Sunday, 6 April 2014

Changeling - The Child Impostor

A silhouette of a young boy's head
Image by J.L.Hopgood


Noun & adjective. Mid-16th century.
[from CHANGE verb + -LING.]

A1 noun. A person given to change; a waverer, a turncoat. archaic. M16

A2 noun. A person or thing (surreptitiously) put in exchange for another;
specifically a child secretly substituted for another in infancy. M16

3 A halfwitted person. archaic. E17

B obsolete. adj. Changeable, variable, inconstant. M17-E18

A particularly disturbing myth from folklore is that of changelings - creatures that were substituted for human children during infancy, variously by fairies, trolls, the Devil, or some other malevolent force. Common to the folklore of Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales and Scandinavia, changelings would usually be deceptively human in appearance, but would subsequently manifest some inhuman behaviour as they grew, such as displaying great strength, abnormal features, or never developing the ability to walk or talk. The motives for changelings varied - some believed the abducted human children were raised as slaves to their new families, others that it was for some necessary mixing of human and non-human bloodlines; it was often said that only unbaptised babies were taken, or that their human blood was used in paying some kind of tithe to Hell. Unsurprisingly, various superstitions arose to ward off creatures that might substitute a changeling, such as the use of charms and amulets, or simply keeping a constant watch over a child lest it be taken away.

Painting of two trolls leading away a blonde girl
Two trolls leading away their abducted human child
John Bauer (1882-1918)
While the notion of changelings is clearly steeped in superstition and mythology, it keenly represented the primal fear that parents have of their children being taken away, as well as serving to offer some explanation for developmental abnormalities in children such as autism, cerebral palsy and Down's syndrome. In doing so, however, the mythical realm of fairies and trolls overlapped tragically with the real world, as children suspected of being changelings were often mistreated, ostracised, and subjected to cruel rituals in an effort to expose the true nature of the changeling. If an older child suddenly and inexplicably disappeared, it might even be assumed that that child had been a changeling, and was now returning to its supernatural family.

Are there tales of changelings where you're from?

Do please comment in the box below.


  1. Are there any parents in the world who haven't occasionally wondered if they've got a changeling on their hands? This genetic stuff isn't all it's made out to be, you know.

    1. There are certainly kids out there who have always wondered if their real parents aren't in fact Lord and Lady Richington from the Barony of Mintington in the Duchy of Loaded-on-Thames.

      One can dream anyway ...

    2. Yes Im sure my son is a Changeling, What if these autistic children, like my son are actually Changelings

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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