Faerie

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Detail from "Garden of Earthly Delight", H. Bosch

Faeries, also known as "The Little People", "The Fair Folk", "Satyrs" ("Nymphs" or "Sylphs"), "The Good Neighbors", daoine sidhe (shee), Aos Sí, Tylwydd Têg, and any of a variety of mischievous or malevolent trolls, goblins, gnomes, elves, dwarfs, imps, elves, dwarfs, leprechauns, demons, nymphs and satyrs, "stick Indians", and spirits of folklore.

Origin: Faeries - part angry ghost, part ghoul or vampire, and part savage goblin or elf - are one of the most ancient and universal creatures from ancient folklore from around the world; the Little People of weird fiction were however more or less codified by writer Arthur Machen.

Descriptions

Arthur Machen's Little People

Faerie Carving in Ireland

Arthur Machen's "little people" (monstrous faeries) are a pre-human and more or less formless race pushed to the furthest limits of wilderness by the encroachment of human civilization, where they live in underground burrows under tombs and haunted hills, emerging at night for their frightful ceremonies in which they kidnap innocent humans, bear sub-human changeling children upon them, and leave them broken and insane in the woods outside of villages and towns. Their subterranean tomb-lairs are a gloomy faerie land, piled with their weird faerie treasures, along with more hideous things. Colonies of these faeries still persist in the lonely places of the world, and these savage creatures may occasionally wander human city streets at night, unseen or unrecognized among the broken human ruins of the homeless, the poor, the degraded and depraved. Humans often refer to these ghostly, secretive, colorless, shoggothy things as "the little people" and "the fair folk" and as being beautiful, out of fear of insulting them and incurring their wrath, and also in a euphemistic effort to make the hideous reality easier to live with.

Machen's faeries are savage, shadowy, vaguely-seen nocturnal creatures in roughly human form... between 3 and 4 feet tall, with very pale (or very dark) yellowish or olive skin, dark almond-shaped red eyes, black hair, hideous faces, flexible and perhaps translucent shape-shifting bodies reminiscent of worms or snails when crawling or creeping about.

Faeries, chased to the furthest, loneliest, most isolated corners of the Earth by encroaching human civilization, live underground under remote hills and mountains, and in deep wells and lakes and in deep and isolated woods as satyrs and nymphs, and they may live in a strange, alien, perhaps subterranean faerie land described in "The White People" as "...some great white place where they lived, where the trees and the grass were all white, and there were white hills as high up as the moon, and a cold wind...", "the sky... like a wicked voorish dome in Deep Dendo..." (Arthur Machen, "The White People").

Faerie culture has barely evolved beyond Stone Age technology, with evidence of faerie culture existing mainly in the form of rough-hewn monuments, megaliths, dolmen or cromlech tombs, and other such constructions, sometimes marked in carvings and/or chalk with faerie hieroglyphs and runes. Sometimes tablets and worked stones covered in such runes and hieroglyphs are found by humans, and faeries have also been known to have worked shocking, repulsive, and horrifying images and objects in gold, which may sometimes find its way into human hands.

Faeries might speak among themselves in the sibilant, hissing "Xu" or "Chian" languages, or in writing in the "Aklo" letters: crude runes in chalk or carvings such as almond-shaped red eyes, deformed hands, strange arrow-point cuneiform characters, and bizarre spirals, whorls, and stars.

Faeries are generally secretive and elusive, with most avoiding uncontrolled dealings with humans, though sometimes faeries interact with violence: murdering intruders, kidnapping young women and children for breeding, and carrying off humans for sacrifices in their unspeakable nocturnal rites and celebrations: the "Circles", "Mao Games", "Comedies", "White/Green/Scarlet Ceremonies", the hypnotic "Troy Town" game....


The Voor, Voorish Sign, Desolation of Voor

Later writers may sometimes use Machen's vague references to "voor" and "Voorish Domes" as cues to refer to Machen's Faeries as "The Voor".

