The earliest known record of a Pooka comes in the form of a cave painting, found in the foothills of the Pyrenees, in a cavern known as Les Trois Freres. It shows a man dressed in the skin of a horse or wolf with antlers on his head. Anthropoligists say this is a representation of a shaman of some sort, but fae scholars say this is the image of a Pooka (a Stag Pooka to be specific).
You can see a picture of that cave painting here.
As human society developed, and humans had the chance to start to dream and create art and stories, myths developed. Many of these myths involved animals. The Pooka claim to have sprung from these myths. They very likely did.
The Pooka's oddball claims of having been worshiped as gods in ancient Egypt aside, in the real world, the Pooka come from Irish and Welsh myth. The word "pooka" itself is Irish, as shown below.
Word: púca (POO-kuh) [pu:k@]
Meaning: púca = goblin, sprite, pooka
Mhún an púca ar na caora. (WOON uh POO-kuh ehr nuh KWEE-ruh) [vu:n @ pu:k@ er' n@ ki:r@] = The pooka pissed on the berries. (There is an old belief that fruit still on the trees and bushes after Samhain is inedible because the pooka has urinated on it.)
púca na n-adharc (POO-kuh nuh NYE-uhrk) [pu:k@ n@ nairk] = pet peeve (lit., pooka of the horns)
History: Irish "púca" is related to Welsh "pwca" and "pwci", Old Norse"púki" and English "puck", which is from Old English "púca". It is unclear who borrowed the word from whom, but Pokorny speculates that it goes back to the Indo-European root *beu- (to swell). This word is the same as the name of the character "Puck" in Shakespeare's play.
The following is from a source on Irish mythology.
No fairy is more feared in Ireland than the pooka. This may be because it is always out and about after nightfall, creating harm and mischief, and because it can assume a variety of terrifying forms.
(Mischief and shapechanging were hallmarks of the pooka long before White Wolf came along.)
The guise in which it most often appears, however, is that of a sleek, dark horse with sulphurous yellow eyes and a long wild mane. In this form, it roams large areas of countryside at night, tearing down fences and gates, scattering livestock in terror, trampling crops and generally doing damage around remote farms.
(Obviously the pooka of Changeling: the Dreaming are not normally that destructive (except the Unseelie ones). But this does show how the pooka worked to keep human expansion in check. Their ability to become animals was appearently expanded beyond horses in other parts of Ireland.)
In remote areas of County Down, the pooka becomes a small, deformed goblin who demands a share of the crop at the end of the harvest: for this reason several strands, known as the 'pooka's share', are left behind by the reapers. In parts of County Laois, the pooka becomes a huge, hairy bogeyman who terrifies those abroad at night; in Waterford and Wexford, it appears as an eagle with a massive wingspan; and in Roscommon, as a black goat with curling horns.
(Here we can see the probable source of the pooka's varied fae miens, everything from "deformed goblins" to "huge, hairy boogeymen". We can also see historical evidence of other animal miens (eagles and goats.)
The mere sight of it may prevent hens laying their eggs or cows giving milk, and it is the curse of all late night travellers as it is known to swoop them up on to its back and then throw them into muddy ditches or bogholes. The pooka has the power of human speech, and it has been known to stop in front of certain houses and call out the names of those it wants to take upon its midnight dashes. If that person refuses, the pooka will vandalise their property because it is a very vindictive fairy.
(While in the real world almost all faries were thought of as dangerous and capricious, in White Wolf terms, this is more indicitvie of Unseelie pooka, as the Seelie wouldn't go around vandalizing the homes of people who didn't want to play with them. Tossing people in the mud would be up a Seelie's alley, however. The other explaination is the pooka desire to protect nature from the spread of civilization.)
The origins of the pooka are to some extent speculative. The name may come from the Scandinavian pook or puke, meaning 'nature spirit'. Such beings were very capricious and had to be continually placated or they would create havoc in the countryside, destroying crops and causing illness among livestock. Alternatively, the horse cults prevalent throughout the early Celtic world may have provided the underlying motif for the nightmare steed.
