The Púca (also Pooka, Phouka, Puka, Glashtyn, Gruagach) is a creature of Irish and Welsh myth. It is one of the myriad of fairy (faery) folk, and, like many faery folk, is both respected and feared by those who believe in it.
The Púca is an adroit shape changer, capable of assuming a variety of terrifying forms. It may appear as an eagle or as a large black goat (its name is a cognate of the early Irish 'poc', 'a male goat' and it lends its name to Puck, the goat-footed satyr made famous in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream), but it most commonly takes the form of a sleek black horse with a flowing mane and glowing yellow eyes.
The Púca is considered by many to be the most terrifying of all the creatures of faery. Not the slightest reason is its appearance, but it is its powers that are most feared. It is said to waylay travellers and others about at night, and if it is able to toss them onto its back, it will, at very least, provide them with the ride of their lives, from which they will return forever changed. A similar creature, the Aughisky (Water-horse)or kelpie, will allow itself to be saddled and ridden, but if it is ever taken next to a river or pond, it will carry its hapless rider into the water and rip him to pieces. The Púca has the power of human speech, and has been said to call those it feels have slighted or offended it out of their homes for a ride. If they fail to appear, it will tear down fences, scatter livestock, and create general mayhem.
Many agricultural traditions surround the Púca. It is a creature associated with Samhain, the third Wiccan Harvest Festival, when the last of the crops is brought in. Anything remaining in the fields is considered "púka," or fairy-blasted, and hence inedible. In some locales, reapers leave a small share of the crop, the "púca's share," to placate the hungry creature. Nonetheless, November Day (November 1) is the Púca's day, and the one day of the year when it can be expected to behave civilly.
In some regions, the Púca is spoken of with considerably more respect than fear; if treated with due deference, it may actually be beneficial to those who encounter it. The Púca is a creature of the mountains and hills, and in those regions there are stories of it appearing on November Day and providing prophecies and warnings to those who consult it.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the Púca has succumbed to the terminal cuteness which has been the fate of so many other powerful mythological creatures. Contemporary media have reduced it to a harmless, shy, and slightly demented garden-gnomish weevil eater. Toy manufacturers seek to increase their market penetration by selling cuddly blue-eyed púcas, in absolute ignorance of the thousands of years of history they debase in doing so. Yet there may be hope. The Púca, ever the master of disguise, may find new life in synthetic fur and glass eyes, and gallop forth into the darkness once again to strike fear into the hearts of the midnight traveller.
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