Enigmatic Shapeshifters of Celtic Lore: Púcas, Pwca, and Their Kin

Enigmatic Shapeshifters of Celtic Lore: Púcas, Pwca, and Their Kin

Celtic mythology weaves a rich tapestry of folklore, brimming with enigmatic creatures that blur the lines between the supernatural and the natural world. Among these intriguing beings are the Púca of Ireland, the Pwca of Wales, and their kin from other Celtic lands. These shapeshifting tricksters are known for their mischievous nature, their chameleon-like ability to assume different forms, and their complex relationship with humans.

The Irish Púca: Master of Transformation

In the verdant fields of Ireland, it is said that the Púca reigns supreme. This shape-shifting creature has the uncanny ability to morph into various forms, often appearing as a black horse, a goat, or a hare. Its transformative prowess allows it to seamlessly blend into the natural world, making it a master of disguise.

The Púca is famed for its mischievous escapades, especially under the cover of night. It delights in playing tricks on unsuspecting travelers, leading them astray in the dark or giving them exhilarating, albeit bewildering, rides on its back. These nocturnal exploits have earned the Púca both fear and respect in Irish folklore.

Despite its penchant for mischief, the Púca is not entirely malevolent. When treated with reverence and offered tokens of food, it may extend its guidance or assistance to those who seek it. This duality adds depth to its character, highlighting the delicate balance between benevolence and trickery.


Photograph of a Celtic door to the underworld.

The Welsh Pwca: Cunning Shapechanger of the Countryside

Crossing the sea to Wales, we encounter the Pwca (also spelled Pooka or Pwcca). Sharing many traits with its Irish cousin, the Pwca is deeply intertwined with rural landscapes, often found in fields, forests, and near water sources.

Much like the Púca, the Pwca boasts a remarkable ability to metamorphose. It can take the form of various animals or even inanimate objects, appearing as a black dog, a hare, or even a barrel. Its joy lies in playing pranks on unsuspecting humans, leaving them bewildered or enticing them into merry chases.

Yet, akin to the Púca, the Pwca is not solely malevolent. In some tales, it assumes a benevolent role, aiding farmers with their labor or offering guidance to lost wanderers. This dual nature mirrors the capriciousness of the natural world it inhabits.

Celtic Kin: Shapeshifters of the Isles

As we traverse the Celtic lands, we encounter kindred spirits to the Púca and the Pwca. In Scotland, the Kelpie lurks in watery realms, taking the form of a horse to entice unsuspecting travelers into its clutches. Meanwhile, in the Isle of Man, the Glashtyn is a water horse that can shape-shift and is known to carry away those who dare to ride it.

In Brittany, the Ankou, a skeletal figure, is associated with death and is said to ride a cart to collect souls. And in Cornwall, the Bucca is a mischievous sea spirit that can shape-shift into various marine forms, causing storms and shipwrecks.

Doorways and their significance to the Celtic Shapeshifter.

In Celtic culture, doorways hold profound significance  to these shapeshifting creatures. These supernatural beings are known to blur the boundaries between the human and supernatural realms, and doorways serve as potent symbols of this liminal space. Doorways represent portals or thresholds between different worlds, where the mundane meets the mystical. They are places where the transformative nature of shapeshifters becomes most apparent, as these creatures can easily cross from one side to the other. As such, doorways are not merely physical entrances but also symbolic bridges between the known and the mysterious, reminding us that the supernatural may be lurking just beyond the threshold, ready to enchant, bewilder, or challenge those who dare to traverse it. The rituals, offerings, and protective measures associated with doorways in Celtic folklore reflect the reverence and caution with which the Celts approached these portals, acknowledging the profound role they played in the intricate dance between humans and the supernatural world.

South Armagh, 2015. Iron horseshoe & tacks, wood and acrylic paint.