The Púca (Old Irish), (also Pwwka, Pooka, Puka, Phouka, Púka, Pwca in Welsh, Bucca in Cornish, "pouque" in Dgèrnésiais, also Glashtyn, Gruagach) is a creature of Celtic folklore, notably in Ireland and Wales. 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.

Morphology and physiology

According to legend, the púca is an adroit shape changer, capable of assuming a variety of terrifying forms. It may appear as a horse, rabbit, goat, goblin, or dog. No matter what form the púca takes, its fur is almost always dark. It most commonly takes the form of a sleek black horse with a flowing mane and glowing yellow eyes. [W. B. Yeats, "Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry", in "A Treasury of Irish Myth, Legend, and Folklore", p 94, ISBN 0-517-489904-X]

If a human is enticed onto a púca's back, it has been known to give them a wild ride. But unlike a kelpie, which will take its rider and dive into the nearest river or lake to drown and devour him, the púca will do the unfortunate rider no real harm. The púca has the power of human speech, and has been known to give advice and lead people away from danger. Though the púca enjoys confusing and often terrifying humans, it is considered to be benevolent.

Agricultural traditions

Certain agricultural traditions surround the Púca. It is a creature associated with Samhain, the third Pagan (Celtic, Wiccan) Harvest Festival, when the last of the crops is brought in. Anything remaining in the fields is considered "puka," 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.

Regional variations

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.

Popular culture

In the classic Mary Chase play "Harvey", the title character Harvey is a pooka, in the form of a very tall humanoid white rabbit. This play has been adapted for film several times, the most famous version starring Jimmy Stewart. There is a humorous scene in which Mr. Wilson, the asylum orderly, reads the definition of pooka in the encyclopedia: "Pooka. From old Celtic mythology. A fairy spirit in animal form. Always very large. The pooka appears here and there, now and then, to this one and that one at his own caprice. A benign but mischievous creature. Very fond of rum-pots, crackpots, and how are you, Mr. Wilson?" This provides the notion that Harvey is real.

In Emma Bull's 1987 book, "War for the Oaks", the Phouka is a mischievous but ultimately trustworthy shapechanger who takes the form of a large black dog.

Jenny Gluckstein, of Peter S. Beagle's "Tamsin", meets a Pooka when she moves from New York City to a haunted farm in Dorset, England.

In "The Spiderwick Chronicles", the phooka is a shapeshifter that resembles a black rabbit/monkey-like creature; he is smarter than his speech can demonstrate.

R.A. MacAvoy's 1987 fantasy novel "The Grey Horse" involves a horse puca in nineteenth-century Ireland.

In Chynna Clugston's "Blue Monday" comic, heroine Blue encounters her Pooka, Seamus - a giant, gaseous, kilt-bearing otter who often causes more mischief than anything else.

In the 1959 Disney film "Darby O'Gill and the Little People", Darby's horse turns into a pookah. The first time the horse transforms, it frightens Darby into falling down a well, where he first encounters King Brian and the land of the leprechauns. The second time, the horse causes Darby's daughter Katie to fall and be injured, which leads to Darby's final deal with King Brian and the ultimate "happily ever after" resolution.

In the 2001 movie "Donnie Darko", the main character, Donnie is inspired by a large rabbit character who convinces him to carry out several malicious acts. These acts lead to positive and negative outcomes for people around him.

In the 1985 book "Crewel Lye: A Caustic Yarn", the 8th Xanth novel by Piers Anthony, a Pooka befriends the main character. He is a smart, helpful ghost horse with rattling chains and ends up being named "Pook."

In one episode of "", Phooka influences Haley's dark side with a song.

In the final song of " Final Fantasy's" album, "He Poos Clouds", ("The Pooka Sings") the Pooka is depicted as a sort of anti-muse, declaiming the composer (Owen Pallett) for writing about things which he doesn't believe and which "don't exist". At the conclusion of the song, the Pooka flies away, and Owen Pallett puts down his violin; "I leave it down, never again!".

The Magic the Gathering trading card game, features three cards based on Puca.The first, "Cemetery Puca", is a shape changer that can mimic dead creatures. In keeping with folklore it is depicted as a ghostly black horse.The second, "Puca's Mischief", is a magic spell which grants the ability to rearrange control of creatures and objects.The third card, "Crag Puca", is a shape changer who's powers are displayed by its ability to switch from a defensive card to a more aggressive card. This card also follows the black horse origin, but shows the Puca is a more humanoid creature than the previous depictions.

In Anne McCaffrey's The Rowan, a mechanical device is called a pookha. It is a therapeutic surrogate issued to troubled children, and provides companionship and comfort. Rowan as a child grows very attached to her pookha.

In Flann O'Brien's novel, "At Swim-Two-Birds," there is a pooka named MacPhellimey.

In the 2000 Jonathan Glazer film "Sexy Beast," a malicious "Harvey"-style filmic pooka haunts the protagonist, Gal, in his dreams and waking life. This pooka becomes synonymous with both the title and the antagonist, Don Logan, replacing Don in the latter portion of the movie as Gal's tormentor.

For specific characters named one of the various spellings of pooka (thus alluding to the creature), see Pooka (disambiguation).


*Katharine Briggs, "An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Boogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures," "Pwca", p 337. ISBN 0-394-73467-X
*Holly Black's "Ironside" 2007

External links

* [http://www.shadowdrake.com/waterhorse.html Water Horses and Other Fairy Steeds]

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