Queen Defender of the faith: Arcadia

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Many have asked me "What is Arcadia like?" They may as well ask me what the inside of my head is like - I have no way of knowing until I look, and finding that knowledge will surely kill me. I have perhaps spent more time there than any living magus, and still I cannot provide an answer to that question. All I can so is recount the experiences that I have had, and hope that this sheds some light (or dark) upon such matters.

My good friend Ardea of House Mercere has said much on the subject of reaching and navigating Arcadia. She describes the directions of Arcadia, and says that she knows of none others that have given them such names. This is because she has doubtless never read the treaties of our revered primus Quendalon. He was the first mortal (or was he mortal?) to describe the cardinal directions of Light, Dark, Summer and Winter that are found in Arcadia.

I will now paraphrase Ardea's descriptions of the four directions.

"Going towards Summer takes you ever closer towards lands more pleasant and congenial to mortal-kind. Summer in Arcadia is not like the hot summers often found in the mortal world. In Arcadia, Summer is a place of endless bounty, with all of the animals healthy and in their prime, and each plant continually flowers and seeds and bears fruit all at the same time. Verdant forests and lush meadows may be found in Summer. The weather is warm, but never hot or uncomfortable, and the air is ever sweet to breathe."

Well, with this description, one wonders why she ever bothered to visit anywhere else in Arcadia! She makes it sound like Paradise, and I can assure you that this is certainly NOT the case! Summer is a land of beauty and bounty, this is true. It is also a place of growth and motion. Of all the locales in Arcadia, those rich in Summer are the ones most likely to alter. The fae that live here are capricious and whimsical, quick to anger and as quick to forget. Many have gone to Summer in search of bounty, and fallen prey to the fickleness of its inhabitants. Those who refuse to change with the land, who are too strongly attached to their current form and current age, who refuse to follow the cycle of life - these are people who suffer in Arcadia's Summer. Summer corresponds, as Ardea notes, with forests, lush vegetation, strength and fertility, and warmth. Also, follow the rosy glow of dawn, the rising sun and the waxing moon, though the latter two might take you to places other than what you intend.

"Going towards Winter takes you into ever colder an more uncongenial climes. Winter in Arcadia is first a land of harvested fields, sparse plains, and barren rocks. Then, as one goes further, ice, snow and wild blizzards gradually come to cover the landscape, until one reaches the point where everything is frozen and even the buildings are maid of ice. While Summer in Arcadia is never warm enough to cause discomfort, Winter in Arcadia can be bitter cold, and can kill."

Ardea's description of Winter is more accurate than her depiction of Summer, but she is still missing the point. Just as Summer is the land of growth and change, Winter embodies stillness and stasis. Winter is immicable to change. The inhabitants of Winter are rigid and stiff, disliking mortal fashions and trends. These are the fae who are perhaps most hostile to man, because they cannot comprehend that it is in man's nature to change - we grow old, we die. Fashions come and go, we invent new devices. Beware of Winter. The correspondences of Winter are obvious - lack of vegetation, bare rocky places, absence of heat, unchangingness. The dying sun and the waning moon also point the way towards Winter.

"Going towards Light is just that, going towards areas where the sky is brighter and brighter. In the lightest realms of Arcadia everything sparkles and seems more beautiful and perfect than in the rest of Arcadia. In my travels beyond Christendom, I was told that this is where gods live. Some of my Informants have said that moving towards the Light in Arcadia is the same as ascending into the Sky of Arcadia."

Light can be summed up by one word used by Ardea in the above passage: perfect. The regions of Light are the regions of order. Creatures of Light are creatures of laws and rules. They abhor those who break their rules (and are thus similar to Winter), but are willing to accept that new rules can be added to the old ones (and are thus different to Winter, and more like Summer). It is in lands close to Light that the mortal must be most careful of his manners and actions. A lack of knowledge of the rules is no defence against the lords of the Light. This is why gods are believed to dwell in the Light, for man took his laws from his gods. It is true that the Light may be attained by climbing or flying, but following stars, watching for auguries in the flight of birds and crossing bridges can also lead one towards the Light. The heavenly bodies rising to their zenith, or the full moon are also indicators to the Light.

"Going away from the Light takes one to ever mistier and darker Realms. Fog-shrouded valleys, caves, deep forests and dark places are all away from the Light. Going underwater also takes one away from the Light. In the furthest and darkest regions live spirits of the pagan dead. I know not where the souls of pagans go, but some of their spirits reside in these places."

