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Fairies, Pookas, and Changelings: A Complete Guide to the Wild and Wicked Enchanted Realm

Fairies, Pookas, and Changelings: A Complete Guide to the Wild and Wicked Enchanted Realm

by Varla Ventura


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While it's true that fairy folk love a good garden and take great pleasure in a tulip, there are dozens of beasties who fall under the fairy domain that are not quite as delightful as the quintessential flower fairy. This book is an exploration of the many things that go bump in the night near the fairy mound. Along with an exploration of folklore and historical literature, readers will delight in fairy tales that demonstrate everything from striking a bargain with a fairy to staving off changelings to laughing with the dwarves.

Included are fairy tales and myths from Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and Scandinavia plus classic stories by Thomas Crofton Croker, Joseph Jacobs, Clara Stroebe, the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Yei Theodora Ozaki, and others on goblins, trolls, gnomes, pookas, changelings, banshees, and more!

Chapters include:

  • A Fear of Little Men: Elves, Trolls, Leprechauns, Tree Spirits, Brownies, Coblyns, Dwarves, Goblins, Bonga, Trolls and Other Fairy Folk of Glen, Forests and Hearth
  • The Hand That Rocks the Cradle: Changelings and Other Greedy Kidnappers of the Fairy Kingdom
  • I'm Not Drunk, It's Just My Pooka: Tales of the Trickster Fairy and Its Wild Counterpart
  • Is That All There Is? Faries Who Give, or The Barter System
  • Whoops, There It Is: How to Enter the Fairy Kingdom (or How Not To)

If you think fairies are merely delicate beings who follow you about on gossamer wings, you are in for quite a shock: the kingdom of the fairy is one of vengeance, thievery, trickery, and wild creatures. Consider yourself warned!

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781578636112
Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
Publication date: 04/01/2017
Pages: 264
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Varla Ventura, author of Sheroes, Beyond Bizarre, and The Book of the Bizarre, and is a lover of all things odd and unusual and truly freaky. Her favorite holiday is Halloween, which she celebrates almost every day. She lives in the attic of an old Victorian in San Francisco.

Read an Excerpt

Fairies, Pookas, and Changelings

A Complete Guide to the Wild and Wicked Enchanted Realm


Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 2017 Weiser Books
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-63341-044-2


A Fear of Little Men

Elves, Trolls, Leprechauns, Tree Spirits, Brownies, Coblyns, Dwarves, Goblins, Bonga, Trolls, and Other Fairy Folk of Glen, Forests, and Hearth

When hunting in the morning dawn
Or through the dead of night
Be careful of the winding path
That is lit by fairy light

— Cameron Bumberford, "A Hunter's Paradise"

Once upon a time, goblins, brownies, and elves were as common in a household as a bar of soap or a scrub bucket. While few families set out to lure these domestic fairy folk (they saved their trapping skills for the leprechaun and his infamous golden store), most accepted their presence (or at least blamed the good people for messes, missing objects, and crying babies) and the unwritten rules that went along with housing such a creature. Leave a dish of milk out, sweep your own hearth, don't lock the cupboards up. The world of the domestic fairy was the most common to overlap with that of the mortal. Today we are more likely to blame ghosts than we are fairy folk. And yet who among us has not lost a sock or a watch, a favorite earring or important document, sure that it had been put away for safekeeping? And yet we never point to fairies as the culprits. Instead we blame our own busyness, or absentmindedness, or habit of housecleaning while drunk. I ask you this: can you say for certain that when you wake up in the morning everything is exactly as you left it? Nothing is out of place? I think it is reasonable to assume that many of us do not do a thorough inspection of our homes the night before (if you are in this habit, please text me your number because my house wants for ordering). So if something is slightly awry in the morning, we may not notice it, in particular if we have children in the home. This, my dear ones, is how it begins. A penknife here, a dollar bill there, and that oh-so-mild feeling of being watched. But do not fear too much. As you read on, you will hopefully find the information that follows not only entertaining but useful, should things suddenly (or gradually) begin to go amiss in your household.

When it comes to the woodland dwellers, the range of fairy personalities is bipolar at best. From reclusive and angry to taunting and tricky, even among the different classes of fairies variety seems to be the one consistency. With the exception of the rather solitary leprechaun, some elves, pixies, gnomes, dwarves, goblins, and the like seem to almost crave human attention. Other folkish imps wish nothing more than to banish all humans from ever crossing their paths, or to destroy our happiness, or trap us to a life of servitude, or create mayhem and, as a result, possible death.

Should you walk through fairylight (twilight) on a midsummer's eve, humming quietly to yourself as the frogs croon and the bats venture out, you just might meet some of the fellows in this chapter.

From hedgerow to hearth to mushroomy glen, venture on and into the sylvan world of the fairy.


