Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Púca or Pooka / Puka / Phouka

The Púca are one of the most feared and mischievous of all the faeries in Ireland. It is a changeling who appears in many guises, the most comman a sleek black horse with amber eyes. With this form it can cover huge areas of land as it charges through the countryside in the dark of night breaking fences scattering and scaring farm animals and trampling crops. It can also take the form of a huge Eagle, a giant hairy Bogeyman or a large hairy goat. Sometimes it takes the form of like that of some of the smaller faeries, from all accounts similar to a deformed hobbit like creature. In any of these forms the Púca can speak with humans, think Mr Ed the talking horse...but evil.
If there are any late night travelers on the road the Púca picks them up as it thunders down the road and and throws them into drains and into bogs. Just by looking at Chickens he can stop them laying eggs and stop cows from giving milk. It has the power of speech and will often call to peoples houses before it starts its nightly runs to demand company, if denied he will destroy all your property. Sometimes they are not evil a Púca will sometimes come to the aid of people and other times have come to their aid to warn them of something that might befall them.
The only time that a mortal has been able to ride one of them and tame it was the the High King of Ireland Brian Boru. He got the Púca to agree never to attack a mortal, unless they were drunk and on evil business. This did not last for many years and they still roam the land.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Féar Gortha or Hungry Grass and Fear Gurtha or Hungry man.

Féar Gortha (fear gur-tha) or Hungry Grass origans can be traced back to the Irish famine, its a  patch of cursed grass that make a person hungry once they cross it. Oral traditions say that these patches of ground were created when a famine victim died on that spot. but it was only the victims that did not recieve absolution before they died, then faeries then plant the hungry grass on this spot.
It is not just that it makes you hungry as you step on it, but if you did not get something to eat immediately you could drop dead on the spot and it doesn't make a difference if you had just eaten a meal.
Then there is the Fear Gurtha (far Gur tha) the Hungry man, he travels the road with the disguise of a tramp with rags for clothing begging for alms. If you were kind and gave him alms then you will be lucky for the rest of your life. On the otherhand if you ignored him, you were guaranteed to suffer some disaster and would spend the rest of your life in poverty and hunger. There is a tradition when eating outside in certain parts of the country of sprinkling crumbs on the grass after eating, to show the faeries that you are not a mean person.
So when a sign says Keep of the Grass, there might be a reason in Ireland.

Dullahan, the Faerie Headless horseman

The Dullahan is one of the most terrifying of Irish faerie creatures, a headless cloaked man riding his large black steed at night, using a human spine as a whip to urge his horse along the road. He holds his slightly rotten glowing head in his hand and can see clearly at night through its black eyes with supernatural eyesight. He was once the fertility God Crom Dubh, who demanded human sacrifice of his followers. With the coming of Christianity people stopped worshipping Crom Dubh, but he still has a demand for souls every year so he rides out at night along country roads usually in the months of Autumn and November. Sometimes he rides out at night in a funeral carriage with wheel spokes made from human thigh bones and lanterns made of skulls. The carriage is driven by a team of six black steeds that move so fast that they cause sparks to fly from their feet as the charge along and cause bushes and trees to catch fire.
Unlike the Banshee he is not particular what family you are from and he as rides out to claim a victim , the grinning skull can be heard calling out the name of his victim as he races along the road. When he gets to the house of the victim he stops at the front door and he roars out the name and the person dies on the spot. There is no protection from the Dullahan, if you see him as he thunders along the road he throws blood at people or maybe blind them in one eye, the only thing that he is afraid of is gold.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Changelings, faeries stealing infants and baby Killers

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild 
With a faery, hand in hand.
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

