Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Micro-Fictions as Fantasy Writing Prompts

Little short moments in time from fantasy worlds to help inspire you. You can read a few more of these here.  Or Check out my page of Fantasy Writing Prompts for more inspiration.




(I know a full moon can't rise in the day, but not all werewolves change only during a full moon)

I hear a banshee crying sadly on the moor. My heart grows heavy as I realize she cries for me. My wife was right, I never should have taken this journey.



Brightly colored seashell jewelry clackles as the orcs run towards the beached whale.


The werewolf growls as it circles the tree and the yowling cat.


Yawning and stretching 
The satyr rises with the moon to search for love.


An old motor roars as the car rumbles wildly through the fields. Crashing over rocks and weeds and finally into the creak. A troop of giggling fairies fly out of the wreck and go searching for another toy to steal.

Hiding from the cold rain under their umbrellas 
no one sees the dragon flying overhead.

The trolls huddle in the cold mountain rain, 
looking down on the warm village.


The mighty dragon, once a lord of the fire and sky. 
Now a child carves patterns in his bones.






Thursday, May 7, 2015

Banshee

Few mythological figures are as shrouded in mystery and misinformation as the banshee. Most popular culture depicts them as evil, and often times as men. Banshees are neither.

To fully understand banshee's it's perhaps best begin with a bit of ancient Irish and Scottish Funeral Traditions. In Ireland and Scotland Keening, that is a wailing sorrowful song was an important part of saying goodbye to someone who had passed on. Because of this women would often be hired to keen a poem of lamentation for the deceased, that is until the Catholic church outlawed such practices. The fact that such practices were outlawed seems to indicate that there was some magical or pagan element in the practice of keening beyond simply morning for the dead. After all many different places in Europe had their own unique funeral songs and styles, and only in rare cases did these get banned by the Church.

The movie Darby O-Gill depicts the banshee as a fearsome ghost.

The Banshee is simply a fairy which loves people so much that they keen (and clap their hands as was a traditional part of morning) when someone is about to die. Their eyes are red with crying. The mere fact that they are so often seen crying for a person who is going to die should be a clear indication that they aren't evil, but overly sympathetic to the plight of certain people. Overtime their association with death did cause fear and ultimately led to the  current thinking about them in Hollywood. That, however, is an evolution which occurred because people lost touch with their traditional roots, rather than an original idea.


So What Was the Banshee?

Banshees were ancestral spirits of specific families. As a general rule only important (noble) families had a banshee attached to them. Though there are exceptions to this. The banshee was oftentimes the spirit of a woman who died without children and became a sort of patron aunt of a family. 

Lady Lady Francesca Speranza Wilde states that "Sometimes the Banshee assumes the form of some sweet singing virgin of the family who died young, and has been given the mission by the invisible powers to become the harbinger of coming doom to her mortal kindred. Or she may be seen at night as a shrouded woman, crouched beneath the trees, lamenting with veiled face; or flying past in the moonlight, crying bitterly: and the cry of thus spirit is mournful beyond all other sounds on earth, and betokens certain death to some member of the family whenever it. is heard in the silence of the night."

Banshees would also act as guides into the afterlife. She would "draw nigh at the time of death, and bear the soul to its fairy home." (Yes originally people went to fairyland when they died).

Okay, so the banshee appears to be an ancestral spirit. One which in addition to crying for the death of a loved one can at times help their family. They'll give the gift of poetry, help the heads of families with decisions, and occasionally give babies blessings. In one tale the banshee of the mountain advices a man named McKineely on how to free a woman from the tower she's been shut up in. The banshee then fairies him to the island the woman is on and uses Druidic magic to put the guards to sleep.

This isn't the whole story, however, as there were, however, also two hills in Aberdeenshire Scotland where the banshee like being appears to have been the tutelary deities of the land. Those passing through the area would leave them bread in return for safe travel. Whether this points to a remnant of an older tradition, is unique to the area, or is the result of confusion about the nature of banshees vs tutelary spirits I can't say. 

In another case a banshee appears to be a living spirit which was carried away into fairy land; I was also shown a small cottage in which a girl named Olla had lived. She was carried off by the fairies, and her wailing was heard before the death of her mother, and again before the death of several members of her family. A farmer, or even a labourer, may have a banshee attached to his family—a little white creature was the description given to me by a woman who said she had seen one; others say that banshees are like birds.

In this case banshees aren't fairies at all, but people who live with fairies (though this distinction is often fuzzy as people seem to be able to become fairies).

Yet in a story told by Yeats in "Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry" it seems that the banshees very closely resemble fairies and have their own courts which they rule over. In this story a piper encounters a fairy who tells him;

"There's a great feast in the house of the Banshee, on the top of Croagh Patric tonight," says the Púca, "and I'm for bringing you there to play music, and, take my word, you'll get the price of your trouble."