(Now we have some possible Scandinavian origins, which at least gives us some evidence the pooka were up there annoying the trolls at some point. *g*)
Other authorities suggest that the name comes from the early Irish poc meaning either 'a male goat' or a 'blow from a cudgel'. However, the horse cult origin is perhaps the most plausible since many of these cults met on high ground and the main abode of the pooka is believed to be on high mountain tops. There is a waterfall formed by the river Liffey in the Wicklow mountains known as the Poula Phouk (the pooka's hole), and Binlaughlin Mountain in County Fermanagh is also known as the 'peak of the speaking horse'.
(More on goats and horses. It may be possible, in the World of Darkness, that the pooka regularly visit Poula Phouk, seeing as it's named after tham and all.)
In some areas of the country, the pooka is rather more mysterious than dangerous, provided it is treated with proper respect. The pooka may even be helpful on occasion, issuing prophecies and warnings where appropriate. For example, the folklorist Douglas Hyde referred to a 'plump, sleek, terrible steed' which emerged from a hill in Leinster and which spoke in a human voice to the people there on the first day of November. It was accustomed to give "intelligent and proper answers to those who consulted it concerning all that would befall them until November the next year. And the people used to leave gifts and presents at the hill..."
(Now this is a fascinating legend. A Seelie horse pooka that perhaps had a strong knowledge of the Soothsay Art? And is using his magic to help the locals? This could be a great storyline hook taken from the real world.)
Something similar seems to have occurred in south Fermanagh, where the tradition of gathering on certain high places to await a speaking horse was observed on Bilberry Sunday until quite recently.
(Soothsaying horse pooka may have been all the rage in Ireland at one time. :) )
Only one man has ever managed to ride the pooka and that was Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland. Using a special bridle containing three hairs from the pooka's tail, Brian managed to control the magic horse and stay on its back until, exhausted, it surrendered to his will. The king extracted two promises from it; firstly, that it would no longer torment Christian people and ruin their property and secondly, that it would never again attack an Irishman (all other nationalities are exempt) except those who are drunk or abroad with an evil intent. The latter it could attack with greater ferocity than before. The pooka agreed to these conditions. However, over the intervening years, it seems to have forgotten its bargain and attacks on property and sober travellers on their way home continue to this day.
(And thus we can see that these promises the King extraced could not have been formal Oaths. The pooka lied and the King believed him. *g*)
From another source, we get this brief entry...
The Pooka - A horse ass etc... takes rider on a wild ride and shakes him off in the grey of morning especially drunkards-a drunkards sleep is his kingdom.When it rains with sun shining that means he will be out that night. When berries are killed by frost it is the Pooka's spit which is upon them and they should not be eaten.
A larger amount of information, from this source, follows...
The Pooka, recte Puca, seems essentially an animal spirit. Some derive his name from poc, a he-goat; and speculative persons consider him the forefather of Shakespeare's "Puck". On solitary mountains and among old ruins he lives, "grown monstrous with much solitude", and is of the race of the nightmare. "In the MS. story, called 'Mac-na-Michomhairle', of uncertain authorship," writes me Mr. Douglas Hyde, "we read that 'out of a certain hill in Leinster, there used to emerge as far as his middle, a plump, sleek, terrible steed, and speak in human voice to each person about November-day, and he was accustomed to give intelligent and proper answers to such as consulted him concerning all that would befall them until the November of next year. And the people used to leave gifts and presents at the hill until the coming of Patrick and the holy clergy.' This tradition appears to be a cognate one with that of the Puca." Yes! unless it were merely an augh-ishka [each-uisge], or Water-horse. For these, we are told, were common once, and used to come out of the water to gallop on the sands and in the fields, and people would often go between and the marge and bridle them, and they would make the finest of horses if only you could keep them away from the sight of the water; but if once they saw a glimpse of the water, they would plunge in with their rider, and tear him to pieces at the bottom. It being a November spirit, however, tells in favour of the Pooka, for November-day is sacred to the Pooka. It is hard to realise that wild, staring phantom grown sleek and civil.
He has many shapes - is now a horse, now an ass, now a bull, a goat, now an eagle. Like all spirits, he is only half in the world of form.
And yet another source on Irish fairies...
The Pooka seems to be of the family of the nightmare. He has most likely never appeared in human form, the one or two recorded instances being probably mistakes, he being mixed up with the Far Darrig. His shape is that of a horse, a bull, goat, eagle, ass and perhaps of a black dog, though this last may be a separate spirit. The Pooka's delight is to get a rider, whom he rushes with through ditches and rivers and over mountains, and shakes off in the grey of the morning. Especially does he love to plague a drunkard - a drunkard's sleep is his kingdom.
