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Ep. 93


Today on the train we are discussing changelings. Who are they...or maybe what are they? Where do they come from? What is their agenda? Well hopefully today we can clear up some of these questions for you even care?

Changeling, in European folklore, are a deformed or imbecilic offspring of fairies or elves substituted by them secretly for a human infant. According to legend, the abducted human children are given to the devil or used to strengthen fairy stock. How do you make the faerie gene pool stronger? You steal human kids! Duh! The return of the original child may be effected by making the changeling laugh or by torturing it; this latter belief was responsible for numerous cases of actual child abuse. The existence of changelings is believed to stem from the idea that infants are susceptible to demonic possession. In the Medieval Chronicles, by Ralph of Coggeshall, and in other sources, the fairies are said expressly to prey upon unbaptized children.

Most stories about changelings describe them as looking like ugly, little old men. Obviously, this can make distinguishing them from your average baby difficult. I’m sure you love your own kid, but let’s be honest. Most babies are horrifyingly strange looking when they are born. Now imagine if they fail to gain weight because of poverty or a condition the parents aren’t aware of. Other descriptions include babies with abnormally sized body parts or facial features. Basically, any defect could be a sign that a fairy took your baby.

Though in other cases, a changeling baby does resemble a human child, but only slightly off. Maybe their eyes contain the wisdom of millennia. Or they seem quieter than they were when firstborn. But if they are alive and getting into mischief, it is still better than the alternative. Sometimes the changeling is said to be a pile of sticks magically made to appear as the mirror-image of the stolen child. The mirage sickens before quickly dying. The parents unknowingly bury the sticks, never knowing their true child was missing. n Irish legend, a fairy child may appear sickly and won't grow in size like a normal child, and may have notable physical characteristics such as a beard or long teeth. They may also display intelligence far beyond their apparent years, as well as possess uncanny insight. A common way that a changeling could identify itself is through displaying unusual behaviour when it thinks it's alone, such as jumping about, dancing or playing an instrument — though this last example is found only within Irish and Scottish legend. So far it kinda looks like we might be changelings… beards and music instruments...also I have uncanny eyesight and Moody likes to dance when he thinks no one is around.

"A human child might be taken due to many factors: to act as a servant, the love of a human child, or malice. Most often it was thought that fairies exchanged the children. In rare cases, the very elderly of the fairy people would be exchanged in the place of a human baby, so that the old fairy could live in comfort, being coddled by its human parents. Simple charms such as an inverted coat or open iron scissors left where the child sleeps, were thought to ward them off; other measures included a constant watch over the child."

D. L. Ashliman points out in his essay 'Changelings' that changeling tales illustrate an aspect of family survival in pre-industrial Europe. A peasant family's subsistence frequently depended upon the productive labour of each member, and it was difficult to provide for a person who was a permanent drain on the family's scarce resources. "The fact that the changelings' ravenous appetite is so frequently mentioned indicates that the parents of these unfortunate children saw in their continuing existence a threat to the sustenance of the entire family. Changeling tales support other historical evidence in suggesting that infanticide was frequently the solution selected."

Fairies would also take adult humans, especially the newly married and new mothers; young adults were taken to marry fairies instead while new mothers were often taken to nurse fairy babies. Often when an adult was taken instead of a child an object such as a log was left in place of the stolen human, enchanted to look like the person.[5] This object in place of the human would seem to sicken and die, to be buried by the human family, while the living human was among the fairies. Bridget Cleary is one of the most well known cases of an adult thought to be a changeling by her family; her husband killed her attempting to force the fairies to return his 'real' wife.

The interesting thing about changelings is that there are tales of changelings in many different cultures and their folklores. Let's check out some of these different versions of changelings throughout folklore.

First up we have Mên-an-Tol. Mên-an-Tol is a small formation of standing stones in Cornwall UK. In Cornish the name means “the stone of the hole”, why call it that you ask...well the main stone is basically a stone donut. Only one other example of a holed stone exists in the county: the Tolvan Stone near Gweek.

