The changeling is a creature that is found in folklore throughout Europe. It is said to be a human-like fairy that is left in place of a human baby that is stolen by fairies.
In northern myth, the story is nearly the same with the difference being that instead of fairies they are trolls [1,2].
In Irish and Scottish legends the changeling can be identified by a variety of different traits. These could be a disability to grow in size like humans, growing of beard, longer teeth, and a high level of intelligence or insight. Another way that is often said to identify a changeling is unusual behavior when the child is alone such as jumping around, dancing, or playing an instrument [3].
There are a few reasons why fairies would take human children. usually, it could be to have a servant or because they thought of human children as beautiful. Sometimes it is simply through malice [4,5].
In some cases, the reason for the exchange could be that fairy children need human milk to survive [4].
The way you would ward off fairies is to leave iron objects near or in the crib of your child as iron burn fairies. This was usually something like a nail or a scissor [6-8].
In some cases, adult humans could be kidnapped to nurse fairy children. In these cases, objects such as logs would be left as a replacement instead of a changeling. These logs would usually be enchanted by magic to look like the person taken and they would slowly seem to sicken and die to make the family bury the person like nothing strange had happened [9].
Various other Changeling Myths
In Scandinavian mythology, trolls exchanged children instead of fairies. It was usually believed that trolls found it more respectable to be brought up by humans than other trolls. Trolls lived underground and would come out at night to steal children. In some myths, it was said that the trolls ate the human children and when leaving a changeling it raised less concern for the humans. Sometimes it was believed that they could only take unbaptized children since when a child was baptized it was accepted into the Catholic faith [7,8,10].
In Scandinavian myth, many of the creatures were afraid of iron so you would place iron knives and scissors near the bed of newborns to prevent trolls from stealing the child before baptism. This is very similar to the belief that fairies burn when touching iron [7].
In German myths, there were several other ways to identify changelings and retrieve the replaced child. Some of the rougher ways to identify the changeling was to hit it [11], whip it [12], or put it in the oven forcing it to endure the heat [11]. Otherwise, you could boil or brew in eggshells as this would force the changeling to speak and claim its real age [13].
In German myth, there are also several different mothers for the changeling. These were either the devil [13], a female dwarf [11], a water spirit [14were], or Roggenmutter [15].
The Mamuna or Boginki [16] is a Slavic spirit that exchanges babies in the cradle. The changelings would look vastly different having an abnormally large abdomen, an unusually small head, a hump, small limbs, a hairy body, and long claws [17].
To prevent this the mothers could tie a red ribbon around the baby's wrist, put a red hat on the baby and keep it out of the moonlight [17].
In northern Spain, there was a myth about a water spirit named Xana which sometimes swapped babies with humans. There is a similar way to tell the difference between the changeling and a human child like that of the German myth as you would place pots and eggshells near the fireplace. This forced the changeling to say "I was born one hundred years ago, and since then I have not seen so many eggshells near the fire!" [18].
In eastern Nigeria, the Igbo people believed that a woman who lost a lot of children was tormented by a spirit called the ogbanje which reincarnated itself over and over again [19].
The Changelings Connection to Autism
Recently it has been brought up that the changeling myth may be linked to autism and similar disorders. This has become somewhat of a discussion as it would provide a way for older societies to cope with these disabilities [20-23].
[1]: Alvarez, Sandra (6 January 2015). "Trolls in the Middle Ages". Archived from the original on 11 January 2017. Retrieved 30 April 2021.
[2]: Ingemark, Camilla Benita Asplund (28 January 2005). "The Genre of Trolls: The Case of a Finland-Swedish Folk Belief Tradition". Åbo Akademi University Press. 2. ISBN 951-765-222-4 – via Research Gate.
[3]: Mac Philib, Séamas (1991). "The Changeling (ML 5058) Irish Versions of a Migratory Legend in Their International Context". Béaloideas. 59: 121–131. doi:10.2307/20522381JSTOR 20522381
[4]: Briggs (1979)
[5]: Katharine Briggs, An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Boogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures "Changelings" (Pantheon Books, 1976) p. 71. ISBN 0-394-73467-X
[7]: Klintberg, Bengt af; Svenska Folksägner (1939) ISBN 91-7297-581-4
[8]: "Scandinavian Changeling Legends". Retrieved 6 December 2018.
[9]: Katherine Briggs, A Dictionary of Fairies "Changelings"
[10]: "Index of /Kurtglim/Del1i". Archived from the original on 23 November 2005. Retrieved 1 August 2005.
[11]: Ludwig Bechstein: Deutsches Sagenbuch. Meersburg, Leipzig 1930, pp. 142 f.
[12]: Jacob Grimm: Deutsche Mythologie. Wiesbaden 2007, p. 1039.
[13]: Jacob Grimm: Deutsche Mythologie. Wiesbaden 2007, p. 364.
[14]: Jacob Grimm, Wilhelm Grimm: Deutsche Sagen. Hamburg 2014, pp. 126 f
[15]: Jacob Grimm, Wilhelm Grimm: Deutsche Sagen. Hamburg 2014, pp. 134 f.
[16]: "Wielka Księga Demonów Polskich. Leksykon i antologia demonologii ludowej". Lubimyczytać.pl. Retrieved 8 February 2016.
[17]: "Mamuna / Dziwożona". (in Polish). 15 July 2015. Retrieved 6 December 2018
[18]: Sánchez Vicente, Xuan Xosé; Cañedo Valle, Xesús (2003). El gran libro de la mitología asturiana [The great book of Asturian mythology]. Ediciones Trabe.
[19]: W. B. Yeats, Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, in A Treasury of Irish Myth, Legend, and Folklore (1986), p. 47, New York : Gramercy Books, ISBN 0-517-48904-X
[20]: Silver (1999) p. 75
[21]: "The Enduring Legend of the Changeling – CSI". March 2018. Retrieved 1 February 2019
[22]: Vyse, Stuart (2018). "The Enduring Legend of the Changeling". Skeptical Inquirer. Committee for Skeptical Inquirer. 42 (4): 23–26.
[23]: Haffter, Carl. "The changeling: History and psychodynamics of attitudes to handicapped children in European folklore." Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences (1968).

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