Let's Read GURPS Celtic Myth

AsenRG

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It also mentions a special type of spear: the Gae Bolga (Belly Spear). This was a rare weapon reserved for the best warriors, a spear with a spiral drill on its head. Barbs pointing backwards hung from the head whose purpose was to rip out as much flesh as possible when one tried to remove the spear. We know that Celtic warriors had training to anally impale an opponent with this weapon, so this is a very gruesome attack. It does 3d6 damage, but I would move this up to 4d6 when used anally (probably the strangest sentence I've ever written on the Pub!).
So they finally found out what that spear was? Last I read on it, it was noted as there being considerable discussions on the matter.
And how does the special attack works given an enemy that's facing you?
 

Séadna

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So they finally found out what that spear was? Last I read on it, it was noted as there being considerable discussions on the matter.
And how does the special attack works given an enemy that's facing you?
I'm being a bit too brief there, it's quite complex.

What Cú Chulainn does with the Gae Bolga is a bunch of standard feats given the way they are delivered. Ferdia's impaling through the anus is recognised as a weakness of his type of armour to be exploited. Any time Cú Chulainn does something unusually brutal or "unfair" the text calls it out as dishonourable. However it isn't done for Ferdia's anal impaling implying it's a standard move. The usual thinking when I've been to conferences is that for this reason this was a known weakness/move that was acknowledged.

Secondly the Celts did use a heavier spear.

Hence it is probable that with a heavy spear with an opponent of a certain type of armour this was a known technique.

The game takes this heavy spear and calls it Gae Bolga. Really though that only properly refers to Cú Chulainn's magic weapon (the game does stat Cú Chulainn's in particular later). The real heavy spears were barbed but didn't have the expanding out array of thirty barbs that Cú Chulainn's magical weapon had.

The etymology of Cú Chulainn's weapon is complex. It meant almost certainly "Death Spear" in Archaic Irish (pre-4th Century) when the heavy spear was a common weapon. The name then being balu-gaisos. However due to the way the language changed balu-gaisos ended up sounding like bolga which just means "of belly". So then it was thought to mean Spear of Belly/Belly Spear.

Archaic Irish will pop up a bit with Ogham and the Druids later in the Let's Read as it is behind some of the mysticism.

In short Ogham is often represented as a "mystical" language. In truth it's just a way to write Archaic Irish which the Druids and the other literate professions held onto for a while as an archaic language of ceremony.

Sort of like your own Old Church Slavonic (Старобългарски език if I have it right from reading in case "Old Church Slavonic" is not used by you).

EDIT: Cú Chulainn's fight with Ferdia is actually quite different in the different versions of the Táin that are preserved
 

AsenRG

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I'm being a bit too brief there, it's quite complex.

What Cú Chulainn does with the Gae Bolga is a bunch of standard feats given the way they are delivered. Ferdia's impaling through the anus is recognised as a weakness of his type of armour to be exploited. Any time Cú Chulainn does something unusually brutal or "unfair" the text calls it out as dishonourable. However it isn't done for Ferdia's anal impaling implying it's a standard move. The usual thinking when I've been to conferences is that for this reason this was a known weakness/move that was acknowledged.

Secondly the Celts did use a heavier spear.

Hence it is probable that with a heavy spear with an opponent of a certain type of armour this was a known technique.

The game takes this heavy spear and calls it Gae Bolga. Really though that only properly refers to Cú Chulainn's magic weapon (the game does stat Cú Chulainn's in particular later). The real heavy spears were barbed but didn't have the expanding out array of thirty barbs that Cú Chulainn's magical weapon had.

The etymology of Cú Chulainn's weapon is complex. It meant almost certainly "Death Spear" in Archaic Irish (pre-4th Century) when the heavy spear was a common weapon. The name then being balu-gaisos. However due to the way the language changed balu-gaisos ended up sounding like bolga which just means "of belly". So then it was thought to mean Spear of Belly/Belly Spear.

Archaic Irish will pop up a bit with Ogham and the Druids later in the Let's Read as it is behind some of the mysticism.

In short Ogham is often represented as a "mystical" language. In truth it's just a way to write Archaic Irish which the Druids and the other literate professions held onto for a while as an archaic language of ceremony.
So the "belly spear" might be "life-taking spear"?
Hmm...
A funny note: in at least some Slavic languages, if you go for older meanings of the words, "life" and "belly" might be the same word... for example, the current word for "belly" in Russian means "life" in Bulgarian. But there's a (possibly older) phrase in Russian which literally translates as "giving your belly away for something/someone". I'm reasonably secure that the same word was used in Bulgaria for "belly", too...but we only kept the meaning "life".
And for that matter, the Japanese "hara" is also the center of life energy. It's in the belly.
Hey, you brought up the Japanese connection:thumbsup:.

My only conclusion is that yes, linking the belly with the life power was probably a popular opinion with ancient humans...:grin:

Sort of like your own Old Church Slavonic (Старобългарски език if I have it right from reading in case "Old Church Slavonic" is not used by you).
Ahem.
We call it just "Old Church (or Old Church Bulgarian) Language" here. And to this day, it is pefectly understandable to anyone with a good command of more archaic words. Is that the case with Archaic Irish?
As for Старобългарски език (which might be used for Old Church language or for the language of the Ancient Bulgarians...but it is currently a matter of quite a bit of debate (alas, often heated and politicised, we're not immune to this mistake by a long shot) whether it's the same language as Old Church Bulgarian/Slavonic.

EDIT: Cú Chulainn's fight with Ferdia is actually quite different in the different versions of the Táin that are preserved
Yeah...I was just going to say that I've read two different translations of it, and don't remember anything about sticking a spear in that particular location. Maybe it was cleaned-up*...or maybe they picked a version where no such "attack location" was mentioned:grin:?


*I can almost guarantee that it would have been from the pre-90ies edition that I have. Communist censorship was much lighter here, by all accounts, but still didn't take kindly to any such details.
And yes, I just found today my old "Celtic Mythology" book, which was published during those times IIRC.
 

Séadna

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And for that matter, the Japanese "hara" is also the center of life energy. It's in the belly.
Hey, you brought up the Japanese connection
Celtic and Japanese cultures have many parallels. There's an expert here who published a book on Celtic music. It's unfortunate there's not a translation into English as it is a very well written and yet deep analysis that even I who knew no music theory could follow. It basically taught music theory to me and then did a formal analysis of music across cultures. But anyway he discusses fairly deep relations with Japanese music. And as I mentioned above there is a strong similarity with the nature poems and reverence for spots of unique beauty and the Mono no Aware feeling.

Ahem.
We call it just "Old Church (or Old Church Bulgarian) Language" here. And to this day, it is pefectly understandable to anyone with a good command of more archaic words.
As for Старобългарски език (which might be used for Old Church language or for the language of the Ancient Bulgarians...but it is currently a matter of quite a bit of debate (alas, often heated and politicised, we're not immune to this mistake by a long shot) whether it's the same language as Old Church Bulgarian/Slavonic.
Thanks for this. I have meant to read about the evolution of the Slavic languages from Indo-European, but particularly their own evolution from Proto-Slavic for quite some time. Benjamin W. Fortson IV's textbook "Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction" contains something about it so I'll probably start from there. I know there's a mismatch between the generic terms used in anglophone linguistics and in linguistics in the Slavic languages themselves. So I probably need to understand that.

I think I'll move this to the top of the learning pile.

it is pefectly understandable to anyone with a good command of more archaic words. Is that the case with Archaic Irish?
That's what it would have been to the Druids, Bards and other literati of the 7th-8th century, understandable if you were well read.

Today not so much. Archaic Irish looks very similar to Latin with "ius" and "ibus" style endings.

Yeah...I was just going to say that I've read two different translations of it, and don't remember anything about sticking a spear in that particular location. Maybe it was cleaned-up*...or maybe they picked a version where no such "attack location" was mentioned:grin:?

*I can almost guarantee that it would have been from the pre-90ies edition that I have. Communist censorship was much lighter here, by all accounts, but still didn't take kindly to any such details.
And yes, I just found today my old "Celtic Mythology" book, which was published during those times IIRC.
There are a few "famous" versions written at different times, but the ones most often translated into other languages are the oldest full prose versions (there are older short poetic ones). The older of the two was written by a scribe, Máel Muire mac Célechair meic Cuind na mBocht, who had actual talent at writing. He is succinct, evocative and brutal. Comparison with actual graves and excavations show he is grounded in warfare of the time. The second writer has a more florid style and was clearly trying to mimic Latin and continental poetry and is not as brutal. He's also a much worse writer.

