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Old 18-01-2009, 11:08 AM   #1
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Default Shapeshifting in Celtic Myth


Céad Míle Fáilte!

Shapeshifting in Celtic Myth

Article by Kenneth R. White

The theme of shapeshifting is found in Celtic myth regardless of the specific country one invesigates. Thoughout my studies of Celtic lore I have found that there were very specific reasons or circumstances for shapeshifting. These reasons fall into at least four different categories, they are punishment, survival, protection or as a means to facilitate rebirth. Sometimes a story will fall into more than one of these categories, such as the Welsh story of Llew Llaw Gyffes.

Shapeshifting for Survival and Rebirth

In the Welsh story of Taliesin, who as Gwion Bach, transforms himself into various animal shapes to escape the wrath of the goddess Ceridwen. Gwion transforms himself into a hare, a fish, a bird and finally a grain of wheat. Ceridwen in an attempt to catch him also transforms herself. She becomes a greyhound, an otter, a falcon and a hen. It is as a hen that she finally catches Gwion, who is at this stage a grain of wheat, she swallows Gwion and by so doing becomes pregnant and eventually gives birth to Taliesin.

The story of Taliesin has many similarities with the Irish story of Tuan mac Cairill. Tuan is the great-granson of Partholon who was the leader of one of the five invading races of Ireland. Tuan is the lone survivor of this race and lives out many lives on the island as a stag, a boar, a hawk and finally as a salmon. It is as a salmon that he is caught by a fisherman and served to the wife of Cairill. The lady becomes pregnant and gives birth to Tuan. The similarity of these two myths strikes home when we understand that both Tuan and Taliesin had full memories of their previous lives as humans. In both cases, their second lives as a human were both brought about by a woman eating them and becoming pregnant. This theme too echoes throughout Celtic myth.

There is a common misconception concerning these two myths which I wish to clarify. One may think that these two stories relate to reincarnation. That is not accurate, in both instances the main characters maintain their identities in every form. John and Caitlin Matthews have provided us with some insight into the Celtic view of stories of this type. They quote Cormac’s Glossary which gives an definition of transmigration, which in the Gaelic is tuirgin. “a birth that passes from every nature into another… a transitory birth which has traversed all nature from Adam and goes through every wonderful time down to the world’s doom.” The Matthews’ go on to explain that these “transitory births” often traverse the realms of animals while the subjects retain their original memories and intelligence. But not only do they retain their original memories, they also retain the knowledge and experiences of their lives as animals. Therefore, it could be said that the act of transformation granted them knowledge they wouldn’t otherwise be able to attain.

Sometimes, the shapeshifter undergoes the change in order to survive some great disaster. And this sometimes goes hand in hand with the rebirth senario, but not always.

We can look at the story of Llew for an example of transformation following a personal disaster. After Blodeuwedd and her lover attempt to kill Llew, he is transformed into the shape of an eagle. Gwydion find him perched on a tree, decomposing flesh falling from him, which is eaten by a sow. Gwydion then uses his Druidic wand to transform Llew back to his human shape. As a punishment for her treacherous ways, Gwydion transforms Blodeuwedd into an owl.

There are many more instances of rebirth and survival in the manner described above. In fact, Celtic myth is full of them, but I haven’t the space to address them all. The Celts believed that everything was possessed of a spirit and great care was taken by Celtic women not to partake of certain foods or plants for the fear of becoming pregnant.

Transformation as Punishment

As with Blodeuwedd’s transformation into an owl, a person could be transformed to inflict some sort of punishment for transgressions, real or percieved. Ossian’s mother was one such person. She was transformed into the shape of a deer by the Druid Fer Doirche. In this story, she is turned into a doe while pregnant with him. He is born of her while she is in deer form and retained throughout life a patch of “fawn’s hair” on his forehead where she licked him. Ossian becomes a member of the Fianna and later comes face to face with his mother while out hunting. She is able to show him her true form and thus prevent Ossian from shooting her. Ossian then warns to to flee, for the Fianna would not show her the same mercy.

The children of Lir were transformed into the shapes of swans by their step mother Aoife because she was jealous of Lir’s love for them. The children were doomed to remain in this shape for many years until finally they resumed thier human shapes and died old and tired.

