Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Dangers & Weirdness Of The Celtic Otherworld For Old School Campaigns

" IT THE ENCHANTMENT OF TARA 33 shield firmly with his left. Then through thedarkness came a shaft of flame, blown from theenchanters mouth, and Fionn raised his shieldto catch it. But the shield changed to a four-folded impenetrable mantle—woven from theblue of air, the green of earth, the crimson offire, and the purple of ocean—which caughtthe magicians fire-blast and scattered it on o every side in showers of sparks which did noevil. Again and again Aillen mac Midnablew his venomous shafts, and each time themantle diverted them and rendered them harm-less. At last Aillen knew that some one, whopossessed a greater magic than his, was defend-ing Tara that night, and full of baffled fury heturned and fled. When Fionn saw that the enchanter wasput to flight, he descended from the high bankof the rath and pursued him. Many miles hewent, and when he splashed through therippling waters of the Boyne he was close on the heels of the magician. At length Fionncalled out : O Aillen mac Midna,"

Artwork From
Heroes of the Dawn 1914 

I've been rereading a lot of Clark Ashton Smith, Irish mythology, & Celtic literature over the weekend & thinking about doing a sea crawl for my players. There's often a fine line between mythology & the gonzo weirdness of old school original Dungeons & Dragons. In Celtic mythology the Otherworld is often associated with the realm of the gods & the land of the souls of the dead. There is a clear distinction within Arthurian legend as well of the Otherworld.
"The Otherworld is usually called Annwn in Welsh mythology and Avalon in Arthurian legend. In Irish mythology it has several names, including Tír na nÓg, Mag Mell and Emain Ablach. In Irish myth there is also Tech Duinn, where the souls of the dead gather."

For my purposes of 'The Otheworld' is another aspect of the realm of Fairyland that reflects the weirdness & the dangerous occult chaos of the other dimensional realm of the Elves. It washes against our own reality taking bits & pieces of the real world where & when it wants to. The portals & doorways are most often found in dungeons, the ruins of burial mounds, & other places of adventure because the realm feeds on the hopes, dreams, & fears of those that tread these places of danger. The fact is that the occult chaos energies of these places bleed into our world causing madness & mutation where they will.
"The Otherworld is usually elusive, but various mythical heroes visit it either through chance or after being invited by one of its residents. They often reach it by entering ancient burial mounds or caves, or by going under water or across the western sea.[1] Sometimes, the Otherworld is said to exist alongside our own and intrudes into this one; signaled by phenomena such as magic mist, sudden changes in the weather, or the appearance of divine beings or unusual animals."

The strong connections with the realms of the dead make adventuring in these places especially dangerous. Undead or worse can be encountered when sailing in these waters as adventurers journey close to the edge of the planes of the dead. There has always been a strong Arthurian aspect to these types of Celtic legends;
"Graeco-Roman geographers[who?] tell us about Celtic belief in islands consecrated to gods and heroes. Among them were Anglesey (Môn), off the north coast of Wales, which was the sacred island of the druids of Britain; the Scilly islands, where archaeological remains of proto-historical temples have been found; and some of the Hebrides, which were, in the Gaelic tradition, home of ghosts and demons: on one of them, Skye, the Irish hero Cúchulainn was taught by the warrior woman Scathach.
Byzantine scholar Procopius of Caesarea described the Otherworld of the ancient Gauls. He said it was thought that the land of the dead lay west of Great Britain. The Continental Celtic myths told that once the souls of the dead had left their bodies, they travelled to the northwestern coast of Gaul and took a boat towards Britain. When they crossed the Channel, the souls went to the homes of the fishermen, and knocked desperately at their doors. The fishermen then went out of their houses and led the souls to their destination in ghostly ships.
There are still remains of those beliefs in the Breton and Galician traditions. In Brittany, the name Bag an Noz is used to denote those ships who carry the dead to their goal: Anatole Le Braz describes in his book La légende de la mort chez les Bretons armoricains the existence of souls' processions which make their way toward coastal places like Laoual, to start their last travel from there."

In original Dungeons & Dragons islands of Celtic 'Otheworld' have always offered adventure opportunities for my own home campaigns going back to the Eighties when the first Gods, Demigods, & Heroes by 

Rob Kuntz, &  James M. Ward came out. Since time works very differently in the Otherworld it enables a DM to encounter warriors & other travelers from 1d200 years ago or even future alternative timelines. More on that later. D&D Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes (1976), by Rob Kuntz & James Ward, is the fourth of four supplements for the OD&D game. It was published in July 1976.

Here the PC adventurers, knights, etc. are treading on the realms of the gods, fairies, & Elves & they are often at the mercy of the whims of powers of both good & evil in equal measures. There are treasures from ancient times & very alien artifacts from the wars of the gods at the dawn of time.There are various islands & lost countries that have been swallowed up by the realm of Fairy & the Otherworld. 