The other three stones are more regular granite pillars commonly used in stone circles, with one dressed flat side. There is speculation that these were simply four of the stones of an ancient circle, further large stones having been discovered lying just below the ground nearby. The local moniker the 'Crick Stone' alludes to its alleged ability to aid those with back pain and children suffering from rickets and tuberculosis.

This cute little stone formation is thought to be from the late neolithic to early bronze age. Now you may be asking yourselves what this thing has to do with changelings, well, we are gonna tell ya. So according to local legend, a woman had a child that was supposedly replaced with a changeling by pixies. The woman did not know what to do. Under the suggestion of some locals, she took the child to the stone and passed him through 9 times. 9 seems to be the magic number here, as for the curing of rickets and tuberculosis, children were passed through the hole naked nine times. After the woman passed the changeling through the stone it allegedly cured the child of the changeling issues. Ok so its not much but fuck it, its a relatable changeling story.


According to Karl Haupt in the book The Legend Book of Lausitz, A child must always have someone nearby until it is six weeks old. Otherwise, an old woman from the woods or the mountains could come and exchange a physically and mentally retarded, malformed changeling for the infant. At the very least, one must place a hymnbook near the child's head before leaving the room. However, if--through negligence--the misfortune does occur, you should take prompt notice of it. Then you need only make a switch from the branches of a weeping birch tree and beat the changeling severely with it. The old woman will respond to his cries by bringing back the exchanged child and taking the beastly child away. You must allow her to depart unhindered, neither scolding nor cursing her, otherwise you will be left with the changeling hanging on your neck.

Wow. This is one of the descriptions that have actually led to cases of child abuse as stated at the beginning of the episode. There are many tales of changelings in german folklore. The belief in changelings was strong and widespread. These beliefs continued to exert influence well into the nineteenth century, and in some areas even later. As late as 1924 it was reported that in sections of rural Germany many people were still taking traditional precautions against the demonic exchange of infants. The Germans had some precautions to help aid in the combating of changelings being swapped out for human children. Here are some according to Jacob Grimm from the book Deutsche Mythologie:

  • Placing a key next to an infant will prevent him from being exchanged.

  • Women may never be left alone during the first six weeks following childbirth, for the devil then has more power over them.

  • During the first six weeks following childbirth, mothers may not go to sleep until someone has come to watch the child. If mothers are overcome by sleep, changelings are often laid in the cradle. To prevent this one should lay a pair of men's pants over the cradle.

  • Whenever the mother leaves the infant's room she should lay an article of the father's clothing on the child, so that it cannot be exchanged

In the town of Altmark they believe in what are sometimes called dickkopfe or thick heads. In the area itself they are usually referred to as “the underground People”. The underground people are dwarves. They have names like sleepy, grumpy, and dopey. According to J. D. H. Temme in his book Folk Legends from Altmark, to prevent the underground spirits from exchanging a newborn child, it must be continuously watched until it is baptized. For this reason the baptism takes place as soon as possible. Dwarfs are often called "the underground people." They live beneath the earth and would like nothing more than to have beautiful, well-formed human children. They will steal newborns, leaving their own malformed children, called changelings, in their place. Therefore there is always a great rush to have the child baptized, and until this happens the mother and child will not be left alone for even an instant. Furthermore, until then there must always be a burning light near them, even in broad daylight, because the underground people are afraid of light.

  • A child must carefully and continuously be protected against exchange by the underground people until it is baptized. Therefore the so-called "word of God," a leaf from the Bible from a hymnbook, is either wrapped up with the child in its blanket or laid in its cradle.

