Episode 74: Solitary Fae: Phouka
The folklore of phoukas in a nutshell, how I reimagined them for my writing, and this faery translated to Afrikaans.
Written and narrated by Ronel Janse van Vuuren.
Copyright 2023 Ronel Janse van Vuuren — All rights reserved.
Learn more about phoukas in folklore here.
Get the transcript here.
Music: Secrets by David Fesliyan (FesliyanStudios.com) and Dramatic Heartbeat by FesliyanStudios.com
You’re listening to the Faeries and Folklore podcast by Ronel.
I’m dark fantasy author Ronel Janse van Vuuren. With nearly a decade of digging around in dusty folklore books, researching creatures of imagination that ignited my curiosity, I’m here to share the folklore in a nutshell and how I reimagined it for my writing in an origin of the fae.
This is the Faeries and Folklore podcast.
Hi, I’m your host Ronel Janse van Vuuren. You can just call me Ronel. In today’s episode, we’re continuing our exploration of the fae realm.
This episode is brought to you by my Dark Court Sisters book series. Available in ebook, paperback and audiobook. Three sisters. Three destinies. Three ways to destroy the world. Go to ronelthemythmaker.com/darkcourtsistersseries for more.
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We’re continuing our exploration of Solitary Fae.
Today’s Faery: Phouka
Folklore in a nutshell by Ronel
Though phouka means “goblin”, “spirit” or “sprite”, and has different spellings, this mythical creature can shapeshift into any animal it wants to. It does on occasion take the form of a misshapen goblin, usually when demanding its share of the harvest, but this is rare. Though some see them as terrifying, the phouka is mostly benign and mischievous. The tales that malign this creature is usually concerned with black magic, damage and sickness – though the phouka is well-known for mischief and there are no accounts of a phouka ever harming a human.
Its appearance varies from region-to-region. In County Down, the phouka looks like a tiny goblin asking for its share of the harvest. This has come to be known as the “phouka’s share” when the reapers leave a few strands behind. In County Laois, it is in the form of a hairy, terrifying bogeyman out to scare people who are out after dark. In Roscommon, the phouka looks like a black goat. In Wexford, the phouka is an eagle with an immense wingspan. For the most part, though, it takes on the form of a beautiful black horse which enjoys taking the unwary on a wild ride through the countryside, depositing them safely at their front door at dawn. Or, more likely, just dumping them wherever when the fun is over – usually in a bog or other such nasty place.
What sets the phouka apart from faery animals, though, is its ability to speak. It can even take on human form and chat to humans, tricking them or even giving advice. No matter the shape the phouka takes, its fur is always dark.
In a lot of places, the phouka is seen as a creature of the hills and mountains. This is mainly because this faery enjoys the freedom of galloping across open spaces in its horse-form.
In Ireland, the phouka is mainly feared because it only comes out at night and finds it enjoyable to create mayhem and mischief.
It’s not clear where the legend of the phouka comes from, but it’s probably from the widespread horse cults from the early Celtic world that left its mark on the Otherworld.
And now for my interpretation of the fae in an Origin of the fae: Phouka
The first kind roams free as horses and loves being mischievous. They are deft shape-shifters, capable of assuming any form – terrifying or pleasing. Their human form, like those of the second kind of Phouka, is marked by fur ears and sometimes a tail. No matter the form they take, their fur is always dark.
Even in animal form, they have the power of human speech. They enjoy confusing and helping humans in equal measure, even terrifying them on occasion. They like to embellish the truth and see the reactions of others. They’re puckish (like their names suggest) and quick-witted.
Their favourite trick is to suddenly appear out of the ground between the legs of an unwary human and carry the person off. After a wild night of galloping everywhere, the Phouka will throw the rider off at daybreak (in mud, if possible) and disappear.
The only time they appear to be wrathful is when the farmer forgets to leave a couple of stalks after harvesting for the Phouka to enjoy. Everyone knows that they should leave the Phouka’s share…
The Second Kind belong to the High Fae. They were somehow enslaved by them and can only occasionally shape-shift. They have to stay in their human form, fur ears and all, to serve the High Fae. Mostly they live in the human realm. They are absolutely terrified of everything.
They are known to be great chefs, which is the position they usually have in the High Fae household.
Stories abound that this second kind of Phouka are bloodthirsty creatures with Vampiric tendencies. In these stories they are known to hunt down, kill and eat their victims – usually humans. Unfortunately, this is true. Because these Phoukas are unable to roam free and be mischievous as is their nature, something inside breaks and they become monsters. But only for a while. They will return to being the frightened slaves of the High Fae, unable to shape-shift once the magic is burned up.
All Phoukas have the ability to give humans the power to understand the language of animals.
All Phoukas love drama, mischief and leading others on a merry chase.
As a little bonus, let’s look at this faery translated to Afrikaans: Pooka
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this episode of the faeries and folklore podcast and that you’ve learned something new about faeries.
Remember that you can get a transcript of this episode in the description. If you’re new to the podcast, why not go and grab your free copy of Unseen, the second book in the Faery Tales series, on my website ronelthemythmaker.com? Loads of folklore, magic and danger await! Take care!
You can now support my time in producing the podcast (researching, writing and everything else involved) by buying me a coffee. This can be a once-off thing, or you can buy me coffee again in the future at your discretion.
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No-one writes about the fae like Ronel Janse van Vuuren.