The main translations in English tend to combine them since the second writer has many events that fill out the tale. Usually though they try to match the style of Maél. So in a sense they're like an alt-history translation: As if Máel had written included some of the second guy's material.
 

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The Faery Folk:
So now we come to the chapter which deals with the Faery race. This will be split over two or more posts since there is both how the book deals with them, what they were historically and how they entered modern pop culture (although my knowledge of the latter is weaker than the other two).

I think it's worth going over actual historical myths. I will use Fae when speaking about the generic concept in Celtic myth, with the more specific names when necessary, e.g. Sidhe for something only thought in Ireland or Tylwyth Teg for Wales. I will reserve Elf for a closely related English mythological being.


Actual belief in the Fae:
In all Celtic nations to this day there is still belief in the Fae, more common in older generations. I would say from reading ethnographic and folk literature that the belief is currently weakest in Cornwall followed by Wales.

Certainly here in Ireland we have had construction works for major roads halted when a faery bush was found in the way. There were people who blamed the 2008 recession on the destruction of faery sites during the building of our M3 motorway. I've linked to this before on the pub, but this thread shows the kind of things people still think: here. Even just the third post alone and the thanks it gains. As recently as 2017 a politician said there was little he could do to improve a road in the SouthWest of the country due to faery tampering. Provoking articles defending his beliefs.

A recent story from Scotland is here.

There have been similar events in Brittany with building projects being cancelled, but the articles are either in French, Gallo or Breton. Mostly the latter two, but Gallo is not too hard to read if you know French.

To a large degree such beliefs are rural. Belief in Cardiff, Glasgow, Dublin, Brest etc would be very low.

My own grandmother warned us to avoid the burial mound located at the base of the hill my grandparents lived on for fear of the faeries. In the area people would leave ribbons on trees that grew atop faery mounds. These trees could never be cut down. This sort of thing would be common among that generation: God, angels, demons and fae were all real. And this was common in all six Celtic nations.


What are they:
Let's start with the most important fact. The Fae are mostly the dead or undead and they live in burial mounds, under fields or in caves as part of an Earthly afterlife or purgatory. These hiding places are connected by Fae roads for which it was forbidden for a mortal to cross. These hiding places and roads together I will call the "Fae Realm". I say dead or undead because some Fae are nothing more than ghosts while some have retained a mortal flesh and bone body either through God's grace or via their own magic provided they remain within their realm. In all cases the Fae have the ability to be invisible, mentally subdue children, travel rapidly through the air, make glamours, perform small "cantrips" and appear in a variety of sizes. However the usually appear at normal human height or about knee height.

The dead that make up the Fae have two major subgroups:
  1. The ancient pagan dead. Particularly the pagan nobility and druids. These are often distinguished by being called the Gentry or the Good People or something similar.

  2. People who died in emotionally charged or unchristian situations and those whose life was filled with sorrow. It should be noted that although this might include the recently deceased, in most cases it was understood that these people had been dead a long time.
Depending on the region most Fae are the first type and the second type are separated out with a word meaning "ghost". A ghost was distinguished from a Fae by lacking their magical abilities and special realm. Ghosts simply wandered the countryside. There's always the understanding that a modern ghost can come to live with and gain the power of the Fae, but in some areas this was rare. This was the case for my own grandparent's area in the West of Ireland and Southern Wales mentioned below.

Cornish folklore goes into a bit of depth regarding the exact origin of every single kind of Fae before their death. Pigsie (pixie) were the central figures being the ancient pagan Cornish. To them were added Bucca (Knockers), Jews deported to Cornwall during the Roman period, Spyrysyon (often Spriggan in English) were the dead Phoenician traders who once visited Britain for its tin and so on.

J. Ceredig Davies of Llanilar in Wales gives the following summary of his gathering of folklore in the Center and SouthWest of that country:
Davies said:
By many of the old people the Tylwyth Teg were classed with spirits. They were not looked upon as mortal at all. Many of the Welsh looked upon the Tylwyth Teg or fairies as the spirits of Druids dead before the time of Christ, who being too good to be cast into Hell were allowed to wander freely about on earth.'
John Jones of Pontrhydfendigaid, ninety at the turn of the 20th century, gives a story about his own grandfather:
My grandfather told me that he was once in a certain field and heard singing in the air, and thought it spirits singing. Soon afterwards he and his brother in digging dikes in that field dug into a big hole, which they entered and followed to the end. There they found a place full of human bones and urns, and naturally decided on account of the singing that the bones and urns were of the Tylwyth Teg
Another monograph on the subject concerning Wales in general as opposed to the South alone quotes that the average member of the Tylwyth Teg was:
Sikes W. (2002). British goblins said:
The souls of dead mortals not bad enough for hell nor good enough for heaven. They are doomed to live on Earth, to dwell in secret places, until the resurrection day, when they will be admitted into paradise.
However the particular ones called Coblynau are said:
To be the souls of the Ancient Druids
Coblynau are often translated as "Dwarf" in English, but I think this is a poor idea as it mixes them based on the superficial similarity of living in caves and mines.

Note some English translations of Welsh folklore often say "spirit" when describing them but the word used in the Welsh original almost always means "soul of the dead".

In Scotland and Ireland the Aos Sidhe are simply the ancient pagan dead with the occasional modern ghost being brought into the fold.

On the Isle of Mann many Sidhe were not just the pagan nobility, but include those killed in the Biblical flood among their number.

In Brittany again they are the dead, with their ruler "an Ankoù" being known as "The King of the Dead"

20200502_222150.jpg

Demons and Angels:
In all six Celtic nations the tension between these magic dead people and Christian faith was fairly obvious so around the 17th century a counter belief spread that the Fae were really fallen angels. However rather than being cast down to hell with the demons they were sent to Earth. Usually with the understanding that these were the fallen that weren't bad enough for hell. In fact one often sees the claim that they weren't the angels who rebelled but the ones who stayed neutral in the war in heaven.

This theory goes back to the 8th century were it crops up in manuscripts, but it's more common in the modern era with increasing education in the Christian faith. It was often used by the Puritans in Britain. It never expanded beyond a minority opinion though.

There was another theory that they might have been demons who escaped from hell onto the Earth. In this context they are often given the description "demons of the air".

There was a priest here, Peadar Ua Laoghaire, who often wrote into his novels an alternate suggestion that rather than being magic dead or fallen angels as his fellow clergy sometimes claimed the Fae were simply not real!

Gods:
Welsh myth seems to have done a fairly clean categorisation where the Gods were turned into ancient Kings and Queens. Sometimes this is done so completely that to all intents and purposes the character in Welsh myth is just a queen with little in common with her former goddess self save the name. Sometimes the royal character will go on a quest or fight a monster that probably reflects one of the god's original myths, but that's about it.

In Ireland something more complicated happened. The Gods were first converted into an allegory for humanity prior to the fall in the garden of Eden. This sometimes edges into the suggestion that they were a separate branch of being still present today that never underwent the fall. This is the portrayal of the Gods in the Otherworld tales. The Gods are given powers that medieval authors across Europe thought humanity used to have in Eden. Instant comprehension of the mechanisms of the world, the ability to speak to plants and animals and many others. They also dwell on distant islands off in the sea where the world still worked like Eden.

This eventually led to the Bards being allowed to write stories in scriptoria such as "The Wooing of Étáin" where the Gods are presented as full on pagan Gods. However their powers now blend their original divine powers with the Edenic powers above.

By the 11th century the Church had authorised a full history of the island to be written based on the works of Eusabius and other Church historians. We have learned a good deal about this process over the last two decades. It seems there was a bit of wrangling to get certain stories accepted because of the presence of the Gods. Eventually a sort of compromise was reached where the Gods were recast as an ancient pagan race. Descendants of a character invented to unite them: Danú. Like all ancient pagans they reside in the Fae realm under the country where they drink and revel. Thus the Gods became a part of the Fae, no more than kings and nobles of old.

As time went on more and more characters were invented to fill out the Tuatha Dé Dannan (as the gods were now called). New members of the Tuatha Dé were also invented to explain place names. The majority of Tuatha Dé Dannan gods you'll see in a Celtic Encyclopedia are of this medieval invention sort.

20200502_222229.jpg

The Otherworld and Changelings:
The world the Fae live in is often called "The Otherworld". First of all in the Celtic languages "The Otherworld" often simply means the afterlife. Specifically it corresponds to the English phrases "Beyond the veil" or "Beyond the grave".

