The Changeling

Most new parents are enamoured with their new borns, bragging about how cute they are and who they look more like. In all honesty, I can’t see it. In my opinion all new born babies look like damn potatoes. However, as the tiny life grows and blooms into less of a nightshade looking thing, you can definitely start making out distinct features of your child. Who he or she looks more like, what their cutest little feature is and so on.

However, what would you do if your child had a beard? Or loose saggy skin? Personally, I’d assume I was the mother of the real life Benjamin Button. However, this was somewhat of a common occurrence back in the day. By the 13th century, fear of changelings was a common thing within the homes of Europe.

This week, we will be delving into yet another hellish fairy story. The changeling is a bit of a light weight compared to the Red Cap so you can keep your panties on. however, how people deal with this fairy is absolutely abominable so it’s much of a muchness I suppose.

What Is A Changeling

As I’ve stated quite a bit already, a changeling is a fairy. However, it describes more an action than the fairy itself. You see, a changeling is a little fairy who has been swapped for a human baby.

All sorts of cryptids, namely, fairies, obanje, elves and trolls have been held accountable for this behaviour throughout the ages.

The fairy folk would creep into a baby’s nursery at night, and swiftly swap the human child for one of their own. Sometimes, a baby fairy was swapped, however, in a few cases, an elderly fairy was left behind in the child’s place.

By definition, Changelings were usually said to have bulbous, extra-large head with eyes which seemed to bulge from their skulls.

Changeling children will not grow at the same rate as human babies. Often, they will be a lot smaller, and more frail looking than other children. Another common thing among Changeling children is that they have extra toes.

If an elderly fair had been left, the new “baby” would often have a beard and abnormally long teeth.

Another defining thing about a changeling was its appetite. This fairy had a veracious hunger and would constantly be eating. This action would obviously put a lot of strain on the human family who were saddled with the Changeling. More often than not, the peasant folk were the ones who found themselves with Changeling offspring.

But why the hell would a fairy do this?

Why Would Fairies Do This?

There are actually a few reasons fairies have for switching our babies with theirs.

In some cases, the fairies would seek human children to keep as slaves. In others, fairies were merely being malicious towards humans. However, one of the most common beliefs was that children were taken as a tithe to hell.

I WAS TODAY YEARS OLD

When I found out that fairies were even associated with the realms of hell. However, apparently ever 7 years, fairy folk owe hell a tithe in the form of a child. So, as to avoid sacrificing one of their own, a human child is taken to be sacrificed in a baby fairy’s place.

Another common belief was that fairy children need human milk to survive. Apparently, fairy mamas can’t lactate, hence, they are dependent on human mothers to nurse their young. Apparently, fairy formula isn’t a thing either.

In some cases, lactating mothers and wet nurses would even be stolen by fairies to feed their young.

If an old fairy was left in the baby’s place, this was in hopes that that fairy would be able to live out the last few years of its life being loved and cared for by its human parents.

If you were a troll however, it was said that you would believe a human upbringing to be more honourable than that of your own, hence, troll parents would switch their babies with humans to give them a better, more admirable life.

How To Catch A Changeling

Once a Changeling has been switched, there are a few methods used to draw the creature out. All of these differ from country to country, and we will take a deeper look into them as we go through each area, however there are four notable ways to draw out a changeling (and across most countries, an eggshell is a common thing used to aid in this process). The four main branches to discovering a changeling are as follows;

  1. Surprise the changeling into speech
  2. Make the changeling laugh
  3. Give the changeling a whipping
  4. Throw the changeling into some sort of fire or oven

How to Prevent a Changeling From Showing Up At All

So, if you weren’t inclined to go through throwing a changeling into a furnace, there were preventative measures which could be taken to stop the fairies from showing up at all. Once again, these differ from country to country, but a fun one from Ireland was to leave a large pair of iron scissors next to, or on top of the baby’s crib. But as promised, let’s not waste any more time and get straight into the Changelings of the world!

The Changelings Throughout The World

The myth of a Changeling is a widespread belief, spanning across most of Europe and even parts of Africa. We will be taking a look at Changelings in all the areas it has been documented in. so strap in and get ready for a European (and ever so slight African) adventure!

Cornwall

A Cornish changeling is a common occurrence throughout folklore in Cornwall. However, one of the most distinguishable tales of a Changeling is that of17th century healer, Anne Jeffries. Although she claimed to never be a changeling, Anne did account for fairy visitations.

Anne was known to possess somewhat mystical healing powers like no other, and for this reason, the townsfolk saw it fit to have her sent to solitary confinement. She was held there for six months, during which time, her magical abilities were only solidified further.

It is said that during these six months, Anne was not awarded a single scrap of food, and yet, she endured. Not only did she endure, her health and weight were said to stay exactly the same.

Anne attributes her survival to the fairy folk who would visit her come nightfall, bringing her offerings of food and drink.