"By my word, you'll save me a journey, then," says the piper, "for Father William put a journey to Croagh Patric on me, because I stole the white gander from him last Martinmas."

The Púca rushed him across hills and bogs and rough places, till he brought him to the top of Croagh Patric. Then the Púca struck three blows with his foot, and a great door opened, and they passed in together, into a fine room.

The piper saw a golden table in the middle of the room, and hundreds of old women (cailleacha) sitting round about it. The old woman rose up, and said, "A hundred thousand welcomes to you, you Púca of November (na Samhna). Who is this you have brought with you?"

"The best piper in Ireland," says the Púca.

One of the old women struck a blow on the ground, and a door opened in the side of the wall, and what should the piper see coming out but the white gander which he had stolen from Father William.

"By my conscience, then," says the piper, "myself and my mother ate every taste of that gander, only one wing, and I gave that to Moy-rua (Red Mary), and it's she told the priest I stole his gander."

The gander cleaned the table, and carried it away, and the Púca said, "Play up music for these ladies."

The piper played up, and the old women began dancing, and they were dancing till they were tired. Then the Púca said to pay the piper, and every old woman drew out a gold piece, and gave it to him.

"By the tooth of Patric," said he, "I'm as rich as the son of a lord"

- So what does all this mean?

Ireland didn't have a single comprehensive folk religion. Rather there were many ideas about banshees. The one common thread is that they were female fairies who had a close connection to specific families or places. In a way they can be thought of as people who entered the fairy world but couldn't let go of their human families.






















Thursday, April 23, 2015

Fairies in America

At the time of the American War of Independence, a native of Tiree... wishing to escape from his Fairy love, enlisted and was drafted off to the States. On landing he thanked God he was now where the hag could not reach him. Soon after, however, she met him. "You have given thanks," she said, " for getting rid of me, but it is as easy for me to make my appearance here as in your own country."

(For those of you keeping track this means that a man fought the American's during the Revolutionary War in order to escape a fairy lover - Writing Prompt - Tell the story of someone who is protected by their fairy lover during a war, even as they are trying to get out of the relationship)

There are many Scottish tales of fairy women following men to the America's. Indeed the fairies were so entwined with human civilization that they came to America in droves. This was especially true of house fairies, and ancestral spirits such as banshees, but even the fairies of the mounds came to America. As a resault any given city in America would have whatever fairies existed in Europe, Asia as well as in America before the immigration. This creates an interesting situation for writers in which Russian Domovi might encounter Scottish Brownies, or Saxon elves may have to share hills with Japanese Tengu.

In one case a fiddler returning from a wedding encounters a woman dressed in green, a Scottish fairy, who ultimatly gives him and his decendents the gift of being great musicians. This is very similar to many artists and craftsmen in Scotland who receive their gifts from the people of the hills.

Another Scottish Fairy to come to America was the Bauchan which would constantly wrestle around with a particular mortal like an overly aggresive and rambunxious teenager. At the same time he was clearly attached to the human for he would help him gather wood, or retrieve lost items for him. After the man moved to America he found the Bauchan waiting on shore for him to arrive.

The French Lutins also came to America, Quebec especially is filled with tales of the little fairies tying knots in horses manes, helping out and causing trouble in the barns and homes, just as they did in France. Another Lutin, known as the Nain Rouge is a creature believed to have originated in Normandy France, which now acts as a harbringer of doom in Detroit. Like most Lutin he appears as a tiny child with red fur boots, most often before some sort of disaster.

Death potents are among the most likely spirits to follow anyone. People in America would see grey and black dogs, would hear the crying of banshees, etc.

A banshee followed the O'Gradys to Canada where it was heard crying one night. Next day it so happened that the gentleman and his eldest son went out boating. As they did not return, however, at the usual time for dinner, some alarm was excited, and messengers were sent down to the shore to look for them. But no tidings came until, precisely at the exact hour of the night when the spirit-cry had been heard the previous evening, a crowd of men were seen approaching the house, bearing with them the dead bodies of the father and the son, who had both been drowned by the accidental upsetting of the boat, within sight of land, but not near enough for any help to reach them in time.

For those who study fairy lore it shouldn't come as any surprise that the fairies of people's homelands would find their way to America. Fairies after all have come to build a symbiotic relationship with humans. Humans provide fairies with food, with goods that they struggle to get a hold of, and with many other benefits it's difficult to place our fingers on. Fairies provide humans with luck, with insperation, etc.

Then there are simply the fairies who fell in love with humans. In the French tale of "The Fee and the Sailor" a young man from Plevenon met an ocean fairy while out fishing. She fell in love with him and ultimatly gave him a magic wand when he went off to California to search for gold.