It is interesting, is it not, that Ardea refers, not to going towards the Dark, in a vein similar to her other passages quoted here, but instead refers to going away from the Light. This is a feature inherent in all mortals - a fear of the Dark. It is in the Realms of the Dark that mortals feel ill at ease, but these realms are no more dangerous than any other parts of Arcadia. The only inhabitants that Ardea mentions are the pagan dead. These spirits can be found in all the far lands of Arcadia, not exclusively in the Dark. However, it is here that she expects to see them, and so there they are. The Dark is about freedom. In an unlit room, no-one can see what you are doing, so you may do as you please. The Dark is the antithesis to the Light, the realms of laws and rules. The Dark is lawlessness and no rules - another reason that it is feared so much by mortals. However, lawlessness does not mean chaos - in fact, these realms are often well-ordered and well-structured. It just means freedom to do what you will. Valleys, caves, fog and going underwater are all mentioned by Ardea as correspondences of the Dark, and in this, at least, she is correct. I would also add the New Moon to this list - though rarely seen, it is a sure and certain signpost to the Dark.

Now we have our compass of Light, Dark, Summer and Winter, is it possible to make a map of Arcadia?

No. Well, not in the conventional sense. Arcadia has its own rules, and spatiality is certainly not one of them! Although people talk about "places" and "realms" of Arcadia (and I must confess I am as guilty of this as the next man), such things are merely the way that we mortals can express our ideas. There is no common terminology to describe to real juxtaposition of the "lands" of Arcadia, linked not by distance, but by similarity. It is useful to imagine each location (there I go again!) in Arcadia as being made up of different quantities of Summer, Winter, Light or Dark. A realm that lays great stock in law is "closer" to Light than it is to Darkness, for example. We can use terms such as 'near' and 'far', as long as we understand that distance is irrelevant to the issue at hand.

Correspondence is the key to Arcadia. A map of correspondence can be built, and one can be sure that by following a correspondence, navigation through Arcadia is indeed possible. To start with, we must first define the overall correspondence of any locale to the four cardinal directions. Take a sheet of parchment. Draw a large square on it, then subdivide the square into four smaller squares. The central cross that such a division makes can be our compass rose. Take a stick of chalk and write LIGHT where you would place North in a conventional map. Write DARK in charcoal in the south. Use blood to mark SUMMER in the west, and an icicle to inscribe WINTER in the east. You know have the basic map of Arcadia. The most accurate map is obtained if you stop now, and write no more upon the parchment. That solution is unhelpful to the inquiring mind, however, so I will continue.

In the early days of the Order, a book called Faeries: a Complete Handbook of the Seelie came into circulation. It was evidently not written by a member of House Merinita, for it contained much contradictory and erroneous information (or perhaps this very fact is an indication that it was indeed written by a member of my House...)

This tome declared that the lands of Arcadia were sixfold, and went on to name and describe them. It is now clear that these labels originated in the fact that these were the only places clearly identifiable from the wealth of stories about Arcadia. These places I will now attempt to place upon my map.

Somnaire, the first realm, is called the 'Land of Legends and Dreams' and 'Arcadia Proper'. I believe what the author intended was that this is the realm where Light and Dark, Summer and Winter could all be found in equal amounts. There is no bias to any one direction in Somnaire, thus it must lie in the centre of the map. Write it in now, right at the centre. Because of its lack of bias, it is seen to mimic the mortal world with a good degree of correspondence, and is the most commonly visited part of Arcadia.

Caelum is the second realm. It is described as Celestial Arcadia, the sky and the heavenly bodies, and the abode of the gods. Although being described as the land of perpetual night, the description of barren earth and cloud cities clearly identify it as a place of Light. In fact, I believe the real Caelum to be the land of extreme Light, and its name can be used to describe the lands of Light. You can write the name of Caelum across the top of your square, the most 'northerly' realm, but stretching as far east and as far west as you can go.

Antrum is the third realm. It is apparently the subterranean part of Arcadia, a place of no sky. If the author had travelled himself in these lands, and sought deeper into these lands, he would have found it to be a land of little light as well. As surely as Caelum is Light, then Antrum is Dark. Inscribe its name as the bottom edge of your map.

The fourth realm mentioned is Barathrum. Still persists this myth about this being the land of the pagan dead. Perhaps this is where it originated. Still, it is describes as very beautiful, and if anything, even more luxuriant and full of life than the other lands of Arcadia. This sounds very much to me like a land of extreme Summer. Write the name of this land down the left-hand side of the map.

