Tales of Pooka

In Irish folklore Pooka is best known for its cunning and wile. Leonie O’Hara traces legend of this famous goblin.

The Pooka, or in Irish Puca, (goblin) is a phantom fairy creature that features in Celtic folklore and fairytales of Ireland. A similar fairy entity appears in mythology of Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Channel Islands and Brittany. Often thought of as an animal spirit, some accounts believe it gets its name from Poc, meaning he-goat in Irish. In fact Pooka is a changeling, and can take animal or human form; like a horse, donkey, cat, dog, bull, young man or even a voluptuous young woman. The animal Pooka is usually jet black with fiery golden or red eyes. Some associate it with devil!

The mountains and hills are this creature’s domains. Depending on part of Ireland you lived in, Pooka was thought to be either helpful or menacing. It has been known to help farmers for example, but it can also wreak havoc. Generally however, perceived wisdom holds that an encounter with Pooka is not considered propitious, as this fairy creature is a portent of oncoming doom. Known for its cunning and wile as well as lies and deception, Pooka’s archetype is trickster. It is also a fertility spirit since it has power to create or destroy. As well as ability of human speech, it is a gifted prophesier.

November is month of Pooka. In Ireland of past at Halloween many children went out “with Pooka”, but others stayed indoors, fearful of stories they had heard of what Pooka did to children. In popular culture, other iconic mystical creatures are incarnated from Pooka. For example, bogeyman is derived from Pooka. Also Easter Bunny, which is pagan in origin; fairy-like creature that brings chocolate eggs and sweets to children at Easter has its roots in fertility spirit theme of Pooka. In film Harvey (1950) directed by Henry Koster giant white bunny was inspired by Pooka.

This mythic creature is also well documented in classic literature of Ireland and Britain. Irish poet and playwright W. B. Yeats depicts Pooka as an eagle, while Irish novelist and playwright Brian O’Nolan, who wrote under pseudonym Flann O’Brien, was also so inspired. O’Brien’s masterpiece, At Swim-Two-Birds, features a character called Pooka MacPhillemey, a “member of devil class”. In William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck is a mischievous and quick-witted sprite responsible for setting many of play’s events in motion through his magic.


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