Let's Read GURPS Celtic Myth

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TristramEvans

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This came up in another thread, but figured I'd ask it here since it's an on-topic excuse to bump this thread -

Séadna Séadna , what are your thoughts on the Celtic magc system presented in the Mythras supplement Mythic Britain?
 

Séadna

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Funny you bumped the thread, there's a few things I was going to post soon. Just some direct translated examples of Sidhe stories and I wanted to say a few things on Celtic monsters you find in other media. Like Gruagach from Hellboy.

This came up in another thread, but figured I'd ask it here since it's an on-topic excuse to bump this thread -

Séadna Séadna , what are your thoughts on the Celtic magc system presented in the Mythras supplement Mythic Britain?
It's very good I would say. I'd say a few things about history and mythology. Again it's prefect as the world of the Dark Ages as found in Medieval manuscripts and Modern folklore, as opposed to a mythic version of the actual Dark Ages.

In a purely historic campaign Druids should really be presented as quite similar to the least ascetic types of Brahmin since that seems to be what they were historically. That is they had various dietary restrictions, were a sort of magical consultant for their local community and called upon various local spirits/gods at local sacred spaces. For this reason I think the use of Mythras's Animinism is probably the best way to represent mythic Druid abilities, since it is how I would represent common Brahmins in that system.

With the spirits representing local gods the question then would be how appropriate the types of spirits presented are. There are twelve types presented in the book. Their catagorisation obviously reflects modern fantasy (i.e. Curse and Elemental spirits) however all types do correspond to common entities found in Celtic myth, so I'd treat the divisions as mechanical divisions for the GM not in setting divisions. Now when I say "entities found in Celtic Myth" as mentioned above this means Medieval myths. So if you wanted local gods the Druids actually called on historically, then Nature and Curse would probably be enough. The powers the spirits grant reflect the powers of Druids found in medieval Welsh myth. Some are absent in Medieval myth but are attributed to Druids in folklore from the Modern period. I think these kind of powers should be included since their absence from Medieval manuscripts really only reflects that the Bards found the stories containing them too low brow.

Like Bards there was probably some sort of ranks or grades of druids. Probably "Druid" was simply one of the higher ranks and we've lost the generic word for Celtic priests. Since we can't really reconstruct the true hierarchy I think the one in Mythic Britain is fine. The only real invention is the "Head Druid of Britain" like Merlin. Bards in both Ireland and Wales eventually created the office of "Head Bard of Ireland/Wales", they then projected that back onto Druids, but there almost certainly never was a Head Druid. A similar fictional office is going on with the various "High Kings". Obviously a mythic campaign should have one given its place in the myth.

Similarly some of the cosmology is taken from Medieval myth, like Annwn and is accurate to the myths. Again if you wanted a cosmology more accurate to the actual faith of the Druids I'd keep the cosmology to the land of the living and some vague afterlife where everybody is a simple shade. Same as found in early Greek versions of Hades, the older layer of the Norse Hel, etc. This seemed to be the Indo-European cosmology.

The rules around Christian saints and miracles is pitch perfect for Welsh folklore. Both what powers the saints have, how hard it is to cast mircales, the types of miracles, miracles proceeding Sainthood and miracles inspiring those around them. All work in a way very common in untranslated Welsh folklore collections.

I'll add that you couldn't use these rules for Ireland since most beings, especially Saints, a more OTT powerful in Irish myth.
 

Séadna

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Gruagach:

Well I thought I'd do a little run down on this class of being since I enjoyed the character bearing the name in Hellboy

gruagachcomics1.jpg

As is very common with any Gaelic mythical being the Gruagach appears in both Irish and Scottish myth, however as is also common there are one or two specific differences. To sum it up in the quickest fashion a Gruagach is a Sidhe who functions as sort of a Gaelic version of a Vancian wizard.

They live in a remote castle or tower somewhere, attended by other Sidhe potent with magical powers. Their household contains many magical rings and most of the common household items are animated by a geasa of some form or other. The household is often massive to the extent that it has parade grounds and those who serve the Gruagach are numerous enough to be called a court. They often have a personal wand made from various woods, usually more expensive ones. Their castle often holds a magic well within it, able to heal madness. The castle is often invisible and immaterial to mortals. Locals would just know roughly where the Gruagach's castle is.

