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Sunday, March 30, 2014

April Fool's Day and Mythological Humanoid #10 - Changelings

Many countries have a day for foolery. Here in the USA, April 1st is our day for practical jokes and
Alas, poor Yorick!

According to Wikipedia, April Fools may have originated because those who celebrated New Years on January 1st made fun of those who celebrated on other dates. And the precursors to these types of days include the Roman festival of Hilaria, held March 25th, and the Medieval Feast of Fools, held December 28th. This is still a day on which pranks are played in Spanish-speaking countries. The central idea of the Feast of Fools seems to be a brief social revolution, in which power, dignity and impunity is briefly given to underlings. Most would say this makes the medieval festival a successor to the Roman Saturnalia.

You may have seen a depiction of this celebration at the beginning of Disney's cartoon, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, based on Victor Hugo's book by the same name. Usually one lowly person was chosen as king for a day and brought much laughter to everybody else, though not always to themselves.

The function of this type of day is to take a break from the normal. It gives people a chance to let off steam and underlings a chance to comment on those who govern them. These days celebrate the backward and upside down relationships.

The king for a day tradition harkens back to ancient times. There are some ancient traditions discussed in The Golden Bough, by Sir James George Frazier, of city states having a king for a year and a day and then sacrificing him to assure a good harvest. This sacrifice is related to a custom seen memorialized in many spring and early summer festivals when a straw man, green man, or chosen one, is randomly selected, marked, costumed, and celebrated as a king, queen or a deity stand in, then beaten, dismembered and buried to symbolize the wheat dying to produce seeds and being buried to produce new life. Now a days a corn doll or other substitute takes the place for the violent parts. [Think May Queen gone very dark. I bet a substitute was a very early suggestion.] Christianity [Bread of Life, Unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, you can not have life.] among other religions tap into this death and burial of the vegetative god. This symbolism is ubiquitous and seems to go hand in hand with the advent of farming. [Peoples adopting farming as a means of survival over their former herding or hunting-gathering lifestyles, I imagine, were fearful about growing enough food to survive, due to capricious weather, disease, animal damage and war. Rituals are often born out of fear. Though this ritual is dark, it has the sort of half logic sense of the irrational mind.]

Nature's joke on this poor bee.
Getting back to April Fools, letting off steam and celebrating backward and upside down relationships. Humor is often the aim on these days. I love humor. I truly believe laughter is the best medicine. But laughter has a darker side. [I will write about the darkness of humor in a future blog.] The darker side of pranks and jokes in the Feast of Fools led the Catholic Church to ban the celebration at some point. Even The Hunchback of Notre Dame Disney cartoon goes dark after the jokes become tiresome.
Let's try to keep our hilarity clean and friendly this year for April Fools Day, shall we?

I'd love to hear about anybody's joke/prank ideas or events. So please share any stories you have.

Mythological Humanoid #10 – the Changeling
Changelings are not unique to Ireland, but stories of changelings are a common motif among Irish folktales. The title changeling can be used for different types of humanoids. There is the fairy creature, usually an elf or a wooden stock, put in place of a stolen human, or there is the humans themselves who has been spirited away to live among the fairies or trolls. Or sometimes a changeling is a creature that is capable of changing their shape.

In Scottish folklore, the stolen children might be replacements for fairy children in their required tithe of ten fairy children sent to Hell each year; best known from the ballad of Tam Lin. [A motif similar to Theseus's seven young men and women sent as tribute to Minos to be sacrificed to the Minotaur in the labyrinth.] Tam Lin was both a human who was spirited away and a shape changer, because he was forced to undergo many transformations into different animals by the fairy queen in an attempt to keep him from being rescued.

Some believe that fairies are memories of indigenous inhabitants, driven into hiding, who swapped their sickly babes for healthier ones. Others believe that human milk is needed for fairy children, so a newborn human would be switched with a baby fairy, or the lactating human mother would be stolen to feed the fairy babies.

Any liminal time: birth, death, marriage, was a time when people were vulnerable to being spirited away as a changeling. Trolls and fairies were particularly said to take unbaptized children. Some folktales tell of human midwives being stolen temporarily to assist in a fairy birth. King Arthur was stolen on his death bed.

liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning "a threshold") is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual's liminal stage, participants "stand at the threshold" between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes. (Wikipedia)

Some psychologists think the stories of changelings are people's attempts to explain sudden personality or health status changes in their loved ones. This fits in well with the idea of liminality being a particularly vulnerable time. Rituals times can be fearful times. These times can negatively affect health and psychological conditions.

Enough anthropology, back to folklore, some thought trolls wanted to have their children reared by humans because it was a status symbol for them. Others thought a child born with a caul across their face was a changeling or of fey birth. Orson Scott Card tapped into this myth in the birth of Alvin in his Alvin Maker series.

Beautiful children and young women, especially blonds, attracted the attention of fairies. So many cultures would frown on compliments of beauty.

Baptism or simple charms, such as an inverted coat, which caused confusion and so distracted fairies and trolls, or open iron scissors left where the child sleeps, were thought to ward them off. Another means was to keep a constant watch over the child.

Regardless of how or why changelings came to be, once they were switched they might not remember they were changed and live in their new life unknowingly. Or they could knowingly stay because they liked it, but could leave their new family without warning. Some stayed forever.

Do you know anyone about whom you have sometimes wondered if they were a changeling?

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