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Changelings

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Many Fay and Gnomic breeds are notorious for their habit of abducting human infants from their cribs, often (but not always) replacing them with a weird substitute of their own kind. The reasons suggested for the kidnappings varied, from them wanting to diversify and strengthen their own biological stock, to them needing the human child as sacrifice to pay their Teind to Hell due every seven years, or simply that they felt broody. The replacement Changeling (also known as Plentyn-Newid, Killcrops, Sibhreach, Crimbils and Sharg Bairns) could either be a Fay child or an extremely old individual. Changelings are initially Glamorised to closely resemble the stolen child, but there is always something not quite right that arouses suspicion - they could be jaundiced, wizened or otherwise peculiar or sickly-looking. Likewise they could be extremely demanding and foul-tempered and could display appetites for huge amounts of food or favour untraditional baby-food such as whiskey. There were many methods utilised to try and cause the Fay abductors to return their own. However some of these methods were as extreme as leaving the child exposed on a dung-heap or putting it on a shovel and holding it over hot coals. It is possible that many children born with medical conditions that alter appearance or behaviour to differ from the accepted norm (which are recognised today, but weren’t then) may have suffered or perished as a result. The Changelings that grew up in human society were often considered retarded or unhealthy, though some individuals were said to have grown into dreamy outsiders who were creatively and psychically gifted.


 

Stocks

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Adult humans would also occasionally be taken by the Faeries, sometimes for similar reasons to their abduction of children, sometimes due to infatuation and desire. Often these people would vanish into thin air, only to return a long time later listless or heavy with ennui. If they ate, drank or danced in the Otherworld their safe return was far more difficult to achieve. Some folk went willingly; others were taken as servants, midwives and slaves. Others still vanished from their beds without warning. Some of the missing were replaced at home with Stocks. Initially these resembled their human counterparts but would soon grow increasingly weak and would take to their beds. Here they would grow ever more immobile and vacant-minded. they would not survive for long but, as death approached, strange details grew apparent. The tone and texture of their skin became wooden to sight and touch. They would begin to rot, but not in the meaty fashion of a normal human cadaver - rather they would smell and look like a decomposing piece of timber, for indeed the Stocks were Glamorised wooden effigies.


 

Fir Darrig

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Dressed in their extravagant rags, the Fir Darrig (also known as Fear Dearg, Red Men or Rat Boys) may be encountered in the strangest of places - on river-banks, under bridges, by the coast, on refuse tips and in sewers. In Ireland, they may even enter houses uninvited and sit themselves down by the fireside. They are fond of bothersome practical jokes, but aren’t a malicious breed. They will frequently engage humans in conversation, especially if there is food, liquor or tobacco to be scrounged, but all that the Fir Darrig has to say must be carefully considered as he is a contradiction in terms. He may claim that he was once human but became trapped in the Otherworld, and will then warn you of the dangers of talking to Fay beings. But here he is, in the waking world - a Fay being himself engaging you in small-talk. The fact that his Shillelagh (Blackthorn walking stick or club) is adorned with a real human skull also does little to inspire a sense of well-being.


 

Urisk

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The Urisk, or Ourisk, is a form of Peallaidh - strange creatures that roam sylvan river-banks and other similar places in Scotland. Unlike some other Peallaidh though, the Urisk is not a danger nor a prankster. In fact the Urisks would like nothing more than to hold a pleasant conservation with a human. However as soon as they enthusiastically approach someone to talk, their unusual appearance generally causes humans to run away in terror. This is unfortunate, for although the Urisk resembles the Greco-Roman Fauns and Satyrs he does not share their sense of hedonism and lechery and is probably most often to be found sat in quiet contemplation and solitude by a lonely stream, or taking a gentle woodland stroll. Sometimes the Urisk is referred to as Uruisg, but this term may also refer to a similar but more unpleasant creature that frequents Scottish waterfalls.


 

Ghillie Dhu

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The Ghillie Dhu value their privacy very highly and do not appreciate the intrusion of prying eyes. Their habits and attire generally enable them to remain well-hidden amongst the foliage of the trees they frequent. They are extremely wary, perhaps even paranoid, of human presence and seem to regard us all as unwelcome intruders. Should they consider a human to be scrutinising or pursuing them, then they have the power to cause the fronds and under-storey growth of the woodland to writhe up and bind them fast. As the captured human is left to the mercy of the forest, the Ghillie Dhu will make their exit. In contrast however, the Ghillie Dhu were sometimes said to ensure that lost human children would remain safe from harm.