Entry to the Otherworld was either at mounds, caves or beneath the sea. There is a common motif that anything removed from the Fae realm rapidly ages since the whole point of the place is to stave off death for people who lived thousands of years ago.

Within their mounds and caves the Fae lived a replica of ancient noble life. Riding and hunting and feasting. On certain days of the year they would perform a mass migration to hills or other mounds to meet other bands of Fae. Breton, Irish, Scottish and Welsh myth all have tales of the Fae from different areas meeting up for sporting competitions. Their passage noted by enormous gusts of wind. The usual explanation being that these were the only days God would permit them freedom. In Wales they might come out at night on dry patches of grass to dance and the druids might visit their old oak trees. There was even a small belief in Wales that the Bible referenced such fairy dances in Matthew 12:43.

The world within their mounds is far larger than the mounds themselves which is simply an entry way into an almost historically preserved version of the land back when they were alive. In many cases the Fae world is literally upside down compared with ours. They stand on the underside of the ground and look up at a sky beneath the Earth. There's an old myth of there being ships coming to and from the Christian heaven that arrive at Fae harbours, which they unfortunately cannot board.

...convince two ancient kings to stop their fighting so that they might board a ship to heaven. The second image is the protagonist before the entry door of the mound leading to the Otherworld.

book.jpg
LiosDoor.jpg

Given their druidic powers, the Fae could have a powerful effect on animals. They often improved animals to produce more milk or fleece, but this often resulted in the animals changing colour. Fae animals rising out of the sea is actually the most common sort of story associated with them in Celtic folklore. Green cows, fire breathing horses, dogs able to turn invisible. Rarely translated though. Sea life was meant to be particularly roused by fairy music, especially seals.

20200502_222325.jpg
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Unable to reproduce given their banishment, the Fae either kidnapped children from the mortal world or took a mortal lover. If they kidnapped a child they would often leave one of their own under a glamour in its place. A Changeling. Though they would soon die due to rapid aging on exposure to the mortal realm. If they took a mortal lover their descendants would often be said to have magic and secretly serve them, possibly unknown to themselves. However much more common (and rarely entering English translation for some reason) is that they would kidnap fully grown men for manual labour within the mounds.

Historically the mounds were actually built not by the ancient Irish or Welsh, but by the indigenous Europeans who lived on the islands before the arrival of the Celts. Thus even a Celt back in 200BC would have had a sense for them as places of the ancient dead.

England:
English folklore is more complex. Mixing Celtic, Germanic and Christian influence. I will say more about it in an addendum at the end of this whole read through. Suffice it to say even there Elves are often claimed to be the dead by storytellers from Devon to Yorkshire. However blending with Scandinavian and West Germanic elements leads to some significant differences, especially that of Elves being a parallel non-human race.

Next: The GURPS book!
 
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CRKrueger

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So how do you get actual Celtic Mythology without the Christian invention and bastardization?
 

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Here's the one from the GURPS book:

Here's a much more detailed one from T.J. Rhys Jones's "Teach Yourself Welsh":
Interesting, my last name comes from my Grandfather who was from the Isle of Man and people mispronounce it all the time and looking at this guide I can see why, did a quick Google search and the native language/dialect is a form of Manx Gaelic closely related to Irish Gaelic.
 

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So how do you get actual Celtic Mythology without the Christian invention and bastardization?
You can't I'd say. As time has gone on we've learned less and less of Celtic myth actually predates the Middle Ages. At this point it's down to the names of Gods and that probably some of the adventures of their euhemerised versions reflect one or two of their older myths, but even their powers are in doubt.

Most likely pagan Celtic myth was just cultic with local gods in the typical Indo-European paradigm, e.g. horse god, sky god, mother god etc. It was probably very similar to what Roman myth was like prior to its culture mixing with Greece. Some names gods with stories, but most gods were almost nameless earth or air gods worshipped at an open air altar (arae) and there was no cosmic mythos, i.e. no creation myth and so on.
 

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Interesting, my last name comes from my Grandfather who was from the Isle of Man and people mispronounce it all the time and looking at this guide I can see why, did a quick Google search and the native language/dialect is a form of Manx Gaelic closely related to Irish Gaelic.
There are pronunciation guides for Manx Gaelic, but like all forms of Gaelic it's spelling is way less consistent than the Brythonic languages (i.e. Welsh, Breton, Cornish). I can understand Manx provided they don't use too many dialectal words. It's like Quebec French vs Standard French.
 

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And that's why I don't take modern-day Druids seriously.
I have had a funny history with that crowd. They've gotten in trouble lighting fires on top of actual archaeological sites a few times. Once or twice I've been asked to read at their ceremonies. It's quite popular in Germany and Austria as well as Britain and Ireland.

Very often they imbue mundane things with mysticism. I've been in a few debates that basically boil down to "No that's not a mystic word for the feeling of returning to your spiritual home. It's just the word for a fireplace" or sometimes it's not even a real word.

The biggest one is the "goddess" Clíodhna. There's a few people who worship her and come down to Cork to dance in the sea and other stuff. Truth is she was made up in the 15th century (we even know the Bards who did it) to explain the name of a pile of stones near Mallow town. I nearly got hit over that one!
 

AsenRG

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Celtic and Japanese cultures have many parallels. There's an expert here who published a book on Celtic music. It's unfortunate there's not a translation into English as it is a very well written and yet deep analysis that even I who knew no music theory could follow. It basically taught music theory to me and then did a formal analysis of music across cultures. But anyway he discusses fairly deep relations with Japanese music. And as I mentioned above there is a strong similarity with the nature poems and reverence for spots of unique beauty and the Mono no Aware feeling.
Heh, you can say pretty much the same for many kinds of music:smile:.

Thanks for this. I have meant to read about the evolution of the Slavic languages from Indo-European, but particularly their own evolution from Proto-Slavic for quite some time. Benjamin W. Fortson IV's textbook "Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction" contains something about it so I'll probably start from there. I know there's a mismatch between the generic terms used in anglophone linguistics and in linguistics in the Slavic languages themselves. So I probably need to understand that.
Feel free to ask, if you need help:wink:.

That's what it would have been to the Druids, Bards and other literati of the 7th-8th century, understandable if you were well read.

Today not so much. Archaic Irish looks very similar to Latin with "ius" and "ibus" style endings.
Heh, I wonder whether I'm a Druid, or Bard, in this case:tongue:!

There are a few "famous" versions written at different times, but the ones most often translated into other languages are the oldest full prose versions (there are older short poetic ones). The older of the two was written by a scribe, Máel Muire mac Célechair meic Cuind na mBocht, who had actual talent at writing. He is succinct, evocative and brutal. Comparison with actual graves and excavations show he is grounded in warfare of the time. The second writer has a more florid style and was clearly trying to mimic Latin and continental poetry and is not as brutal. He's also a much worse writer.

The main translations in English tend to combine them since the second writer has many events that fill out the tale. Usually though they try to match the style of Maél. So in a sense they're like an alt-history translation: As if Máel had written included some of the second guy's material.
...sounds possible. I don't know what the translation was from. I might dig the books out and check, but at least some of them aren't in the same city as me.

I have had a funny history with that crowd. They've gotten in trouble lighting fires on top of actual archaeological sites a few times. Once or twice I've been asked to read at their ceremonies. It's quite popular in Germany and Austria as well as Britain and Ireland.

Very often they imbue mundane things with mysticism. I've been in a few debates that basically boil down to "No that's not a mystic word for the feeling of returning to your spiritual home. It's just the word for a fireplace" or sometimes it's not even a real word.

The biggest one is the "goddess" Clíodhna. There's a few people who worship her and come down to Cork to dance in the sea and other stuff. Truth is she was made up in the 15th century (we even know the Bards who did it) to explain the name of a pile of stones near Mallow town. I nearly got hit over that one!
Don't hesitate to hit back, is all I'd say:shade:!
 

AsenRG

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What do you mean exactly? Many kinds of music are like traditional Japanese music?
No. I misunderstood your post to mean "Japanese music is inspired by nature's beauty and mono no aware", and remembered a few examples of those...
On second reading, you just reminded us of your earlier reference, and I'd made a connection you probably didn't intend. Sorry, let's skip that part...:thumbsup:

Luckily I emit unbridled love for my fellow man preventing such events.
No doubt that has helped:grin:!
 

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No. I misunderstood your post to mean "Japanese music is inspired by nature's beauty and mono no aware", and remembered a few examples of those...
On second reading, you just reminded us of your earlier reference, and I'd made a connection you probably didn't intend. Sorry, let's skip that part...:thumbsup:
Oh god no worries at all, I realised when I looked at it again that it was ambiguous what I meant due to the phrasing.

