The short answer is: opinions differ. In folktales, the pooka takes numerous forms and his habits vary depending on the story and the teller. A few things we know for certain:
- The pooka is a uniquely Irish spirit or fae
- He is a shapeshifter who has problems with plain, un-garnished truth
- He is most associated with mountaintops and streams
Pooka/human relations have been rather dysfunctional for many centuries. In the pre-Christian past, the pooka was revered and respected as part of the Irish horse cults and as a nature spirit, brought offerings, asked advice. He obviously misses that and resents being shuffled into the realm of folklore. Meeting the sleek, black horse with the glowing eyes at night means being swept up and dumped in the nearest bog rather than having a civil conversation. Forgetting to leave out offerings of grain or milk means the Irish farmer may find his fences knocked down, his livestock scattered, his hens too frightened to lay and his cows’ milk curdled.
It’s important to note that the pooka never actually harms humans. His mischief may be malicious and frightening at times but he stops short of anything more serious than vandalism or a good scare. When treated with respect, he has been known to answer questions and give sound advice. He even seems to crave human company from time to time, appearing out of the dark as a weary traveler who will come in if invited and spin fantastic tales for his hosts before disappearing again into the night.
The only man ever to tame the pooka horse was the High King Brian Boru, who made a magic bridle using three hairs from the pooka’s tail so he would not be thrown off, and rode the poor thing to exhaustion. He then demanded that the pooka promise to stop vandalizing Christian property and to leave Irishman traveling at night alone so long as they were sober and not abroad with evil intentions. He got his promise and, for a time, the mischief stopped. Eventually, the pooka returned to old habits which could mean he simply lied so Brian would leave him alone, that he forgot his promise, or that he believed he had made the promise only to that one human, which became null and void after the death of the High King.
So from all these bits and pieces was born Finn, my own favorite pooka. Since the pooka can take any shape, why not tall, dark, and handsome? And from all the stories, why not one who is both largely puzzled and helplessly fascinated by humans? Add to that a fertile imagination, a prodigious sex drive, a sense of curiosity any cat would be proud of, and a wicked sense of humor, and we have our Finn.
Finn still insists that King Brian was a bit of a bully, but he does admit that maybe some of the things he used to do weren’t quite cricket.
Come read more about him (and, oh, yes, Diego, too) in the first installment of Endangered Fae:
Finn: Endangered Fae 1
When Diego rescues a naked man from the rail of the Brooklyn Bridge, he just wants to get the poor man out of traffic and to social services. He gets more than he bargained for when he discovers Finn is an ailing pooka, poisoned by the city's pollution. To help him recover, Diego takes him to New Brunswick where Finn inadvertently wakes an ancient, evil spirit: the wendigo.
While they struggle to find a way to destroy the wendigo before it can possess Diego or kill nearby innocents, Diego wrestles with his growing feelings for Finn. Kill the monster and navigate a relationship between a modern man and a centuries old pooka. Piece of cake.