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Old 11-09-2021, 04:40 AM   #11
The Colonel
 
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Default Re: Pre-Enlightenment Horror, Urban Fantasy, et cetra

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Originally Posted by Astromancer View Post
Throw this into the pot. There seems to be evidence, not conclusive, but highly suggestive, that in London at least criminal gangs claimed and may have believed they were protected by the fairies. We know from trial transcripts that masquerading as a fairy was a commonplace stunt for grifters and con artists. Which means that belief in the fairies was so strong that actually meeting a fairy was seen by many as a realistic possibility.

There is evidence that belief in fairies and witches was common within London until at least the end of the Victorian period. Belief in fairies and witches among educated Londoners was normal until the late 17th century.

If you set your game in the 1670s, just as the Enlightenment is beginning in England, you can have fairies, witches, pirates, Fifth Monarchy Men (radical protestant political terrorists), alchemists, and early scientists all in your game.
The traditional cunning man often claimed to be working with fairies - it was an important distinction from being a witch who dealt with demons and unclean spirits. Cunning men might also try their hands at theurgy - a lot of surviving incantations have at least some religious nod included.

You might consider a distinction between cunning-workers and, for example, hermetic magi ... not to mention actual witches as a whole other bucket of weasels.
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Old 11-09-2021, 10:15 AM   #12
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Default Re: Pre-Enlightenment Horror, Urban Fantasy, et cetra

Very much so, judging by things I've heard. There's a book called "The Mixenden Treasure", by John Billingsley, that tells the story of a real-life attempt at magical treasure-hunting in Yorkshire in the 16th century. I recommend it, it's a remarkable bit of history.
The author had particularly detailed original documents to refer to - because the whole thing fell acrimoniously apart and the would-be magicians were hauled up before the ecclesiastical courts to explain themselves, and ended up being publicly whipped as a penance for heresy. (It was before the time of the real witch-hunting mania, when they'd have been lucky to escape with their lives.)

The treasure-hunters included three priests (moonlighting of this sort seems to have been fairly common), one or more well-off friends who were bankrolling the expedition, and a professional "cunning man".
The priests' knowledge of magic seems to have been more of the scholarly/hermetic kind, including astrological and numerological talismans and the legendary 72 "spirits of Solomon's brazen vessel" and the symbols used to command them. Also some extra-curricular use of Christian rituals - verses from the Mass were to be used if the spirit turned dangerous, and one of the witnesses accused another, who denied it, of planning to promise the spirit "a Christian soul" and then baptise an animal and give it that.
The cunning man's approach may have been more of the "everything but the kitchen sink" style. He was questioned about a previous occasion when he treated a man with "a vexation in his mind", claimed to have used mainly herbs, diet and verses from the Gospels and had some success, denied allegations that he used astrology and that he had three "things like bumble bees" as familiars. No mention of fairies this time.
The cunning man seems to have disagreed with everyone else about whether staying inside the magic circle was important, and one of the priests in his statement said about the cunning man, "but he could do naught, he is not so cunning as we are". There may have been a bit of professional snobbery between the two sides.

There's a brief bit about the story, with some quotes, here. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vc...vol3/pp205-208
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Old 11-09-2021, 02:10 PM   #13
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Default Re: Pre-Enlightenment Horror, Urban Fantasy, et cetra

I would say in discussions of the Veil it's important to consider who it's actually intended to protect. For example, looking at White Wolf, we have:
  • Vampire: the Masquerade protects vampires from mundanes.
  • Werewolf: Delirium protects werewolves from mundanes.
  • Mage: Paradox protects mundanes from mages.
  • Changeling: Banality protects mundanes from changelings.
I generally find the second model easier to make sense of, which gives an interesting model for monster hunters: you actually have two, somewhat incompatible goals:
  • Protect people from the monsters.
  • Give the people long term protection against monsters by convincing them that the monsters didn't exist in the first place, or were mundane.
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Old 11-11-2021, 02:33 PM   #14
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Default Re: Pre-Enlightenment Horror, Urban Fantasy, et cetra

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One thing that frequently bugs me about "magical history" in settings is how it often accidentally justifies atrocities. I personally prefer that the Salem witch trials remain an out of control prank that caused a mass hysteria and killed two dozen innocent people, rather than a reasonable reaction to things that were really happening.
I understand that reaction, but the possibility of such things kind of comes with the territory if you discover that magic is real and that the 'legends' of history are factual. Of course that particular incident might still have been no more than what it seemed, even if magical history is real. But if everything we think we know is wrong, or might be wrong, then everything we think we know comes into question.