Here's a few stories of changelings in different parts of Germany:

The Changeling of Spornitz

(Source: Karl Bartsch, Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg)

A young peasant woman in Spornitz had her child stolen by an underground person or a Mönk, and a changeling put in its place in the cradle. The mother saw it happen, but she could neither move nor call out. The maniken told her that her son would someday become the king of the underground people. From time to time they had to exchange one of their king's children for a human child so that earthly beauty would not entirely die out among them. She was told to take good care of the little dwarf prince, and her house would be blessed with good fortune. With that the Mönk laid the changeling on her breast and disappeared with her child. She took care of the child, and the prosperity of her household increased visibly. However, the changeling remained small and ugly, and died in his twentieth year.

Mecklenburg Changelings

  • Source: Karl Bartsch, Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg (Vienna, Wilhelm Braumüller, 1879), vol. 1, p. 62.

  • Bartsch's source for this legend is Pastor Dolberg from Hinrichshagen.

In Rövershagen the underground people once exchanged a woman's unbaptized child for one of their own. Following the advice of a wise man, she laid the underground people's child on the chopping block as though she were going to kill it with an ax. The dwarf's child immediately disappeared, and her own child was returned.

The Changeling of Plau

Source: Karl Bartsch, Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg (Vienna, Wilhelm Braumüller, 1879), vol. 1, p. 42.

A married couple in Plau had a child that after two years was still only as long as a shoe. It had an enormously large head and could not learn to talk. They shared their concern with an old man, who said: "For sure the underground people have exchanged your child. If you want to be certain about this, then take an empty eggshell and in the presence of the child pour fresh beer into it, then add yeast to make it ferment. If the child then starts to talk, then my suspicion is right." They followed this advice. The beer had scarcely begun to ferment when the child called out from its cradle:

Now I am as old

As Bohemian gold,

But this is the first I've ever heard tell,

Of beer being brewed in an eggshell.

The dwarf's actual words, in the original Low German:

Ik bün so olt

as Böhmer Gold,

doch dat seih ik taum irsten Mal,

dat man Bier brugt in Eierschal.

The parents determined that the very next night they would throw the child into the Elbe River. They arose after midnight and went to the cradle, where they discovered a strong and healthy child. The underground people had taken back their own child.

Up next...the changeling in Irish folklore…

In Ireland, the Faerie folk are always treated with respect, but many accusations are hurled at them as well, from making crops wither to milk turning sour. One of the most common accusations is that they steal humans and spirit them away to live in the Faerie realm, whilst leaving an unwanted faerie in their place, which becomes known fucking know it...a changeling.

Humans at risk of being taken are said to include handsome young men as they are taken to become lovers of the female Faeries. One theory why this happens is that the Faeries see humans as a stronger and healthier race and try to enhance their own bloodline by breeding with humans. Midwives and new mothers are also favoured by the Faeries because they can be made servants of the Faerie queens and easily tend to the Faerie children. It is said that Faerie women find childbirth very difficult and if the pregnancy even lasts until birth then the Faerie babies that survive are often deformed and stunted.

Very occasionally, some people leave the mortal world to live in the Faerie realm by choice. They don’t usually stay in the Faerie realm for life and will return to their home after several years. Of course, none of them returns the same person after so long in the Faerie realm and often people will recognise that these people have ‘changed’ in some way. Traditionally, the person who returns will possess a ‘gift’ of some type and may be a master of herbal or magical knowledge.

Humans most at risk of the Faeries are babies and young children. It is suggested that babies are taken as it is easier to integrate them into the Faerie community and there is less chance of them remembering their real parents. When they are taken, a Faerie child, disguised to look like the human child, is left in their place hence the name, ‘Changeling’. Although most Changelings don’t get to return to the Faerie realm, there have been tales of this happening and the Human child finally returned to its rightful family.

The Faeries envy human babies as they tend to be happy, healthy, and sturdy beings. On occasion, they have been known to take a child because they simply believe it is not loved enough by its human parents or even take the child out of malice or spite, especially if someone from that family has disrespected someone from the Faerie Realm. One can never be too sure what a Faerie’s motive is.