At times he takes more unexpected forms than those of beast or bird. The one that haunts the Dun of Coch-na-Phuca in Kilkenny takes the form of a fleece of wool, and at night rolls out into the surrounding fields, making a buzzing noise that so terrifies the cattle that unbroken colts will run to the nearest man and lay their heads upon his shoulder for protection.
Meanwhile, in the World of Darkness....
From their early days (whatever those were, it's hard to believe what the Pooka say they did. Egyptian gods isn't very likely, even with the sightings of Osiris' Flail), the Pooka say their name is actually a Gaelic corruption of an Arcadian word for "changing fae", whatever that word was. They lived as wild creatures of legend, like dragons and unicorns. The forests and swamps and mountains were their homes, far from human eyes.
At this time, it was liely that the Pooka were more animal than man, but as human belief changed, so did the Pooka. Humanity dreamed of human-animal gods and creatures, and the Dreaming reshaped the Pooka in response. Aside from Egyptian mythology, such creatures were often seen in Celtic myth as well. It was among the Celts that the Pooka gained their modern name. The myths of the Australian aboriginies also depict godlike shapechangers that could be animal or human, and gave birth to all things of the world. If there is any truth to this, it would seem the Pooka were more well-traveled than the Eshu at some point. India, Africa, China and even the Americas, all lands had legends of animal spirits and shape-changers, though some of these may have been werewolves and not Pooka.
For beings that once claimed to be gods, the rise of Christianity hit the pooka hard. Animal-worshipping cults were chewed up and spit out, and the Pooka found themselves being persecuted like many other supernatural beings. Organized religion changed the image of the Pooka from mischievious animal spirits and benevolent nature gods to monsters of the forest and demons out to corrupt children. Like an animal sensing danger, the Pooka ran.
Suprisingly, many Pooka fled to North America. Managing to cross the oceans, by swimming or flying or through the Dreaming, they arrived in a land untouched by the humanity they had left behind. Here humans still revered nature and animals. Many still worshipped animal-man gods. Here many Pooka found a new home. At least for a while. To this day, the Pooka are the only Kithain that can get along reasonably well with the Nunnehi.
When Banality flooded the world and the gates to Arcadia slammed shut forever, the Pooka knew it was time to go. Like rats off a sinking ship, many of the Pooka adopted the Changeling Way like the other commoner kith, while many others fled into the Dreaming. They burrowed into the Near Dreaming, fashioning hidden coves in which they lived and denied the increasingly Banal world. Their Dream-Burrows were perfect little shelters, hidden even from other fae. Some were small, housing single Pooka or small families, while others were large, holding entire communities of various affinities.
The other kiths noticed the majority of the Pooka had vanished, much like almost all the sidhe had. Conspiracy theories abounded, but little came of it. Of the Pooka that remained on Earth, most were of domestic animal affinities, the kind that could survive well in the spreading human environment. Dogs, cats, rats, rabbits, cows, chickens, crows. All the more exotic Pooka had up and vanished.
Those Pooka left on Earth suffered through the next 600 years as best they could. Europeans eventualy came to the Americas, and with them the fae. Pooka were on both sides of the conflict as the white man drove the Native Americans from their home and trod carelessly across the previously pristine land. The Pooka on the natives' side fought with the Nunnehi to protect the land and its people, while the Pooka on the European side fought for their human friends and their dreams of new homes in this new land. Despite the temporary split between the Pooka at this time, both sides understood the other's motivations, and afterwards there were no lasting grudges. The Pooka knew they had to stick together.
The Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries are remembered by the Pooka as the "Years of Suffering" as they watched the humans rape the environment and choke the skies with smoke. The Pooka fought against it, but were helpless to stop the destruction of the wilderness and the near extinction of many animals in the name of "progress".
By the 1960's, thankfully, humanity began to wake up. They looked about and wondered where the forests and animals had gone. This new environmental consciousness was warmly welcomed by the Pooka, who took every step to encourage it. Environmental groups started, and several have lasted into the modern day.
The 1960's also saw another event that affected not only the Pooka, but all Changelings everywhere....
