Speculations on the Mystical Powers

Tiarnan’s private journal, Autumn 1217 AD

Archimagus Jolyon intends to present his insight on the interactions between faerie and magical powers at the symposium next summer. Ahead of his lecture, I have decided to commit my own conjectures to parchment, both to help me organise my own thoughts on the matter and also so that I have a framework against which to evaluate Jolyon’s research. It will rapidly become clear that I have no unified theory that can explain everything and be robust in the face of all challenges, but I hope that I can at least set down some observations that can be tested in practice and provide some modest insight to this subject.

Of Nature
The faerie powers are most closely associated with nature, whether in its elemental (air, earth, water) or animate (animal or plant) forms. The pagan gods, in contrast, appear to exhibit connections to human concerns, such as fertility, disease, war, prophecy and healing. This is an obvious distinction, but it appears to apply with significant consistency. As an example, there are no faeries associated with the element of fire; perhaps this is because fire in itself is largely a product of human activity, whereas natural fires are associated with one of the other elements, such as lightning strikes or the hearts of volcanoes.

Of Place
The pagan gods appear to have more of a sense of place than their faerie equivalents. Both types of entities clearly have areas of power with which they associate, but the faeries have either the ability or inclination to roam further. The Gofannon, Nynniaw or Erechwydd all possess core loci, but they have also visited the covenant in person. The Anu, Morrigan or Lugh, in contrast, are typically encountered - or even summoned - at specific places, where they interact with their worshippers but do not appear to travel beyond the confines of the place. There may be some exceptions to this, such as the Ceridwen, but even she is typically encountered through ritual at specific places and times. The reasons for this difference are unclear, but they may be linked to the factors mentioned in Of Change below.

Of Change

The faerie realm appears to operate in regular cycles, as one court inevitably gives way to another in turn. Our frequent interactions with the faerie powers confirm that mortal involvement can sometimes cause permanent - or at least long-lasting - change that can disrupt the normal cycle, as evidenced by the rise of the Erechwydd at both Gofannon’s and Nynniaw’s expense due to Cormoran’s actions. Without such involvement, the cycles might proceed uninterrupted, with events repeated ad infinitum without an audience. The normal progression echoes the seasons in the mortal realm, which supports the speculation in Of Nature that the faerie powers are bound closely to nature itself, rather than the cares of man. Although some of the pagan gods have festivals at set points in the year, such as the Morrigan at the Autumn equinox, the involvement of mundane followers does not necessarily seem to promote one at the expense of another, though as noted in Of Worship, mundane worshippers do augment the pagan powers, perhaps even collectively.

Of Worship
The pagan powers desire worship, and their strength seems to wax or wane depending on the amount of this activity. The faerie powers appear less interested in, or reliant on, such worship. This gives the pagan powers an incentive to solicit human followers, whereas faeries have no such need for them for this purpose, though Cormoran’s recent meddling has (re)awoken them to the possibility of human worship. Faerie courts are typically composed of lesser faeries, with only occasional mortal presence, whereas pagan worship is a human-led practice, with little apparent involvement of magical followers. The status of Jack O’the Green had puzzled me for many years, for he seems hostile to humankind, which seems an odd position for a pagan god. Furthermore, his status as a god of the wilds seems to lack the connection with humans that other pagan powers possess. However, my recent discussions with the Nynniaw perhaps offer an explanation for this, for if Jack O’the Green is actually connected with the unseelie court of wood, there is no need for him to care about human worshippers.

Of Universality
The faerie powers appear to be universal in their influence, with the great powers being in evidence throughout Europe. Although lesser faeries differ considerably depending on the local environment, Gofannon and his ilk are known throughout the continent, even if local names are used on occasion. The pagan powers, in contrast, appear to be restricted to the celtic lands. In places that have never had, or no longer have, celtic inhabitants, the pagan powers appear to have little sway. Other local gods, such as Germanic, Greek or Roman deities, may fulfil the same role, but there does not appear to be the same correspondence as exists for the faerie powers. Curiously, during my time in Arcadia, I noticed that some of the faerie powers appeared to be of classical appearance; quite what this means, I do not know.