Machen in "The White People" refers to voor: "...Then beyond the woods there were other hills round in a great ring, but I had never seen any of them; it all looked black, and everything had a voor over it. It was all so still and silent, and the sky was heavy and grey and sad, like a wicked voorish dome in Deep Dendo...", "...I saw the terrible voor again on everything, for though the sky was brighter, the ring of wild hills all around was still dark, and the hanging woods looked dark and dreadful, and the strange rocks were as grey as ever...", "the kingdom of Voor, where the light goes when it is put out, and the water goes when the sun takes it away...." (From the context, Machen seems to be using "voor" to refer to mist, fog, frost, or shadow?)

In "The Secret of the Parchment" (Lin Carter and Clark Ashton Smith), The voor are tiny degenerate wormlike creatures of great foulness; survivors of a now-fallen civilisation in Hyperborea and on Ultima Thule before the coming of man or even the antehumans. They were finally driven underground but have been known to surface to kidnap fresh victims. The Desolation of Voor in Thule is one of their sites. They dwell in Deep Dendo (Faerie Land) in their wicked Voorish Domes. [L.Carter (A.Machen)]

Lovecraft made off-hand references to "the Voorish Sign" in "The Dunwich Horror (fiction)", where it seems to be a reference to a nameless symbol in chalk mentioned in Machen's "The Red Hand" ("I found that some one had drawn in red chalk a rough outline of a hand—a human hand—upon the wall. But it was the curious position of the fingers that struck me... a hand seen from the back, with the fingers clenched, and the top of the thumb protruded between the first and second fingers, and pointed downwards, as if to something below..."), conflated with the references to "voor" in Machen's "The White People".


Other Interpretations

TO DO


Cath-Shee (Faerie Cat)

See the entry under "Cats" for "Faerie Cat".


Changelings

TO DO (Either half-human offspring born from the willing or unwilling intercourse between faeries and humans, or faerie children left in human cradles in place of stolen human children.)


Will-o'-Wisp

TO DO ("The Shining Ones", glowing lights, disembodied voices, or other pranks associated with faeries, which appear in forests, and draw victims deeper into the wilderness into danger. Blamed on incandescent "swamp gas" or Saint Elmo's Fire, rare and unusual but natural light phenomena which might trick viewers into mistaking the lights for lanterns or UFOs.)


Stick Indians

A sort of Native American counterpart to the European fairies, elves, dwarves, goblins, etc., as mischievous nature spirits, so-called "stick Indians" because they live deep in forests ("the sticks"). They are said to communicate in voices like birds or wild animals, or sometimes they'll call a victim's name in a human voice to lure them deeper into the forest into danger, will-o'-wisp style, and much like European fairies, these "stick Indians" are best avoided, ignored, and not spoken of, as attracting their attention is certain to result in misfortune. Descriptions of these "little people" vary, much like their European counterparts, from small, dwarfish creatures, to large hairy giants (see Sasquatch), to beings that look more or less like peculiar or uncanny Native American people.


Faerie Land (Deep Dendo)

Arthur Machen's Little People appear to live in a strange, alien, perhaps subterranean faerie land, "Deep Dendo"(?), described in "The White People" as "...some great white place where they lived, where the trees and the grass were all white, and there were white hills as high up as the moon, and a cold wind...", "the sky... like a wicked voorish dome in Deep Dendo..." (Arthur Machen, "The White People").

Much of the mythology about the faerie worlds these beings live in suggest that they normally exist in a parallel dimension (see the Other Side) and cross over into our world at times and places of uncertainty (liminality), when the veil between worlds is thin: cemeteries (places between life and death), dawn and twilight (times that are neither night or day), equinoxes (times where neither day nor night are dominant), frontiers and wildernesses (places that are neither completely unknown nor completely civilized), and so on. A journey into the shadowy faerie lands seems a bit like a journey into a nightmare version of the Dreamlands or through some kind of portal into some alien world.


