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Tales abound about the selkie , a seal that can remove its skin to make contact with humans for only a short amount of time before it must return to the sea. Clan MacColdrum of Uist's foundation myths include of a union between the founder of the clan and a shapeshifting selkie. Such stories surrounding these creatures are usually romantic tragedies. Scottish mythology features shapeshifters, which allows the various creatures to trick, deceive, hunt, and kill humans.

Water spirits such as the each uisge , which inhabit lochs and waterways in Scotland, were said to appear as a horse or a young man. Tam Lin , a man captured by the Queen of the Fairies is changed into all manner of beasts before being rescued. He finally turned into a burning coal and was thrown him into a well, whereupon he reappeared in his human form. The motif of capturing a person by holding him through all forms of transformation is a common thread in folktales.

Perhaps the best known Irish myth is that of Aoife who turned her stepchildren, the Children of Lir , into swans to be rid of them. He can transform into many different, terrifying forms. Sadhbh , the wife of the famous hero Fionn mac Cumhaill was changed into a deer by the druid Fer Doirich.

In the Lokasenna , Odin and Loki taunt each other with having taken the form of females and nursing offspring to which they had given birth. A 13th century Edda relates Loki taking the form of a mare to bear Odin's steed Sleipnir which was the fastest horse ever to exist, and also the form of a she-wolf to bear Fenrir. Svipdagr angered Odin , who turned him into a dragon. Despite his monstrous appearance, his lover, the goddess Freyja , refused to leave his side.

When the warrior Hadding found and slew Svipdag, Freyja cursed him to be tormented by a tempest and shunned like the plague wherever he went. She also possessed a cloak of falcon feathers that allowed her to transform into a falcon, which Loki borrowed on occasion. The Volsunga saga contains many shapeshifting characters. Siggeir 's mother changed into a wolf to help torture his defeated brothers-in-law with slow and ignominious deaths. The dwarf Andvari is described as being able to magically turn into a pike. Fafnir was originally a dwarf, a giant or even a human, depending on the exact myth, but in all variants he transformed into a dragon—a symbol of greed —while guarding his ill-gotten hoard.

In Scandinavia , there existed, for example, the famous race of she-werewolves known with a name of Maras, women who took on the appearance of the night looking for huge monster half human and half wolf. If a female at midnight stretches the membrane which envelopes the foal when it is brought forth, between four sticks and creeps through it, naked, she will bear children without pain; but all the boys will be shamans , and all the girls Maras. The Nisse is sometimes said to be a shapeshifter. This trait also is attributed to Huldra.


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She is the central character of the novel Mother of Kings by Poul Anderson , [9] which considerably elaborates on her shapeshifting abilities. In Poland , in the parish church of Schwarzenstein , hang two horse-shoes related to the story of the tavern-keeper of Eichmedian. A greedy woman, she charged double the honest rate for board and lodging. Late one evening, a group of guests accused her of cheating them.

THE SHAPESHIFTERS in the #SmirnoffHouse @ V Festival

Defending herself, she swore an oath before them, saying: The room suddenly darkened and the Devil suddenly appeared before her. He gestured, and unable to resist, she knelt on all fours and found herself changing into a bay mare. The Devil mounted, gave a great laugh and rode her out of the village. At headlong speed he rode to the town of Schwarzenstein, and to a blacksmith's shop there, arriving in the small hours of the morning.

He roused the blacksmith and demanded that his steed be shod at once. The blacksmith, yawning, complained of the late hour and that his forge was shut down and cold. But the Devil insisted and promised gold if it were done swiftly, and so the blacksmith agreed. He lit his furnace, and had the Devil work the bellows. The blacksmith had not long begun his work however when the mare began to speak, evidently having worked out how to form human words with her equine lips. The Devil raged but there was nothing he could do, and as a cock heralded the arrival of dawn, the spell was broken.

The Devil vanished and the tavern-keeper returned to her human form. Repenting of her greedy ways, she had the two horse-shoes which the smith had already fashioned nailed up in the church as a warning to other cheats. In Armenian mythology , shapeshifters include the Nhang , a serpent-like river monster than can transform itself into a woman or seal, and will drown humans and then drink their blood; or the beneficial Shahapet , a guardian spirit that can appear either as a man or a snake.