I'll probably have a bunch of questions for you when I get through Fortson's book and his references :grin:
 

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I have had a funny history with that crowd. They've gotten in trouble lighting fires on top of actual archaeological sites a few times. Once or twice I've been asked to read at their ceremonies. It's quite popular in Germany and Austria as well as Britain and Ireland.

Very often they imbue mundane things with mysticism. I've been in a few debates that basically boil down to "No that's not a mystic word for the feeling of returning to your spiritual home. It's just the word for a fireplace" or sometimes it's not even a real word.

The biggest one is the "goddess" Clíodhna. There's a few people who worship her and come down to Cork to dance in the sea and other stuff. Truth is she was made up in the 15th century (we even know the Bards who did it) to explain the name of a pile of stones near Mallow town. I nearly got hit over that one!
Triumph of the Moon by Ronald Hutton is an exhaustive history of the actual roots of modern paganism and witchcraft, which not surprisingly are mostly an invention of the 19th and 20th century. I highly reccomend it for anyone interested in a sympathetic but rigorous history of the modern occult in the West.

54991.jpg
 

AsenRG

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Oh god no worries at all, I realised when I looked at it again that it was ambiguous what I meant due to the phrasing.

I'll probably have a bunch of questions for you when I get through Fortson's book and his references :grin:
Ask away when you have them. It's no problem for me:thumbsup:.
 

Séadna

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GURPS Fae:

Overview:

The GURPS book begins with an overview of the Tuatha Dé Danaan which the present as an ancient race of magical people who have now retreated to the mounds and reference their major enemies the Formorians. I won't describe the medieval view of history much save that it divided the world into ages ending with the flood, the tower of Babel and so on. The Fomorians are Ireland's antediluvian race. Some of them probably have a basis in gods that dealt with the underworld and the sea in pagan times, but again the majority are characters made up in the middle ages. In modern times they survive in more folklore stories than the Tuatha Dé.

It recommends that a game were the PCs are Tuatha Dé could benefit from GURPS supers given the at least 500-point scale.

We then have a section on the Otherworld that lies within the mounds. It describes many ways to get there, such as entering mounds, standing stones, trees and so forth. I'll add that usually in stories methods aside from entering a mound (Ireland) or a cave (Wales) are uncommon. Journeying out by boat and being lost in mists which lead to the Otherworld is the next most common method in both countries.

...is recognised by his wife when he plays a tune. The evil Fae queen of the woods stands behind them

20200506_000318.jpg

It does mention dying as a way of getting there. I think it's worth noting that the Otherworld as an afterlife isn't really something that was believed at any point. The pagan Celts believed in reincarnation like most Indo-European peoples and since they just believed in the gods they wouldn't have thought they had retreated to mounds. The Otherworld as a detailed fictional setting within the mounds was made by Christian Bards, who would have had it as the abode of their ancient druidic ancestors not as an afterlife for the typical person in the Christian era.

In general I think this feeds into how you would do a Celtic campaign and here I'll give my genuine opinion. I think actual pre-Christian celtic myth would have been less interesting than the current weird Christian synthetic myth. No retreating into mounds, no immortal beings pining the passing of ages, no weird distortions of time and place and strange vistas borrowed from Christian ideas of Eden, none of the ideas of this race coming out at night to kidnap. It would have been just a bunch of mostly nameless gods worshipped at stone altars with very little mythology.

It then gives a little bit about how heroes typically travel into the Otherworld and how many heroes even had lovers among the Fae.

Otherworld Geography:

First we get the Tir Fo Thuinn, literally "Land Past-Waves", the part of the Otherworld located on mystic islands off Ireland's shore. Historically these islands are heavily based on descriptions of Eden and heaven. In the myths time is heavily distorted here and huge ships of crystal or amber belonging to the Sidhe are found on shore. The book has a summary of some of the islands, e.g. an island with treasure guarded by a burning cat. It does mention the odd belief that the Isle of Man was magical in some way, that the Fae could roam there more freely. Also Tír na nÓg, which is simply a larger one of these islands, with castles and forests on it inhabited by many Sidhe.

...as depicted in school books from 1940s used by my grandparent's generation. The first shows them flirting in the house of her future husband Fionn. Diarmuid's full name is Diarmuid Ua Duibhne which is very difficult to pronounce for non-natives, but pops up plenty as he has been used in anime and French cartoons. Fortunately the only character with a harder to say name, An Mór-Ríoghain, has long had an English version Morrigan.

20200506_000208.jpg

20200506_000232.jpg

Annwn is next, a major part of the Welsh Otherworld. Entered via caves Annwn has massive castles, halls and chambers with beautiful hills and meadows. It's often known as Avalon in English, forming the base for the Arthurian realm. It also informs Tolkien's Aman. Everything here is based on graceful elevated nbility. The kings and queens wear golden robes, all drinking cups and plates were exquist, the food is perfect, everybody is incredibly attractive. Essentially a paradise, but more so a perfect version of a Welsh kingdom. It's possible that Annwn shares the name with an afterlife believed in by the pagan Welsh, but the fact that its ruler was called "Arawn" which is almost certainly just the Welsh borrowing of "Aaron" and many other features shown the Annwn we have is once again a Christian setting. Arawn's daughter Modron was the core around which the Morgan le Fay character was built.

It finally mentions how all mounds are entries to the Fae world. Each containing a Fae palace and court. In general it emphasises how everything is "more" in the Otherworld. Mountains are taller, grass is greener, the sea sparkles more and so on.

Some sidebars give nice information on special types of Sidhe related constructions in Cornwall and Scotland, namely Fogous, Glass Castles and Brochs. In reality these building types had no real association with the Sidhe in myth as they were all too recent.

A Fogou is basically a set of connected underground chambers that seem that have been constructed to keep the interior dry regardless of the weather on the surface. The book describes them as places where food was stored and also as Druidic ritual sites that the Sidhe cannot navigate, getting lost in the tunnels.
fogou-uk.jpg

Glass castles are very odd structures. A fortress made by melting the stones together into a form of glass. For a while nobody knew how this was performed but it seems likely now it was done by erecting special timber structures that promoted a powerful anaerobic fire. They're concentrated in Scotland but found all over Celtic areas and are associated with the earliest spread of Celtic culture out of its homeland in Austria. The book has them as a home for the Sidhe who could melt the stones via their magic.
4326.jpg

Brochs are roundtowers found in Scotland, with thick or double walls. The book has them as being designed to prevent Sidhe from entering them.
Mousa_Broch_20080821_02.jpg

Next: Sidhe character generation
 

CRKrueger

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I'm being a bit too brief there, it's quite complex.

What Cú Chulainn does with the Gae Bolga is a bunch of standard feats given the way they are delivered. Ferdia's impaling through the anus is recognised as a weakness of his type of armour to be exploited. Any time Cú Chulainn does something unusually brutal or "unfair" the text calls it out as dishonourable. However it isn't done for Ferdia's anal impaling implying it's a standard move. The usual thinking when I've been to conferences is that for this reason this was a known weakness/move that was acknowledged.

Secondly the Celts did use a heavier spear.

Hence it is probable that with a heavy spear with an opponent of a certain type of armour this was a known technique.

The game takes this heavy spear and calls it Gae Bolga. Really though that only properly refers to Cú Chulainn's magic weapon (the game does stat Cú Chulainn's in particular later). The real heavy spears were barbed but didn't have the expanding out array of thirty barbs that Cú Chulainn's magical weapon had.

The etymology of Cú Chulainn's weapon is complex. It meant almost certainly "Death Spear" in Archaic Irish (pre-4th Century) when the heavy spear was a common weapon. The name then being balu-gaisos. However due to the way the language changed balu-gaisos ended up sounding like bolga which just means "of belly". So then it was thought to mean Spear of Belly/Belly Spear.

Archaic Irish will pop up a bit with Ogham and the Druids later in the Let's Read as it is behind some of the mysticism.

In short Ogham is often represented as a "mystical" language. In truth it's just a way to write Archaic Irish which the Druids and the other literate professions held onto for a while as an archaic language of ceremony.

Sort of like your own Old Church Slavonic (Старобългарски език if I have it right from reading in case "Old Church Slavonic" is not used by you).

EDIT: Cú Chulainn's fight with Ferdia is actually quite different in the different versions of the Táin that are preserved
Hmm, to be frank, that kind of sounds like a typical academic analysis from a group of eggheads who have never even got in a fistfight.

