In European folklore and legend, a changeling is the child of a supernatural being that is switched for a human baby. The changeling was often the
offspring of a fairy, troll, elf, or other legendary creature that has been secretly left in the place of a human child. The stolen child then lives
with the creature's family. A changeling is like a human baby, but ugly, always hungry, and with a bad temper. Sometimes the changelings are much
wiser than a human baby would be.
The changeling could also be a stock, an enchanted piece of wood that would soon appear to grow sick and die.
Human children might be taken for many reasons, including receiving the love of a human child, making the child into a servant, or malice. It was most
often thought that fairies changed out the children, and simple charms, like an inverted coat, were thought to ward them off.
The most effective way to get rid of a changeling child is to make it laugh; the real parents of the changeling will hear the laugh and have no choice
but to take their baby back and leave the real baby behind. Also, the changeling could be put in the oven or left in the forest. According to various
folklore, another way is to brew tea or beer in an acorn. Upon seeing this act, the changeling would reveal its true identity and disappear.
Some people believed that trolls would take unbaptized children.
Some children were said to be particularly vulnerable: those not yet baptized, those who were beautiful, and those with blonde hair and blue eyes.
Male children were targeted more often than female children.
Origins of the Myth
Changeling myths have two possible origins. The first is that the changeling stories are supernatural interpretations of actual occurences; for
example, populations forced into hiding by invaders may have exchanged their own children for the healthier ones of the invaders.
The second says that infants with birth defects were the origin for changeling myths. This is consistent with the fact that male babies were more
often replaced with changelings, since males have a higher rate of birth defects than females. Infants in some changeling stories have characteristics
similar to those that result in illnesses such as autism, progeria, or physical deformities. Some tales may have also been instances of failure to
thrive, where infants do not grow or gain weight, resulting in the requirement of extra care.
Powers and Weaknesses
According to legend, it is possible to detect changelings due to the fact that they are much wiser than human children. When changelings are detected
in time, their parents have to take them back.
The changeling was also changed into the stock of a tree by saying a powerful rhyme over him or sticking him with a knife. He could be driven away
Purpose of a Changeling
- Running at him with a red-hot poker
- Getting between him and the bed and threatening him with a sword
- Leaving him out on the hillside and paying no attention to his screaming
- Putting him sitting on a gridiron with a fire below
- Sprinkling him with water out of the maistir tub
- Dropping him into the river
Some believed that trolls would take unbaptized children; once the child is baptized and part of the Church, trolls can't take them. One belief is
that trolls thought that being raised by humans was very classy, therefore wanting to give their own children a human upbringing.
Beauty, particularly blonde hair and blue eyes, attracted fairies. In Scottish folklore, children might be replacements for fairy children in the
tithe to Hell. Some believe that fairies were memories of inhabitants of various regions of Europe who had been driven into hiding by invaders, thus
originating the belief that the hiding people would exchange their own sickly children for the healthy ones of the invaders.
Some changelings would forget they were not human and proceed to live a human life. Changelings that don't forget later return to their fairy family
and leave the human family confused and worried if they had not figured out the switch. The human child that was taken will stay with the fairy family
What is a Changeling?
Relevant discussion threads on AboveTopSecret.com
Could myths about "trolls" be referring to Neanderthals?