A changeling is a creature found in Western European folklore and folk religion. It is typically described as being the offspring of a fairy, troll, elf or other legendary creature that has been secretly left in the place of a human child. Sometimes the term is also used to refer to the child who was taken. The apparent changeling could also be a stock or fetch, an enchanted piece of wood that would soon appear to grow sick and die. The theme of the swapped child is common among medieval literature and reflects concern over infants afflicted by as-then unknown diseases, disorders, or developmental disabilities.

A human child might be taken due to many factors: to act as a servant, the love of a human child, or malice. Most often it was thought that fairies exchanged the children. Some Norwegian tales tell that the change was made to prevent inbreeding: to give trolls and humans new blood, humans were given children with enormous strength as a reward. In some rare cases, the very elderly of the Fairy people would be exchanged in the place of a human baby, and then the old fairy could live in comfort, being coddled by its human parents. Simple charms, such as an inverted coat or open iron scissors left where the child sleeps, were thought to ward them off; other measures included a constant watch over the child.

Perhaps the changeling myths of this time period reflect the feudal political structure, where inheritance is the only real way to gain personal or political power. A monarch gave the throne to his first surviving son at his own death. When there was any doubt to the legitimacy of the child, the power of the very state could be called into question and a fight for political power could arise. This inherent fear of war caused by political strife could have been mythologized.

Read more about ChangelingPurpose of A Changeling, "Changelings" in The Historical Record, Changelings in Other Countries

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Famous quotes containing the word changeling:

    We had to take the world as it was given:
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    Was rarely by a changeling prince accosted,
    The mornings happened similar and stark
    In rooms of selfhood where we woke and lay
    Watching today unfold like yesterday.
    Adrienne Rich (b. 1929)