If one believed that such problems may not resolve themselves during an entire human lifetime, then drastic measures would be all the more justified. Changeling folklore not only explained why some children fail to grow and develop normally and helped to justify the extreme actions that may have been taken (whether in fact or only in fantasy) to free the parents or society from the burden of caring for. The most frequently mentioned preventative practice, and one that undoubtedly evolved because of its positive consequences, was the insistence that the newborn infant be watched very carefully until certain danger periods had passed. "Women who have recently been delivered may not go to sleep until someone is watching over the child. Mothers who are overcome by sleep often have changelings laid in their cradles recorded Jacob Grimm in his German Mythology. Footnote 19 In the legend appropriately entitled "Watching Out for the Children we are given to believe that a child would have been stolen by a supernatural being, had not the parents been so watchful during the night. According to most beliefs, a newborn was to be watched continuously for the first three days of its life; a somewhat reduced, but still high level of watchfulness was called for during the first six weeks.
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Typically the changeling responds with surprise, claiming that he is as old as a nearby forest, but has never before witnessed such a sight. The belief that a changeling was actually much older than the child he was impersonating could lead to a fear of the child, as illustrated in the Icelandic tale "The Changeling who Stretched." footnote 16 This legend tells of a woman who is left alone. She watches in horror as the lad, who apparently thinks that he is alone, yawns and stretches until he reaches the rafters. Terrified at being alone with this monster, the woman screams, and the boy collapses as if he had been shot, resumes his former size, and returns to his bed. It is easy to see how this tale could have grown out of a woman's fears of being left alone with a mentally retarded but sexually maturing male. A changeling's ostensibly great age plays an important role in yet another folktale motif: the child who neither matures nor dies, remaining helplessly dependent and insatiably hungry for an interminable amount of time. The opening paragraph of the norwegian tale "The Changeling Betrays His Age" footnote 17 exemplifies the problem: "On Lindheim Farm, in Nesherad, there was supposed to have been a changeling. No one could remember when he was born or when he had come to the farm. No one had ever heard him speak, but all the same they time were afraid to do anything to him or make him angry. He ate so much that the people loan at Lindheim had been living from hand to mouth, generation after generation, on his account." Although other sources suggest that changelings seldom lived longer than seven years, or - at the longest - eighteen or nineteen years, footnote. To some the burden of caring for a retarded child must have appeared to be interminable.
A peasant family's very subsistence frequently depended upon the productive labor of management each member, and it was enormously difficult to provide for a person who was a permanent drain on the family's scarce resources. The fact that the changelings' ravenous appetite is so frequently mentioned indicates that the parents of these unfortunate children saw in their continuing existence a threat to the sustenance of the entire family. Changeling tales support other historical evidence in suggesting that infanticide was not infrequently the solution selected. Cruel abuse is not the only way to force demonic parents into reclaiming their misshapen children in changeling legends, although this is the most frequently described method. A more humane approach was to force the changeling to laugh or to make him utter an expression of surprise, which - according to popular belief - would expose his true identity and force his supernatural parents to take him away. A common trick was to make preparations in the presence of the changeling to brew beer or to cook stew in eggshells. This approach is described in some detail in Jacob Grimm's German Mythology footnote 15 and is used in numerous folktales throughout Europe.
Folklore sources suggest that such fatal abuse of malformed children was not unusual. The mistreatment of changelings in folklore accounts often (although not always) leads to a happy outcome for the human parents and their rightful child. To halt the abuse of their offspring, the otherworldly parents frequently rescue the changeling and return the stolen mortal child. Stories with these fantasy endings provided hope, resume wish working fulfillment, and escape to an era that was plagued with birth defects and debilitating infant diseases. But not all changeling accounts have happy endings. Often the child thought to be a changeling is driven away or killed, but there is no indication that the healthy original child is returned. The tales that omit the safe recovery of the rightful child authentically illustrate a painful aspect of family survival in pre-industrial Europe.