It's one thing to say that coming up under the armor and skewering him in the balls, taint, or ass is fair game and thus not dishonourable.
It's quite another to say that Celtic warriors actually trained to kill other warriors by shoving a spear up their anus.
 

Séadna

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Hmm, to be frank, that kind of sounds like a typical academic analysis from a group of eggheads who have never even got in a fistfight.
Celticist conferences have full on backbreaking Bane vs Batman style fights, they'd fucking wreck you bro.

There's more to it than I've said. The Heavy Spear fighters fought completely naked at all times, so it's been suggested as a technique when they fought each other, which is what the Táin presents or with opponents of certain types of light armour like other Celtic units who wore only cloth shorts or trousers to battle. Of course at this historical remove from them we can't really know. I think you're right though that academic history could often benefit from experts in other areas (even the Glass houses above suffered from this). I think this is becoming more common.

As a side note if you take the idea of some of them fighting naked and others fighting in cloth shorts or trousers and thinking the use of tactics was unmasculine it gives an idea how ferocious they were that they could face fully armoured Roman centuries, cohorts or even legions.
 
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Séadna

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Fae Char Gen:
So now we get to making Fae characters.

The basic description given is that they are about 3'' taller than the average person and they are stronger, more beautiful and more competent. Often had blue eyes and their hair colour match the distribution you would have seen in the Celts themselves. Their clothing is superior and they have superior crafts in general.

I'd just add that in folk tales the emphasis is often more on the fact that they are more beautiful and magical. Them being stronger rarely comes up and in many tales the hero wins because they are in fact weaker.

mythras.jpg

Mechanics:
A Fae is at least 260 points to play. So even the least impressive Fae is in Aragorn from Lord of the Rings territory.

In basic GURPS terms they have +2 to DX, ST, HT. Handsome, Unaging and Magical aptitude +2 advantages. Also included is the hefty 50 point Wild Mana Generator advantage. This means Fae cast spells for only 1 point no matter the spell and can only get critical successes or critical failures.

They also take the Feth Fiada and Sidhe Blood advantages but I'll go through these in the advantages in a moment. They can take ten more Fae specific advantages beyond the default ones either during advancement in game or if starting with a higher point character.

Fae psychology, culture and life:
There then follows two sections about how the Fae think and live. This repeats stuff I've discussed before. They're larger than life, better at crafts and art, live in mounds, the Otherworld is an exaggerated version of a noble's life etc.

It does mention how, since they are humanity writ large, they tend to have heightened failings and weaknesses to match their extreme nature. Also how they often spend long periods of time living disguised among mortals.

Other small details include how they had pork as their main food. Again Celtic nobles ate pork at feasts so having it all the time is noble idealisation. Overall you can see Fae fitting the same literary role for Celtic nobles as King Arthur did for Feudal knights and barons, namely a perfected version of their own society. Except the Fae were thought to still be active.

It closes out with the common occurrence of Fae taking mortal lovers. This was a strangely powerful and recurrent belief. Many nobles well into the early modern period were said to have been the child of a Fae who seduced or raped their mortal parent, or sometimes their mortal parent had raped them. It was equally common for the Fae to be of either gender. Even up to the late 19th century people were said to have Fae lovers who told them "secret" things such as when people were going to die. My wife's home village has a woman like this back in the 1910s. This was obviously used to make people avoid/fear them, but also like succubi/incubi having a Fae lover was used as an excuse when a girl was caught masturbating out in the fields or similar.

An animated version of the First Branch of the Mabinogi produced by S4C:

Sidhe Blood:
Sidhe blood is a special advantage that encapsulates how pure Fae you are. Basically Sidhe Blood 5 is a full Fae with the lower values going down as 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16.

Rather than costing points in char gen a character with a certain value of Sidhe Blood must start with a certain number of points, e.g. Sidhe Blood 4 requires the character to be at least 250 points. For each point of Sidhe blood you can purchase two of the special Fae advantages.

Fae advantages:

This is quite a big list. I think it covers the vast majority of powers and abilities displayed in the myths, ignoring the very Christian ones. For example the ability to summon trees to crush opponents or to see on the micrometer scale are found in myth but only given to Saints.

  1. Alternate blows. Every second hit heals you.

  2. Amphibious. No need for Swimming skill and you can breathe under water. Often Fae had the form of a fish, otter or other water animal.

  3. Bellows breath. Exhale a blast of wind. Can also be used to bring a weapon to life (more on that below)

  4. Catfall. Reduced damage from falling.

  5. Chameleon. Blend into your surroundings for enhanced Skill checks.

  6. Damage Resistance. Basically your skin acts somewhat like armour.

  7. Dark Vision.

  8. Doesn't Sleep.

  9. Enhanced Strength. This allows Strength to go well past the GURPS maximum into the 30s. You need Sidhe Blood 3 for it.

  10. Extra Fatigue. Takes longer to tire you.

  11. Extra Hit Points.

  12. Feth Fiada. A very special form of invisibility common to Fae in Irish and Welsh myth. You are either invisible to mortals or other Sidhe, but never invisible or visible to both. Only for full blooded Fae.

  13. Full Coordination. Increased number of attacks per round as one attack is dealt by each limb. This is very common in folklore where a Fae will have a knife in its foot or hit with a sword follows by an impossible kick with its feet.

  14. Gills.

  15. Hard to Kill. Per point confers a +1 to the GURPS equivalent of a death check.

  16. Hawk Eyes. Ability to zoom in with your eyes. Each level doubles the magnification you are capable of. A common ability of Fae who lived within very large hills such a Sliabh na mBan in County Tipperary.

  17. Heroic Climbing. Move faster while climbing per level.

  18. Heroic Running. Doubles your rate of movement only when running in a straight line. I was very happy to see this as a very very common technique of avoiding and evading Fae in stories is to jump off to the side or swerve.

  19. Heroic Swimming. Doubles swimming speed per point. You need the Amphibious advantage for this.

  20. Lightfooted. Renders about the weight of a small child no matter what you are carrying. Note this is only for the external world, your equipment is still very heavy for you.

  21. Monstrosity. For Formorians or those with Formorian ancestry, it allows you to assume a horrible form that causes a Fright check.

  22. Passive Defence. A sixth sense that bumps up your resistance to surprise attacks and similar per point.

  23. Perfect Balance. Massive boost to balance rolls such as standing on tightropes, ledges, slippery surfaces, etc

  24. Recovery. You get out of unconsciousness one gradient of time quicker than the GURPS default for that situation, e.g. hours -> minutes.

  25. Reduced Sleep. You need to sleep once a week.

  26. Regeneration. Recover health faster, however the time period goes down per point. At its fastest level you recover damage per second. This leads to truly monstrous characters who are very difficult to kill without an instakill blow, which is very unlikely unless you are also Fae.

  27. Regrowth. Regrow body parts in weeks or months for limbs.

  28. Salmon Leap. Double the distance and height of jumps per point.

  29. Shadow Form. Become a two-dimensional shadow. This is a common Fae ability in 16th century onward folk tales, less so in medieval literature.

  30. Shrinking. Reduce size by 1/2 per point.

  31. Silence. Move and breathe without sound.

  32. Speak with Animals/Fish/Plants/Underwater. Each one is its own advantage. Speak with Fish really means any aquatic animal.

  33. Spearman's invulnerability. A massive increase in armour when you fight nude provided you fully believe in your invulnerability (Will check). The armour you gain is equivalent to medieval plate armour.

  34. Toad Eyes. You have films on your eyes protecting them from sand, acid, etc

  35. Unaging

  36. Voices on the Wind. Provided there is a wind you can hear people from 1/4 to 4 miles away, doubling per point. This was probably one of the most common abilities of Fae in peasant folklore and lead to many superstitions about boasting or talking in bad weather.

  37. Walk on Air/Liquid

  38. Wild Mana Generator. Explained above.
Amhrán na Farraige/Song of the Sea. A movie about a little girl who happens to be half-Fae.


Riastradh:

I'm separating this off since it is treated specially in myth. Half Fae characters often can turn their Faeness off or on by assuming a special form. The particular word Riastradh refers to Cú Chulainn's form, but the concept is common enough. The book gives five variants on this. The variation is based on how rapid the transformation is, how often you can do it per day and whether it is terrifying. The appearance is up to the player, but the base human form beneath is meant to be at the 100 point level.

In myth the transformation often involves taking on satanic or animalistic features and often growing in height.