Just as there are dozens of variations on the word fairy, there are just as many beings called elves. In some stories, the terms are used interchangeably, and pixies get into the mix to boot. Perhaps this is because, no matter how many volumes of folklore we comb through, no matter how many fairy songs we think we hear on a Midsummer's Eve, fairy folk are far too difficult to classify with any absolute categories. What is a pixie in one part of the world may be a forest spirit in another; an elf becomes more goblinish when described by a certain old timer who recounts days of youthful encounters.

Still, it is common enough to imagine elves, thanks to our widespread belief in one Santa Claus, as helpful little fellows, not much higher than a grown man's knee, that know all manner of cunning ways and talents. In some places, Santa Claus himself is considered an elf or magical being. Today's elf wears striped socks and does a silly dance, or watches over your kids to make sure they are good in the days leading up to Christmas (occasionally in the form of a stalkerish doll). Most accounts agree that bands of elves usually have a king and queen, always at least an Elf King.

Ellyllon is the term used throughout Wales for smallish elves who hang out in groves and valleys. The ellyllon pal around with English elves, too. Both types are described as both angelic and devilish, helpful and mischievous. They dine on toadstools or other poisonous mushrooms and ymenyn tylwyth teg, aka fairy butter, aka a kind of butter-like fungus that grows deep in the crevices of limestone. The Welsh variety wear foxglove flowers as their own gloves. Foxglove, or digitalis, is a powerful and toxic plant that has been used as a sedative for many years (someone should have alerted Joey Ramone). It is used in modern medicine to treat congestive heart failure. It is not surprising, then, that fungus and foxglove have otherworldly associations (or is it simply that the fae have left their magic in these plants?).

In Scandinavia, especially Sweden, the elves are beautiful and mostly peaceful creatures called Alvheim or sometimes alve, alv, alb, or elbe. In Norway, elves are known as Huldrafolk. They live underground in hilly and rocky areas. Their music is irresistible but always in a minor key and very mournful. In Italy, the Linchetti are nocturnal elves who dislike disorder and cause nightmares to those with messy rooms (Giovanni! Clean your room!). Gianes are Italian forest elves, who can prophesize the future and are adept at weaving.

In Thomas Keightley's 1892 volume, The Fairy Mythology, he shares this story from Denmark lore:

The Danish peasantry give the following account of their Ellefolk or Elve-people. The Elle-people live in the Elle-moors. The appearance of the man is that of an old man with a low-crowned hat on his head; the Elle-woman is young and of a fair and attractive countenance, but behind she is hollow like a dough-trough. Young men should be especially on their guard against her, for it is very difficult to resist her; and she has, moreover, a stringed instrument, which, when she plays on it, quite ravishes their hearts. The man may be often seen near the Elle-moors, bathing himself in the sunbeams, but if anyone comes too near him, he opens his mouth wide and breathes upon them, and his breath produces sickness and pestilence. But the women are most frequently to be seen by moonshine; then they dance their rounds in the high grass so lightly and so gracefully, that they seldom meet a denial when they offer their hand to a rash young man.

The Scandinavian Christmas Troll

What young child doesn't love the din of Christmas? The lights in shop windows and holiday hum, a promise of bellies full of cookies and piles of presents. And when most of us think of Christmas, we think of a bearded man in a red suit, jolly, and adept at delivering toys. We accept his magical elfin assistants and flying abilities in a way that goes almost unquestioned, chalking it up to the "magic of the season." And when we think of holiday horrors, it is usually high prices or forgotten presents, perhaps a burnt Christmas ham.

What would your children say if you whispered tales to them not of Christmas cheer and sightings of the elusive Santa Claus, but stories of a different kind of magic altogether? What if you told them that at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, curious things happen: Wells run with blood. Animals talk. Buried treasures are revealed and water turns to wine. And if you warned them of witches that leapt from roof to roof, or ghosts that hung about the chimneys waiting to visit them in the dark of the night, would they still anticipate the winter holidays in the same way?

Early twentieth-century author Clement A. Miles was a historian and an amateur anthropologist of sorts. His 1912 collection Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan is not just a cross-cultural look at the origins of Santa Claus. Here you will find werewolves, bogeys, and trolls. You will find curses and hexes and imminent death, rituals of the dead, and goblin offerings. You will be warned of the devil and cautioned against laziness.

Beware the Scandinavian Christmas Trolls! They love to dance and drink through the night on Christmas Eve. If you are in Bavaria, take heed of the Berchte — a wretched bogey who cuts open the stomachs of naughty children. And at all costs, do not walk outside alone should you ever find yourself in Greece during the Twelve Days of Christmas. For there lurks the most horrid beast of all: the Kallikantzaroi or Karkantzaroi, a horrid half-human, half-animal monstrosity that plays tricks and ravages households, often leaving the occupants dead. Some say it is a mortal man transformed into a beastly creature, others say it is manifested from the supernatural beyond.