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Also keep in mind that a clear-cut distinction between elves and fairies is a relatively modern invention (as a certain recently released GURPS supplement discusses). For example, Edmund Spenser's late 16th century The Faerie Queene uses the terms "elf" and "fairy" interchangeably. In more modern times, the photos of the Cottingley Fairies were believed to be real in the early 20th century. So yeah, elves, fairies, gnomes, brownies, etc. could work.
Also note that the notion that the elves are a 'good' race, or friendly to humans, is also something of a modernist notion. Historically, they and the rest of Faerie were generally seen as either evil or at least unpredictable and dangerous, and you did best to avoid contact if you could.

In that light, the word 'eldritch' originally derives from the same linguistic root word as 'elf'.

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Originally Posted by Anthony View Post
I would say in discussions of the Veil it's important to consider who it's actually intended to protect. For example, looking at White Wolf, we have:
  • Vampire: the Masquerade protects vampires from mundanes.
  • Werewolf: Delirium protects werewolves from mundanes.
  • Mage: Paradox protects mundanes from mages.
  • Changeling: Banality protects mundanes from changelings.
I generally find the second model easier to make sense of, which gives an interesting model for monster hunters: you actually have two, somewhat incompatible goals:
  • Protect people from the monsters.
  • Give the people long term protection against monsters by convincing them that the monsters didn't exist in the first place, or were mundane.
It can be both at once. To use The Dresden Files as an example, in it the masquerade is a loose thing, lots of people know something or suspect something of the truth, but TPTB will come after you if you violate it in a big way. It exists to protect both mundane mortals and the supernatural types, from each other.

Humans have a huge edge in numbers, and modern technology multiplies that effect. The monsters are immensely powerful individually, and some of them have world-shaking potency. Magic-using mortals are in both camps at once and can find themselves on either side of the conflict at a given time. The general consensus among those in the know is that it's best not to rock the boat, because a serious mundane/magical conflict could easily get way, way out of hand.
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Old 11-11-2021, 02:39 PM   #15
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Default Re: Pre-Enlightenment Horror, Urban Fantasy, et cetra

We also need to ask what exactly we mean when we use the word 'Enlightenment' in this context. The Enlightenment didn't invent logic or reason, both were recognized and respected throughout history. Nor is the Enlightenment necessarily about the scientific method or science in general, though the roots of what we call 'modern science' are in the Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment is as much an attitude, a cultural reflex, as anything else, in terms of its legacy. It's an assumption of a mechanistic universe, at least to some degree, a belief that the universe is basically understandable even if not currently understood. In some ways, the Enlightenment is a side-effect of the Protestant Reformation, in other ways it's the flip side of the same coin as the Romantic movement. (Romantics and Enlightenment rationalists are often seen as opponents, but in fact they are two sides of one thing.)

When an urban fantasy story discusses the 'rules' of magic, or analyzes the origins of a magical creature, they are applying Enlightenment thinking to the supernatural, usually without even realizing it. The impulse to define and contextualize, and the unspoken background assumption that the magic can be so analyzed and grasped, that's post-Enlightenment thinking. A pre-Enlightenment analyst might still attempt to categorize the supernatural, but likely without any background assumption that it's entirety is understandable.
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Old 11-11-2021, 03:09 PM   #16
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We also need to ask what exactly we mean when we use the word 'Enlightenment' in this context.
By 'Pre-Enlightenment,' I literally meant 'before the time-period that was called the Enlightenment, Age of Enlightenment, or Age of Reason.' I put a link in the OP so that people wouldn't need to ask that.
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Old 11-11-2021, 04:10 PM   #17
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It can be both at once.
Dresden files is not both, it pretty much follows the Vampire/Werewolf model. The thing about Paradox and Mundanity is that they directly do harm to mages and changelings.
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Old 11-12-2021, 06:25 AM   #18
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I understand that reaction, but the possibility of such things kind of comes with the territory if you discover that magic is real and that the 'legends' of history are factual. Of course that particular incident might still have been no more than what it seemed, even if magical history is real. But if everything we think we know is wrong, or might be wrong, then everything we think we know comes into question.

Also note that the notion that the elves are a 'good' race, or friendly to humans, is also something of a modernist notion. Historically, they and the rest of Faerie were generally seen as either evil or at least unpredictable and dangerous, and you did best to avoid contact if you could.