For anyone that has seen the start of the film 300, one thing sticks in the mind of most people is the beginning, where the helpless naked baby is being inspected, while the narrator tells us of the Spartans strife for perfection and we then see all the skeletal remains of the dead babies who never made it. Most people talked about how cruel this was and how it was a tough if not an evil race of people that could do such a thing, yet in Europe a lot worse things happened to infants.
Ireland like many in many places in Europe had a terrible fear of Faeries or bad spirits stealing  new born babies from cribs at night time and leaving a changeling in its place. There were two reasons for theft of babies, first was to bring new blood to prevent too much inbreeding in the faerie population. The second was probably the more common reason was that faeries had great difficulty with childbirth and faerie babies often died or were deformed, these were either replacements for the faeries or used as servants in the otherworld.
When a mortal child was born in Ireland it was dangerous to compliment it too much or this could put it in the faeries power, if a child was praised a blessing had to be said afterwards to counteract any power that the faeries might have. Also precautions like a mans suit left at the foot of the bed and a cross at the top of the bed would prevent a child being taken. If a child was taken it was replaced by one of three things, first a sickly deformed faerie child, second a senile or older faerie or finally a piece of wood.
Unlike human babies, faerie babies would only eat solids and they had a huge appetite, eating you out of house and home yet its hunger was not satiated, worse still the baby never put on weight. Changeling brought discontent into the house, they cried all the time with a wail that was piercing and nonstop .  These babies were physically deformed or not as mentally quick as other babies and generally do lot live for many years. Sometimes an inanimate object was placed in the crib, usually a piece of wood that had a magic spell put on it, this only lasted weeks. Senile faeries that were left in the place of infants also disrupted the household and lived out the remainder of their lives in relative comfort being pampered by their human carers (faeries were the ones to invent nursing homes) .

To test if a baby was a faerie there were a few things that you could do, each more gruesome than the next. A baby would be thrown onto the fire, if the baby was not a faerie he would be saved by god, if it was a faerie it would reveal its age and escape up the chimney. The picture on the left is of Fourknocks pasage grave county Meath, there is a strong oral history in the area of babies being burned in here in the past, because they were changelings.
Another way was to put the child into boiling water with the same results expected as the fire, with the faerie escaping up the chimney. Some infants were left in a manure pit overnight, if they survived the morning they were not faeries! One of the ones that I thought was the cruelest and was common in Ireland was foxglove poisoning which left the infant with severe stomach pains and took some for it to die. Leaving the worst till last, what I thought was the cruelest thing that could happen to an infant was a red hot poker up the anus, similar to the fire if the child was a faerie its insides would boil on the inside and the faerie spirit would disappear up the chimney, if not a faerie the child was spared.
It is obviously a form of Eugenics killing of a sickly or handicapped child that would take up a lot of time of the family, this practice was more common in the rural regions, were where everyone was needed to work the farm.  There are other cases of older people and animals being taken by the faeries, these will  follow again.
Credit for some of this information comes from a colleague Sean, thanks.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fomorians the third wave of Mythological people to Ireland

Pictured is the Fomorian Stronghold of Tory Island, It is on the left with the two peaks in the front the Islands of Innisboffin and Innisdooey.
The Fomorians were a giant ugly misshapen demonic race of semi divine beings that seemed to represent all that was evil and bad in Mythological Ireland. Their origin is from the sea from Scandinavia, with mentions in some ancient texts of them living in Norway. Their Viking origan is probably why they are represented as evil, as they were also described as a type of pirate, especially with all the Viking attacks on the people of Ireland. There were two exceptions however Elathan who was a moon God and his son Bres who became King of a later invasion the Tuatha de Danann, both of these were supposed to be beautiful examples of man.
Their first King Cichol of the withered foot had his stronghold on an Island off the most northerly west coast off Ireland on Tory Island. Until the arrival of the Partholanians they lived of fish as there was little to hunt, but they benefited from the arrival of the farmers and land shapers and ventured onto the main land. They still used Tory as their strongholds from here they fought their battles and where they retreated after loosing their battle with the Partholanians. After the disease had wiped out the Partholanians they controlled Ireland and used the plough and oxen and lived off the land until the next arrivals, where  extracted taxes and were in power until the Tuatha Dé Danann defeated them in Battle. There will be more stories of their battles etc later