Of Afterlife
I sometimes laugh at quite how casually some of my sodales refer to the Otherworld given how mysterious and confounding it is. I confess that I still have little inkling of what it is. The Otherworld appears to link places of afterlife, such as Arawn’s halls and Hell itself, yet it is also populated by a multitude of other lands, not all of which are associated with death. I am unclear whether Arcadia, which shares many superficial similarities with the Otherworld, is also present within this realm in the same way as the lands of the dead, or whether it is a separate place. My journey to Arcadia via Tressilio’s map was direct, and I understand that the silver gates offer similar direct passage to Arcadia, whereas our journeys to other places in the Otherworld have involved significant travel through outer realms. This may be a feature of the entry mechanism, or it may hint that Arcadia and the Otherworld are separate planes.

Of Souls
Relations between the pagan and faerie powers and the infernal differ in both directions. Demons seem to have little interest in faeries, possibility as they cannot sin or perhaps because they do not have the souls that the infernal seeks to corrupt. Ieuan has shown that faeries can be dominated, but there is no evidence that they can be tempted in the same way as humankind. Similarly, the great faerie powers show relatively little interest in the machinations of the infernal, except in cases where they threaten their realms. The pagan powers, in contrast, often oppose the infernal directly, such as through the assistance provided to Cynfelyn, Cormoran and Ruaridh by the Morrigan. I do not believe that this enmity can be explained merely by the fact that the pagan gods’ mortal servants are more susceptive to corruption by the infernal, as the depth of the antagonism hints at a more fundamental conflict in their natures.

Are These Simply Artificial Distinctions?
It is possible that the differences between the pagan and faerie entities noted earlier are less profound than I have indicated. Although Hermetic theory distinguishes between the magical and faerie realms, it may be an assumption or flaw in Bonisagus’ work that creates the differences, rather than a feature of the underlying natures of the two groups. I have heard others refer to both gods and faeries (and indeed divine and infernal entities) as simply different types of spirits. Although I do not think that such a comment brings much additional insight to the issue in itself, it does imply the more interesting possibility that the various entities lie on a continuum rather than in distinct groups. Faeries thereby become a group of nature spirits that share certain defined characteristics, whereas the pagan gods are spirits relating to human experience, with the degree of commonality between the two groups varying depending on the spirits in question.

This framework has much to recommend it, for it would provide explanations for any of the inconsistencies in nature or behaviour that arise with other theories. The various distinctions noted earlier thereby become indicative characteristics rather than absolute conditions. It is important to realise that this theory does not imply that the pagan and faerie powers are all the same, but that they share traits with beach other to a greater or lesser extent. In principle, a pagan power may be more similar in nature to an adjacent faerie power than to a more distant pagan power. This may, for example, account for the claims of brotherhood between Nynniaw and Jack O’the Green. There is also no a priori reason for the divine and infernal to exist outside of this framework.

How then to determine whether this theory is true or just idle speculation? If it is only Hermetic theory that creates the strict delineations between the realms, it should be possible to determine whether other magical traditions also recognise the differences or whether they are unaware of them. In addition, by refining the characteristics mentioned earlier, it should in principle be possible to categorise the various entities to create a map of their interactions and natures, which could be tested against actual experience. Reducing these complex beings to a set of indicators may seem rather unpoetic, but I believe that it is only by understanding the underlying themes that we will gain a fuller appreciation of their role in the world.

Merinita’s Warning

On the surface, Merinita’s warning seems clear enough: beware of immortals. Such caution is probably wise, for interaction with these various powers brings both problems and aid in equal measure. They are well-versed at wearing down initial suspicion of their motives, and it is all too easy to become embroiled in their schemes to such an extent that it is hard to distinguish their aims from our own.

I wonder, however, whether there is deeper meaning embedded in the syntax. Does appearance refer to veneer or the act of appearing? To what extent does the warning apply only to those that walk the earth (and not, for example, those who remain deep within the realms in the Otherworld)? Is there a distinction to be made between nature itself and nature spirits? Not all that is natural can die, so how can one be skeptical of the air or waters? Does the arrangement of the Forms have anything to tell us about the nature of faeries and gods?

I shall rest my quill for now. I know I have raised many questions and provided no answers, but I feel that the act of composing this discourse has been useful in itself.