There are things that move just beyond our vision. Words that drift past our ears. Soft. Unintelligible. Teasing. A scent of a flower when standing in an empty windowless room – the sound of running water in a thirsty desert – an apparition that always moves one step faster than it’s pursuer, ever evading the grasping hand. There are beings and creatures, benevolent and malevolent since long before the time of men with aspirations that surpass the wildest of mortal dreams. And they all live among us, in the blind spot of our eyes. Waiting. Watching. They are the Faerie, and soon, they will come home. (Quote: Gene Lempp)
Throughout history, almost every culture had some form of belief in realms existing beyond the sight and understanding of mortal humans. These beliefs tend to divide into:
- Beings that were “beyond human” (the faeries, mythical beasts and immortals in all forms) and…
- The Dead.
In ancient times, cultures often blended these two concepts together. The banshee, for instance could be a living creature able to predict the deaths of great personages, yet, is often viewed as a ghostly figure in appearance.
Digging back to the roots of Indo-European religion and beliefs (which is where much of Western pre-Christian religious belief stems from), most Otherworld stories speak of the need to cross a river, ferried in a boat by an old man, in order to enter the magical Faerie dimension. If this sounds a lot like the stories of Charos and the crossing of the River Styx, you’re right on target. Like all things, human beliefs, myths, religions and conceptualizations evolve from generation to generation taking on whatever form is required by the times.
Travel between the realms, or layers of reality, was typically along an axis, such as a river, a rope, or in many ancient cases, along the trunk of a great tree that stretched across all dimensions. If you’d like more on this concept check out last weeks post on the World Tree.
Beyond the shared beliefs, each culture had unique methods of crossing back and forth between the Faerie and Physical realms. Some entered through splits in a cliff face, such as leads to the Dead Men of Dunharrow in the Lord of the Rings.
Others came there through a sudden gathering mist that transported those caught within it to the magical realm (remember when I used to have the “misty portal” *wink*). Folk tales spoke of reaching the Fae Realm by entering faerie rings during a full moon, stepping into the shadow of an old oak or after nestling inside the hollow of a willow tree.
The Faerie Realm, were it to be combined from the varying myths and legends, would hold the fabled lands of Avalon, Tir na nog, Mag Mell, Elfland, Olympus, Yggdrasil, Elysium, Rivendell, the Isles of Earthsea, the warrens of gnomes and dwarves, the pocket dimensions of ethereal beings more powerful than mankind and perhaps older than the universe itself. And – that is just scratching the surface. All of the legendary lands combined in one place would require a solar-system-sized Earth.
If you come to a fictional realm and it is not solely a habitation of the dead or mankind, then, you are in the Faerie Realm. Take a picture (smile).
What lives in the Faerie Realm? Glad you asked.
- Faeries, some with butterfly or insect wings, others with no wings.
- Some are tall and slender, like Tolkein’s elves and others are squat trolls or dwarves of mischievous intent.
- Some cannot be described in normal terms (consider Lovecraft’s Cthulu creations).
- The oldest beliefs felt that the creatures where ethereal (made of mist and smoke).
However, I think that more than just Tinkerbell and Arwan lives there.
King Arthur, the pantheons of gods from Norse, Greek, Slavic and most other traditions found a home in the land of youth and summer. As did dragons, unicorns, brownies (not the type that come by to sell you cookies or that you bake yourself), griffins and any generally living creature or deity of myth, fable and legend.
Imagine for a moment that all the above existed in a single place. An amalgam of human mythological understanding merged into a single mega-realm. Now you have an interesting playground and a powerful concept. Enjoy.
While such a place may seem to be a writer’s delight, I must warn you that attempting to travel there yourself is a dangerous proposition. Many have not returned and those that do often find that centuries have passed, leaving them alone in a world they no longer understand.
And in this statement is my one true caution:
One visits the Faerie Realm, One does not Live There
- know when you’ve researched or world built enough or you may find hundreds of years and the chance to write the incredible story you went looking for have passed.
One such tale speaks of King Herla who traveled to the wedding of a dwarf by passing through a split in a cliff. After three days of celebration the dwarf gave Herla a small dog and bid him return to his own land, but not to dismount until the dog jumped from his lap to the ground. Herla returned, only to discover that three centuries had passed and the people he had once led (the Britons) were now a conquered people living as slaves under Saxon rule. Distraught by this news some of his men dismounted, only to have their bodies rapidly age and turn to dust. Herla and his remaining companions still ride the night, eternally waiting for one small dog to jump down.
Even those that have returned without being tricked like Herla find themselves deeply changed and no longer comfortable or content in the mortal world. While I know that writers often fit this description, be wary of the path you choose to the Faerie Realm, always sticking to those the faeries do not use themselves (one of many actual myths).
Join me next week when we take a look at the Realm of the Dead – I considered having them today but was warned in a vision not to disturb the dead on Halloween (smiles).
How many of your creations now live in the Faerie World? What is the best example you can think of from history, literature, or entertainment that include an “Otherworld”? Feel free to include your own work, if you choose. I’d love to chat with you.