Many of the beings we now think of as house fairies from the Welsh Bwca to the German Puk, and yes even the Scottish Brownie were once wilderness fairies which while often connected to a household instead of a family, will still follow many families from one home to another in many tales. What's more, many fairies were the spirits of the dead or of people who found themselves lured into fairyland. Thus we should expect that these spirits would exist in anyplace where their human descendents can.

A lot of the difference comes down to interpritation. In America ghost activity is detected by objects vanishing or turning up in places that no one would have put them. Sounds of knocking and footsteps. There are also scratches, bite marks, or other physical manifestations of an attack without any apparent attacker. Finally people will catch glimpses of strange figures.

Once upon a time such manifestations would have been interpreted as the munacillo in Southern Italy, as a domovoi in Russia, etc. We've just forgotten so much of our heritage that we started looking for more 'scientific' explinations about two centuries ago. Since then people have stopped believing in ancestral and nature spirits who share our homes and have started beliving in phantams which haunt them. So perhaps what we often think of as ghosts are really fairies, which would mean we are dealing with them all wrong. Instead of trying to get rid of them or help them resolve unfinished business, perhaps one should leave them a bowl of milk and see what happens.








Tuesday, April 14, 2015

House Fairies

As a general rule I tend to dislike breaking down fairy types by the place they live. After all; cats, bed bugs, mice, and people all live in houses too but that doesn't make us all the same thing.

Never the less there is something to be said for discussing the magical ecology of homes, villages and cities. This, however, is a very complex endeavor as there are many, many, many types of fairies that can live in people's home, not all of which are easy to classify.

To begin to understand house fairies I'd like to use an example of a story I include in my most recent book "From Celtic Fairies to Romanian Vampires."

"There was a Frisian named Harro Harrsen. When he was planning on building a home he saw a hole in a log, he realized that it would make the perfect place for a little Niskepuk to live. So he built a home, and when it was finished he nailed a board as wide as his hand to act as a trim beneath the hole. He put a bowl filled with gruel and plenty of butter on the trim and in a friendly way called, "Come, loving Niskepuk!" He didn't have to wait long for the Niskepuk's came to look over his new home, which they danced through. Only one of them - who was three inces tall - stayed, living in the hole in the piller in Harro Harrsen's home."

At one time people wanted fairies in their homes, a home without a soul was well, soulless, it couldn't thrive and neither could the people who lived within it. Yet like all human fairy relationships this was a complected one.

Types of Fairies In Homes

Wilderness fairies passing through.

A lot of wilderness fairies will pass through people's homes, tumbling down the chimneys, in through cracks in the walls, under the doors, etc. Often the Celts would leave clean water out for passing fairies to bathe in and wash their children. Others would leave food and drink out for the wild fairies. Indeed there was always the fear that if one didn't provide the wild fairies with something to drink they would come looking for human blood to slack their thirst. 

Other wild fairies would enter homes to play with children, to cause mischief, to steal. The (Buffadello) of Italy is one wilderness fairy which lived in nut trees. They would frequently enter homes in hopes of playing with children. They would also cause general havoc around the house. Running up and down the stairs at night, pulling the covers of people, tickling feet, and more. 

In North England Ainsle came down the chimney and played with a boy at night. She seems to have been a bit of an attention seeker as many fairies are. Showing off her magical ability to create illusions and her artistry.

Often times such wilderness fairies were dangerous which is why the Roman's would use brooms to drive them away or the Japanese would use salt to do the same. They could also be clearly helpful, however. Indeed there are many stories in which wilderness fairies will leave coins or bring luck to those who are clean and kind. So

While these fairies usually only pass through the home their are incidences where wilderness fairies will stay in a human home.

1-Poltergeist

There are fairies that live in trees, in rocks, in the earth, etc. Such fairies can become dangerous if humans build on their homes. Often these fairies will act like poltergeists, pinching people in their sleep, breaking things, etc. In some places the spirits of elder trees might were known to drink the blood out of the breasts of people who build a home using their tree.

This then begs the question, 'how do you build a house without offending the fairies?'

There are dozens of answers to this as it seems each region had it's own specific rules. There are, however, some common rules;

Firstly never build on large sets of rocks as these are the fairies homes. Second never build on the borders between two properties, cities, lands, etc. as fairies claim the border lands.

You can spend the night in a place where you are planning on building. If the fairies disturb your camp it's a sign that you shouldn't build there, if they leave your camp undisturbed it often means they are okay with the building.

Offer the fairies reparations for the land. Give them milk, butter, etc. Historically animal sacrifices of various sorts (especially of horses) were common in return for the right to build on the land.

A coin found on the land was also a sign that it was okay to build there. Snakes could also be a good sign as house fairies often took the form of snakes.

As a writer answering questions like this, creating superstitions can add interesting elements to your culture.  

2-Invited

The name puck may come from Nisepuk. In one story a man notices a hole in log and decided to use this to make the center of his home so that a nisepuk could live in it. He then called the little fairies to his home and one decided to stay. Every day he left the little fairy butter and in return the fairy brought him luck, making him extremely wealthy. Some of these fairies become domesticated, a perminant part of households. Because of this nearly any type of fairy can become a house fairy. There's a sealkie who's a house fairy in one place, while former forest kings are fairies in another. This is based on arrangement between the humans and the fairies.

In Japan there is a tengu (a raven headed and winged forest spirit) which became a household god and protected children from getting burns and houses from fires.

Indeed there are likely thousands of stories about wilderness spirits which were invited into people's homes in order to help them with various tasks or provide protection from various dangers.


3-Adoptive

Some wilderness fairies seem to adopt humans who move into their territory. These fairies are complected as they can be very kind to the people who they've adopted but dangerous to everyone else. In Eastern Europe the lords of the forest were known to adopt certain families, the way a person might adopt a stray kitten. However, while they were kind to their own families they would often put curses on and rob from the neighbors and other people. Thus an old prayer asking for blessings on ones own house spirit, but protection from everyone else's.

In Japan animal spirits, dog spirits, snake spirits, and more might become a part of a family. They would help that family in return for a bit of food. However, they would often possess the neighbors causing illness and other trouble. Thus there were times when families who had fox spirits, etc. were driven out of villages. 


4-Refugees and Outcasts

There are a lot of fairies who have been banished from their homes. Fairy wars and in fighting is common. A king might accuse one of the lesser fairies of having an affair with his wife obliging him to take the form of a cat and hide in a human home. Other times an invading army of fairies will drive the local fairies into hiding in human homes. Most of the time, we never hear exactly why a fairy was banished from the fairy court.

These refugees tend as a general rule to try to be helpful to the family in whose home they have decided to live. Though there are some cases of them taking the form of a cat to live with the family and be cared for them without contributing anything in return.



Any Fairy

The fact that wilderness fairies pass through and often decide to live in the home means that basically any fairy can become a house fairy. This, again, is why I hate to simply create a category of fairies called house fairies. After all, even if both the kobold refugee from the mountains and the fox spirit invited by the family do many of the same things, their emotions, their feelings will be completely different. Especially when writing a book these feelings are what matters.


Attracting and Retaining House Fairies

So how does one attract and retain house fairies?

1-Keep your house clean. House fairies hate mess, they hate untidiness and laziness. Those who fail to work hard and be clean will likely be punished by the wilderness fairies who happen to pass through while those who are clean are likely to be rewarded by them.

2-Never reveal that you have a house fairy. Seriously, they hate it when people talk about them.

3-Leave butter bread and water out for them. Even if there isn't a house fairy such things are a way to get wilderness fairies to pass through regularly and possibly stay.

4-Don't swear and fight in the house. Fairies are extremely emotionally sensitive. If a two year old or an old lady would be upset by it they would as well.


For writers these rules can provide a lot of story fodder. For example, house fairies were what kept vampires out, so if a person was messy, if they didn't have clean water out for the fairies, if they had been cursing recently it meant that vampires could enter their homes...



I will post Part 2 of House Fairies Soon.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Shocking Things You didn't Know About Pixies

Naked, bedraggled they dwell on the fringes of human society; in the moors and rocky clefts. They hide having been driven to the fringes by people. It was believed by some that pixies were the previous inhabitants of Cornwall and Devon, banished to the moors when humans invaded their lands. Now pixies shrink year by year every time they use their magic and so will eventually vanish completely.

This is a horrifying picture of the fairies that inspired so many stories, and it may explain why pixies act both to harm and help humanity. For on the one hand they are kind, they have come to develop a symbiotic relationship with humans, on the other hand humans have pushed them to the brink of extinction.

Before delving too deep into the negatives of this relationship it's perhaps best to discuss the positives. For the pixies clearly wanted a connection with humanity, which is why they wandered into villages and farms in order to bring gifts to and help people.

One girl who lived on the moor kept her house clean, was constantly working. So like Santa or the Tooth fairy the pixies came in the night and left her a coin, a practices that would have continued if she hadn't made a tragic mistake, she told people about her luck and so the pixies never again left her another reward. Those who have a relationship with the pixies must keep it secret, they must never reveal it to anyone. For pixies are a secretive lot.

Because of their kindness pixies became the focus of people's folk religion, the guardians of their lands and homes. People would leave bread, milk, and other offerings to the pixies in return for good luck. For the pixies controlled people's fate. 

From many such stories it can be presumed that pixies are good, that one should want them to visit (as long as the house is clean). The picture, however, isn't quite so clear as sometimes pixies bring ill luck and cause nothing but trouble. One young dated a pixie changeling and as a result of the bad luck she carried with her his cows died, his food went bad, everything went ill with him after that until the sad end of his days. So in addition to good luck pixies can bring bad luck. 

Just like humans pixies are complex figures in that they each not only have different personalities, they also have differing moods. So rather than try to understand some stereotypical notion of fairy, its perhaps best to try to understand the emotional state of pixies from similar relationships between human groups.


The hunter-gatherers and the agriculturalists

Although pixies are magical beings, we can perhaps learn something of their relationship with humans by looking at the similar human situations around the world.

In the Congo there are groups of hunter-gatherers (collectively nick named Pygmies) who have been driven to the fringes by the agriculturalists. The two people are competition with each other over the remaining jungle, and as the agriculturists expand the hunter-gatherers have less and less land on which to live.

However, the two have formed a symbiotic relationship. It's difficult to find enough food to live in the jungle. So the hunter-gatherers come to help in the fields for part of the year. During other parts they bring meat, spices, and other treasures from the forest to help the agriculturalists survive, thus each needs the other.

Both think of the other as magical. Pygmies think the agricultural people have the power to curse them, just as pixies feared humanities evil eye. At the same time the agriculturalists valued the pygmies ability to heal them and foretell the future.

Finally, its worth noting that the pygmies were known as amazing singers and dancers for a long time. Ancient Egyptian records even mention this.

This relationship between two people's isn't isolated to Africa. It exists in the Philippines and Malaysia and likely many other places as well.

This relationship can explain a lot between the relationship between humans and pixies. For example, why humans believed that while they should pay the pixies a small amount they should to avoid letting the pixies have too much or else they would feel too fine to work. It explains why the pixies and humans can both get along and be antagonistic towards each other at the same time. Especially presuming some pixies are more angry about their relationship with humans than others.

The difference, of course, is that pixies aren't human. On the other hand humans themselves aren't entirely human. In lore humans were just another branch of the fairy family, so there are some similarities between us and them.

In terms of understanding pixies we can see three primary driving forces for their behavior;

1-They are the focus of a fairy faith, a folk religion of the people of Cornwall and Devon

It seems clear that many  of the pixies have come to embrace their place within human folk religion as "the magical others." They are happy to accept offerings of milk, bread, butter, etc. which are left out for them and to give luck in return for these.

Because pixies tend to be obsessed with hard work, with cleanliness and productivity. They can't stand to simply be lazy and so they are prone to helping people with their work, so long as the people are hard working themselves. Their obsession with hard work is extreme enough that they feel the need to punish those who are lazy and reward those who fit with their notions of what's decent and moral. 

In addition to these Santa Like activities they punish those who deny them. In one of their wars with a human who was trying to get rid of them they made it impossible for butter to churn, they ruined wine, they pixie lead people to get lost, pulled people's noses, pinched them, and caused all manner of trouble. 

What's key here, is that despite the fact that the pixies don't like people to see them, they want people to believe in them. It's not entirely certain what they get out of this relationship, other than a bit of food and clean water. However, as a writer you could speculate that they get a certain amount of magical energy from the rituals people perform to them. Or perhaps the pixies are merely obsessed with respect.


2-At the same time some of the pixies retain their wild nature

Pixies are fun loving, wild, and mischievous. They are often seen dancing along the moors and tors, What's more interesting perhaps is their propensity to play pranks on people. They are much more in touch with their own emotions, which can be extreme, than humans are. In addition they are more in touch with the natural world around them, a would which is both wild and beautiful.

One shouldn't be tempted to project some alien behavior on them because of this. Rather, it might be best to think of them as frat boys and sorority girls, bouncing about wildly during their parties, and perhaps a bit antagonistic towards the humans who have fought many wars with them and driven them from their homes. 

In one case a boy was returning home after going to see his sweetheart in a distant village when 

"Suddenly sounds similar to those he had previously heard struck upon his ear, but so plainly as to convince him that he was certainly now labouring under no delusion. Ere he could look around him to discover whence they proceeded the sounds increased tenfold, and it was evident that a very merry party was somewhere close at hand. Instantaneously it flashed into his mind that he had approached a pixy gathering, and stepping at that instant round a huge granite block, he came upon a strange and bewildering sight.

On a small level piece of velvety turf, entirely surrounded by boulders, a throng of little creatures were assembled, dressed in most fantastic costumes. A great number of them had joined hands, and were dancing merrily in a ring, while many were perched upon the rocks around, and all were laughing and shouting with glee. Poor Tom was frightened beyond measure, and knew not whether it was better to proceed or endeavour to retreat. If he could steal away unobserved he might pass on the opposite side of the tor, and this he determined upon doing. But no sooner had he made up his mind to pursue this course, than the little folks observed him, and instantly forming a ring round him, danced more furiously than ever. As they whirled around, Tom was constrained to turn around with them, although, so rapid was their pace. that he was utterly unable to keep up with their frantic movements. Each one, too, was joining in the elfin chorus as loud as his little lungs would enable him, and although they danced and sting with all their might they never seemed to tire. In vain Tom called upon them to stop--his cries only causing the pixies to laugh the merrier--while they seemed to have no intention whatever of discontinuing their antics. Tom's head began to swim round; he put out his arms wildly, his legs felt as if they would give way under him; but yet he could not avoid spinning around in a mad whirl. He would have given worlds to stop, and endeavoured in vain to throw himself on the grass: the mazy gallop still continued, and poor Tom was compelled to take his part in it.

In the height of the din the sun began to rise above the ridge of Hameldon, and at the first sight of the bright orb the noise suddenly ceased, the little folks instantly vanished among the crevices of the rocks, and Turn found himself lying alone on the moor."

As with a lot of folk stories about encounters with fairies there is a lot more going on here than is immediately apparent. First of all it's important to note that most negative encounters with the fairies run something like this. People come across them while they are throwing a wild party and they, in the midst of their marry making, harass the interloper. Other times they lead people astray, cause their milk to spoil, pinch them, etc. Rarely do they ever simply attack a person, however. And even when they do attack people they almost never kill them. 

Again these seem like the pranks of teenagers or college students, not harmless, but they aren't psychotic.

What's important to understand is that pixies can't grow up, they can't mature, not fully. In many ways one can think of Peter Pan as the ultimate pixie. No matter how many chances he had to kill Captain Hook, or what Hook, he preferred to tease him, to play with him. His "childish pranks" such as cutting off Hook's hand weren't harmless, he was a bit devilish at his core, but his attitude was still that of a child.

The wild dance the pixies draw Tom into is also interesting as many early vision quests of witches/shamans run.along similar lines. Over time such behavior caused people to try to avoid becoming witches/shamans and eventually lead to people thinking that the fairies trying to pull them into their world were evil. Whether the pixies were trying to make Tom a shaman/witch or simply playing a prank on him I don't know, but this is still a good example of a witches first experience with the fairies.

Finally, the pixies must flee the coming of the sun. They don't simply vanish, however. Instead they must jump into the little cracks and crevices of the moor. Becoming invisible takes energy, so they aren't invisible all the time and they can't vanish so long as a human is looking at them.



3-They are a neighboring people.

Pixies are people's neighbors, they know this even better than the people who live among them because they see and hear humans constantly. Over time they come to care for good neighbors and hate bad neighbors. The difference is that unlike humans it's often easier for them to get involved in punishing bad neighbors and helping the ones they like. For example, they are more likely to be able to directly get involved in punishing men who abuse their spouses and children, who over drink, etc.

They also help people like they would neighbors, leaving food out for farmers who ask for it, playing with children, etc.



It's worth noticing that of these three forces only one is inherent to the pixies. That is, their wild nature. Their love of song and dance and mischief are inherent to them. The other two, being neighbors with humans and the object of human folk religion isn't something they chose. Indeed, they must always live with the knowledge that humans have forced their world to change. This isn't some distant idea for them, however. Many pixies are immortal so they can remember the time before humans, they can remember the coming of humans, and they may one day yet recall when humans vanished from their world.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Countryside and Fairies During the Era of Steampunk

The man screams and tries to back peddle away from the oncoming train, his mind is overwhelmed with fear. Even through closed eyes he can see the bright light rushing towards him, then, Bam! something small hits him. He falls to the ground in shock, barely able to process the sound of a laughing kitsune (fox) darting off into the bushes.

The train had been nothing more than an illusion.

Fairies and magical creatures found new ways to take advantage of the rapidly changing world of the Victorian Era (Meiji Era in Japan). In France lutins stole and crashed cars, the fairies of Ireland attacked them, in Italy fairies teased road construction crews. Most of the stories we have of fairies adjusting to the new world, however, come from Japan. Here Tenuki (dogs which look like raccoons) took human form to get drunk in bars, foxes began pretending to be trains and cars in order  to work their mischief, and kami took on new roles to help people adjust to their new lives.

Such changes weren't always so prevalent in the countryside, however. For even as the world's cities went through a series of shocking changes the the countryside remained isolated for a long time. With no rail roads, no electricity it existed apart from the rest of the world, retaining many of their old traditions and ideas about the magical world in which they lived.

For those of you who want to tell the story of the countryside in a steampunk or Victorian era world it's easy to imagine a place still living what amounts to a medieval lifestyle, while occasionally  viewing airships flying overhead. Certainly there were villages in Japan that continued to live and work as they always had right up until the early 1960s. The English countryside was filled with places where Cunning (good witches) were still the most important people in the communities right up through WWI.

Indeed, the vast majority of our stories about fairies come after people began using steampower fairly frequently and there are some stories of fairies even inspiring those who made steampowered vehicles.

Even so, with the growth of the cities, a number of things happened. First people in the country without work began, for the first time, to move in mass into the cities to work in factories. The number of people living in the country decreased, the number of farmers decreased. Rather than try to struggle through family farms closed up. This in turn transformed the dynamic of the countryside, and worried the fairies who didn't like to see these changes. Thus in Wales and Cornwall there are stories of fairies aiding people who are about to loose their farms and homes, doing some of their work for them at night so that they won't have to close up and move away.

We see similar stories in tales like "The Elves and the Shoe Maker." In this story, which was prevalent throughout Europe some fairies help a Shoe Maker who was likely struggling because the industrial revolution and it's use of machines to make clothes and destroyed his business.

This leads to a second important change in the countryside. While the decreasing cost of clothes and shoes greatly helped the poorest of families (shoes had been so expensive children often went barefoot even on frozen ground) it greatly changed the dynamic of the countryside. Once traveling tailors had carried stories and ideas of folk religion from village to village in places like Scotland, but these began to decrease as their jobs were replaced by factories.

Despite the  fact that fairies push many of the changes that occur in human society, there are many fairies which are adverse to change. Stories abound of fairies growing angry at people for putting new spices in their food, such as wood wife in Germany who was furious that someone had backed cumin into their bread. They missed the old foods, the old traditions, the old families that they had been neighbors with for generations that had been forced to move on.

In addition houses and farms in the countryside could become abandoned, leaving the family fairies who had lived in these lands for generations alone, without a purpose. In such cases the countryside could quickly become overrun with mischievous boggarts without a home.

Still, despite such changes, life went on much as it always had in the countryside. People retained their old relationship to the fairy world, and even reapplied it in interesting new ways. When the people of Mari-El (in Russia) for example, were called to war in distant lands they would pray and leave offerings to their local Keremet who would in return keep them safe. In one case a Keremet even brought a soldier home for his brothers wedding, before returning him once more to the battlefield.

The Japanese had many similar experiences. So for many, the relationship with the spirit world was only enhanced by the changes in the Victorian world. For when people's children were taken to war in distant lands they'd never heard of, or were used to maintain their countries interests in far away colonies which had once seemed like the 'other world' people needed to turn somewhere.

This meant that the role of the tutelary spirits which people had once turned to for help with farming had to expand and change rapidly.

There was one more change which occurred during the Victorian era that transformed not only the countryside but all of human society. People in the cities began to think about the country and fairies of their nations with a sense of Romanticism.

 From the Grimm Brothers to Yeats, people began to believe that the countryside and it's fairies was what truly defined their culture. Fairies became a human symbol of nationalism, a point of pride for the Celts, among others. In a steampunk fantasy world this would have changed our relationship with the fairies.

Suddenly leaders would be scrambling for the approval of the fairies. Wars would be between not only two human nations but fairy nations united with human nations. As more and more people sought to imitate the fairies of their land.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Fairy Wars

'There is an old abbey on the river, in County Mayo, and people say the fairies had a great battle near it, and that the slaughter was tremendous. At the time, the fairies appeared as swarms of flies coming from every direction to that spot. Some came from Knock Ma, and some from South Ireland, the opinion being that fairies can assume any form they like. The battle lasted a day and a night, and when it was over one could have filled baskets with the dead flies which floated down the river.'
-Wentz

Fairy wars were such bloody and devastating events because were embroiled in Medieval politics long after humans had left it behind. In many ways one can see their fairy courts, their wild parties as being similar to the parties of knights, of soldiers unwinding. They had their own codes of honor which they were willing to kill and die for. Indeed, it can be argued that honor was more important to fairies than it was to nearly any human. Their emotions as a general rule seem to be much stronger than ours do.

Worse still, because fairies were fertility spirits which gave life to the land their wars and deaths would reshape the very land and throw the country off balance. The potato famine in Ireland was that killed millions of people was said to be caused by a fairy war which disrupted nature and the fertility of the land. In this case people could see the fairies flying over the land going to war with each other. Another fairy war left the world awash with so much blood that the moss where the battle took place turned red.

So what do fairies fight wars over? The same things humans fought wars over. Land, food, honor, a desire for power, to kidnap women or men or because their women were kidnapped. Fairies also fight wars to protect and help humanity. "The War of the Trees" was a liminal war between fairy beings in the other world (including Arthur) which was meant to obtain a golden hind and dog for humanity. What purpose these served humans isn't clear given that the poem is a fragment meant to remind people of something they already knew when it was written. Still, what's key is that the fairies lead an army of trees into the underworld in order to win treasure for humans.

One interesting fact about fairy wars for fantasy writers is that fairies often needed humans to help them with their battles. In Japan, for example, Mountain Kami would often ask humans for help with their battles because humans had the ability to defeat certain things they couldn't touch (kami are made weak by the presence of unclean things such as blood, urine, centipedes, etc).

In Wales the fairy lord Arawn asked King Pwyle to help him with his war against Hargan. In this story Pwyle and Arawn switch places for a year, each pretending to be the other. After ruling the fairy realm for a year "the time for the battle in single combat between Powell and Hargan had fully come. The two warriors met in the middle of a river ford, and backed their horses for a charge. Then they rushed furiously at the other. Powell's spear struck Hargan so hard, that he was knocked out of the saddle and hurled, the length of a lance, over and beyond the crupper, or tail strap of his horse. He fell mortally wounded upon the ground."

This story isn't too surprising considering that it was believed that "when the fairy tribes under the various kings and queens have a battle, one side manages to have a living man among them, and he by knocking the fairies about turns the battle in case the side he is on is losing."

Joseph Jacobs has a fairy tale about a man named Paddy O'Kelly who finds himself in fairy land.He was ultimately led by this lesser fairy court to the high fairy court of King Finvara and Queen Nuala here he was greeted warmly with Finvara who tells him "We are going to play a hurling match to-night against the fairy host of Munster, and unless we beat them our fame is gone for ever. The match is to be fought out on Moytura, under Slieve Belgadaun." The story goes on to point out that; "it is necessary for the fairy host to have two live men beside them when they are fighting or at a hurling match, and that was the reason that little Donal took Paddy O'Kelly with him. There was a man they called the "Yellow Stongirya" with the fairy host of Munster, from Ennis, in the County Clare.

They were hurling away, and the pipers playing until Paddy O'Kelly saw the host of Munster getting the strong hand, and he began helping the fairy host of Connacht.

The Stongirya came up and he made at Paddy O'Kelly, but Paddy turned him head over heels. From hurling the two hosts began at fighting, but it was not long until the host of Connacht beat the other host.

Then the host of Munster made flying beetles of themselves, and they began eating every green thing that they came up to. They were destroying the country before them until they came as far as Cong. Then there rose up thousands of doves out of the hole, and they swallowed down the beetles.

That hole has no other name until this day but Pull-na-gullam, the dove's hole.

When the fairy host of Connacht won their battle, they came back to Cnoc Matha joyous enough, and the king Finvara gave Paddy O'Kelly a purse of gold, and the little piper brought him home, and put him into bed beside his wife, and left him sleeping there.

Because of the strong fairy emotions what begins as a sporting event turns into a serious battle in which hundreds if not thousands of fairies die.

The fact that fairies need humans in order to be victorious in battle leads us to one of the most important battles in fairy history, that in which the Sons of Mil (humans) defeated the Tuatha De Danann and drove them underground. Once underground the fairies began to exercise some control over humanity by becoming the gods of fertility and the harvest. They also continue to occasionally wage war with humans. Typically such wars are fought when the humans take some piece of important land from them or the fairies kidnap the wrong woman and so anger a man who has the resources to wage war on them. When going to war with the fairies there are three important points to remember;

1-Human druids, holy men, and wizards are frequently more powerful than the fairies. Indeed it was through the power of the druids that the fairies were defeated in the first place.

2-Iron hurts fairies and can break their magic.

3-Fairies can't repair damage done to their hills and castles if salt is put on these. In this way particularly farmers have been able to successfully wage war on the fairies in return for their wives.

More often fairies attempt to alter the outcome of human wars, choosing the side they want to win and aiding them in victory. Thus treaties with fairies were extremely important if one wished to survive wars with other humans. In this way the fairies were able to rebuild their power base from behind the scenes.

There is a tradition among the Glamorgan peasantry of a fairy battle fought on the mountain between Merthyr and Aberdare, in which the pigmy combatants were on horseback. There appeared to be two armies, one of which was mounted on milk-white steeds, and the other on horses of jet-black. They rode at each other with the utmost fury, and their swords could be seen flashing in the air like so many penknife blades. The army on the white horses won the day, and drove the black-mounted force from the field. The whole scene then disappeared in a light mist.

There is another interesting point about the fairy armies which is that over time they began to include the ranks of human ancestral spirits. It seems that when humans die their souls went into the fairy hills and became, in essence, fairies. They were then under the command of one fairy king or another. This likely means two things; firstly the fairies have grown in strength since their initial defeat. However, at the same time this increased strength comes from the spirits of humans who care about their decedents and hate the kingdoms they were enemies with in life. This in turn likely explains part of the reason why fairies become so involved in local politics.


As always I'd like to leave fantasy writers with a couple of writing prompts;

1-The fairies kidnap a farmers wife, children, or cattle as is common. This time, however, the farmer decides he isn't going to take it and so he declares war on a small hill of fairies leading to a kin based feud similar to the one between the Hatfields and McCoys

2-Fairies from a neighboring distract attempt to steal the fertility of the land in order to make their fields more fertile. The local fairies declare war in order to defend the human farms and seek human help.

3-Tell a story of two fairy clans which declare war on each other as a point of honor which has nothing to do with their desire to preserve a forest. Bonus points if you can make this interesting without involving humans.