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Advent Calendar of Winter Mythos Day 4: Pooka of Kildare, Phooka, Púca puca

Pre-Celtic, Irish folklore, British, Welsh, Norse, Germanic

As early as the 8th Century

We’ve discussed gods, ancient entities, and ghosts so far, but now enters one of my favorite fae creatures, the goblin. Mischief makers who are the stars of many misadventures of humans, for better or worse. Among these creatures is the Pooka (granted my all-time favorite goes to the pukwudgie)! The pooka were commonplace among the “good people” or the fairies of Ireland. They were said to either possess children through over-ripe blackberries even though they were described to take the form of everyday farm animals as well. This included a donkey, a white horse, a calf, a goat, or even as another famous fairy or spirit, the black dog. Regardless, they also took on their very own form said to be the size of a child, completely black, carried chains, shapeshifters taking on terrorizing or pleasing forms on whim. Many claim they posed as a cow in their herds while others say they look human with animal features such as have ears of a donkey or a tail with golden eyes. So where does the winter part of this story come into play you wonder?

They often show in late fall and the start of winter and can be responsible for a variety of feats. Some say they would come and destroy your crops before harvest, leaving frost and trampling on everything for fun. Like the Queen of Winter who they walk similar beliefs with, they are said to be present from Samhain to Beltane. Despite being said to eat human, suck on blood on the like vampires, they are more stories involving them coming to the aid of farmers who are in dire need of work to be done before snowfall or storms. The Pooka of Kildare is the most well-known who came to a young boy’s rescue when he was trying to support the household farm. Unusual to their nature, this Pooka refused any gifts of gratitude, but the boy insisted and at last was able to give him some of his clothes before he disappeared. Another version of this tale says a Pooka turned into a donkey and did the work of the girls looking over the farmlands and was said to welcome himself into the home in this state to warm by the fire for the pure delight of it all. Meanwhile, the more superstitious vibe of the Pooka says they are to blame for people falling over during the winter season, especially in October and November. Remember folks, blame the Pooka when you fall because of ice and snow this year! Pooka’s are said to come up out of the ground, between your legs, taking you for a ride or simply knocking you into the mud. Definitely the reason no one can walk on ice at the start of winter!

At Castle Pooka in Doneraile, the poet Edmund Spenser insisted one was haunting him. That’s right! Carrigaphooca Castle has “Phooca” in the name since it’s called “castle on the rock of the fairy” and is said to be haunted by spirits and a Pooka. If you’re wondering why this creature’s name seems familiar, look no further than video games. Featured or used as a namesake for characters in games such as Dungeons & Dragons, Final Fantasy, Monster Hunter, Dig Dug, Magic the Gathering, and so many more. They are either goggle wearing mischief makers or bunny-monkey black goblin things while classical art more often shows them as white or black horses with terrified riders or victims on their back. You can also find them added to modern books, including amazing artwork included in Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You. In short, these make for great plot twist and changers in any story setting. Just be careful walking around, its Pookas-trying-to-make-you-fall-down-in-the-snow-and-ice season as nothing to do with the fact its wet and slippery out there!

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