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.

4 comments:

findabair said...

Brilliant post - that's a part of the legend you don't hear about too frequently o_O Love the contrast between the romantic feel of the Yeats poem and the gruesomeness of the last paragraphs.

Paz said...

thank you madam, you realize that there was similar goings on in Scandinavia too.
Yeats is always a winner

Hilðe said...

Wow!I love the first picture! (Have I seen it before, btw?:P ) Anyhow, I think it's the best silhouette picture you've posted so far! :)
Very good!

And what a sick story! It's crazy what people believed in back in time... Always hoping for God to save them. Poor, poor babies.

Paz said...

As I said to Findabair this practice was common in Europe also and in Norway, it was sad but still goes on in Africa.