The fifth realm is Tartarus. Bearing the name of the Greek place of punishment, it is called "The Land beyond all Understanding and Ken", and is called the land of the first fae. I am curious as to the identity of this land, having expected to find it to be the land of far Winter. However it is not mentioned as such, and indeed, I can find no such mention of a land that fits this description, so I will have to invent a name for this final realm. Keeping in the spirit of the Latin names, I would call this place Coctyus, after the frozen river found in the underworld of the ancients. As before, write that name down the right-hand side of your map

The sixth land is that of Atlantium. Named after Plato's lost world, now drowned by the fury of the gods, it is supposedly a watery realm. This corresponds to none of the directions of Arcadia, and as a sixth realm, is rather surplus to requirements. I believe Atlantium to be an amalgam of the many watery realms that exist in Arcadia, and an artificial construct of the collators of the lore of Arcadia. Of course, I hold this belief because it fails to fit in with my nice little scheme - I am quite prepared to be proved wrong on this issue.

Now our map of Arcadia has some names. Let me try, as did Ardea before me, try to locate some of the places I have visited upon this map. I will use the terms 'near', 'mid' and 'far' to indicate the degree of influence that any one direction has on a location - a place of far Winter, therefore, is a place in which Summer holds little sway. These places are hard to judge, though it is true that more high fae are found in the near and mid realms, whereas wilderness fae tend to predominate in the mid and far realms. The low fae are found throughout. There is no tendency for the so-called 'seelie' and 'unseelie' to correspond to any particular direction. These are purely human classifications, the fae being relegated to one camp or the other depending upon their attitudes towards humans.

I will first describe lands that are neutral in respect to Summer and Winter. These you may locate, if you wish, on the vertical axis of your map.

The Kingdom in the Clouds, is a realm, I believe, of far Araby, where the fae that frolic with the winds mimic the Desert Kingdoms, with their emirs, and shahs, and padishahs. This is a realm of mid Light - strict with the rules, but not ungiven to mercy. They have strict codes of etiquette, but are somewhat tolerant of mortals.

AsgarĂ°, that fabled home of the Norse Gods, some might place in the far Light. Personally, I am less sure that the Norse gods were once fae, though I am in no doubt over the beings worshipped by the Irish, called the Tuatha de Danann. In following the Light as far as I could I saw a castle in the distance named as the abode of Lugh of the Long Arm, framed by the glory of the noontide sun, but could approach no farther, feared as I was of losing myself in the Light.

Heading towards the Dark, I followed the New Moon into the Court of Mushrooms. This is a land truly of Autumn - neither Summer nor Winter. The mushroom-king held court over beings both deadly and edible. The frightful hallucinations I suffered at the hands of one of his subjects still haunt me even to this day. Further towards the Dark, in a place were my eyes were stretched to the very limit of sight, I saw the Roots of the World. I have been told that this was part of the branching roots of the World Tree, nourished in the darkness by the waters of Antrum, and attacked daily by the serpents who dwell there. I followed one root, walking its broad girth right to where it entered the water at the edge of the Dark Fen, a land of near Winter and far Darkness, described in the journal of Ardea of Mercere. I progressed no further in the Fen, fearing its inhabitants, and headed once more to the light. The fog rose thicker and thicker around me, and I saw images in the chill swirling mists, figures who hovered at the edge of my sight, menacing without actually doing anything. This Land of Mists is called Niflheim by the Northerners, and I had no desire to stay.

Still, I digress. Proceeding from Somnaire towards Summer, with no leanings towards Dark or Light (thus traversing the horizontal axis of our map), I came across a mighty ocean. Dotted around the ocean I saw many islands and many sights, some of which I recognised from the voyages of Mael Duin, that intrepid traveller of Irish tales. These where the Blessed Isles, each one a story in its own right. If I had dived into the water, and thus travelled towards the Dark, I would have found the Kingdom of the Waters, otherwise known as Mag Mell, a land of Summer and near Darkness. Fish seem to swim in the air, and castles of coral and shell glitter in the muted light from above. Further towards the Summer, whilst remaining in the underwater realms, one can reach Tir fo Thuinn, the Land Beneath the Waves, a realm of Far Summer and near Darkness, and one of the many Otherworlds of the Celtic people. Tir na nOg, the Land of Youth, is beyond the Blessed Isles, a land of far Summer, and eternal luxury. Other lands of promise purported to be found in far Summer are the Elysian Fields (far Darkness), Cockaigne (far Light), and Vanaheim (near Light). This last is an interesting place - whereas the war-gods of the Norse cannot be found in Arcadia, the other family of Nose gods, called the Vanir, certainly can. They seem to be similar beings to the Tuatha de Danann, the god-like High Fae, and they live in a land of eternal Summer and bounteous rain.

