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Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Púca

"[A]n pucadh da ngairir an spioraid phriobhaideach" - Lucerna Fidelium 
(the púca he was called the secret spirit)

 The Púca - also called by a wide array of variant names including Phooka, Pooka, Pwca [Welsh], Bucca [Cornish] and Puck [English] - is a type of being found in folklore across hundreds of years. Some even connect Shakespeare's character Puck to the folkloric Púca, although Shakespeare naturally took a lot of literary liberties. Puca was used in early Middle English as a name for the Devil (Williams, 1991). The old Irish púca is given as 'a goblin, sprite' and similarly the modern Irish is given as hobgoblin (eDIL, n.d.; O Donaill, 1977). These translations give a clue to the Púca's nature, which may be described as mischievous but can in folklore be either helpful or harmful. In some sources the Púca was seen as purely evil and dangerous, while others described it as potentially helpful and willing to do work around the home if treated well (McKillop, 1998). 

Béria L. Rodríguez @ Wikimedia Commons; Creative Commons Attribution

The Púca is known to take on many forms, most often appearing as a dark horse, but also as an eagle, bat, bull, goat, a human man, or a more typical goblin-like small fairy; in the 1950 movie 'Harvey' there is a Púca which is said to take the form of giant rabbit (Briggs, 1976; Yeats, 1888; McKillop, 1998). The form I am most personally familiar with is the black goat. In the form of a horse the Púca will lure riders onto its back and then take them on a wild ride only to dump them in a ditch. This is a reasonably harmless trick though given that the kelpies and each uisge when pulling the same trick end it by drowning and eating their riders. The Púca has also been known to work on farms and in mills, both in human form and in horse form (Briggs, 1976). This, perhaps, best encapsulates the Púca's personality, using the horse form to both trick and cause minor harm as well as to work and help. In other stories the Púca will sometimes trick a person, even cruelly, and reward them later. In one case a Púca gave a piper a ride, forcing him to play as they went, only to have the piper find the next day that the gold he thought he'd been paid had turned to leaves and his pipes would play nothing but the noises of geese; but when he tried to tell the priest later and demonstrate he found that his playing had become the best of any piper in the area (Yeats, 1888). And perhaps that is the best summary of the Púca after all. 

The Púca is a mysterious being, if indeed there is only one of him as some claim, or a complicated type if there are more than one. Generally all of the above named beings - the Púca, Pwca, Bucca and Puck - are considered together to be the same however while it may be that they are different cultural iterations of one being it might also be that they are simply similar enough to be classed together. The Welsh Bucca is said to be a single being who was once a God, while the English Puck is thought by some to perhaps be a type of pixie (Evans-Wentz, 1911). In contrast some older Irish folklore would clearly indicate the Púca was not solitary but a group of beings. It was said by one person interviewed in Ireland at the turn of the 20th century that the 'Pookas' were men who went invisibly to racecourses mounted on 'good horses' (Evans-Wentz, 1911). In Welsh and British folklore the Pwca and Puck were both said to mislead travelers and the British Puck stole clothes (Briggs, 1976; Purkiss, 2000).

The Púca also had a special association with autumn and with the turning of the year form summer to winter. In some areas it was said that any berries which remained on the bushes after Michealmas [September 29] belonged to the Púca, who would spoil them for human consumption (Briggs, 1976). In other areas it is said that it is after Samhain [October 31] that all the remaining berries belong to the Púca, and that he will urinate or spit on them to claim them. In either case it is clear that he was entitled to a portion of the wild harvest, the food that grew without being cultivated. The Púca was also associated more generally with roaming on and around Samhain and it was said that Samhain was sacred to him (Yeats, 1888). 

Although generally helpful the Púca can play pranks which may be malicious and if its necessary to convince one to leavea home or area folklore would suggest the same method used (albeit less intentionally) that rids a home of a Brownie - the gift of clothes (Briggs, 1976; Yeats, 1888). In particular the gift of fine quality clothes as the Púca seems to have high standards. If however you feel you have a Púca around that you enjoy you might try offering it the traditional cream or the less common offering of fish, as some say they enjoy that (Evans-Wentz, 1911). 

Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies
eDIL (n.d.) Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Langauge 
O Donaill, (1977) Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla
McKillop, J., (1998) Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
Evans-Wentz, W., (1911) Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries
Willians, N.,, (1991) Semantics of the Word Fairy
Purkiss, D., (2000) At the Bottom of the Garden
Yeats, W., (1888) Fairy and Folktales of the Irish Peasantry

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