“All around them the surface of the lake began to shiver. Their boat shied and shifted beneath them, as two pointed ears rose up from the depths. They were soon followed by a pony’s shaggy head, and before long a phooka was standing chest deep in the water beside them. His mane hung lank with waterweed and lilies. His hide was the same color as the space between the stars, but his eyes glowed green like marshlights.“
– excerpt from Lumina and the Goblin King
Mischievous and delightfully tricksy, the phooka is a shapeshifter who is said to take on any number of different forms – hounds, hares, goats, even eagles – but the one of its favorites is that of a horse or pony. Usually a seemingly harmless creature who just so happens to be in the perfect place when a weary (or tipsy) traveler needs a ride. Of course, its not the ride they expected. But a wild race over high hedges and through sucking bogs most often ending with the rider being tossed into some pond or puddle; the phooka laughing all the while. Sometimes the rider would come to a darker end, but usually the phooka is just out for a bit of mischief and is much less murderous than the Scottish Kelpie or Each-uisge. In fact, it can be said that they are generally well-disposed towards humans. However, they do enjoy leading them astray. Pouk-ledden it is called, and those that find themselves caught up in such a glamour can wander round and round the whole night through without knowing where they are. When the morning comes, they may find themselves far from home or standing on their very doorstep.
There are many places and times of year associated with the phooka. Samhain (Oct. 31st-Nov. 1st) is one of those times, which usually marked when the last of the crops were brought in. It was (and sometimes still is) tradition to leave a small portion of the harvest, the “phooka’s share”, in the field to placate him.
I have to admit, the phooka has always been my favorite, even from the time when I was very young. A fairy that can be a horse? How could a little girl who loved horses not like such a creature! I still have a big soft spot for them, and they often appear in my stories, usually as irreverent rogues. They inevitably turn out to be some of my favorite characters to write.
Phookas have appeared in many different books, under many different names (pooka, pwca, púca, pookha, phouka, pouke, to name a few). One book I have read many times over the years is “The Grey Horse” by R.A. MacAvoy. An interesting story to read if you like a book with historical flavor as well as an otherworldly element.
Other books I have enjoyed that were published much more recently are the Faerie Sworn series by Ron C. Nieto (The Wild Hunt, The Wild Curse, The Wild Herald). The series definitely has its own unique flare, but the most compelling thing about it is the personalities and logic of the fae in it which are undeniably not the same as a human’s. It also explores the fact that there are rules, cautions and consequences for those humans who find themselves caught up in fairy dealings.
I have mentioned several other sources in previous posts that are good places to read more about the phooka. But there are also many website that are worth taking the time to explore. Here are some of the links: