Editor's Note: The website I took this and Faerie v Fairy from, The Endless Dreaming, went down around 2004, but was authored by Ciaran, aka Enderilyich. Her thoughts on this essay are at the bottom of the page.
Ex Libris Nocturnis - http://www.nocturnis.net
By: Gavin Bennett (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Arcadia is a bucolic paradise in the Hills of Ancient Greece. It is where shepherds and poets hang around and are pastoral and all is Utopian. It described a real rural area, but a conceptual one which Greek city dwellers could sigh, and say: I wish I were in Arcadia. It came to mean any pastoral paradise, appearing in Romantic poetry, and even modernist literature. Pan was said to wander through occasionally, and poets ascribed to Nymphs and Satyrs and Muses and the like living there.
The idea of the rural paradise came first. The addition of what we might describe as Faeries was later.
However, the term Fey or Fae or Faerie has a similar root. It comes from Fatae, which was the name for the Fates, or the Norns or any other similar spirits. It came to have a wide application, in the sense of "fated" meant "doomed" or even just plain old "strange" or "weird."
Fay-Rie or Domdaniel on the other hand, had a far less artificial genesis. In ancient times, in France, Great Britain and Ireland as well as many other Western European cultures, people believed that various classes of spirits and witches and warlocks existed. It was believed that these creatures existed in a nearby region, perhaps the woodlands, or perhaps just beyond those hills, or below that choppy ocean waves.
This became what the Bards would call the Otherworld. It was the place just beyond human perception, and there the spirits and the gods and the monsters dwelled.
The Celtic term for these "other" things was Shee, or Sith, or Sidhe. The agglomeration of all these gods and monsters and distant things was only wrapped together as "faerie" much later. Whole books can be written on the development of the ideas of these "other" creatures. As has been pointed out before, much of our notions of the Fae come from the subversion of Pagan religion into a Christian context. Gods became either saints (some French Celtic legends, in particular) or devils (Greek myth), or even, in moments of beautiful creativity on some priest’s part, are said to have been defeated by the Christian God’s angels (Norse mythology). Other mythologies, found themselves awkwardly, yet compellingly snuck into Church canon. The chief Queen of the Tuatha De Dannan is said to have been Noah’s granddaughter.
In this fashion, the Otherworld became Faerie, which was somewhere between Heaven and Hell and Purgatory.
And yet, and yet, trying to grasp what exactly the Fae ever were is like trying to grasp starlight. Here is the True face of banality, making cosy explanations for things. That’s Banality. Cute, cosy, comfortable explanations. Saying the Universe was created by a Big Bang is hardly Banal. Saying the stars are not Gods looking down at us, but distant suns is also hardly Banal. They are big concepts, and they touch the imagination just as easily. This computer is not banal, it connects me to friends across the world, and allows me to find many, many things out.
Iron was said to ward off evil spirits. Hence an inverted horseshoe in every Irish barn and outhouse until modern times. That is hardly Banal. In many ways, this is as fantastical as anything else. Also, it should be pointed out, that silver, and garlic and crosses were also used in this fashion.
Look around you, the century, the millennium, the era is passing. We know now just how little we know. We know that there is no cosy, simple answer to anything. 50 years ago, in the West, we sat on an opposite fence. Then it was just a matter of time until all things were possible, that inventors and governments could make the world better. The world was small, and definable, and then space would be definable.
But we know better now. We have come so far, and now, only now do we even have an inkling of how far we have to go.
We can explain and experiment and attempt to map out our physical universe, and it will take until the human race dies to do so. This is as it should be. Now just imagine that there is another universe, a universe we see with the heart, not the head, where many other things are true? Again, here is banality, Californian middle-aged "mystics" telling us to meditate on cute ribbons to enhance our love zones, and this is meant to be Kabbalah!! Or that some accountant by day is actually a Lord Druid. I don’t know about you, but if I was a Chief Druid or a Kaballistic scholar, I would keep quiet about it. An entire world could be carrying on under our noses, and we have no way of knowing.
This is not about "belief shaping the universe" its just making a simple point. We don’t know. We simply do not know how every other of the 6 Billion people on the planet behave. There could be literally millions of Black and White Magicians and angels and demons carrying on. It doesn’t make any other field of human experience any less valid, it makes it more complex.
Realise that, and Faeries could exist.
It is banal to even sit down and throw cute theories down about "the collective unconscious" and "dreams made real." Where is the inspiration there? If there in one universal truth, it is that the universe does its own thing, and makes no apologies to humans. Throwing phrases around like "deep psychological archetypes" and "Freudian or Jungian imagery" strips something amazing down into something comfortable. That is Banal. Why is it Banal? We are taking a theory and assuming that this is now the case. It is much more Glamorous to go find out. We could spend all our lives searching for magic, and never find it, but it is not banal.
I do not believe that belief shapes reality, or indeed, that reality is somehow changed by anything. I do however believe, that everything is down to perception, and there is a small truth in that perception until we look hard enough at it.
I doubt magic and science could ever have anything to do with one another, and so what? James Randi can spend his life disproving magic exists, but he is one guy with 24 hours in every day. The universe has eternity. There are 6 Billion little truths, one for every human on earth. They don’t change the world, or render each other invalid, but each truth is equal part reality, lies and insight.
But we all know who the Faeries are.
Look inside, and you will catch a glimpse. I hesitate to call them UFOs or aliens or angels or spirit guides, but there is an element of truth there.
They are the world’s little secrets and echoes of a time when the world was young. Stand on your roof and watch the sunset and the stars rise. Breath in the faint chill of the coming night. There, you are close to Faerie now.
Close your eyes as your favourite song fades away. There.
I am not going to put words on this. I am not going to say that what you dream makes faeries. I am not going to say that inspiration puts you there. It’s not even a sense of wonder, or a return to innocence. You just have to know. You are close.
What am I saying?
Maybe the thunderclap you hear really is Thor or Mananann Mac Lir walking across the sky. Maybe inside that huge thunderhead, a god sits.
Maybe, a million maybes. Realise those maybes and you are close to the hidden world. Maybe some reading this will never get old. How would we know? We wouldn’t. The person would have to be a bit clever, but with the human population heading for 10 Billion early in the coming millennium, who the hell would ever know?
Realise that the universe is too big to be trapped in a web of simple definition, and you are there.
We are the architects of our own grace, and damnation, we are human, mortal, weak, strong, dreaming, and dying, hurting and loving and living. All things have a potential to be inside of us, but wouldn’t it be so heart breaking if we were to say that yes, everything is inside us, all the ghosts and dreams and faeries and gods. What if we were talking to nothing? Science cannot map these things out, because they are bigger than anything we know. Science and psychology can help us understand ourselves, and some of the physical universe better, but nothing, nothing else.
What happens to us when we die?
See, not even the greatest, most atheistic, most banal scientist knows this. The body decays, becomes the earth. But we aren’t our bodies, deep down we know this.
So what happens?
We don’t know, and admitting this, we are a little closer to the otherworld.
My Grandmother’s family name is MacCumhail. They claim an ancestor named Fionn. Her late husband’s name was McLochlain. His family were descended from a mad high king, and indeed, the name goes back further, and there is even a minor legend that links them to the Tuatha. Maybe I have Fey blood. Maybe everyone has.
You see maybe every myth is true, every legend, every moment of magic, and every fairy; maybe none of it is true, and we are alone in the universe. But we don’t know, and we don’t even know where to begin looking. If there are faeries, they are well skilled in the art of hiding. I am not saying they are not there; they are simply hiding. We could walk through their fairs every other day, and maybe we would not notice. Maybe we would feel something, hear something, but maybe not.
I am not asking for belief, I am asking for questions and perhaps even a language that can pose those questions in.
Maybe the world is dull and old and Banal because we aren’t looking in the right place. Maybe it is dull and banal because we watch too much crap TV and we don’t force ourselves to imagine. None of this detracts from the fact that governments and corporations and militaries lie to us all the time. None of this changes the fact that the world is dying due to pollution, and the human race is strangling on a diet of war, famine, plague and tyranny.
Where are the faeries? Where are the angels? Surely they would care, or help. Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. But you don’t know either way, do you?
Why don’t you go find out?
II: Tolkien This is a very small point, but does anyone remember what Middle Earth actually is? It’s not a fantasy land is far off space. It’s our world about 8,000 years ago. Go read the Silmarillion and the Lord of the Rings again, with this in mind (as if you need an excuse). Tolkien was a linguist, folklorist and theologian. He was a strict Catholic. He was an early environmentalist. Keep this in mind when you read.
Perhaps we are reading about the world before the last Ice Age. Perhaps something whispered in his dreams as he wrote, and he fused his creation with a strange secret history, which we have forgotten about.