Miles writes:

In the Scandinavian countries simple folk have a vivid sense of the nearness of the supernatural on Christmas Eve. On Yule night no one should go out, for he may meet uncanny beings of all kinds. In Sweden the Trolls are believed to celebrate Christmas Eve with dancing and revelry. "On the heaths, witches and little Trolls ride, one on a wolf, another on a broom or a shovel, to their assemblies, where they dance under their stones ... In the mount are then to be heard mirth and music, dancing and drinking. On Christmas morn, during the time between cock-crowing and daybreak, it is highly dangerous to be abroad ..."

Red Hat Clapping

The signature red hat of Santa Claus is often likened to the red-capped mushroom of the forest and the many little men who share the look. Gnomes, whose domain is woods and gardens and who look after crops and children, are often seen wearing red hats. Even the leprechaun, whom we know today as sporting a top hat or green bowler, once wore a red cap.

Shoe Me the Money

Leprechauns are also known by more than pots of gold in the Fairy Kingdom. The leprechaun can be identified by the sound of his knocking or tap-tap-tapping upon his little shoe bench, as they are cobblers and the sound is that of their tiny hammers making elfin shoes. Fairies prize shoes and fine clothes far more than gold. If you can trap a leprechaun — some say green velvet and fine wine do the trick — the location of all that hidden gold could be revealed. But be aware that simply looking away from the 'chaun for a moment can allow them to vanish back into the green grass or woods where you happened upon them. The leprechaun is believed to be a perpetual bachelor elf who successfully staves off scores of proposals from all manner of feminine fairy, although it could simply be that he prefers the solitary life rather than that he has an actual disdain for the feminine ilk.

Victorian-era Irish writer and folklorist David Rice McAnally Jr. amassed an entire volume of Irish legends, Irish Wonders, upon which William Butler Yeats and other scholars draw quite heavily. While little is known about McAnally, we do know he was a clergyman who heard many stories including accounts of pookas (you'll find one of my favorites in the chapter on the subject). He wrote one of the best extended descriptions and accompanying stories of the leprechaun to date, which I have excerpted from here.

McAnally describes the leprechaun, or leprechawn, as a creature of neither evil nor good, but of rather mixed quality, the child of an evil father and a degenerate fairy of a mother. (Apparently she spent one too many nights knocking back the whiskey with a pooka.) The best way to spot a leprechaun is to know what one is looking for. For physical description, McAnally's account is unmatched. He writes:

He is of diminutive size, about three feet high, and is dressed in a little red jacket or roundabout, with red breeches buckled at the knee, gray or black stockings, and a hat, cocked in the style of a century ago, over a little, old, withered face. Round his neck is an Elizabethan ruff, and frills of lace are at his wrists. On the wild west coast, where the Atlantic winds bring almost constant rains, he dispenses with ruff and frills and wears a frieze overcoat over his pretty red suit, so that, unless on the lookout for the cocked hat, "ye might pass a Leprechawn on the road and never know it's himself that's in it at all."

In different country districts the Leprechawn has different names. In the northern counties he is the Logheryman; in Tipperary, he is the Lurigadawne; in Kerry, the Luricawne; in Monaghan, the Cluricawne. The dress also varies. The Logheryman wears the uniform of some British infantry regiments, a red coat and white breeches, but instead of a cap, he wears a broad-brimmed, high, pointed hat, and after doing some trick more than usually mischievous, his favorite position is to poise himself on the extreme point of his hat, standing at the top of a wall or on a house, feet in the air, then laugh heartily and disappear. The Lurigadawne wears an antique slashed jacket of red, with peaks all round and a jockey cap, also sporting a sword, which he uses as a magic wand. The Luricawne is a fat, pursy little fellow whose jolly round face rivals in redness the cut-a-way jacket he wears, that always has seven rows of seven buttons in each row, though what use they are has never been determined, since his jacket is never buttoned, nor, indeed, can it be, but falls away from a shirt invariably white as the snow. When in full dress he wears a helmet several sizes too large for him, but, in general, prudently discards this article of headgear as having a tendency to render him conspicuous in a country where helmets are obsolete, and wraps his head in a handkerchief that he ties over his ears.

The Cluricawne of Monaghan is a little dandy, being gorgeously arrayed in a swallow-tailed evening coat of red with green vest, white breeches, black stockings, and shoes that "fur the shine av 'em 'ud shame a lookin'-glass." His hat is a long cone without a brim, and is usually set jauntily on one side of his curly head.