 

Yann-An-Od

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Also known as: Yan-An-Od, John of the Dunes.
It has been suggested that Yann-An-Od was once the King of a Faerie Court and therefore possibly also once recognised as a Celtic God, but it is unknown what happened to his family, kingdom and subjects as he now wanders alone, the last of his kind. Despite his solitude, he does not seek the company of mankind and will often vanish should anyone approach him. He may however holler a warning from the Breton seashore, should any sailors appear to be navigating their vessels too close to the reefs or shallows. Yann-An-Od has been known to shriek at and even slap those who do not heed his advice.
Yann-An-Od is a Shape-Shifter who may appear as a Dwarf, a Giant or of average human proportions. If encountered by the coast then he frequently appears as a fisherman dressed in oil-skins, leaning on an oar and gazing out to sea. If however he is observed inland in the meadows and pastures of Brittany, then it is often in the shape of an elderly shepherd with a long white beard and dressed in lengthy robes.


 

Urchins

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At first glance they may very closely resemble regular hedgehogs, however on closer inspection several distinct differences are noticeable; their limbs or facial features may appear strangely anthropomorphic and their eyes may be unusually coloured, or betray a keen intellect. They may even be wearing a cap or neckerchief, for these are not conventional hedgehogs by any means. The people of England’s West Country consider the Urchins to be transformed Pixies and will therefore show them the same cautious regard. In Ireland they have a darker reputation perhaps, as they are suspected to be human Witches who have transformed themselves thus in order to spy on folk and to suckle milk directly from cow and goat udders. It is sometimes claimed that the Urchins are also adept thieves and pickpockets.
The Urchins are known to the Scottish gypsies as Hedge-hursts . A travellers’ tale, oft repeated around fireside gatherings in times past, recollected the birth of such a creature to entirely human parents as a result of a Faerie curse. This particular specimen was said to have twinkling blue eyes and would ride around on the back of a cockerel.


 

Jimmy Squarefoot

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Though he means no harm, the appearance of Jimmy Squarefoot customarily has the effect of causing fearful humans to speedily head in the opposite direction. He may even prove to be an interesting companion, if only given a chance, but his odd combination of human and pig parts is just too frightful for most folk. He hasn’t always looked this way, however, as the older accounts of his presence reported him as being a huge but otherwise common enough looking pig. Well, not that conventional perhaps, as in those days he frequently had a boorish Giant or Foawr riding upon his back. At some point over the years, Jimmy lost his unkindly bare-back rider (it is sometimes said that the gigantic oaf went off alone, searching for his estranged wife, who left her husband due to his habit of lobbing boulders at her.) Left alone, Jimmy developed more human attributes of his own (though still maintaining a significantly porcine demeanour) and took to wandering the Isle of Man.


 

Fachan

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Also known as: Peg-Leg Jack, Direach, Dithreach.
This very strange character is unpleasant, both visually and in his behaviour. Extremely antisocial, the Fachan carries a mighty spiked club or mace in his single strong arm. He also only has one leg, with which he can hop considerable distances at a surprising speed. It is uncertain whether he is a single individual or whether there are several Fachan. The Fachan is notoriously fierce and prone to attack humans without much provocation, and therefore it comes as no surprise that he is accredited with being able to cause heart failure. As well as despising mankind, the Fachan is also reputedly none too keen on birds either.
A curious suggestion concerning the appearance of the Fachan is the theory that this being derives from a folk-memory of Celtic Seers, for some of these visionaries were said to adopt the position of standing upon one leg, with one eye closed and a single arm outstretched, whilst in trance or communion with the Otherworld. A plume of blue feathers sprouts around the Fachan's neck, shoulder and back of the head. His clothing never amounts to more than a rudimentary wrap of buckskin. He carries either a wooden bludgeon armed with a single spike in its head, or a flail tipped with poison apples.


