One of the reasons that I love horror so much is the way that the genre relies on traditional imagery. There are so many folkloric stories that influence popular culture, but they sometimes receive so little attention. Sundays will be the day where I pick one story or one image and examine the history and variations of the legend.
Someone accused me once of being a pooka.
Someone accused me once of having the oddest stories.
It was years before I knew what a pooka was, at which point I wondered what a teenaged pooka would be doing hanging out at an independent bookstore in Oneonta.
And what could I possibly be doing to earn such a…specific label; though maybe, in retrospect, it would explain a lot.
A pooka (also spelled puca, puka, or pwwka, among others) is the Irish equivilent of a goblin. However, this spirit generally takes the form of an animal- most often a black horse though other darkly colored animals are used. The pooka is a shape-shifting spirit and takes on whatever form it chooses. In some regions it does take on a humanoid form.
Pookas are trickster spirits but unlike other horse spirits they are generally pretty safe. They like to play with humans- people who ride them are never sure where they’re going to end up at the end. However, they generally don’t do anything to actually harm the rider.
However, some variations on the legend do have the pooka destroying property. For some reason, chickens seem to be particularly scared of pookas. They don’t lay eggs if they’ve been near one.
Pookas can talk. One of the traits associated with pookas is that when they talk, it’s to provide advice to the audience. This is especially true on November 1st, which is considered to be the pooka’s day. While November 1st is considered its holiday, the spirit is most strongly linked to Samhain during which any crops left in the fields are considered fairy-touched and belongs to the pooka.
The Legend in Popular Culture
Arguably, elements of Donnie Darko echo this legend, though it’s not a perfect parallel. The pooka that be most likely be familar to people would be Harvey the rabbit. The titular character in Darby O’Gill and the Little People has a horse that becomes a pooka (it’s a really cute movie, you should see it if you haven’t already).