When greatly provoked, he will sometimes take vengeance by suddenly ducking and poking the sharp point of his hat into the eye of the offender.

Such conduct is, however, exceptional, as he commonly contents himself with soundly abusing those at whom he has taken offence, the objects of his anger hearing his voice but seeing nothing of his person.

Leprechauns are known to ride goats, sheep, or dogs to get around, and many a peasant has awoken to find their faithful companions muddy and exhausted. In some cases, the leprechaun will ride the animal to its death. Not unlike the mischief-making goblins or brownies, the leprechaun can be blamed for everything from strewn furniture, tumbling babies, and spoilt milk to empty cupboards. By the same hand, the leprechaun is fond of families and becomes quite attached, offering help in the fields and with domestic tasks (as long as he is given his payment of his own fresh food and drink). Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to leave the leprechaun or any other domestic fairy a subpar offering of leftovers. They will wreak havoc upon your household, though no one will be permanently harmed.

Their gold, which is possibly stored in brimming pots as part of their greater stash, is more commonly the prize hidden inside a magic purse. Most leprechauns are in possession of said magic purse, one which never runs dry. It possesses just one shilling, one magical shilling, but there's always another shilling after that, and after that, and after that, and so on.

Curious how to catch one or if it's even possible? In Irish Wonders, McAnally offers us three lovely leprechaun encounters. In the first account from a Kerry "peasant," Michael O'Dougherty, "easy money" comes by searching the lands for almost a year, hoping to catch a leprechaun. It also goes without saying that coming back from a wake and napping under a hedge on the way lends a suspicious air of potent beverage consumption to the tale, though this in no way diminishes its strength. (Hey, we've all been there.) Nonetheless, McAnally confirms the idea that any simple distraction will allow the leprechaun to escape. In the second story, the case of Galway's Paddy Donnelly, we hear the story of a hardworking, sober man who actually manages to get a leprechaun to give up the gold — or so it is believed by all the other townsfolk. For "how else could he get rich at all?" they asked, although Donnelly staunchly denied any leprechaun's involvement in his good fortune. In fact, Donnelly becomes unpopular in the area because he refuses to admit and give up the location of the golden store. The guy just can't win. And finally, the third story tells us about a blaggard (scoundrel) named Dennis O'Bryan of Tipperary. Dennis, who hated hard work and could be found "sitting in a shebeen day in and out" (a shebeen is an unlicensed pub or private house, often looked at with disdain by local pub crawlers), stumbles upon a leprechaun and chokes the little man into submission. Alas, Dennis' grand attempt to avoid hard labor leads him to just that (thirty days, so said the judge).


Excerpted from Fairies, Pookas, and Changelings by VARLA VENTURA. Copyright © 2017 Weiser Books. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Woods Are Lovely, Dark, and Deep xi

Chapter 1 A Fear of Little Men: Elves, Trolls, Leprechauns, Tree Spirits, Brownies, Coblyns, Dwarves, Goblins, Bonga, Trolls, and Other Fairy Folk of Glen, Forests, and Hearth 1

Three Leprechaun Stories D. R. McAnally 19

The Enchanted Elm Henry Beston 33

The Brownie O' Ferne-Den Elizabeth W. Grierson 52

The Goblin of Adachigahara Yei Theodora Ozaki 68

The Magic Fiddle Joseph Jacobs, Ed. 79

The Troll Wedding Clara Stroebe, Ed. 88

The Fairies William Allingham 92

Chapter 2 The Hand That Rocks the Cradle: Changelings and Other Greedy Kidnappers of the Fairy Kingdom 95

The Changeling W. Y. Evans-Wentz 103

The Brewery of Eggshells T. Crofton Croker 106

The Fairy Nurse Edward Walsh 112

Jamie Freel and the Young Lady: A Donegal Tale Letitia McClintock 114

The Stolen Child William Butler Yeats 128

Chapter 3 I'm Not Drunk, It's Just My Pooka: Tales of the Trickster Fairy and Its Wild Counterparts 131

The Piper and the Púca Douglas Hyde 133

The Pooka W. B. Yeats 138

The Kildare Pooka Patrick Kennedy 140

Daniel O'Rourke T. Crofton Croker 146

Taming the Pooka D. R. McAnally 159

Chapter 4 Is That All There Is? Fairies Who Give, or the Barter System 181

The Magic Teacup Dolores Guetebier 184

The Fairy Charles Perrault 191

Rumpelstiltskin The Brothers Grimm 199

Chapter 5 Whoops, There It Is: How to Enter the Fairy Kingdom (or How Not To) 207

Childe Rowland Joseph Jacobs, Ed. 213

Fairy Ointment Joseph Jacobs, Ed. 225

Goodbye Is Not Forever 231

Acknowledgments 233

Bibliography 237

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