Apart from the mystical Anne, there is another notable Changeling thing in Cornwall. That is the Men-an-Tol Stones. These are trippy AF. They consist of a series of stones, with the middle most stone carved in a circular shape, with an almost perfect circle carved out into the middle.

Whilst this structure possesses numerous magical abilities and healing properties, it was particularly helpful in reversing a changeling spell. If a baby was suspected to be a changeling, all the mother need do is pass the babe through the circle. This would force the evil elves to return the human child.

This is the lightest of the Changeling tales by far. So, get ready for some gnarly stuff!

Germany

Next up on our Euro trip we head over Germany. The Changelings of Germany go by multiple names such as; Wechselbalg, Wechselkind, Kielkropf or Dickkopf. However, fairies aren’t the only suspected changeling parents in Germany. A changeling can be the child of; a water spirit, a female dwarf, the devil himself like Sabrina Morningstar or Roggenmuhmel. The last entity describes the Rye Aunt or Rye mother, who is a demonic woman roaming the fields of Germany, waiting to steal children.

The Germans have a few brutal ways, and one terrific way to catch out a changeling. They are as follows:

  1. Hit or whip the changeling until it reveals itself
  2. Heat the changeling in the oven or over a fire
  3. Cook or brew something in an eggshell. Apparently, the changeling will find this incredibly funny and reveal its true age and origins

Ireland

Ok now we wander over to the Irish isles to encounter more dastardly tales of the Changeling. A baby would be plagued by the fairies if a woman looked at it in envy. So, if you were feeling particularly broody and eyed out a poor baby out of jealousy, you would be signing that baby over to the fairy folk essentially.

However, a fairy could be stopped in the act of thievery by shouting Gairum augus coisricim thú or God Bless You at them while stealing the child. Another thing I mentioned earlier which a person could do to prevent a changeling swap would be to leave a large iron object, such as a pair of scissors, near the baby’s crib.

However, if your baby was already possessed, you could use eggs for cooking once again to trick the baby into speaking. You could also toss the changeling into a fire. This would cause the changeling to jump up the chimney and return the human baby counterpart.

Poland

A Polish Changeling goes by the name of a Mamuna Boginki. The Mamuna spirit would switch her child for the human baby in the dead of night.

The Mamuna child is possibly the most noticeably different creature in terms of appearance. A Mamuna changeling appears with an abnormally large abdomen, either an unusually small or unusually large head, a hump, spindly arms and legs, a hairy body, and long claws. Furthermore, a Mamuna child will develop their first set of teeth long before a human baby would.

If her mother suspected her child to be a Mamuna, she would need to take it to the nearest midden – an old dumping ground for bones, poop and the like – whip it with a birch stick and pour water over it from an eggshell. All the while, the mother would need to scream “Take yours! Give mine back!” this behaviour would evoke a sense of sadness in the Mamuna mother for its child, causing it to return the human baby in exchange for its own.

Scandinavia

According to Nordic beliefs, it was generally the trolls who were responsible for switching babies.

It is noteworthy that the trolls kidnapped only unbaptised children. However, you could protect your baby by, once again, laying a steel object such as a pair of scissors or knife near their crib.

If you suspect your baby has been switched for a troll changeling, all you need to do is torture the suspected changeling. You can do this through a series of whipping, beating or tossing the baby into a fire.

Spain

In Spain, a very beautiful fairy known as a Xana is responsible for baby swapping. The Xana will leave her baby with a human family in order for the baby to either be baptised according to some accounts, or fed breast milk, which the Xanas cannot produce themselves.

If you suspect your baby to be a Xanino, all you need to is line up a series of pots and eggshells near the cooking fire. The little Xanino will then exclaim “I was born one hundred years ago, and since then I have not seen so many eggshells near the fire!”

Wales

A Welsh changeling baby is certainly a handful. Initially, it mimics the human baby incredibly well. However, as it grows, all things are revealed. The changeling will grow uglier, and more ill-tempered by the day. Basically, a welsh changeling is a downright ugly brat. These changelings have been known to be both wise beyond their years, but incredibly dim-witted too. And one thing to look out for is that it will be prone to screaming and biting.

A common practice to draw the changeling out, is to cook a family meal in an egg shell. The changeling baby will the exclaim “”I have seen the acorn before the oak, but I never saw the likes of this,” and vanish, replacing the human baby in no time at all.

Nigeria

Ok now we’ll bring things a little closer to home. Well closer to home if you’re me or South African. And even then it’s not even that close to home. It’s still a considerable distance away. Anyhow, ramble over, we find ourselves in Nigeria.

It is common in Nigerian folklore for a mother to be plagued by an entity known as an Obanje. An Obanje describes a child who is born to a mother, only to die almost instantly, and then repeat the process. So, the same baby will be born and die and so on.