From a recent book done in a very abstract modernist style

abstrac-s.jpg

Feats:

Feats are like special moves the character can perform in combat or just for entertainment such as Cú Chulainn's ability to throw three spears, jump up along them into the air and come down for a sword strike at the same moment the spears hit. The book gives all nine of Cú Chulainn's feats that are explained in the Táin and the mechanics to implement them. He has many that are mentioned but he never performs them in the Táin. From poetry they most likely occur in his own myth cycle from before he was merged into the Táin.

An example being the Stunning-Shot feat where 2d6 birds can be downed with one stone with a [Sling -8] check.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight draws heavily on Welsh myth. A Welsh animted movie of it won a BAFTA in 2002:


Willful weapons:

A willful weapon is one that is sentient and magical. Sometimes a normal weapon becomes one from being involved in extraordinary events, but most often they are specifically crafted by the Fae.

To make a regular weapon into a Willful one costs 50 times the weapons usual value and requires a Fae smith with the Armoury specialised to that weapon. The smith makes an Armoury role to add either powers and skills to the weapon with failures resulting in the weapon possessing a new Geasa. He then breathes life into the weapon, either with the Bellows breath advantage or a permanent sacrifice of 1 HT.

The weapons sentience is a combination of the skills it has (which the user has access to) and a great Geasa giving a purpose or mission instilled by the smith at its creation.

It then mentions that objects aside from weapons can be made willful by the same process. Such as the Dagda's harp that he can summon into his hand, hitting enemies on the way. Willful regular objects are not common in the medieval myths, but much more common in folklore where buckets, keys and ladders were imbued with special powers and had a specific mission, e.g. beat to death anybody who enters the house with permission. A common one is a chair that prevents people other than its owner from getting out of it.

From the anime Fate/Stay Night where Cú Chulainn uses the willful weapon Gae Bolga on King Arthur. Arthur is imagined has having been secretly a woman in this series.

 
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Séadna

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So that ends the Fae section. I could blather on about them forever, so if anybody wants to know anything just ask. The book draws solely on how they are depicted in medieval myth, so many tales and powers from early modern to modern folklore are not included. Not to mention many of the variant Fae are not discussed like the Bean Sidhe.

Next is the Magic section!
 

AsenRG

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So that ends the Fae section. I could blather on about them forever, so if anybody wants to know anything just ask. The book draws solely on how they are depicted in medieval myth, so many tales and powers from early modern to modern folklore are not included. Not to mention many of the variant Fae are not discussed like the Bean Sidhe.

Next is the Magic section!
...my knowledge of Celtic myth is obviously either incomplete, rusty, or the transcription I've encountered is not very similar to this name. Anyway, who or what were the Bean Sidhe:shade:?

And feel free to blather on. I like the new info and find it useful:thumbsup:!
 

TristramEvans

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...my knowledge of Celtic myth is obviously either incomplete, rusty, or the transcription I've encountered is not very similar to this name. Anyway, who or what were the Bean Sidhe?
You probably know them by the anglicized spelling: "banshee"

It kinda shows how the line between ghost and fairy is completely blurred, as the banshee is almost exclusivelly presented as a sort of ghost.

Yet the name literally means "woman/lady of the sidhe" - so, depending on how you translate Sidhe, that could mean "Woman of the burial mounds" or "Fairy woman".
 

AsenRG

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You probably know them by the anglicized spelling: "banshee"

It kinda shows how the line between ghost and fairy is completely blurred, as the banshee is almost exclusivelly presented as a sort of ghost.

Yet the name literally means "woman/lady of the sidhe" - so, depending on how you translate Sidhe, that could mean "Woman of the burial mounds" or "Fairy woman".
Yeah, I've heard about banshee, what RPG player hasn't:grin:?
Never connected them to the spelling Bean Sidhe, tghough (even though I know that Sidhe was properly pronounced closer to "shee")!
 

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So that ends the Fae section. I could blather on about them forever, so if anybody wants to know anything just ask. The book draws solely on how they are depicted in medieval myth, so many tales and powers from early modern to modern folklore are not included. Not to mention many of the variant Fae are not discussed like the Bean Sidhe.

Next is the Magic section!

Seriously, I'm interested in you blathering on about them. :grin:
 

Séadna

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...my knowledge of Celtic myth is obviously either incomplete, rusty, or the transcription I've encountered is not very similar to this name. Anyway, who or what were the Bean Sidhe:shade:?
An Bhean Sidhe, also An Bhean Sí, is essentially any woman of reasonable power among the Sidhe. She can be either one of the ancients within the mounds or a more recent ghost who has accrued significant abilities.

If she is one of the ancients then she typically appears during the night to kidnap young women and bring them back to the Sidhe mounds to live in one of the palatial rooms there. Over time the woman will be transformed into an immortal magic being like them from eating their food. The largest palace for kidnapped girls like this in the country was Sliabh na mBan or "Women's Mountain"

Sliabh na mBan.jpg

A common variant was "An Bhean Rua", the most potent and powerful fae woman in a mound who would lead a Fae host when they went on the massive cross country journeys on Oíche Shamhna (Halloween) and similar nights. She was believed to brutally kill any mortal she found in her way, e.g. dismemberment, sucking out blood, head dashed on rocks.

The other major type was "An Bhadhb" an ancestral ghost of certain families. Imagined as having lived sometime prior to Christianisation and to have watched over her descendants since. Although some may have died more recently and joined the Fae in their mound palaces. During life she was a mute and never knew joy. The typical manifestation is that she is heard wailing the night before a member of the family dies. Only some families have a Badhb.

In general only a ghost who died in a pretty bad way or had a difficult life could join the Sidhe.
 
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TristramEvans

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In Scotland there was the Little Washer Woman (nigheag, “ little washer,” nigheag na h-ath, “little washer of the ford,” nigheag bheag a bhroin, “little washer of the sorrow.” ), who was pretty much like a Banshee, but she was encountered washing the bloody clothes of the newly dead or soon-to-be-dead. They were supposed to be the spirits of women who died giving birth.
 

Séadna

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I thought this untranslated tale is an example of the kind of weird story you get with the Fae. It's held in the UCD folklore archives Volume 1224, p. 176-178.

It deals with a young midwife travelling home with a friend from Baile Chaisleáin Bhéarra (Castletownbere in English). As they cross the main bridge in the area a frog jumps in their way. The midwife notices the frog is pregnant and promises, partially as a joke, that if she happens to be near her at the time she'll help with the delivery.

It then says it was "the will of the world" that a few days later she was summoned at nine o' clock to help with a birth. She arrives eventually at a stone circle with a large group gathered next to it and refuses to enter inside the mound. However she is reminded of her promise and enters to deliver several children from the Fae woman who took the form of a frog when she was outside the Fae realm.

As she leaves a mortal woman enslaved to the Sidhe warns her not to take any money for her services. The woman seems to be a distant relative of the midwife trapped there for a long time. She takes the advice and leaves. This is a rare example of a Sidhe giving birth.

This is the stone circle mentioned in the tale:

1200px-Ardgroom_Stone_Circle.jpg
 

Nobby-W

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That gives me an idea, that fantasy elves... being stereotypically arrogant and self-satisfied, should be generally ignorant of anything having to do with areas outside of elfland. It's not about elves, so they really don't care... and are prone to ignorant questions and assumptions.
I like this. Elves speaking loudly and slowly in Elvish at the party, expecting them to understand, and elvish Karen demanding to see the innkeeper because she doesn't like mutton and turnip stew.
 
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CRKrueger

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Celticist conferences have full on backbreaking Bane vs Batman style fights, they'd fucking wreck you bro.

There's more to it than I've said. The Heavy Spear fighters fought completely naked at all times, so it's been suggested as a technique when they fought each other, which is what the Táin presents or with opponents of certain types of light armour like other Celtic units who wore only cloth shorts or trousers to battle. Of course at this historical remove from them we can't really know. I think you're right though that academic history could often benefit from experts in other areas (even the Glass houses above suffered from this). I think this is becoming more common.

As a side note if you take the idea of some of them fighting naked and others fighting in cloth shorts or trousers and thinking the use of tactics was unmasculine it gives an idea how ferocious they were that they could face fully armoured Roman centuries, cohorts or even legions.
Agreed, they probably didn’t wear armor because with the weight of those Granite Balls, they could never move.
Still, they needed an Odysseus to say “Hey, how about we strip the armor off their dead and start waging asymmetric warfare”?
 

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Geez, that's fucking gorgeous. I truly love this piece.
There was a priest here, Peadar Ua Laoghaire, who often wrote into his novels an alternate suggestion that rather than being magic dead or fallen angels as his fellow clergy sometimes claimed the Fae were simply not real!
Some people come up with the craziest ideas!