The Welsh story of Math ap Mathonwy we find another example of transformation used as a punishment. Gwydion and his brother Gilfaethwy create problems for Math when they start a war with Pryderi, King of Annwn. This war is all to draw Math away from his royal foot holder Goewin. Gwydion kills Pryderi and Gilfaethwy rapes Goewin. Math in a rage over these transgressions changes Gilfaethwy and Gwydion into deer. Gwydion a stag and Gilfaethwy a doe. In these bodies they are forced to live as mates until death at which time they are again transformed, this time Gwydion becomes a sow and Gilfaethwy a boar. Again, they live life as mates and produce many off spring. After the “incarnation” as pigs they live again as wolves. Gwydion the he-wolf and Gilfaethwy as the she-wolf.

Shapeshifting for Protection

The father of Lugh, Cian mac Cainte encounters his sons enemies. Since Cian was outnumbered he strikes himself with his wand and changes himself into a boar. One of Lugh’s enemies, Brian mac Tuirenn, derides his brothers for not being able to distinguish a real boar from a druidical boar. Thus, he strikes his brothers with his wand, changing them into hounds. In this shape they pursue Cian and mortally wound him. Cian then resumes his human shape before he dies. This form of transformation for protection didn’t work, but there are other examples.

There is in Highland Scotland folklore a specific spell used to affect the transformation of an individual. This type of spell is known as fith-fath (fee-faw) and as most Celtic spells was chanted verse. The folklore behind the fith-fath states that it was employed to bring about invisibility by transforming the subject into a different form. Alexander Carmichael informs us that the fith-fath was applied to circumstances where a person needed to walk unseen, which was usually done in the shape of an animal, or when one wished to transform one object into another. Hunters would use this spell when hunting, as it afforded them the luxury of hiding from their prey, and hiding the slain prey from any who would steal it. One can imagine a hunter chanting the fith-fath and taking on the shape of a deer, how better to approach their quary unseen and unsuspected.

Carmichael has provided us with a translated fith-fath spell meant to ensure that the person whom it was chanted over would become invisible to all the animals and beings recited in the verse.

A magic cloud I put on thee,
From dog, from cat,
From cow, from horse,
From man, from woman,
From young man, from maiden,
And from little child.
Till I again return.

The “magic cloud” could easily be a invocation of the powers of the god Manannan, who being the god of the sea had control over the mists and fogs. These mists and fogs were controlled by the god with his magic cloak or mantle. This same mantle was shaken between Fionn and his Fae lover, so that they would forget each other. So, what the chanter of this verse is asking is that the subject be covered by the cloak of Manannan. This same spell could be used to transform the subject into an animal or some other object.

The Matthew’s find a correlation between the fith-fath and the spell known as the lorica in Irish lore. They translate the words fith-fath as “deer’s aspect” and give a similar translation for the Irish feth-faidha. The feth-faidha is another name for the chant known as “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” The breastplate was used by the Irish saint to confuse the soldiers of King Loegaire, thus changing Patrick and his attendants into deer. The breastplate runs thus:

I arise day
Through the strength of heaven,
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendour of fire,
Speed of lightening,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.


As I stated above the people who were transformed were able to gain some knowledge from living as animals. Through this experience they were able to better appreciate nature and gained a closer affinity for nature. So we see several instances from Celtic myth where transformation was used as a means of survival or of protection. Taliesin and Tuan both used transformation as a means of survival and to bring about their eventual rebirth. Hunters and even the Irish Saints used transformation to protect themselves or cause them to become “invisible.”

John Matthews presents a theory which states that some transformations were necessary for an exchange of knowledge between otherworld beings and a seeker or shaman. These transformations required the seeker to confront a threshold guardian or to become that guardian themselves. In a later essay I will address this theory in greater detail.

The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom by Caitlin and John Matthews
The Celtic Tradition by Caitlin Matthews
Fire in the Head by Tom Cowan
The Magic arts in Celtic Britian by Lewis Spence
An introduction to Celtic Mythology by David Bellingham
The Druids by P.B. Ellis
The Druids-Magicians of the West by Ward Rutherford

Article by Kenneth R. White


If your logic is strong enough to stand on its own right, there should be no need to attack the character of the opponent. To the undecided audience, attacking him personally is likely to grant him the appearance of a victim.

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Old 18-01-2009, 12:07 PM   #2
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Well done. A great intro into Celtic Mythology.
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Old 18-01-2009, 12:47 PM   #3
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Default digging up our roots


Thanks endlessvista

thats a good site

many great sites on Celtic Mythology long a
special interest of mine are now available

( I am Old Style PAGAN. meaning "BJ" , or before judaic revisionists
rewrote PAGAN philosophy to promote xian/jude religions in
new robes and chants for the scardycat gullible. S )

as time permits I will dig up some of my old
fav sites with interesting connections to our
REAL history to post here.
If you have Myths on other cultures please share ?