There is ample evidence that these legendary accounts do not misrepresent or exaggerate the actual abuse of suspected changelings. Court records between about 18 in Germany, scandinavia, great Britain, and Ireland reveal numerous proceedings against defendants accused of torturing and murdering suspected changelings. Footnote 13 Similar incidents were undoubtedly even more common in earlier centuries, but prior to the mid nineteenth century, public opinion, religious attitudes, and legal indifference made it unlikely that such cases would be prosecuted. The court records of Gotland, Sweden, for 1690 document one of the rare exceptions. A man and woman were placed on trial for having left a ten-year-old "changeling" - a sickly child who was not growing properly - on a manure pile overnight on Christmas eve, hoping that the elves who had made the exchange some years earlier would. The child died of exposure. Footnote 14 Without doubt many similar cases went unprosecuted and unrecorded.
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Footnote 10 In spite of the general credibility given to changeling accounts, and the support that they received from respected church leaders (Catholics as well as Protestants there is evidence that many people were uneasy about the cruel treatment that the legends seemed to advocate. This evidence comes from the stories themselves. Parents who suspect that their child has been replaced with a changeling almost never decide on a course of action without first receiving advice and moral support from a third party. This fact is stated or implied in virtually all changeling tales, although it is usually communicated in an offhand manner. For example: "In distress she the mother went to her neighbor and asked her for advice." footnote 11 The parents of seriously handicapped children obviously wanted others to share the moral responsibility for whatever decisions were reached. Folklore suggests that parents sought and received advice and approval from all segments of society before taking any drastic measures with their suspected changelings.english
The Grimms' accounts offer excellent examples of this broadly based community support: In three of their tales, the advice comes from ordinary people: a neighbor, a stranger on the street, and an unidentified person. In two other instances, the mothers - peasant women - are advised by their feudal landlords, and in one tale, "The Changeling in the Thuringian Forest footnote 12 the mother receives information from her pastor that enables her to discover her changeling's true identity and. Several levels of community support are suggested by the sources of advice in these changeling stories. Peer approval is indicated by the participation of ordinary people in the parents' decisions, and the voice of civil and ecclesiastical authority is added by the pronouncements of the landlords and the clergy. The cruelty to which suspected changelings are subjected in folktales makes it clear why the perpetrators of this harsh treatment sought the symbolic approval of their community. In the Grimms' accounts alone, we learn of changelings being thrown into water, beaten severely with a switch, left unfed and crying in an open field, or placed on a hot stove. This list of ordeals can easily be expanded by consulting other changeling tales from throughout northern Europe.
El-Shamy reports: "The belief that the jinn may steal a human infant and put their own infant in its place is widespread in numerous parts of Egypt." footnote 6 views held firmly for a thousand years do not die easily, especially when they appear. In keeping with their higher level of popular credibility, changeling accounts are much more often classified as legends than as fairy tales by folktale scholars. The Grimms themselves delineate between these two principal folktale genres in terms that twentieth-century folklorists still find meaningful: "The fairy tale is more poetic, the legend is more historical. While it is the children alone who believe in the reality of fairy tales, the folk have not yet stopped believing in their legends." footnote 7 Legends, they conclude, are less fantastic and more firmly rooted in reality than fairy tales. Storytellers use a variety of literary devices to emphasize the familiarity and credibility of their changeling accounts.
In contrast to fairy tales, which nearly always take place at an indefinite "once upon a time" and in an unnamed place, changeling legends frequently are set in a precisely identified time and location. The opening of "Beating the Changeling with Switches" is typical in this regard: "The following true story took place in 1580. Near Breslau there lived a well-known nobleman." Another changeling tale begins with the sentence: "A reliable citizen of leipzig told the following story." footnote 8 The Grimms do not identify their "reliable citizen of leipzig but they do identify another of their sources, a man. The influential church reformer was not only an avid storyteller, but - as his own writings demonstrate - he was also a true believer in changelings. Luther was very much a product of his own times with respect to superstitious beliefs and practices. He sincerely believed that Satan was responsible for the malformed children known as changelings, and that such satanic child exchanges occurred frequently. Footnote 9 In Luther's theological view, a changeling was a child of the devil without a human soul, "only a piece of flesh." This view made it easy to justify almost any abuse of an unfortunate child thought to be a changeling, including the ultimate. Luther himself had no reservations about putting such children to death.
