CONTENT WARNING: Loss of a child, acknowledgement of queer-phobia and family trauma
It’s time for another highlight from the Folklore Files, a series of small features on the myths and legends behind both the names of many of my products, and the ingredients themselves. Today I am especially thankful for the space to explore and find meaning in these myths. As I mentioned in my prior post, my family recently experienced the loss of my matrilineal grandmother. When I started this series, I intended to offer a bit of mythology with a personal twist, but as I sat down to write about the legend of the changeling, I was struck by the personal relevance and the power I found in the story.
Stories of changelings vary throughout Celtic mythology (I’ve provided a link to an excellent podcast on the topic below), but the core of the story is that of a human baby being stolen away by fairies and replaced with a fey child, often one that is ill or is in fact elderly and bewitched to appear as a child. The myth has become more broadly known in recent years due in part to the popular show Outlander, which explains the story as a sort of magical thinking used by parents in an effort to process and self-protect against the profound grief of losing a child. In rejecting one’s ailing/deceased child, one could imagine their own child well and safe among the fey.
While the story obviously serves as an exploration of a parent’s grief, I think it can also be read as a meditation on the experience of being “othered” by one’s family of origin. A concept coined by 18th century philosopher G.W.F. Hegel and expanded upon by 20th century psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, othering is to view and treat a person or group of people as intrinsically different. The harmful results of othering are abundantly clear— one’s first thoughts are of the damage caused by white supremacy and colonialism, but I know that it is an experience all too commonly felt within the queer community as well. As such, to be made to feel out of place among one’s family of origin, either inadvertently or purposefully, is a complex trauma, the healing of which can take a lifetime.
I think I was somewhere around 9-10 years old the first time I heard a relative refer to lgbtq people as “disgusting,” not long before I developed my first crush on a girl. I am incredibly lucky to have supportive and loving parents, but I didn’t come out as bisexual to my extended family until I was almost 30, and as a conscious choice made for my own wellbeing, I am now estranged from many of them.
I share this not seeking pity or validation, but because I see myself and so many others in the story of the changeling— fey and elfin creatures who find themselves out of place. It is profoundly healing when we understand and embody the truth that our experience as Other is not a reflection of us, our identity, our value, our capacity for love, etc.
In her book Women Who Run with the Wolves, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes explores these themes through the lens of a similarly symbolically-rich fairy tale, “The Ugly Duckling,” in a chapter entitled “Finding One’s Pack: Belonging as Blessing.” Just as the swan née duckling must recognize its truth, so must the changeling. To paraphrase another writer: we are all given a biological family, and it is a joyful task to find our logical family, those who recognize the magic in our fey origins.
Interested in learning more about the changeling? Check out Bluiríní Béaloidis…
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