This week: Evil FairiesEdited by: warpedsanity
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In the spirit of the Irish, since St. Paddy's day takes place this month, I thought I'd focus on some Irish fairy folklore. Today we think of fairies as good, but this was not always the case. Fairies were originally considered evil beings. This newsletter examines the horrific consequences of the original fairy myths from the past.
Much like some modern people today, our Irish ancestors did see fairies as creatures that played tricks on humans, but they didn't have images of the sweet magical Tinkerbell in mind. They actually thought of them as menacing creatures to be feared.
As a matter of fact, they were probably not considered pretty. Of course, people would only think of the scary appearance of fairies, not speak of it. Fairies were considered to be vain and you would be cursed if you dared look at them. In addition, people were to speak fondly of them to stroke their egos to avoid a horrible fate.
One prominent belief among the Irish was that fairies were changelings. At the time, women, young children, and the elderly were considered the weakest of mind, hence they were assumed more vulnerable to changelings. When the loved one would have a change in personality, others would claim the individual was replaced by a changeling. If this conclusion was reached, they would torture what they thought were changelings to make them bring their relatives back. The most common methods were beatings and forcing them to either stand on or lay above a fire.
If a normally submissive woman were to get mouthy with her husband, a child became disobedient, or an elderly person developed dementia, they were likely considered to be replaced by a changeling. As a result, in some cases, they were tortured to their death.
Disabled children were particularly at risk of being named a changeling. Since the Irish had no knowledge of genetics and neurology, they rationalized these children as being changelings. Like a parent today, the trauma of their child being snatched by the fairies probably matched that of a modern parent who loses a child. The painful methods used on the child were to force the changeling to return their child from the fairy realm.
One such documented case took place in 1857. Late at night a police patrol met with a mother and father taking their son’s body to an unused burial ground and insisted on examining him. Eventually, the complete story surfaced and it was concluded that the parents had confined the child to a bed for three weeks due to suffering from "fairy blast". Although he was not himself a changeling, it was said that he was “being gradually carried off by the fairies”. If the child would have actually died from natural causes, the parents would have claimed the child was stolen by the fairies.
If the parents would not participate in the banishing of the changeling, then neighbors or other family members would do so for the good of the overall community. There is a documented case in New York from 1865 of an Irish woman who forced a neighbor's young child to stand on hot coals in an attempt to rid the neighborhood from the dangerous changeling. Consequently, this resulted in the child's death for which she was held accountable.
The two stories above are only a few of the estimated millions who suffered death due to this myth. Many are undocumented. After all, it was not the death of a loved one they caused. Instead, it was a fairy changeling who replaced them.
For more stories about the original fairy myths and how they were used as a scapegoat for anything from missing items to famine, check out the book below, which is the reference I used for writing this Newsletter.
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