Scriptures describe shapeshifting Rakshasa demons assuming animal forms to deceive humans. The Ramayana also includes the Vanara , a group of ape-like humanoids who possessed supernatural powers and could change their shapes.

Shape-shifter | Definition of Shape-shifter by Merriam-Webster

In the Indian fable The Dog Bride from Folklore of the Santal Parganas by Cecil Henry Bompas , a buffalo herder falls in love with a dog that has the power to turn into a woman when she bathes. Philippine mythology includes aswang , a vampire-like monster capable of transforming itself into either a large black dog or a black boar in order to stalk humans at night.

The folklore also mentions other beings such as kapre , tikbalang , and engkanto , which change their appearances to woo beautiful maidens. Also, talismans called " anting-anting " or " birtud " in the local dialect , can give their owners the ability to shapeshift.

In one tale, Chonguita the Monkey Wife , [14] a woman is turned into a monkey, only becoming human again if she can marry a handsome man. Tatar folklore includes Yuxa , a hundred-year-old snake that can transform itself into a beautiful young woman, and seeks to marry men in order to have children. Chinese mythology contains many tales of animal shapeshifters, capable of taking on human form. The most common such shapeshifter is the huli jing , a fox spirit which usually appears as a beautiful young woman; most are dangerous, but some feature as the heroines of love stories.

Madame White Snake is one such legend; a snake falls in love with a man, and the story recounts the trials that she and her husband faced. The fox, or kitsune is among the most commonly known, but other such creatures include the bakeneko , the mujina and the tanuki. Korean mythology also contains a fox with the ability to shapeshift. Unlike its Chinese and Japanese counterparts, the kumiho is always malevolent. Usually its form is of a beautiful young woman; one tale recounts a man, a would-be seducer, revealed as a kumiho. In Somali mythology Qori ismaris "One who rubs himself with a stick" was a man who could transform himself into a " Hyena-man " by rubbing himself with a magic stick at nightfall and by repeating this process could return to his human state before dawn.

The Ligahoo or loup-garou is the shapeshifter of Trinidad and Tobago's folklore. This unique ability is believed to be handed down in some old creole families, and is usually associated with witch-doctors and practitioners of African magic. The name of the Nahuel Huapi Lake in Argentina derives from the toponym of its major island in Mapudungun Mapuche language: There is, however, more to the word "Nahuel" - it can also signify "a man who by sorcery has been transformed into a puma" or jaguar.

Shapeshifting may be used as a plot device , such as when Puss in Boots in the fairy tales tricks the ogre into becoming a mouse to be eaten. Shapeshifting may also include symbolic significance, like the Beast's transformation in Beauty and the Beast indicates Belle's ability to accept him despite his appearance.

When a form is taken on involuntarily, the thematic effect can be one of confinement and restraint; the person is bound to the new form. In extreme cases, such as petrifaction , the character is entirely disabled.

Shapeshifting

On the other hand, voluntary shapeshifting can be a means of escape and liberation. Even when the form is not undertaken to resemble a literal escape, the abilities specific to the form allow the character to act in a manner that was previously impossible. Examples of this are in fairy tales. A prince who is forced into a bear's shape as in East of the Sun and West of the Moon is a prisoner, but a princess who takes on a bear's shape voluntarily to flee a situation as in The She-Bear escapes with her new shape.

Le Guin depicts an animal form as slowly transforming the wizard's mind, so that the dolphin, bear or other creature forgets it was human, making it impossible to change back.

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This makes an example for a voluntary shapeshifting becoming an imprisoning metamorphosis. Some are rare, such as Italo Calvino 's " The Canary Prince " is a Rapunzel variant in which shapeshifting is used to gain access to the tower. In many cases, imposed forms are punitive in nature.

This may be a just punishment, the nature of the transformation matching the crime for which it occurs; in other cases, the form is unjustly imposed by an angry and powerful person. In fairy tales, such transformations are usually temporary, but they commonly appear as the resolution of myths as in many of the Metamorphoses or produce origin myths. In many fairy tales and ballads , as in Child Ballad 44, The Twa Magicians or Farmer Weathersky , a magical chase occurs where the pursued endlessly takes on forms in an effort to shake off the pursuer, and the pursuer answers with other shapeshifting, as, a dove is answered with a hawk, and a hare with a greyhound.

