Folklore Spotlight: Changelings
Fairies are often imagined to be small, sweet creatures with magical powers, but contrary to popular belief, fairies come in many shapes and sizes and some were quite evil. You may already be familiar with Changeling folklore without knowing how it works. Have you read or watched a story where a newborn child was swapped out for a supernatural one, especially one from fairy parents?
A changeling refers more to swapping between human and supernatural individuals than of a specific creature. It happens when fairies target, for one reason or another, a healthy, beautiful newborn human child. They entered the house at night, usually with a child of their own, and take the human baby to their fairy kingdom. The human couple is stuck taking care of the fairy baby in its place.
The human couple is unaware of the swap at first. The child in their cradle looks just like their own, but soon the fairy baby will become a demanding monster of the household. This one cries more, falls ill quickly, and never becomes satisfied of its hunger.
From this point on, the story could go many ways. The family can raise the beast as their own or try to get theirs back. Of course, many take the latter option, but in many cases, a mother may bond with the watchful, demanding beast and take care of it to the best of her ability. In a lot of stories, this pleases the fairy parents and they return the true baby.
If they don't go this route, they'll learn several methods to reveal or threaten it. A parent could entertain it by doing something so ridiculous like boiling water in eggshells. This will make the changeling laugh and declare it lived for many centuries and never seen something that amazing. Once revealed, the changeling will rush out of the chimney and the true child will return to its crib.
Unfortunately, a lot of changelings were tortured until they revealed themselves. A lot of them were dunked in rivers, heated in ovens, or thrown in an open fire entirely, All fairy tale stories aside, many parents in this time believed in these superstitions and would actually torture their baby to death. It's crazy enough to believe this tale as it is and try to reveal a changeling by making a baby laugh, but what sort of parents, even if they thought their real baby was kidnapped, would drop a baby into a fire?
Changelings are often in the appearance of babies, but sometimes the fairies won't leave a child of their own and instead leaves an enchanted stick in the cradle that looks like a baby. The "baby" will then grow sick and die within a few days. The human parents would be none the wiser and bury their "child." Adults can be changelings too.
As much as I love folklore and the roots of where it came from and why people would retell the stories through generations, sometimes the root points to something terrible. In these stories with changelings, there's a lot of evidence people made these stories trying to explain mental illnesses and autism.
A lot of parents then, and a few who don't understand autism today, often feel like something happened to their baby and will do anything to have their child back. They express this feeling with a supernatural swap tale. In this way, they're saying that the child in their crib is not actually theirs and is instead a benevolent taker. They are also shrugging off the blame from their shoulders if the child dies while they are trying to reveal its true self. The dark undertone of the reason behind these stories leaves a bitter taste in my mouth for this reason. Instead of helping their child develop healthy skills through these obstacles, the family is content to wrap it up to an unnatural swap, saying their child was gone to begin with. Who's the unstable one here?
The creation of these stories also shows hope where we are now. At this age, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding autism and other mental illnesses, but there is also a lot more help and acceptance too. We now look back on these changeling superstitions and see them as stories to entertain, much how many other traditional folklores develop. Like me, I hope you give a nod toward the roots of folklore and find it the perfect mix of intrigue, mystery, and entertainment.
Thanks for sticking this far. I know it's a bit of a late posting, but such is the way when you are a student also trying to find time to write! If you aren't subscribed to my mailing list yet, why don't you try it out? (You can find it on the homepage.) There are (hopefully,) some big changes and games and such coming to this website, so you may want to follow it! Have you watched or read anything involving changelings? Let me know about it either in the comments or on my social media platforms below!
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How to Care for Your Changeling:
Are You a Changeling?:
(Cartoon Cradle Image Attribution)
(Firefly Background Attribution)