So how do the Irish recognize a changeling? Well let's find out! It is said that you can tell a Changeling baby by the fact that it is ill-tempered and looks wizened in appearance. Most will have very dark eyes and if you look into them you can see wisdom well beyond their age. A Changeling will also grow and develop a lot quicker than a human baby and within a few weeks the Changeling will have a full set of teeth and their legs and arms will be quite bony and thin.

A changeling doesn’t always appear as a baby and occasionally the Faeries will leave a piece of enchanted wood called a ‘stock’ in the cradle instead. This stock will appear to grow sick and die right in front of the ‘parents’ eyes.

The changelings’ new family will never have any good luck while the changeling resides in the family home as the changeling will drain the family of any good fortune that will come their way. A warning though to all those people who become parents to a changeling, it must be loved and cared for like it is your own if you ever want to have a chance of seeing your own child again.

The unspoken threat is that if the changeling is harmed or abandoned in any way, the Faeries will treat your child just as badly or possibly even worse, a risk any parents would not be willing to take.

However, don’t despair! There are certain methods one can use in the event of returning a Changeling from where it came from and ensuring the safe return of the child that has been taken. Below you will find some of the most traditional methods used.

  1. Trooping Faeries leave their barrow, (their home) several times a year. A direct swap is possible at this time although to be successful, specific spells and rituals need to be performed.

  2. A Faerie changeling is often weak and feeble so they must be nurtured and loved so that he/she becomes healthy and happy. When this occurs the Faerie parents usually decide that they want their natural child back and will switch them, themselves. This is probably the best and safest way to return a changeling to its proper parents as I really wouldn’t recommend the next method myself.

  3. In some areas in Ireland, Faeries are seen as demons. So because of this, the stolen person is not seen as kidnapped but possessed and it is believed that Faeries can be exorcised just like demons. The victim is beaten or tortured in the hope that life within the ‘host’ will become so unpleasant the Faerie be cast out.

In Ireland, it is widely believed that the Faeries are terrified of fire and some alleged Changelings have been badly burned or even killed by the efforts of others in order to make the Faerie leave.

If attempts at returning the changeling fail the unlucky ‘parents’ can expect the Changeling to grow up to be a snivelling, dim-witted person who will no longer be a changeling but will be known as an ‘oaf’.

So if the Changeling becomes an oaf, what becomes of the human child living in the Faerie realm? Some are reported to pine and grieve so much for their loved ones in the mortal world that they wither and die. While others can adapt quite well and live happily within the Faerie realm enjoying a long life filled with cheerfulness, Irish music and Irish dancing.

You want stories? Here's a couple for ya.

This is the story of Bridget Cleary. On March 15, 1895, Bridget Cleary, the 28-year-old wife of a copper, went missing from her cottage near Clonmel in County Tipperary. Days later her body was found in a shallow grave, burned to death by her husband and family members who suspected her of being possessed by a fairy.

Cleary, believed to be 'the last witch burned in Ireland,' was the victim of dangerous superstitious beliefs. Her story has become part of Irish folklore, and her tragic tale has been immortalized in the children’s rhyme “Are you a witch or are you a fairy, Or are you the wife of Michael Cleary?”

Books have been written about her and filmmakers are currently trying to raise funds to make a movie loosely based on her story.

Cleary and her husband Michael were a well-off but childless couple. Bridget was a dressmaker who made additional independent income from keeping hens.

According to accounts, she caught a cold that possibly developed into pneumonia, or she may have had tuberculosis.

As her condition worsened, her husband and her uncle, Jack Dunne, began to circulate the story that Bridget had been taken by fairies and the woman in the bed was a changeling. According to, herbal cures were forced down her throat and she was held over the fire while being asked repeatedly if she was a changeling. Several family members assisted and neighbors were present the evening before her death as more tests were conducted on her.

On March 15, 1895, her husband set fire to her nightgown and threw lamp-oil on her.