With the Glamour explosion that washed across the planet with the Lunar Landing, the re-opening of the trods and the return of the Sidhe were not to only events of the Resurgence.
The huge wave of Glamour rushed into the Near Dreaming and flooded the Dream-Burrows, pushing the Pooka that had lived there for centuries into Bedlam. Insanity ruled and warfare broke out among these lost Pooka.
The weakest of these, dog, cat, mouse Pooka and others, died first and most often, and were the first to be reincarnated back into the real world. The Pooka of the Autumn World experienced a population explosion. As the decades wore on and the Bedlam-inspired wars in the Dream-Burrows continued, the more exotic Pooka began to reincarnate as well, and the other kithain finally began to notice the (as they saw it) new variety of animal affinities. For the Pooka, it was simply a return to the way things had once been for them.
Fae scholars, eager to learn just where all these Pooka souls had been the last 6 or 7 centuries, were more than frustrated when they learned the returning Pooka had no memories of their time away. Whatever went on in the Dream-Burrows remained a lost secret.
The Accordance War
The Night of Iron Knives outraged the Pooka, perhaps more than the other kith. They expected the be hunted by humans, but by other fae? It was an event that sparked the survival instinct of these animalistic faeries, and they quickly banded together against the returning nobles.
If the Accordance War did anything, it showed the Kithain just how versatile and useful the pooka truly were. The more predatory Pooka fought with courage and ferocity that gained the respect of many Trolls and Redcaps, while the smaller Pooka demonstrated their skill as spies and scouts. No longer would the Pooka be called useless (except by the occasional Nocker, but they rarely mean it).
Of course, that was 30 years ago. Younger fae don't remember much of what the Pooka did back then, and the respect the shapechanging kith gained has largely been forgotten. Only those greybeard veterns remember and still praise the Pooka.
Peace did not come easily for the Pooka. The war had been their first real chance since...well, ever...to let out the rage that had been building within them. It was a cathartic experience for the Pooka, and many of them were sorry to see it end.
The Pooka did not want to trust King David when peace-talks were called for, but one Bear Pooka, Martin Long-Claw, was willing to risk the chance (a very good chance, as the Pooka saw it) of another Night of Iron Knives. He too believed it was another trap, and if he died, he would be another martyr that would inspire his fellow Pooka onwards.
The meetings with High King David, of course, changed his mind, and he quickly came to champion David's cause when he saw the sidhe truly wanted equality for all Kithain. The pooka as a whole soon agreed with Martin.
Today and the War for Concordia
The Pooka continue to fight to save the destruction of the wilderness, and unlike in days past when they could do so with claws and cantrips, today they have had to adapt to survive. Working through the media and enviromental groups and even the governments, they fight in a more political manner, though some still take a more....direct...approach. While the Kithain still regard the Pooka as liars and pranksters, the kith's work has also gained them respect. Somewhat.
As more exotic Pooka continue to return from their war-torn Dream-Burrows, the old stereotypes about this kith continue to be shattered. Indeed, many fae, particularly Sidhe and Trolls, are glad to see not all Pooka are cute fuzzy jesters. The wonder and awe these new Pooka inspire can only help the Dreaming, for certain.
And when High King David vanished? The future of the Pooka seemed uncertain. While some Pooka said the Seelie are where they should remain, other advocated joining the Shadow Court in order to survive, afraid of what the Sidhe might do now that the throne is empty. Others stated that it's time to retreat into the Dream-Burrows again, this time lock, stock and barrel. The entire kith.
The War for Concordia has begun, however. The first shot was fired in Boston, by a Pooka no less. On March 17th, 2000, Fenarius (a Fox Pooka and founder of the Commoners' Liberation Organization) led a "tea party" by dumping a large store of dross overboard from a Sidhe's yacht. Although it was relatively non-violent, no one can say the shapeshifters aren't in the thick of this new war.
But the War for Concordia is violent, and promises to be more so than the Accordance War. The Pooka are making sure they don't get mowed down this time. Now that they have their more exotic brethern with them, they plan to prove the Pooka can kick ass as well as any Troll or Redcap.
What of the arrival of the Dark-Kin, and the new Sidhe Houses of the Second Resurgance? Pooka have never been all that fond of Sidhe (except as prank targets), and some of the Adhene leave something to be desired. But creatures like the Fir-Bholgs and Fuath are finding welcome among the Pooka.