People once believed that faeries stole people away from the real world. What happened when people believed their loved ones had been replaced?
In Charms and Changelings, the town of Moss Hill is under the threat of faeries stealing people, including children, from all over the island. I would have been remiss to write a series involving Unseelie fae without including at least one changeling story since the theme is so prominent in faerie lore.
Faeries are known to whisk adults away to the otherworld and there are tales of people returning a hundred years later after living in the faerie realm. But what happens when they leave behind a faerie to replace the human they took? According to myth, that's exactly what some types of faeries did.
Who are the human snatching faeries?
Among the faeries known to change out humans for replacements, known as changelings, there are two who are most notorious. One is the troll. Most people think of trolls as hairy giants, but there are many variations on trolls. Rose (2006) says that while this view of trolls is predominant in Scandinavia, they are also thought to be shapeshifters. In Denmark, they are short and look more like leprechauns. In Norway, they're red-haired beauties. Despite the many variations, they are widely known as stealing wealth as well as adults and children. Basically, whatever they want, they take.
Another type of faerie known to take people, children specifically, is the tylwyth teg. This type of faerie is known to be beautiful. Sometimes they're associated with the sidhe, sometimes with goblins, and are often describe as odd, but overall harmless. The tylwyth tegs who take human children are specifically referred to as a Bendith y Mamau, which translates to "mother's blessing." The Bendith y Mamau has been used in some cultures as a warning, as in be good or the Bendith y Mamau will get you.
The Dark Side of Changeling Stories
All this seems like harmless faerie tales, but I have to admit that I was a little hesitant to write about changelings when the series idea first came to me because the belief in changelings, like the belief in witches, once destroyed people's lives. Charms and Changelings is filled with themes of love, friendship, and trust with an ending that I hope readers will come away from feeling that all worked out well in the end. In real life, changeling stories did not have happy fairytale endings.
As much as I don't want to write about it, I should say that there was once a time when changelings were used as an excuse to abuse or even kill people with disabilities or those who became ill. Here is one such story:
Are you a witch, or are you a fairy?
Or are you the wife of Michael Cleary?
- Irish Nursery Rhyme
Michael Cleary was in love. It was 1895 and he and his wife, Bridget, were doing well for themselves. He was a cooper, she a dressmaker, and they were caring for Bridget's aging father, with whose assistance they were able to live in the best home in the area. The problem was they didn't buy the home. They were able to live there because no one else wanted a home that was built on a fairy ring fort.
When Bridget became ill, Michael broke down. Today, we would say he suffered a brief psychotic disorder, where he gave in to superstition and myth. Back then, he was supported by his father-in-law and some townsfolk in his belief that the weakening Bridget was not the woman he loved. She was obviously a faerie - he reasoned. He convinced several other people of this idea.
In a delirium, the townsfolk burned the "faerie." Poor Bridget, at this point weakened by what we now know was pneumonia, could not fight back. The courts sentenced Michael to several years in prison and convicted a few of those involved as well. Bridget's story was likened to a witch burning, thankfully the last Ireland would ever see.
Other changeling stories can be found in this in-depth article on the LongReads website, but be warned, they are not pleasant stories. Because these stories are so disheartening, I tried to make Charms and Changelings a story about how even in the face of a real threat, it's possible not to give into fear, suspicion or hatred. Instead, love and friendship can see through any facade - faerie or otherwise.