That’s not true, you can say, it’s a novel, it’s made up.
Yes, true, but how true?
III: Faerie and The World of Darkness:
Our favourite shared universe, an alternate earth.
In 1991, when I read the back of the Vampire: The Masquerade, I read that this was to be just the first of five separate roleplaying games: Vampire, Werewolf, Magus, Faerie and Ghost. Ars Magica was on its way to its 3rd Edition by then. It seemed likely that Magus would be a modern day version of Ars Magica, set in the dark Vampire world. Ohhhh, wow! What a beautiful notion. A cross between Hellblazer, the Books of Magic (Graphic Novel) and Vampire? My god, what a notion. Pity it did not turn out that way. Vampire is easily the best setting for the Hungry Dead in or out of literature. Mark Rein Hagen took the myths and legends and made them work. He drew Anne Rice and Bram Stoker and a pantheon of others, and stole little things from them. He took the imagery of Tim Burton’s Batman and Edward Scissorhands and Francis Ford Coppolla’s Dracula and merged with the novels of Emily Bronte and William Gibson. It was a fascinating once off, that worked. Other such world merges have been attempted, but the World of Darkness is probably the best. Never mind anything that has happened since. Two beautiful notions, which were used for a roleplaying games. We should be flattered.
The best ideas are usually so deceptively simple; everyone wonders why they did not think of that first. Well, that’s why they are the best ideas. No one else thought of them first.
Where did it all go wrong?
It never really went wrong anywhere, but it sort of degenerated away from the original modernist and literary beginning. Werewolf took another wonderful precept: that the Werewolves of myth were actually defending the earth from forces of corruption and death. But it’s a mixed bag of notions, and owes much to superhero comics. It was the mixed bag that Mage inherited. Those who do not remember the first rulebook should be fortunate. Wraith came next, something of a return to form, but I had little hope for Changeling.
I noticed a pattern, a trend, after Vampire, of rushing around to place definitions where there should not have been any. What in Werewolf was shorthand for describing something the Garou were not sure about (e.g., Umbrood) became a proper cosmological detail. This was for systems purposes, but why, exactly, do we need to know that an Infernal duke is an Incarna, with stats?
IV: Arcadia By Night?
There is a book I recommend to every Changeling Storyteller. It’s called Faeries. It’s published by Atlas Games. It is a sourcebook for the Fae for Ars Magica 4th Ed. Get Ars Magic 4th Ed, while you are at it. It makes a great deep background for Mage games. But we are mostly concerned about Faeries, here.
But it is interesting for offering powers and some descriptions of the Fae. And it gives us a glimpse of Arcadia, not afforded by Changeling.
Also, look here:
Again, this is all designed for game mechanics purposes. But it offers us an interesting glimpse into Faerie, does it not?
Another interesting view of Faerie can be found in Charles De Lint books, (I am thinking here of Jack of Kinrowan) and Terry Pratchett’s hilarious, but clever, Lords and Ladies.
V: And in the end
There is a point to all this woolgathering, don’t you worry. What do you want your Changeling story to be? Do you want it to be cute, Americanised, and Disneyfied and occasionally, throwing in the odd Black Spiral Dancers to make it a bit scary every so often.
Or do you want to explore that shadowy, nebulous realm between light and dark, heaven and hell, summer and winter, humanity and spirit, which the word Faerie invokes.
Forget such concerns as: who would win, the True Fae or the Antediluvians. Forget about game mechanics. Think about the World of Darkness. Think of what it means to be a Fae in this world. Then make those changes.
Remember one thing, though. The Faerie stories were not written for children. They are not meant for Disney cartoons. They are meant as stories for the fireside on the long dark nights after Samhain, to inject a moment of dreaming wonder into a cold, dark world.
What you will create is a long distance from the core of changeling, or your friend’s changeling, but it will be your vision, and it will be your truth. The Fae are immortal and beautiful and wondrous, and terrible and terrifying all at once. Do them justice. It is not wise to disrespect them.
They may be watching.
"Come away, human child, to the waters, and the wild,
for the world’s more full of weeping,
then you can understand…."
To counter this argument, the author of the Endless Dreaming would like to say: "Big Deal, things are relative, if they didn't teach you that in science class my god you're dumb. Time is relative. Speed is relative. Our very conceptions of science are relative! Good and Evil, Banality and Glamour are relative! Suffering and Pleasure are relative terms! All you basically argued is the basic nature of truth and the ability to reasonably doubt everything else!"