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The two stories"d above are part of a vast network of legends and superstitions that give primitive but satisfying answers to these questions. These accounts - which, unlike most fantasy tales, were actually widely believed - suggest that a physically or mentally abnormal child is very likely not melisande the human parents' offspring at all, but rather a changeling - a creature begotten by some supernatural being and then. Footnote 3 From pre-Christian until recent times, many people have sincerely and actively believed that supernatural beings can and do exchange their own inferior offspring for human children, making such trades either in order to breed new strength and vitality into their own diminutive races. These beliefs continued to exert influence well into the nineteenth century, and in some areas even later. Writing in England in 1890, the pioneer folklorist Edwin Sidney hartland could state: "In dealing with these stories about changelings we must always remember that not merely are we concerned with sagas of something long past, but with a yet living superstition." footnote. Evans-Wentz, himself a true believer in the reality of fairy life, published an extensive study, the fairy-faith in Celtic countries, which contains numerous accounts of exchanged children. This book, with a new introduction praising the author for his courageous acceptance of "a thesis greater reality beyond the everyday world was reissued in 1966. As late as 1924 it was reported that in sections of rural Germany many people were still taking traditional precautions against the demonic exchange of infants. Footnote 5 Finally, writing in 1980, hasan.
He said to her: "Woman, if you think that this is not your child, then do this one thing. Take it out to the meadow where you left your previous child and beat it hard with a switch. Then you will witness a miracle." The woman followed the nobleman's advice. She went out and beat the child with a switch until it screamed loudly. Then the devil brought back her stolen child, saying: "There, you have it!" And with that he took his own child away. This story is often told and is known by both the young and the old in and around Breslau. Footnote 2 we all want explanations for happenings that fall outside of our control, especially those that have a direct bearing on our welfare. It is only natural that our forebears wanted to know why some children fail to develop normally, and what our responsibilities are toward water these handicapped individuals.
every summer which his subjects were required harvest for him. One year there was a new mother among his harvest workers, a woman who had barely had a week to recover from the birth of her child. When she saw that she could not refuse the nobleman's decree, she took her child with her, placed it on a small clump of grass, and left it alone while she helped with the haymaking. After she had worked a good while, she returned to her child to nurse. She looked at it, screamed aloud, hit her hands together above her head, and cried out in despair, that this was not her child: It sucked the milk from her so greedily and howled in such an inhuman manner that it was nothing like the. As is usual in such cases, she kept the child for several days, but it was so ill-behaved that the good woman nearly collapsed. She told her story to the nobleman.
In distress she went to a neighbor and asked for advice. The neighbor told her to carry the changeling into the kitchen, set it on the hearth, make a fire, and boil water in two eggshells. That should make the changeling laugh, and if he laughs it will be all over with him. The woman did everything just as her neighbor said. When she placed the eggshells filled with water over the fire, the blockhead said: Now i am as old. As the wester wood, but have never seen anyone cooking in shells! And he began laughing about. When he laughed, a band of little elves suddenly appeared.
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Changelings: An Essay. Ashliman An Essay. Ashliman, copyright 1997 Return to: Contents, the xmas legends, a living superstition. The legend genre, martin Luther on changelings, shared responsibility. Justifying infanticide, brewing in eggshells, other protective measures, working mothers. Gender bias, organized religion, the stolen child's perspective, selma lagerlöf. Conclusion, footnotes, additional notes and links, a mother had her child taken from the cradle by elves. In its place they laid a changeling with a thick head and staring eyes who would do nothing but eat and drink.