Hey, at least the rest of the baby is there, right? What’s a couple of fingers compared to the peace of mind from knowing that your child isn’t some tiny monster in disguise? Can we really put a price on that knowledge? I think not.

Back in the day, people in Europe had plenty of real problems to worry about. You had plagues, war, poverty, droughts, floods, and all sorts of terrible happenings that could make life pretty miserable. Europeans also had some pretty ridiculous made up problems to worry about as well, like changelings. It apparently wasn’t bad enough that your child might just die at any given moment, no, there was also the very real (to the people of the time) possibility that your baby might be snatched by faeries, trolls, or some other mythical creature, and replaced with a fake. Talk about a terrifying situation. What happens if you’re not entirely sure? Do you go ahead and breast feed a secret troll-baby? Do you swaddle it and sing it lullabies? Ugh!

There were all sorts of ideas about changelings and creatures that might steal children through a good chunk of history. In the British Isles, in particular, there was a very strong belief that faeries might come and steal away healthy children and replace them, though there are similar beliefs seen in Scandinavia, Spain, and eastern Europe. Why magical folk like Faeries might want to do this sort of thing was, apparently, up for debate and largely regional. There were many who thought that the faerie folk would simply leave a magical copy of the child simply because they desired a child of their own but could not have one. In other areas, such as in Ireland, it was believed that the changeling was, in fact, an old faerie left in place of the baby to live out the rest of its days in comfort, being taken care of by the human parents until it died (usually only a couple of years after being switched). In Scandinavia, there are many stories of changelings being left by trolls for a number of different reasons. In some stories, the trolls leave their own babies behind to be raised and taught by humans as it was thought to be very prestigious among trolls.

Gaining social standing seems like a lovely reason to steal a child away from a happy new mother wouldn’t you say?

While the idea of mythical creatures stealing babies for so many reasons is pretty amusing in itself, the ways to detect a changeling are even funnier in folklore, though they certainly wouldn’t be as funny in practice. Many tales actually feature parents abusing the suspected changeling, often by holding them over or throwing them into a fire, which seems a bit extreme. There are some stories that simply involve tricking the changeling in some way to get it to reveal its identity and only a few where a mother actually refuses to abuse the changeling, feeling some kindness or compassion for the creature.

With the threat of changelings hanging over so many households, there were, of course, folk remedies and charms that could be used to ward off faeries, trolls, and the replacements they hoped to leave behind in the home. One of the most well known wards still featured in pop culture today is iron and comes from Scandinavia. Supernatural beings, in general, are said to be afraid of iron and it’s likely that many new parents left some iron article (including iron scissors!) in or around the infant’s cradle to keep away potential supernatural threats.

Which begs the question, how important is it, really, to ward off changelings? Important enough for your child to potentially maim itself?

Apparently so!

But hey, no changelings, am I right?

Totally worth it.