#FaerieFriday: Pookas

Last week I talked about categorizing faeries into the Seelie and the Unseelie Court, but the Fair Folk is so much more than faeries. One of those creatures that dwell with the faeries is the pooka, sometimes also spelled púca, phouka, or even pwca.

What is a pooka?

The pooka is an Irish goblin with the ability to change its shape. It often appears as a dark horse or goat and will bear some of those animal features when in human form. Like the Seelies and Unseelies, the pookas can be both benevolent and malevolent.

Below is a page taken from Brian Froud’s FAERIES. The text reads:

The Phooka is an Irish goblin with a variety of rough beast-like forms. He appears sometimes as a dog or a horse, or even a bull, but he is generally jet-black with blazing eyes. As a seemingly friendly, shaggy […] pony Phooka offers the unwary traveller a welcome lift, but once astride he is taken for a wild and terrifying gallop across the wettest and most thorny country, eventually to be dumped headlong into the mire or deposited in a ditch. The chuckle is that of the Phooka as he gallops away.

Illustrated by Alan Lee

A pooka means no harm

Some people fear the pooka because of that wild ride, but in truth the pooka means no harm. Pookas enjoy playing a few little tricks that might appear malevolent but aren’t meant to hurt anyone. For example, a pooka loves to chat for hours, but he will leave without a word and a trace that he was there in the first place. It is also said that berries killed by frost were turned poisonous by the pookas who spit on them.


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#FaerieFriday: Seelies and Unseelies

The term ‘faerie’ does not refer to one individual type of being, but rather encompasses a whole variety of beings. In Celtic mythology there are many ways to categorize faeries, for example into Trooping Faeries or Solitary Faeries. But one categorization that has intrigued me from the beginning was the Scottish notion of a Seelie and an Unseelie Court.

“[I]n Scottish legends the faeries are often divided into the Seelie Court and the Unseelie Court. The Seelie Court is comprised of the good, kind fairies, while the outright evil faeries tend to belong to the Unseelie Court (Briggs 1976: 222). These courts were not seen as very confining: the faeries of the Seelie Court could be violent when angered, while the […] members of the Unseelie Court could sometimes just have fun in non-lethal ways.”

Faerie Folklore in Medieval Tales – An Introduction by Mika Loponen

Beware: Seelies can be just as treacherous as Unseelies. The distinction, although implied (as seen in the picture below), is not light vs. dark, good vs. evil. All of the Fair Folk lack moral sense and are incapable of understanding human emotions; the Unseelies’ methods might just be a bit more savage. 

The first time I came across this distinction was actually in a fictional novel. In the Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare, faeries are divided into two courts. This idea always fascinated me, but I had more burning questions: Why were there two courts? Did they used to be one? What divided them? The beauty of story-telling is that we can make up our own answers. And so I went ahead and wrote The King’s Daughters, the first conflict between Seelies and Unseelies in my fictional world of Tír na Óg.


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