Its all 'out there' if we have time and patience to look
and who does with the PTB keeping us on edge and dizzyingly busy??
so sites as is this one where we arent restricted in what we can
post are hard to find and important if we are to pass on the TRUTH
of our real roots to our descendants.

If your logic is strong enough to stand on its own right, there should be no need to attack the character of the opponent. To the undecided audience, attacking him personally is likely to grant him the appearance of a victim.

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Old 13-09-2010, 04:09 AM   #4
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Learn to hide in plain sight,,,Be a shapeshifter....
bump,,,whatever,,,Things are getting so boring on this forum,,,need to pull up threads from the way back machine,,,
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Old 13-09-2010, 12:07 PM   #5
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Although ‘Puck’ is now mainly thought of as the personal name of one character in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, it is in fact an ancient word, found both in Germanic and in Celtic languages, for a demon, goblin, or troublesome fairy. In medieval and Elizabethan English, the connections can be quite sinister; Langland calls Hell ‘the poukes poundfold’, and Spenser, calling down blessings on a newly married couple, prays that they may be safe from fires, lightning, witches, ‘the Pouke and other evill sprights’. But Shakespeare's Puck is only a mischievous trickster who boasts of shape-changing and leading travellers astray; like a helpful domestic brownie he arrives at the end of the play, broom in hand, to sweep the house so that the fairies may bless it.

The name ‘Puck’ appears in two Sussex variants of the story of the man who spies on his fairy helpers, one published in 1854 and the other in 1875. A farmer (or a carter) who realizes someone has been secretly threshing his corn (or feeding his horses) watches two small fairies toiling at these tasks until one says to the other, ‘I say, Puck, I sweats, do you sweat?’ The man bursts out laughing (or cursing), and the fairies rush off; he falls sick and pines away (or his horses do) (Simpson, 1973: 55-7). Also in the mid-19th century, being ‘poakeled’ was a dialect term in the Midlands and west of England for having lost one's way at night or feeling bewildered and confused.

In English folklore, Puck is a mythological fairy or mischievous nature sprite. Puck is also a generalised personification of land spirits. In more recent times, the figure of Robin Goodfellow is identified as a puck.

Illustration from the title page of Robin Goodfellow: His Mad Pranks and Merry Jests (1629)

This article may need to be rewritten entirely to comply with Wikipedia's . You can help. The may contain suggestions. (August 2010) In English folklore, Puck is a mythological fairy or mischievous nature sprite.

The Old English puca is a kind of half-tamed woodland sprite, leading folk astray with echoes and lights in nighttime woodlands (like the German and Dutch Weisse Frauen and Witte Wieven and the French Dames Blanches, all "White Ladies"), or coming into the farmstead and souring milk in the churn.
Significantly for such a place-spirit or genius loci, the Old English. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the etymology of the name Puck is "unsettled", and it is not clear even whether its origin is Germanic (cf. Old Norse puki, Old Swedish puke, Icelandic puki, Frisian Puk), or Celtic (Welsh pwca[1] and Irish púca).
One inference would surmise that a theoretical Proto-Indo-European original for both is earlier than the linguistic split.[2]
According to Paul Devereux, the names of various creatures from Celtic folklore, including the Irish, púca, Welsh, "pwca" or "pwca", could be from the same Celtic family as the term "pixies" (in Cornwall, "Piskies"),[3] however "piskie" could be related to the Swedish word "pyske" meaning "small fairy".
Other likely names:
  • Bosworth and Toller list only "púcel" (puucel) in Old English.[4]
  • In Friesland, there is a “Puk”
  • In old German, the “putz” or “butz” is a being not unlike the original English Puck.
  • In Icelandic a “Púki” is a little devil. “Púkinn” with the definite article suffix "-inn", "The Puck", means the Devil.
  • The “Puk” (or the Draug) in Norwegian is a water spirit, a supernatural being of evil power.
  • In modern Cornwall folklore are Buccas, good and bad.
The folklore of Puck was magisterially assembled by William Bell, in two volumes that appeared in 1852[5] that have been called a "monument to nineteenth-century antiquarianism gone rampant."[6]
Since, if you "speak of the Devil" he will appear, Puck's euphemistic "disguised" name is "Robin Goodfellow" or "Hobgoblin",[7] in which "Hob" may substitute for "Rob" or may simply refer to the "goblin of the hearth" or hob. The name Robin is Middle English in origin, deriving from Old French Robin, the pet form for the name Robert (which had cognates in the Old English Hrodberht and Old German Rodbert or Hrodebert, all derived from the Proto-Germanic hrôdberxtas. See Robert). The earliest reference to "Robin Goodfellow" cited by the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1531. After Meyerbeer's successful opera Robert le Diable (1831), neo-medievalists and occultists began to apply the name Robin Goodfellow to the Devil, with appropriately extravagant imagery.
If you had the knack, Puck might do minor housework for you, quick fine needlework or butter-churning, which could be undone in a moment by his knavish tricks if you fell out of favour with him. "Those that Hob-goblin call you, and sweet Puck, / You do their work, and they shall have good luck" said one of William Shakespeare's fairies. Shakespeare's characterization of "shrewd and knavish" Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream may have revived flagging interest in Puck.[8]
According to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1898):
[Robin Goodfellow is a] "drudging fiend", and merry domestic fairy, famous for mischievous pranks and practical jokes. At night-time he will sometimes do little services for the family over which he presides. The Scots call this domestic spirit a brownie; the Germans, kobold or Knecht Ruprecht. Scandinavians called it Nissë God-dreng. Puck, the jester of Fairy-court, is the same.
In English literature