 

Stray Sods

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Also known as: Lone Sods, Foidin Seachrain.
This Fay breed is so efficiently camouflaged that a person may not realise they have encountered one until it is too late. A clump of grass or wild flowers sprouts so proficiently from its soil-coloured body that a human rambler can easily tread on one. This does not hurt the Stray Sod but instead provokes a profound magical reaction. The person will suddenly become extremely disorientated and lost, even in a small and usually familiar field. He will aimlessly wander round in circles and proceed in the total opposite direction to where he was initially heading. The Stray Sod’s influence also extends to making stiles and guide-posts appear extremely elusive. This frustrating, progressively distressing scenario could last for hours but the spell can usually be broken if the victim turns and wears their coat inside out. Whistling may also help break the enchantment. The sudden twisting or turning of walkers’ ankles, on relatively even terrain, has also been suggested as being as a result of a Stray Sod encounter. In Ireland there may also be some connection between Stray Sods and the Fear Gortach or Hungry Grass. These are patches of weeds in Ireland that are said to cause stupor and wasting disease if trod upon. Some folk believe that this is due to Fay mischief, whilst others claim that such symptoms indicate that a human corpse had lain on the patch some time in the past.


 

Alp Luachra

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The Alp Luachra have a potent connection to food and are most frequently observed whilst they are eating. However, in sharp contrast to this, they are extremely skinny - or at least that is how they are described by those with ‘Second Sight’, for they are frequently only visible to humans who are psychically-gifted. Whether observed by the clairvoyant or going entirely unnoticed, these scrawny Fay beings will enter human households, sit invisibly by their unwary hosts at mealtimes and partake of their victuals. Though their appetite may at times seem voracious, the actual mass of food consumed is so meagre it may remain completely unnoticed. It is possible that they may ingest only the foyson or toradh - that is, merely the intangible essence or goodness of the food. As Jack ‘o’ Lents and Shotten Herrings they symbolised the Lenten Fast, and scrawny puppets would traditionally be made to represent these spirits - these would be beaten with sticks and then burnt before Easter. The Buttery Sprites & Abbey Lubbers are similar, scrawny species, however their appetite and presence may often be somewhat more apparent. They commonly attach themselves to older homes, inns and also places of religious abode such as abbeys and monasteries. Normally their presence is most noticeable by the continuous disappearance of butter from the kitchen or larder. However if the Buttery Sprites consider their human house-mates to be dishonest, unscrupulous or hypocritical (particularly if they are lodging with monks or priests), then they will make their presence ever more apparent by causing disruption and nuisance at every possible opportunity.


 

Gwyllion

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The Gwyllion may be encountered in the Welsh mountains, tending to herds of goats. It is claimed that they may at times take the forms of these animals themselves, otherwise they will sit ominously amongst rocks at the sides of paths. Sometimes they may attempt to lure travellers from the path onto deadly terrain. The Gwyllion have a strong fear of bright sunlight, cold iron and storms - if they are allowed to sit out a tempest inside a hill farm-house, then they will repay the favour by loyally guarding the farmer's dwellings and livestock from all danger.


 

Well Guardians

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The Fay maidens that watch over the oldest of wells and springs should be approached with utmost caution. Although they are intrigued with mankind, they don’t seem to understand us fully - or at least our inability to breathe underwater for prolonged periods of time. They may genuinely play with children around the water-holes, but should a child tragically fall into the depths, these guardians seem to do little to save him. Also, what may be intended as an affectionate embrace may lead to the drowning of an unfortunate mortal. They can also cause harm wilfully, however, should they consider someone to be disrespectful or destructive towards their fount. It is advisable to wear or carry a suitable charm if intending to approach a well.
In contrast some Well Spirits are believed to be of benefit to mankind. It is an enduring superstition that to cast coins or other worthy tokens into a ‘wishing well’, may cause its guardian to share their powers of enchantment and hopefully grant their deepest desires. Other wells are associated with certain Celtic Deities or Saints of the Celtic and Saxon Churches. They perhaps sprung from the spot of their death and many are believed to hold healing properties. To tie a piece of cloth (known as a Jawn’ or Clootie) around the branch of a tree growing close to a well, particularly a Hawthorn if one is to be found, was another old superstition believed to draw good health. The sudden flowing or drying up of a holy well in times when neither flood nor drought were respectively apparent was often taken as an omen of impending death or calamity.


 

Wag by the Way

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The Wag by the Way is a curious cat-like Fay that may enter a household and lazily curl up by the fireside. It rarely, if ever, bothers to use the English or Celtic languages. Though visitors to the home will often be greeted by the Wag with scratches or even a barrage of hurled pots and pans, it will frequently treat its human cohabitants with a regard almost bordering on restrained affection. However, like a conventional cat, it may suddenly just decide to leave and never return. He may wear rather smart clothing, which might often be covered in cinders. It is often claimed that he also wears a night-cap, which he pulls down over his cheek in order to try and soothe a persistent toothache. He has a long feline tail that he will wag if irritated.


 

All artwork and text © Andrew L. Paciorek

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