Bargaining With Faeries

TO DO


Heresies and Controversies

  • The northern folk would have called them dwarfs, and considered them to have been created before the age of men from maggots writhing through the mountainous corpses of dead gods. (Scandinavian and Germanic folkore)
  • There is quite a bit of cross-over between faerie mythology and alien abduction lore, and faeries can easily crossover with Grey Aliens in Delta Green and other scenarios. Much of the folklore about the faeries would have been the fore-runners of alien abduction lore, with mortal humans being stolen away by the fair folk at night, carried off into secret underground bases, experimented on and tormented, used for breeding stock, and then returned "touched" with broken memories, nightmares, and shattered sanity, sometimes to the wrong times and places. (UFO lore)
  • The family of faeries called leprechauns get their names from a word for crows and ravens. (Irish folklore)
  • Faeries are nightmarish denizens of the Dreamlands ("Faerie Land"), who can cross over to the waking world "when the stars are right".
  • Faerie and dwarf folklore seems sometimes to suggest that faeries are the ghosts, spirits, or undead corpses of ancient civilizations buried in elaborate burial mound tombs, and live in a sort of subterranean afterlife or spirit world. (European folklore)
  • Faeries are related or identical to similar mythos beings, such as Serpent Men, Worms of the Earth, Children of the Night, Deep Ones, Ghouls, Deros, Tcho-Tchos, and others. (Lovecraft, Howard, Shaver, and others almost certainly were inspired by Machen's faeries in describing their own secretive, subterranean races.)
  • The Comte D'Erlette mentioned these creatures briefly in his Cultes des Goules as "Satyrs", which he described in terms as "Earth Elementals".

Keeper Notes and Plot Seeds

Some free plot ideas for Call of Cthulhu scenarios or Mythos stories (source):

  • The investigators might get involved when they are called in to help look for the missing daughter of someone important, only to discover that women have been quietly disappearing in the village for generations.
  • Treasure hunters delving into the faeries' local corpse-city vanish, and the investigators are called in to look for them.
  • An important Roman citizen on the frontier haunted by hideous nightmares and nocturnal visits come to the investigators begging for help and relief.
  • Someone who disappeared years or decades before suddenly re-appears, half-mad, unwilling to share more than sketchy accounts of what seemed to him like weeks spent tormented in the faerie world, and the investigators are called in to learn more and prevent it from happening again.
  • A child pleas to the investigators for help, insisting that people in his village have been disappearing into the faeries' underground world, only to "come back wrong".


Associated Mythos Elements

  • Tomes:
    • The Green Book (Machen's fictional diary of a young girl inducted into a faerie witch-cult by her nurse, the almost stream-of-consciousness core of "The White People")
    • The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (a real-life book that proposed the existence and survival of a Machenesque secret ancient faerie "witch-cult" throughout European history as a scientific or pseudo-scientific/occult theory)
  • Resemblences between Machen's Little People and the later inventions of Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard and others are almost certainly not coincidental, and Machen's Faeries can generally be used interchangeably with or alongside similar Mythos creatures, such as:
  • Artefacts:
    • The Black Heaven (a horribly ancient, small, black, rectangular, carved stone tablet covered in Aklo heiroglyphs, including a hand symbol and many fantastic whorls and spirals and lines seemingly corresponding to stars; from "The Red Hand" by Machen)
    • The Ixaxar, Ishaskshar, Sixty-Stone, or Black Seal (a small black stone seal or stamp, roughly hexagonal, covered in 60 cuneiform Aklo runes, containing secrets of transmuting flesh to primordial slime; from "The Black Seal")
    • Unnamed Black Tablet (A 4-inch square tablet, similar to the Rosetta stone, containing the keys to translating Aklo to a known cuneiform language; from "The Black Seal")
    • Pain of the Goat and other faerie gold artifacts (from "The Red Hand"; small golden artefacts fashioned in unspeakably obscene forms; the phrase "Pain of the Goat" seems to be a figurative name from occultism/alchemy/theosophy applied by the object's finder to the consequences of viewing the object, referring to a spiritual or mystical sacrifice of some sort comparable to a scapegoat, and probably depicting the fate of the faeries' ceremonial victims; those who see the object recoil in horror at the transgressive wrongness of it and walk away from the experience of seeing it subtly changed in some way; it seems that the reality of these gold objects is not what humans would consider treasure or a prize)
    • Strangely shapeless statues carved in white marble and other stone depicting hideous faces, naked satyrs and nymphs, and less describable beings; sometimes the hidden wild places where the Little People dwell are dotted with fields of sacred white stones and statues laid out in surreal geometric patterns aligned to the landscape.
  • Machen associated these beings with "The Great God Pan" - perhaps another name for Nyarlathotep, Yog-Sothoth, or Shub-Niggurath?