I fell behind this thread and there's a lot to catch up on. I'm still not done! Of course, I love everything here, but there's one thing I'm confused about: are all of these details in the GURPS book? I ask because I'm seeing a lot of references to things other than the actual supplement, so I'm occasionally unclear if that's you giving us awesome supplementary information or if it's all coming from the sourcebook.

Not that it matters...I got the book back when SJ loaded it onto DriveThru, so it's not like I'm making any decisions here.
 

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Of course, I love everything here, but there's one thing I'm confused about: are all of these details in the GURPS book?
Plenty is not in the book, that's because basically the research in the book is thirty or so years out of date, or in some cases even older. The druid section is more out of date for example.

I've also decided to include stuff untranslated into English before.
 
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Edgewise

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Celticist conferences have full on backbreaking Bane vs Batman style fights, they'd fucking wreck you bro.
Also, I was wondering if this ass-slaying technique was perhaps a coup de grace. A lot of fights may end with the loser face down or kneeling. It's really gruesome stuff, but such is battle. I can imagine that the trickiest part of such a blow would not be making the hit but retrieving the spear.
 

Séadna

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Magic:

So now magic. The chapter breaks down as Druids, Geasa and Magic. This first post is mainly expanding on the history section of this chapter and the second and on will be mechanics. Druids and Magic have such a close relation that the word for magic in Gaelic literally means "druidry".

Popular Druids:
So the description given of Druids here is a very common one that originally developed in the 19th century and is a combination of
  1. What Ceasar and other Latin and Greek authors say about the Gauls and other Celtic groups on the continent
  2. How druids are depicted in Irish and Welsh tales when they make their brief appearances
  3. A heavy dose of 19th century romanticism
  4. Attempting to backward figure things out by using Indian Brahmans as a parallel Indo-European culture
The summary is Druids are connected to nature with a deep knowledge of trees expressed through a mythic tree language: Ogham. They act as poets, diviners, judges, lore-keepers and priests. Being a druid is the final "advanced" stage of being a Bard after spending 21 years studying the craft. This is the view that would find its way into pop culture like Asterix.

However this picture isn't really true. I've mentioned the three noble professions: Bard, Lawyer, Historian. These entitled you to be a member of the nobility along with the king and land holding warrior nobles. As far as we can tell it was simply that prior to Christianity the Druid was the fourth of these professions. A druid wasn't an advanced Bard, nor could they be lawyers/judges or be keepers of history and lore, they were a separate profession.

Note that in what follows the "Professions and Nobility" part applies to Ireland and Wales. However the actual details of druids in the "Historical Druids" section is taken mostly from Irish sources. Druids continued to operate in Ireland five hundred years after Christianisation. In Wales the Romans had largely eliminated druids long before the coming of Christianity and many Welsh started practicing a syncretic Roman-Celtic religion with temples to Jupiter and Minerva. By the coming of Christianity the Celtic gods were little more than alternate names for Roman gods.

In fact this is the main difference between Irish and Welsh Celts. Although their societies are almost exactly the same at the high level, I would say the Welsh were less "extreme" due to exposure to Roman culture. For example the class system was identical as I have mentioned, with kingdoms of similar size. The legal systems were basically the same: courts of the same size, lawyers with similar functions, nearly identical legal procedures. Which is surprising given the amount of contact Wales had with Roman and the Anglo-Saxon law. Bards performed the same civic duties and functions, but the Welsh didn't tend to think Bards were actually magical.

This is a video about a Welsh Neo-Pagan festival. Subtitles via youtube closed captions:

Professions and Nobility:

Earlier in the thread I mentioned the social hierarchy. I'm just going to repeat it because the relation between ranks 2 and 3 and their association with magic is important:
  1. King
  2. Nobility (Also called Lords). The sacred professions: Bard, Historian, Judge, Druid
  3. Farmers (vassals to the Nobility). Craftsmen. Entertainers.
  4. Peasants
  5. Slaves and Non-people
As a funny aside one Irish lax text claims that the world was equal and all people were as one until the law texts themselves were written.

First of all even in the earliest texts the Lords/Warrior Nobles and Bards outrank the other three. They are the "high nobility" where as the Historians, Judges and Druids are "base nobility". Being a member of either came with legal privileges above the common man. So it should be emphasised that rather than Druids being high ranking Bards, it was in fact Bards that were the higher nobility. A druid might work for a bard.

A little bit about being what made being a noble different. There were three main features.
  1. Celtic law had a very common procedure called distraint. To cut it short this means if somebody does something to you, then you can just take their property as recompense without involving the legal system. The only problem is if there is later a court case and you were lying or took too much as recompense you are well and truly screwed. Possibly killed.

    One of the major things about being a noble is that it was completely illegal to do this to them. You want to repossess their property you have to fast first. Typically sit in front of their house and not eat for a day. This was considered to "magically" remove their status as a noble. It was the best course of action for a commoner as in court a noble's word outranked your own by a numerical amount related to your rank difference. This is the social explanation for why St. Patrick starved himself on top of the mountain Cruach Phádraig. He was next to God's house (the sky) and was draining God of noble status in order to repossess Ireland from him. In Wales this ability to fast against a noble vanishes before the historical period, although we know from linguistic evidence it existed there at some point. Hence it was quite difficult to take legal action against a noble in Wales.

  2. You also could not enforce a contract with a noble. They could break their conditions whenever they want for as one law text says they "are like a chariot, any bond which is bound to it is released"

  3. The nobility also owned their own land, they were not vassals.

  4. In addition to all this there are several minor entitlements that are basically the same in Wales and Ireland, e.g. certain musical instruments are nobility only.
The major difference between the upper and lower nobility was that a contract with the lower nobility was simply very hard to enforce rather than impossible. Also the lower nobility had to be in the service of a higher noble. For example a lawyer had to work for a king, lord or bard.

However the law texts permit craftsmen and one type of entertainer (harpist) to be raised into the lower nobility if they are at the pinnacle of their profession. Craftsmen and Harpists were considered to be somewhat magical, but only when of exceeding talent, where as Bards, Lawyers, Historians and Druids were intrinsically magical.

Neo-Paganism has been around long enough in Ireland (starting 1910s or so) for people to have been raised in it. This is an interview with one such (subtitles embedded):

Historical Druids:

So what made a Druid special if they didn't really keep lore, make judgements, create poems or didn't have a monopoly on magic?
In short:
  1. They were priests. That is they conducted ceremonies of worship to the gods. Despite the popular conception of them as nature wizards, their ceremonies were largely indoors in sanctuaries.

  2. Legally binding oaths had to be sworn in front of them (with a Lawyer present as well). As time went on this became optional as more people became Christian.

  3. Only they actively cast and knew magic. The other professions had magic as a side effect of their works they didn't control. For example a judge who repeatedly makes poor judgements may cause his kingdoms crops to fail. A Bard was a little more potent in that they could curse with a well written satire, but they could never be sure how exactly the curse would play out.

  4. They were tutors for noble children.
So what spells did a Druid know? We don't know much, but the most confidently known are
  1. The ability to summon and control fire

  2. Targetted cursing of people and livestock

  3. The construction of a "killing fence". Namely a fence that when you jump over it you die.

  4. A sort of battle meditation where by they improve the ability of their warriors and weaken the enemy [This was the one most strongly believed in, even by Christians] (Attested for Welsh druids as well)

  5. Prophecy. Bards could also make a prophecy but it tended to be of the vague "my lord will have a good harvest at some undetermined point" kind not "there will be a battle between the people of X and Y next summer". Bards also did it by composing a poem in a dream like state. Where as Druids gutted an animal typically a heron. (Attested for Welsh druids as well)
The ability to summon animals is not quite as certain, but it seems likely. Also the most powerful Druids were probably considered capable of flight.

What happens as time goes on in Ireland is that the Druids fall out of the nobility by the 9th century. Still surprising considering Christianity had been dominant for three hundred and fifty years at that point. They rank among the craftsmen for a while before disappearing from record in the 11th century.

Welsh Druids make their last stand against Roman forces by local Anglesey artist Andrew Southhall:
andrew southhall.jpg

Pagan practice:

It should be noted that the law texts list several pagan ritual conductors aside from Druids, who seemed to be in charge of formal kingdom level religious worship. However all of these come in for fairly harsh legal consequences and don't seem to have weathered the transition to Christianity as well as druids. These include midwives and what are called the "bé foimrimme", women who wandered around with magic wands and were Fae intermediaries.