Here is the cross point with the OSR retrocclone titles especially Dark Albion & the Lion & Dragon retroclone rpg systems.The Elves of legend were the conquerors of the old world & had challenged the gods themselves & had subplanted the old gods for a time. But events overtook them and the world moved on. There old territories such as Avalon & Tech Duinn (the "House of Donn" or "House of the Dark One")

enabled the Elves to hold onto their dreams of retaking Europe well into the War of the Roses & beyond.

"The Coming of the Sons of Miled", illustration by J. C. Leyendecker in
T. W. Rolleston's Myths & Legends of the Celtic Race, 1911

The Otherworld was also seen as a source of authority. In the tale Baile in Scáil ("the phantom's ecstatic vision"), Conn of the Hundred Battles visits an Otherworld hall, where the god Lugh legitimizes his kingship and that of his successors.[1]
In Irish myth there is another otherworldly realm called Tech Duinn (the "House of Donn" or "House of the Dark One").[6] It was believed that the souls of the dead travelled to Tech Duinn; perhaps to remain there forever, or perhaps before reaching their final destination in the Otherworld,[7] or before being reincarnated.[6] Donn is portrayed as a god of the dead and ancestor of the Gaels. Tech Duinn is commonly identified with Bull Rock, an islet off the west coast of Ireland which resembles a portal tomb.[8] In Ireland there was a belief that the souls of the dead departed westwards over the sea with the setting sun.[9] West-ward also being the location of the phantom island, anglicized as, Hy-Brasil."
These phantom islands & countries of the Otherworld are places that have been wrestled from the existence of reality. These lands when washed in the Chaos of Fairy often suffer from the pain of the Wasteland of Arthurian legend.
In the Arthurian Grail material, the Wasteland's condition is usually tied to the impotence of its leader. Often the infirmity is preceded by some form of the Dolorous Stroke, in which the king is injured tragically for his sins but kept alive by the Grail. In Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval, the Story of the Grail, the Fisher King has been wounded in a misfortune that is not revealed in the incomplete text, and his land suffers with him. He can be healed only if the hero Perceval asks the appropriate question about whom the Grail serves, but warned against talking too much, Perceval remains silent. In the First Continuation of Chrétien's work, the anonymous author recounts how Gawain partially heals the land, but is not destined to complete the restoration. Over the course of time romances place less emphasis on the Wasteland and more on the king's wound. In the Lancelot-Grail Cycle the link between the devastated land and the wounded king is not absolute, and in the Post-Vulgate Cycle much more emphasis is placed on King Pellehan's injury by Sir Balin than on the devastation this causes to his kingdom."

"Finn heard far off the first notes of the fairy harp" -
The High Deeds of Finn and other Bardic Romances
of Ancient Ireland, by T. W. Rolleston, et al, Illustrated by Stephen Reid

This same condition & ideal of Arthurian the Wasteland is something that we see in Clark Ashton Smith's  Empire of Necromancers 1933;
"So, after a short interval, Mmatmuor and Sodosma were driven forth by the anger of the inhabitants, and were compelled to flee toward Cincor, a desert of the south, which was peopled only by the bones and mummies of a race that the pestilence had slain in former time.
The land into which they went lay drear and leprous and ashen below the huge, ember-colored sun. Its crumbling rocks and deathly solitudes of sand would have struck terror to the hearts of common men; and, since they had been thrust out in that barren place without food or sustenance, the plight of the sorcerers might well have seemed a desperate one. But, smiling secretly, with the air of conquerors who tread the approaches of a long-coveted realm, Sodosma and Mmatmuor walked steadily on into Cincor
Unbroken before them, through fields devoid of trees and grass, and across the channels of dried-up rivers, there ran the great highway by which travelers had gone formerly betweea Cincor and Tinarath. Here they met no living thing; but soon they came to the skeletons of a horse and its rider, lying full in the road, and wearing still the sumptuous harness and raiment which they had worn in the flesh. And Mmatmuor aad Sodosma paused before the piteous bones, on which no shred of corruption remained; and they smiled evilly at each other.
'The steed shall be yours,' said Mmatmuor, 'since you are a little the elder of us two, and are thus entitled to precedence; and the rider shall serve us both and be the first to acknowledge fealty to us in Cincor.'"

The wasteland is timeless & borders the realms of the Underworld lending an air of the dangerous & horridly weird to any brushes with the 'Otherworld'. There are always hints & tells of Chaos lying at the borders between life, death, & the realms of the gods. Adventurers are never in control when they make the crossover into these realms.

 Frères Limbourg - Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry - mois de mai

The 'Oherworld' is a perfect reflection of the conquests & weirdness of the Fairy interaction with humanity throughout history. There is a deep connection  the race of Ghouls from HP Lovecraft's writings have with Elves of mythology. Ghouls are a deep reflection seen as the  messengers of death especially in Pickman's Model where the connections of ghouls & witch cults are clear.

Because HPL's ghouls connections between dream & the otherworld they were the remains of an occult race  created at the dawn of time during the days of Babylon & perhaps even older. Ghouls perhaps bargain for the most ancient of souls to sorcerers of the blackest stripe. Wizards are another link in the chain of the 'Otherworld' in the blackest parts of  history & perhaps the future fate of Europe but this is a blog entry for another time.

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