Quotes

"...The whole of the sides and bottom [of the hollow] tossed and writhed with vague and restless forms that passed to and fro without the sound of feet, and gathered thick here and there and seemed to speak to one another in those tones of horrible sibilance, like the hissing of snakes, that he had heard. It was as if the sweet turf and the cleanly earth had suddenly become quickened with some foul writhing growth. Vaughan could not draw back his face, though he felt Dyson's finger touch him, but he peered into the quaking mass and saw faintly that there were things like faces and human limbs, and yet he felt his inmost soul chill with the sure belief that no fellow soul or human thing stirred in all that tossing and hissing host. He looked aghast, choking back sobs of horror, and at length the loathsome forms gathered thickest about some vague object in the middle of the hollow, and the hissing of their speech grew more venomous.... At his heart something seemed to whisper ever 'the worm of corruption, the worm that dieth not,' and grotesquely the image was pictured to his imagination of a piece of putrid offal stirring through and through with bloated and horrible creeping things...."
— Arthur Machen, "The Shining Pyramid"

"[The changeling] was a youth of about fourteen, with black hair and black eyes and an olive skin, and I saw at once from the curious vacancy of his expression that he was mentally weak. He touched his forehead awkwardly as I went by, and I heard him answering the gardener in a queer, harsh voice that caught my attention; it gave me the impression of some one speaking deep below under the earth, and there was a strange sibilance, like the hissing of the phonograph as the pointer travels over the cylinder... I was suddenly alarmed by a harsh and choking sound, like the cry of a wild beast in anguish, and I was unspeakably shocked to see the unfortunate lad standing in full view before me, his whole body quivering and shaking at short intervals as though shocks of electricity were passing through him, his teeth grinding, foam gathering on his lips, and his face all swollen and blackened to a hideous mask of humanity... the boy with one convulsive shudder fell face forward, and lay on the wet earth, his body writhing like a wounded blind-worm, and an inconceivable babble of sounds bursting and rattling and hissing from his lips. He seemed to pour forth an infamous jargon, with words, or what seemed words, that might have belonged to a tongue dead since untold ages and buried deep beneath Nilotic mud, or in the inmost recesses of the Mexican forest. For a moment the thought passed through my mind, as my ears were still revolted with that infernal clamour, 'Surely this is the very speech of hell....' ...putting all scruple on one side, I became a man of science, observant of what was passing. Yet the sight I had to witness was horrible, almost beyond the power of human conception and the most fearful fantasy. Something pushed out from the body there on the floor, and stretched forth a slimy, wavering tentacle, across the room, grasped the bust upon the cupboard, and laid it down on my desk..."
— Arthur Machen, "Novel of the Black Seal"

"...When I was five or six... I was saying words that nobody could understand. I was speaking the Xu language, but I only remember a very few of the words, as it was about the little white faces that used to look at me when I was lying in my cradle. They used to talk to me, and I learnt their language and talked to them in it about some great white place where they lived, where the trees and the grass were all white, and there were white hills as high up as the moon, and a cold wind.... [Once, my nurse left me at] a place where there was a deep pool.... I sat quite still and watched, and out of the water and out of the wood came two wonderful white people, and they began to play and dance and sing. They were a kind of creamy white like the old ivory figure in the drawing-room; one was a beautiful lady with kind dark eyes, and a grave face, and long black hair, and she smiled such a strange sad smile at the other, who laughed and came to her. They played together, and danced round and round the pool, and they sang a song till I fell asleep...."
— Arthur Machen, "The White People"

References