In that light, the word 'eldritch' originally derives from the same linguistic root word as 'elf'.

It can be both at once. To use The Dresden Files as an example, in it the masquerade is a loose thing, lots of people know something or suspect something of the truth, but TPTB will come after you if you violate it in a big way. It exists to protect both mundane mortals and the supernatural types, from each other.
Concur - especially given the topic of Horror, we need to be thinking of the fact that if the Supernatural did exist (and the majority of our ancestors seem to have taken this for granted) then we, like our ancestors are right to be afraid of it. Recent fantasy - especially RPGs - have made us far too comfortable with the idea of magic, whilst for most of history it was viewed with great suspicion if not fear and hatred. Any given historical event might be mistaken identity, but "kill it with fire*" turns out to be a reasonable and rational response to the supernatural in most folklore.
The Dresden Files is unusual in that it actually probes the horrific consequences that magic might have even if used for the best of motives ... although it also shows some remarkably dark magic being used for benevolent purposes: discipline and control are a big thing in 'verse.

And friendly elves? Victorian bowdlerisation, polished off by Tolkien. Historically no-one in their right minds would mess with the fae - to add to the comments above, there was a historical rumour that the fae paid an annual farm of human souls to hell as a sort of "protection" racket.

*iron, salt, holy water ... whatever. Just kill it.
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Old 11-12-2021, 11:14 AM   #19
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Default Re: Pre-Enlightenment Horror, Urban Fantasy, et cetra

Possibly not quite as dark as that. In old-fashioned folklore, pre-Victorian, the fairies generally seem to play the role of a wild card. They're not necessarily bad, but they have the potential to be highly dangerous if they feel like it. What will happen depends very much on the circumstances and the fairy, and in a game you could reasonably have fairies as either (doubtful) allies or (possibly convinceable) enemies. (I'd be inclined to not stat their powers, in a game, at least not all of them. They're often cast in the role of "Does obviously OP thing to advance the plot and then disappears again".) The implication that they somehow exist to be nice, or at least educational, to humans doesn't exist in the pre-Victorian versions. They're independent, neutral beings with their own opinions and a wildly unpredictable amount of magic power, and some of them can do very good things for you or very bad things. And which it'll be is very unpredictable - in some stories, there's a reason for it, in others it's just for amusement, or because of some arcane fairy custom that the human didn't know about.

They're also often portrayed as heartless or as not really seeing humans as people - a spiteful fairy might well kill or permanently maim a human just for fun, as a mean little boy might do to a frog.

Generally, someone finding themselves in that kind of a story should stay well away from these people, unless desperate - the potential rewards are big, but they're too risky. (Good game adventure material.) If you have inside knowledge of their society and what they might want, or some kind of magic that gives you an edge (fairy ancestry of your own, say, or "second sight" that lets you see more about what's really going on), the odds are more generous, but there's still no guarantee that they won't turn you into a pickled onion.

There are theories that these stories are garbled survivals of stories about the Tuatha de Danann (the legendary race that supposedly lived in Ireland before its current inhabitants arrived), or the Celtic gods. They make more sense from that perspective. These are meant to be beings who were here before humans were, and they think the land still belongs to them, and there is a serious risk that the land may agree with them.

I've heard the tithe thing in Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer, but those had it as a tithe of fairy souls, one in every seven years - but there was cheating. Again, the fairies are described as seeing humans as expendable if it came down to it. Tam Lin is kidnapped and trained as one of the fairy knights, with the intention of using him as the sacrifice when the time came. Thomas the Rhymer makes friends with the fairy queen and is taken to live at her court, but she eventually smuggles him away because the time for the sacrifice is coming up and "I fear, Thomas, it will be yourself".
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Old 11-12-2021, 01:36 PM   #20
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Concur - especially given the topic of Horror, we need to be thinking of the fact that if the Supernatural did exist (and the majority of our ancestors seem to have taken this for granted) then we, like our ancestors are right to be afraid of it.
It's one of the reasons that I'm fond of things like the Skeptic perk mentioned earlier, or the Thresholds from Christopher R. Rice's 'Safe as Houses' article (Pyramid Vol 3 #58, pp4-10): Imagine them as evolved defences against paranormal horrors, and they make a lot of sense, and fit well in this sort of thread. One might also imagine that various animals and other lifeforms evolved such defences, which is why it's important to pay attention if e.g. your cat suddenly starts staring at apparently nothing, and hisses.
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