The pursued may finally succeed in escape or the pursuer in capturing. The Grimm Brothers fairy tale Foundling-Bird contains this as the bulk of the plot. The magic happens due to a potion given to her by an old witch.

The girl, once gone, can regain her human aspect. In other variants, the pursued may transform various objects into obstacles, as in the fairy tale " The Master Maid ", where the Master Maid transforms a wooden comb into a forest, a lump of salt into a mountain, and a flask of water into a sea. In these tales, the pursued normally escapes after overcoming three obstacles. In a similar effect, a captive may shapeshift in order to break a hold on him. Proteus and Nereus 's shapeshifting was to prevent heroes such as Menelaus and Heracles from forcing information from them.


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McKillip references it in her Riddle-Master trilogy: One motif is a shape change in order to obtain abilities in the new form. Berserkers were held to change into wolves and bears in order to fight more effectively. In many cultures, evil magicians could transform into animal shapes and thus skulk about.

In many fairy tales, the hero's talking animal helper proves to be a shapeshifted human being, able to help him in its animal form. In one variation, featured in The Three Enchanted Princes and The Death of Koschei the Deathless , the hero's three sisters have been married to animals. These prove to be shapeshifted men, who aid their brother-in-law in a variant of tale types. In an early Mayan text, the Shapeshifter, or Mestaclocan, has the ability to change his appearance and to manipulate the minds of animals.

In one tale, the Mestaclocan finds a dying eagle.

List of shapeshifters

Changing into the form of an eagle, he convinces the dying bird that it is, in fact, not dying. As the story goes they both soar into the heavens, and lived together for eternity. Beauty and the Beast has been interpreted as a young woman's coming-of-age, in which she changes from being repulsed by sexual activity and regarding a husband therefore bestial, to a mature woman who can marry.

Some shapeshifters are able to change form only if they have some item, usually an article of clothing. In Bisclavret by Marie de France , a werewolf cannot regain human form without his clothing, but in wolf form does no harm to anyone. The most common use of this motif, however, is in tales where a man steals the article and forces the shapeshifter, trapped in human form, to become his bride. This lasts until she discovers where he has hidden the article, and she can flee.

Selkies feature in these tales. Others include swan maidens and the Japanese tennin.

The power to externally transform can symbolize an internal savagery; a central theme in many strands of werewolf mythology, [32] and the inversion of the "liberation" theme , as in Dr Jekyll's transformation into Mr. Some transformations are performed to remove the victim from his place, so that the transformer can usurp it. Bisclaveret 's wife steals his clothing and traps him in wolf form because she has a lover.

A witch, in The Wonderful Birch , changed a mother into a sheep to take her place, and had the mother slaughtered; when her stepdaughter married the king, the witch transformed her into a reindeer so as to put her daughter in the queen's place. In the Korean Transformation of the Kumiho , a kumiho , a fox with magical powers, transformed itself into an image of the bride, only being detected when her clothing is removed.

In Brother and Sister , when two children flee their cruel stepmother, she enchants the streams along the way to transform them. While the brother refrains from the first two, which threaten to turn them into tigers and wolves, he is too thirsty at the third, which turns him into a deer.

The Six Swans are transformed into swans by their stepmother , [33] as are the Children of Lir in Irish mythology. Many fairy-tale characters have expressed ill-advised wishes to have any child at all, even one that has another form, and had such children born to them. Hans My Hedgehog was born when his father wished for a child, even a hedgehog. Our Word of the Year justice , plus 10 more. How we chose 'justice'. And is one way more correct than the others? How to use a word that literally drives some people nuts.

The awkward case of 'his or her'. Identify the word pairs with a common ancestor. Test your vocabulary with our question quiz! Build a chain of words by adding one letter at a time. First Known Use of shape - shifter , in the meaning defined above. Learn More about shape - shifter.

Share shape - shifter. Resources for shape - shifter Time Traveler! Explore the year a word first appeared. Dictionary Entries near shape - shifter shape memory shapen shape note shape-shifter shape target shape up shape-up.