Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Curious History: The Changeling

That’s not my baby!
  A “Changeling” was a creature from European folklore that took the form of an infant.  According to legends, a demon, troll, or elf would swap a normal infant with a Changeling, leaving the parents to discover a strange, emotionless, or disturbed hollow creature in place of their child. 
  While today there are many scientific explanations to such phenomena (autism, mental retardation, exposure to toxins, etc.) at the time their were no rational explanations for such occurrences.  To Medieval parents Changelings were very real.  Most tragically the method of retrieving a child was to expose the Changeling, usually through horrific form of abuse such as exposure to hot objects, leaving the Changeling in a pile of manure at night, or near drowning.  It was thought that by exposing the Changeling to such danger, the fairies would return the real child, not wanting their spawn to be harmed.  Religious reformer Martin Luther believed in a more drastic approach, advocated infanticide when shown a Changeling in 1532;
  “I, Dr. Martin Luther, saw and touched a changeling. It was twelve years old, and from its eyes and the fact that it had all of its senses, one could have thought that it was a real child. It did nothing but eat; in fact, it ate enough for any four peasants or threshers. It ate, shit, and pissed, and whenever someone touched it, it cried. When bad things happened in the house, it laughed and was happy; but when things went well, it cried. It had these two virtues. I said to the Princes of Anhalt: “If I were the prince or the ruler here, I would throw this child into the water–into the Molda that flows by Dessau . I would dare commit homicidium on him!”  (Weimar: Böhlau, 1912-1921)
  Belief in Changelings would continue beyond the Middle Ages, even lasting in some rural communities into the 19th century.

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