In terms of appearance the Gruagach is taller than the typical mortal, for a game I'd go with seven foot tall, and often wears a conical hat and robes.
The main difference between the Scottish and Irish version is the gender. The Irish version is an old man with the grey hair and beard of Gandalf, but the Scottish version is often a beautiful young woman with long golden hair. Due to this the word has a different gender in the two languages. Writings of Scottish bards in earlier periods have the same old man depiction, so the beautiful female version seems like an interesting later innovation. The root "Gruag" is a Gaelic root meaning "hair" so the closest literal translation is "Flowing Haired One" or similar.

A Gruagach is tremendously powerful. They can assumes essentially virtually any form. They are able to summon almost any everyday object into existence. Have physical strength way beyond a human, to the extent that they are probably the most physically powerful entity in Gaelic myth next to certain saints. A typical feat is hurling a boulder. The Irish Gruagach is reclusive and would prefer no mortal intrusion on their domain. The Scottish Gruagach often helps the people of her area by keeping their livestock healthy and accepts gifts from mortals, provided they are not placed within the grounds of her castle.

They are very willing to provide wealth and castles for dwelling to regular humans provided they beat the Gruagach in some game of chance, often poker or one of the various Gaelic card games. The point of these games are really to play with a greedy mortal who will keep playing until they lose, the stories often involve the local bachelor card shark, and then the Gruagach's real plan comes into effect: They will ask the losing mortal to assassinate another Gruagach. The stories often imply that various Gruagach play some sort of political game with each other where they can only kill each other via a mortal. Another very common element is that the Gruagach the character first meets will be in their local area, but the Gruagach they must kill is often from China, Arabia or India and they are sent to their fantastical distant castles with some incredibly inaccurate depictions of the nations involved. You've never met a more Irish Chinese man than the Gruagach of Beijing.

In an interesting convergence with Hellboy, Gruagach guard against their assassination by hiding their soul in an egg somewhat like Koshchei of Russian myth. The egg will be hidden in the nest of a bird of prey, most often a hawk, the nest itself being hidden in some recess in a cliff. In addition to this the Gruagach often possesses powers directly over life itself. Able to transfer the souls of others into objects.
 
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Séadna

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Síodaidhe:
Little addendum.

Roughly pronounced "Shee-dee". This is a higher servant in a Gruagach's household to whom he has given the power of shape-shifting, speaking to animals and beguiling conversation. They are sometimes basically the Gruagach's apprentice. They often enter a story where they are given as a husband or wife to a mortal for beating the Gruagach in a game of cards. A very common motif is that the Gruagach does not want to give them away.

They are inevitably ultra loyal and hopelessly in love with their mortal spouse. Sometimes they die helping them to defeat the Grugach of China/India/Arabia which they are sent to defeat. However the original Gruagach they worked for will often resurrect them at the end of the story for a happily ever after deal.

Sometimes used as slang for a charming person.
 

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Some posts now over the next few days. I'll keep them short with a little bit of info each.

Rust Knife:

This is a regular buttering knife that a hero often leaves with their family before going off on a journey. The knife is mystically bound to the hero and will begin to rust the minute the hero meets with some danger that might kill them so that their family can come to their rescue.
In the stories the rust begins on a microscopic scale, not noticeable to humans and slowly spreads over the knife. For this reason the knife is left at the bottom of a well so that the rust tints the water first allowing the family to rescue the hero as soon as possible.
It's not too uncommon that only a close sibling of the hero is told about this.

The hero must be of noble birth, a royal in Ireland and Scotland's many kingdoms.
 

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Edinburgh/Dublin bird:

Not much to this except it is a gigantic bird, roughly like a massive crow, that carries a cottage on its back from which a ladder can descend. Anybody who climbs the ladder and enters the cottage the bird will carry them to Edinburgh or Dublin.
 

Séadna

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Red Horse and Blood Crows:

The Red Horse is a small Sidhe pony that is able to speak and walk on water. Aside from being able to give good advice and generally knowing the weaknesses of other Sidhe its blood has an usual ability.

If the horse is slaughtered beside the sea, then three crows will be summoned from across the Atlantic. Two will be man sized and one the size of a typical crow. As they feast upon the horse's blood and meat, capturing the smaller one in a cage or similar will cause the two larger ones to fly to China and return with an ointment that makes you impervious to heat.
 

TristramEvans

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Any interesting info on the Knights of the Red Branch?
 