Whilst this isn’t necessarily the same thing as a changeling, as the baby itself is the demon who keeps returning, it has also been attributed to parents trying to make sense of or deal with sickly children.

It has been credited to the common problem of sickle cell anaemia found in Western Africa.

The Horrific True Story Behind Changelings

So, we’re not even going to get into what Abi thinks these things are because I’m pretty set on my beliefs about Changelings. And for once, believe it or not, they are pretty on par with the mainstream belief of the origins of a Changeling.

It is a widespread thought that changelings were nothing more than babies born with physical abnormalities, or children who grew to be intellectually and developmentally disabled. Basically, if your baby was born differently, instead of accepting the given birth defects, you’d label it a Changeling and be done with it. Literally be done with it.

As such, reports of changelings within the home often led to accounts of real life child abuse, and often death. If you recall, one of the sure fire ways of catching out a changeling was to torture the fairy in question.

So, since changelings weren’t actually real, humans were essentially torturing their disabled children to the point of immanent death.

Now, whilst you may be vomiting in your mouth a little from these grotesque practices, it gets worse. When questioned by the police or court, claiming you killed a child on account of it being a changeling was a widely accepted alibi. As such, little or no repercussions would arise for the abusers. In short, you could torture a child and get away with it scot free, if the judge was superstitious enough – which back then they all were.

There are two reported cases of changeling abuse which we shall now delve into. You know, just to highlight how incredibly unfair this ime was for the otherwise abled.

1826 – Anne Roche

The first account comes to us from 1826 Ireland, when little Michael Leahy found himself at the mercy – or lack thereof – of Anne Roche. Little Michael was born a mute. Furthermore, he was unable to walk.

One day, Anne took him down to the Flesk river, in an attempt to bathe the fairy out of him. She proceeded to air quote “bathe” the child three times. By the third bathing, Michael drowned. – I know I hated bath time as a child, but my mother would never bathe me so hard I would drown. She wouldn’t even submerge me!

Anne was then brought before a jury to answer for the murder of the little boy. However, she plead that she was merely trying to drive the fairy spirit from his being. With that, the jury acquitted her of murder.

1895 – Bridget Cleary

The next historical account of a changeling murder comes to us once more from Ireland, in the year 1895. However, this one tells the tale of a changeling abduction of an adult.

Bridget Cleary was one of your run of the mill middle class ladies. In the year of 1887, she met and wed her husband, Michael Cleary. The lovebirds set sight on one another in Clonmel where she worked as a dress maker’s apprentice and he as a cooper. However, their blissful union lasted just shy of a decade, for, in their eight year of marriage, Michael and eight other men would brutally murder Bridget.

Bridget fell ill with pneumonia during this year.  Bridget was visited by a doctor on the 13th of March, 1895, who quickly declared her health was in bad form. A priest then came to deliver her last rights, as it was suspected she wouldn’t last for much longer.

During this time, countless home remedies and naturalistic medications were brought to her by her neighbours, family, and friends. One of these practices would set off her husband’s suspicion that his wife had been stolen by fairies, and an elderly, sickly fairy had been left in her place.

Yes, Michael bought in to the changeling belief, rather quickly. However, instead of letting his wife/fairy pass quietly in the night, Michael took it upon himself to give Bridget the most painful and humiliating death imaginable. You see, he intended to find out whether his precious missus had, in fact been swapped for a fairy. And he did so through one of the weirdest fairy drawing out rituals of the day.

Bridget was hauled from her bed by Michael and his assailants. Now one can imagine how much discomfort she was in already, so this just added to her immense amounts of pain.

But that’s definitely not the worst part of her death. Bridget was then doused in a jar of urine – yes, urine – apparently this would drive a fairy out. Finally, Bridget was led to the fire. The men proceeded to set the woman on fire in an attempt to get the fairy spirit to confess. However, as one can imagine, instead of a scene from the exorcist taking place, Bridget was immolated.

By the 16th of March, family and friends began to grow suspicious. Rumours spread fast that Bridget had ‘disappeared’. During this time, Michael swore she had been taken by fairies and held a vigil to honour his wife. However, come the 22nd of March, all would be reviled. Bridget’s charred body was found buried in a shallow grave not far from the family home.

However, even though slews of damming evidence stood against Michael and his co-accused, the group were charged with manslaughter as opposed to murder, as all claimed they were killing a changeling as opposed to Bridget Cleary herself.

One of the accused was even pardoned from everything on account of her being old and frail.

Even more saddening is that the lynch mob who went after Bridget were a lot more personal than one would think. Not only was her husband a part of the killer crew, but her own father joined in on the ritual as well.

In Conclusion

So yes, to wrap things up with a neat little cryptid bow, I truly believe Changelings were nothing more than disabled children born to cruel parents who weren’t prepared to bear the air quotes shame that such a child would bring on their family.

People have never truly been kind nor forgiving to the different, and I believe this is just another example of the injustice against such people in the world.

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