ocean lore for as long as men have died at sea. Perhaps the most famous is the Flying Dutchman. Books and movies have been made about this spirit-ship doomed to sail on forever.

The oldest version of this legend originated in the 18th century. If hailed by another ship, the Flying Dutchman would attempt to send messages to land. At times, these messages would be to people long dead. Considered omens of death, sightings of the Flying Dutchman were dreaded by sailors.

Literary references to sightings of the Dutchman include a passage from Travels in various part of Europe, Asia and Africa during a series of thirty years and upward (1790) by John MacDonald:

The weather was so stormy that the sailors said they saw the Flying Dutchman. The common story is that this Dutchman came to the Cape in distress of weather and wanted to get into harbour but could not get a pilot to conduct her and was lost and that ever since in very bad weather her vision appears.

More literary references can be found on Wikipedia. A well-known sighting was reported by Prince George of Wales in 1880, the future King George V.

The Flying Dutchman by Stephen Palmer (Source)

Charybdis

Scholars have placed this sea monster from Greek folklore in the Strait of Messina. Charybdis appears with the sea monster Scylla to challenge heroes such as Odysseus and Aenas. Later myths identify her as the daughter of Poseidon and Gaia.

Charybdis and Scylla lived under large rocks, one on each side of a narrow channel. There was no way to escape their trap; the term ‘to be between Charybdis and Scylla’ means being presented with two opposite dangers.

Charybdis created giant whirlpools three times a day. She did this by swallowing large amounts of water, pulling sailors to their doom. In some variations of the myth, she is simply a giant whirlpool.

Siren

Ocean mythology would be incomplete without mention of the Siren. Not to be mistaken with a Mermaid, Sirens exist in different cultures under different disguises.

Some cultures portray them as beautiful women who live in the ocean; others describe them as women with birds’ feathers and scaly feet. What all Sirens have in common is a wicked custom of luring sailors to their death, usually with their songs.

Ovid wrote that Sirens were the companions of Persephone as a young girl. After Persephone was kidnapped by Hades, Demeter gave them wings to find her. When they failed to locate Persephone, Demeter cursed them. They were destined to live only until the humans who heard their songs passed by.

Another legend says that Hera persuaded the Muses to participate in a singing competition with the Sirens. When the Muses won, they plucked the Sirens’ feathers as a punishment. Wingless, the Sirens fell into the sea of Aptera, where they formed the islands known as Leukai.

Funayūrei

Ships are not the only ghostly bodies thought to dwell near the ocean. According to Japanese legend, Funayūrei are angry spirits of the sea. They appear in writings from the Edo period; they have not faded from modern folk customs.

Funayūrei are said to be the spirits of humans who died in shipwrecks. These angry spirits want to doom more humans to death at the bottom of the ocean. They would make ladies fill boats with water in order to make them sink.

Their appearances vary widely in the different legends. Some float above the water; others appear on ships to haunt sailors. They are more likely to appear when it is raining or during nights when the moon is full.


Maybe you’ve never seen The Flying Dutchman, but have you heard the sound of wind before a storm? Have you ever stared at an approaching wave and wondered if it was coming for you?

The sea is full of mysteries. Since humans can never control the sea, it strikes fear into our hearts. Coming up with stories gives us a fleeting grasp on it.

I’ve gathered butterfly myths and star myths. The stories of our ancestors are a great part of who we are as a race. Get to know those beliefs; you might find that a voice deep inside of you still believes.