Séadna

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The Bird Giant:

This is essentially a king of the Sidhe that can be summoned by a tin flageolet. He arises out of the sea when summoned in the form of a giant composed of a flock of birds. What he actually does depends on the story, but commonly just grants a wish or transports the hero somewhere. Depicted nicely on the cover of this folklore collection:

210309-scealtadraiochtamhicisheainneill.jpg
 

Séadna

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Out visiting old storytellers and will write about the Red Branch stuff when I get back.

I asked them some questions about the Sidhe in various media, including the Mignolaverse. I'll write a bit about it as I think people might find their responses interesting.
 

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Out visiting old storytellers and will write about the Red Branch stuff when I get back.

I asked them some questions about the Sidhe in various media, including the Mignolaverse. I'll write a bit about it as I think people might find their responses interesting.
So to follow up on this, but there isn't much to it.

Most of the storytellers tend to conceive of the stories as either:
1. Genuine incidents that supposedly occurred
2. Simply a chance to show their talent with the language. Especially the longer stories like "The King of Ireland's son" (most versions are twice the length of the Iliad) are really just about showing the reciters facility with grammar and vocabulary.

So for that reason the main reaction was surprise that Mignola's works for example actually made sense and had developed characters with personalities. It was strange for them to see stories concerning the Sidhe where the characters had internal lives within a structured plot like a modern novel.

Compared to their own imaginings they said the Sidhe in most comics and novels were far more monstrous. Their typical image of one is sort of an Arthurian noble. They especially remarked on how things like Sláine made the myths seem Epic like "Ben Hur" compared to the actual myths where a local Sidhe would show up to rob milk from somebody down the road.

The major element they thought was missing from modern depcitions is that the Sidhe don't seem very religious or devoutly Christian and the absence of Otherworldly mass being held. One guy was quite surprised when I said that the Sidhe are associated with Paganism in the English speaking world since he thought they were "as Christian as angels".

There's a few old recordings where the speaker stopped being an atheist and started going to mass after seeing the Sidhe, so the association between the Sidhe and devout Catholicism is pretty strong.
 

TristramEvans

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The major element they thought was missing from modern depcitions is that the Sidhe don't seem very religious or devoutly Christian and the absence of Otherworldly mass being held. One guy was quite surprised when I said that the Sidhe are associated with Paganism in the English speaking world since he thought they were "as Christian as angels".

There's a few old recordings where the speaker stopped being an atheist and started going to mass after seeing the Sidhe, so the association between the Sidhe and devout Catholicism is pretty strong.

I know that the legends that have survived passed through a long period of Christianization, but it surprises me that there would be so little awareness of the pagan origins among modern storytellers.
 

Séadna

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I know that the legends that have survived passed through a long period of Christianization, but it surprises me that there would be so little awareness of the pagan origins among modern storytellers.
Yeah it's quite funny. Like the younger storytellers, where by younger I mean less than sixty, they'd be well aware of the pagan origins, but most of these older storytellers are >80 years old and lived their lives on the Western seaboard with little contact with the rest of the world and yeah they'd be essentially totally unaware of the pagan origins. The closest you'd get is that they think Sidhe were pagans themselves in their time in the surface world and were probably from Troy or were Doric Greeks.
 

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Have you seen the documentary the Fairy Faith? It's probably about 20 years old now, but it deals with the immigrants to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia that have kept alive a storytelling tradition/set of beliefs. It would be interesting to compare that to the living traditions surviving in Ireland.
 

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No I haven't. I have read folklore collected there and it seems virtually identical to folklore in Ireland and Scotland just with the Sidhe living in Canadian mounds and similar locale changes.

Canadian Gaelic is very conservative to the point where you can't tell the speaker is from Canada, I've been surprised when the person shifts to English. There is some Canada specific vocabulary of course.
 

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dlí - striapach fir.jpg

Bit of a funny one. This is the exact section of Brehon law setting the standardised price for a young (late teens - early 20s) male prostitute.

Actually it's a financial section of the law and it's defining the worth of one of the Gaelic units of currency the "Screaball" as exactly that of one service from a male prostitute.

Unfortunately we have very little attestation of Screaball elsewhere so we don't know enough to say how much this was. Very little though from what we can tell.

I thought it might be an interesting example of the arcane and unusual way Brehon law was written.
 
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