Main article: Puck (Shakespeare)
Puck, also known as Robin Goodfellow, is a character in William Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream, whose nature has been so clearly fixed in the English-speaking imagination that, as Katherine Briggs has remarked,[9] "it no longer seems natural to talk as Robert Burton does in the Anatomie of Melancholy of a puck instead of 'Puck'". The audience is introduced to Puck in Act II Scene I when Puck encounters one of Titania's fairies. She recognizes Puck for
that shrewd and knavish sprite
Call'd Robin Goodfellow: are not you he
That frights the maidens of the villagery;
Skim milk, and sometimes labour in the quern
And bootless make the breathless housewife churn;
And sometime make the drink to bear no barm;
Mislead night-wanderers, laughing at their harm?
Those that Hobgoblin call you and sweet Puck,
You do their work, and they shall have good luck:
Are not you he?
It is Puck's mistaken doings that provide the convolutions of the plot.
Aside from Shakespeare's famous use of Puck, many other writers have referred to the spirit as well. An early 17th century broadside ballad, "The Mad Merry Pranks of Robin Goodfellow"—which is so deft and literate it has been taken for the work of Ben Jonson—describes Puck/Robin Goodfellow as the emissary of Oberon, the Faery King, inspiring night-terrors in old women but also carding their wool while they sleep, leading travellers astray, taking the shape of animals, blowing out the candles to kiss the girls in the darkness, twitching off their bedclothes, or making them fall out of bed on the cold floor, tattling secrets, and changing babes in cradles with elflings. All his work is done by moonlight, and his mocking, echoing laugh is "Ho ho ho!"
Robin Goodfellow is the main speaker in Jonson's 1612 masque Love Restored.
John Milton, in L'Allegro tells "how the drudging Goblin swet / To earn his cream-bowle duly set" by threshing a week's worth of grain in a night, and then, "stretch'd out all the chimney's length, / Basks at the fire his hairy strength." Milton's Puck is not small and sprightly, but nearer to a Green Man or a hairy woodwose. For followers of neo-Pagan imagery, sometimes the influence of Pan imagery has now given Puck the hindquarters and cloven hooves of a goat. He may even have small horns.
Goethe also used Puck in the first half of Faust, in a scene entitled "A Walpurgis Night Dream", where he played off of the spirit Ariel from The Tempest.

Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill, painted by Arthur Rackham

Puck's trademark laugh in the early ballads is "Ho ho ho."[10] In modern mythology, the "merry old elf" who works with magical swiftness unseen in the night, who can "descry each thing that's done beneath the moone", whom we propitiate with a glass of milk, lest he put lumps of coal in the stockings we hang by the hob with care, and whose trademark laugh is "Ho ho ho"—is Santa Claus.
In Rudyard Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill (1906), Puck, the last of the People of the Hills and "the oldest thing in England", charms the children Dan and Una with a collection of tales and visitors out of England's past.
Puck plays a central role in Mark Chadbourn's fantasy sequence, "Kingdom of the Serpent", comprising the novels "Jack of Ravens", "The Burning Man", and one yet to be published. Puck manipulates the heroes in an epic battle between good and evil over two thousand years of human history.
Pan, a Puck-like entity, is also a main character in Tom Robbins' novel Jitterbug Perfume.
The children's theater play Robin Goodfellow by Aurand Harris is a retelling of A Midsummer Night's Dream from the point of view of Puck.
In popular culture

See Puck in popular culture
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Old 15-09-2010, 09:57 PM   #6
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Interesting thread


Last edited by airkraft; 15-09-2010 at 09:57 PM.
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