Even ignoring druids still being present among the nobility at court there are several other references to pagan practice. Mongfhinn according to one text was a "powerful witch when mortal/alive" and now lies entombed in a Sidhe mound where she is beseeched by many women on Samhain night. Note our most likely theory for Samhain itself was that it was a Belgian harvest god (probably female) brought to Ireland around the 200s when Belgian tribes arrived.

Even stranger is a monastic history that says a plague was brought to Ireland in the 1080s due to three legions of demons, each 3000 strong, being released from Iceland. As "proof" of this the monk mentions that it was confirmed by Aongus Óg, son of the Dagda. The Dagda was considered king of the largest Sidhe mound in the country (Brú na Boinne) by this time, an example of how the gods were folded into the Sidhe. Being considered their most powerful members. It seems a druid or similar entered one of the Dagda's mounds on Samhain to get confirmation of the demons release. This is a good example of the strange syncretic nature of religion at the time. We have a monk telling us a druid got confirmation from a god (now a Sidhe prince) that Christian demons had been released.
 
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Séadna

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Geasa:
This is a very good section I have to say.

Basics:
Next we have a nice little section about Geasa. As the book says Geasa are magical limitations on a person. These limitations can either be something the person themselves cannot do, e.g. remove their boots. Or something the world cannot do to them, e.g. kill them except on a rainy day.

Depending on the limitation, the Geasa can be a major hindrance or an incredible benefit. Thus the sourcebook systemises it by Geasas either costing or rewarding character building points.

Bad Geasa range from annoying such as the -5 point "Must keep head bare" to the very inconvenient -15 point "Cannot drink alone". Even worse is the -40 point "Must kill a man everyday".

Good geasa range minor benefits such as the +5 "Can only be killed by a spear" to the hilarious +30 point:
Can only be killed halfway up a hill during a thunderstorm by a naked man bearing a 40-foot spear made of solid gold.
(A GM who wants to worry a PC with this Geasa should note that on any stormy day the person should often glimpse naked men who always turn out to be about to erect a maypole, or to have a gold-plated spear, or a bronze one!)

A person can place a Geasa on another provided the recipient is present, though as the book says these tend not to be as strong as the inborn Geasa dictated from birth by fate. They also typically have time limits or fulfillment conditions. System wise putting a Geasa on another requires a permanent HT loss of 1.

20200515_002528.jpg

Fulfilling, Defying and Loopholes:
Geasa placed on you by another can either expire after a fixed period of time or terminate when a specific event occurs such as "When you see sunrise on the Hill of Conn".
If these Geasa were used to gain character points then their removal has to be bought off (i.e. XP earned goes toward paying them off).

Breaking Geasa often results in some sort of terrible doom. Often the heroes death, but not always. The drama comes from a hero weighing up whether breaking the Geasa is worse than what the Geasa forces them to do.

Another common theme in the myth mentioned is finding a Geasa's loophole. For example a Geasa prevents you from leaving Scotland, so you come to Ireland with Scottish soil filling your boots which you never take off (this occurred to the saint Colm Cille).

Good and Bad:

As mentioned above Geasa can be good or bad, but the book goes into how even good geasa are normally bad in the end. For example if you have some sort of obscure death Geasa like "Can only be killed by a Goat" you are eventually bound to run into a spearman carrying a heavy Gae spear that he nicknamed "Goat". In many Celtic myths the people spend a significant portion of time trying to learn another characters death geasa to assassinate them. And of course trying to avoid a Geasa can only hasten its conclusion. You can only be killed by somebody of the blood of King Art? You try to avoid his retinue by taking refuge in a nearby roadhouse. Unfortunately the innswoman's son is one of Art's bastards and he fancies your iron sword could fetch a good bit of money.

Lleu Llaw Gyffes of Welsh myth reveals his incredibly specific Death Geasa to his love and immediately pays the price:

The Word:
The Welsh equivalent is tynged. Cornish is husow.

Since it comes up on the web plenty the word itself is close to the first part of the English word "Gasify". Geas or Geis (often put Gesh in English) mean a taboo in the socially inappropriate sense.
 

Séadna

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Seriously, I'm interested in you blathering on about them. :grin:
What I'm going to do with the Fae now that I am out of their section is gather stories that present an aspect not covered in English translations as far as I am aware (e.g. that the Sidhe require mortal midwives in the story above).

Of course I can do this for Irish Gaelic since I have it natively and Scottish Gaelic is easy enough for us to read. However my Welsh is not up to the highly dialectal language that appears in their folklore collections. Thankfully a friend in the Welsh folklore comission has said they will send me on what they can.
 

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Magic:

So first off the sourcebook declares the mythic Celtic setting as a "High Mana" area with some locations (the wonderous Fae touched areas) to be "Wild Mana". The former means anybody can cast spells if they know them, they don't need to have Magical Aptitude, the later means any spell can be cast for 1 point but can only have critical successes and failures.

The only exception is Eastern Britain, where only those with the Magical Aptitude can cast spells. I imagine this is to reflect the "retreat" of the Fae under the influence of Rome or the Anglo-Saxons but it doesn't directly say.

Magic Items:

The book only gives magic items directly from myth itself. These are:

  1. Druid wands. Branches with one spell loaded into them. Note the law texts proclaim it is illegal for a woman to carry this if she also speaks to the Fae. Also a warrior may have one or two on him.

  2. Snakestones. Blue beads that cure snake bites and ward off Sidhe. These are from Cornish myth. The book describes them as blue beads, but actual excavations show that the Cornish most often used ammonite fossils on necklaces.

  3. Willful weapons. Discussed in detail previously.

  4. Cauldrons and horns of plenty. Very common in any Indo-European myth such as Greek and Norse.

  5. Brain-ball. A fairly odd weapon. Essentially a slingshot stone made from the dried out brain of an enemy mixed with hardened lime or herbs. The system here is quite cool and emulates the myths well. You have to kill the enemey youself and make a hard IQ check to create the ball. However the damage dealt is a normal sling shots damage + 5% of the point value of the person it was made from. Also the difference in social rank between the target and the person killed to make the ball is added to the Slingshot skill when making the shot.

  6. Cauldron's that revive the dead

  7. Cups that indicate poison in them.

The game implements the rule that there are no items that store Mana in the Celtic setting which is accurate.

Non-Druids, Sidhe and Magic:

Just from the way they are built and their intrinsic advantages Fae are far better with magic than non-Fae characters. Fae druids are probably the most powerful characters you'll have in a game.

Non-Druids can have spells provided they have the Unusual Background advantage at the 10-point level. Another possibility is to give them the Natural Spellcasting advantage mentioned above which allows you to learn and cast spells from seeing them or spontaneously manifesting them when in danger.

As in myth non-Druids who knew spells often knew one or two related to their profession.

Ogham:

The book bases the whole druidic magic system around the Ogham alphabet. Each letter has a few spells associated with it. The spell system works by having a skill for the Consonants (easy spells), Vowels (hard spells) and Mixed, i.e. mixing vowels and consonants to make syllables. The Mixed spells are the most powerful and dangerous. In the book a Bard knows Consonants, an Ollave adds on Vowels and finally a Druid knows Mixed.

As I mentioned above being more historical Bards and Druids are just different jobs and an Ollave is simply the highest ranking person in their profession in a kingdom, i.e. there was a Bard Ollave, a Lawyer Ollave, a Druid Ollave and so on. I think I wouldn't give Bards magic at all except accidental cursing from their satires or bonuses of various sorts to the targets of their praise poems. I'd reserve spells only for Druids.

Also Ogham had no particularly strong magical association. It was simply a script for writing Archaic Irish. Today the most common examples of it are Ogham stones where things like "X son of Y" are carved in Ogham to mark the territory or grave of a king. Any of the sacred professions were able to read Ogham as it represented a ceremonial language for monuments even after most literacy had turned to the Latin script. There is so little vocabulary written in Archaic Irish on Ogham stones that you pretty much don't even need to know Irish to any degree to read it.

Ogham stones are today mostly found in fields with no centre or protection around them. They're mostly around 1500-1700 years old:

ClbXEvJWQAQAc_6.jpg

Finding Ogham stones often involves long walks with old out of date guidebooks. A nice little hobby, though you often need permission to walk on people's property (I've never been refused). A bit of video here about it where he goes through some of the history:


He has a better video about them, but it's in Irish with no subtitles unfortunately. I might do the subtitles for him and post it later.

Next is the quite long spell list!
 
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