Changelings are creatures spoken of in many folklore, fantasy and fairy tales from across the world - they are regarded as creatures that are placed into mortal homes by fairies or demons, who proceed to kidnap the original child of the home.
Changelings are often said to exhibit odd behavior or have traits that are not normally found in human young (such as having extra toes): some tales also spoke of Changelings that had voracious appetites, unnatural knowledge and imp-like traits that made them more mischievious and/or disturbing to their mortal "parents".
To ward off Changelings people would often put small trinkets in beside their infants and later it was considered wise to baptize one's young as it was believed creatures such as trolls would only take unbaptized children.
Purpose of Changelings
One belief is that for those who swap children with their Changelings it was more respectable to be raised by humans and that they wanted to give their own children a human upbringing. Beauty in human children and young women, particularly blond hair, is said to attract the fairies who kidnap human children.
In Scottish folklore, the children might be replacements for fairy children in the tithe to Hell according to the ballad of Tam Lin.
Other folklores say that human milk is necessary for fairy children to survive. In these cases either the newborn human child would be switched with a fairy baby to be suckled by the human mother, or the human mother would be taken back to the fairy world to breastfeed the fairy babies. It is also thought that human midwives were necessary to bring fairy babies into the world.
Some stories tell of Changelings who either are unaware or forget that they are not human and proceed to live a human life. Changelings which do not forget however, in some stories return to their fairy family. More often than not, the human child that was taken often stay with fairies forever.
Some folklorists believe that fairies were memories of inhabitants of various regions in Europe who had been driven into hiding by invaders. They held that changelings had actually occurred; the hiding people would exchange their own sickly children for the healthy children of the invaders.
The tales of Changelings were also a contributor to very real neglect, cruelty and even murder amongst certain individuals - as many children (often disabled and/or of ill health) suspected of being "changelings" were subjected to harsh treatment by superstitious communities wishing to rid themselves of what they believed to be a malevolent or unwanted intruder.