I hope you're getting all of this down on your map...

Towards Winter on the horizontal axis I have only encountered a land read about in the legends of the savage people of Finnmark. Tuonela, it is called, and protected by a river of deepest pitch in colour. It is a place of far Winter, and filled with fae of mischief and suffering. It is as still as a stone, and about as noisy. It is ringed on one side by mountains, and climbing those mountains (and thus travelling towards the Light) you will reach Jotunheim, the land of Giants.

What other places have I seen? The Green Wood lies midway between Cockaigne and Somnaire. It is a lush and verdant jungle of vegetation run riot. It seemingly has no end, and is the abode of many fae of trees and flowers. It has an analogue in the Dark Wood, found in mid Summer and mid Darkness, and the two are directly connected. They link likewise to the Silent Wood, a place of stone trees and silence found in mid Darkness and Winter. The White Wood, its reflection in mid Light, is also dead and still, but here the trees are of wood, and seem to show promise of approaching Spring, though it never arrives. I briefly touched upon Ynys yr Afallon, also called Avalon, which I reached by entering a stand of apple trees from the Green Wood whilst following an old stag with twenty four tines upon his head. I must surmise that Avallon is part of the Winter-facing edge of the Green Wood. There is the Court of Misrule, a frightening place of clowns and chaos, part of near Summer and near Darkness. There is the Kingdom of the Dwarves, or Nidavellir, about as far Dark as you can get, for they dwell in the darkest caverns of Arcadia. Being a creative people, they are of course, deep within the Summer realm as well.

What other places have I heard of? Ardea talks about the Land of Bright Winter, where dwells the Queen of Frost and Snow. I have told you already about the lands of far Summer and far Light (called Cockaigne), and the lands of far Summer and far Dark, known as the Elysian Fields. What of the other two corners of the map? Far Winter and Far Light brings us to Caer Arianrhod, the city in the stars. It is reputed to be a place utterly alien to mankind, a place of frozen stillness and glorious light. Its opposite is the grim Nasheim, land of the forgotten dead. This place is called Tartarus by Ardea, in conflict with the description of that land given in the book entitled Faeries that I mentioned earlier. Here truly dwell the souls of the pagan dead, those that have been forgotten by their relatives and ignored by their descendants. Those that escape such a fate, but lead a life of no great shame nor one of great good, belong in the Asphodel Meadows (or so it was called in times of Ancient Greece), a land of far Winter and mid Dark. Note I have mentioned many places which, in the mythology of various people, are accounted as the lands of the dead. As I asserted before, the spirits of pagan people can often be found roaming Arcadia, each allocated a place according to their beliefs. Note also that these lands are always the ones furthest from Somnaire. These are the lands that are most inaccessible for the rare mortals who are given the privilege of roaming Arcadia.

There is one other type of locality I think I should mention. Certain objects or features are Universal Sites, they have strong correspondences to many different locations. For example, the Market Place is often encountered in Somnaire, it is a place representing the division between civilisation and wild nature. Thus several of the paths from the Market Place lead out to the Green Wood, the Dark Fen, or the Asphodel Meadows, for example. One does not have to go through the tedious process of following correspondences from one of these places to another, the Market Place, if it can be found, makes a short cut. Likewise, the Court of the Judgement links Tartarus, the Elysian Fields and the Asphodel Meadows. In this case, there is a guardian of the site, or to be more accurate, three guardians - the Judges of the Dead. If things have a common nature, then there may well be a Universal Site linking them. The trick is first of all to be able to recognise these sites, and secondly, to use them correctly. The journey is not always a two way path - you can go from the Court of Judgement to Tartarus, but the return journey is impossible.

This is by no means meant to be a comprehensive list of places in Arcadia - I have mentioned only a fraction of localities, those which can truly be given names. Arcadia is, by all accounts, limitless in size. I would like to stress once more that this is by no means a spatial map, but there exists patterns of correspondence as well. For example, if leaving the Green Wood and travelling towards Winter by looking for rocky places, I would not expect to find myself in Avallon. When I made that journey, I had the fortune to enter a thicket of apple trees, and Avallon is called the Isle of Apples. I was also following an ancient beast - true, a recognised way to head towards Winter, but also another correspondence with Avallon, with its associations with the moon and the resting place of crowned kings. There is a sense to Arcadia - it is not just a random collection of places, or a list of names on a map.

I wish you all the best in your journeys in Arcadia. I don't that you will never more again have an adventure filled with more excitement, more terror, more wonder or more frustration.

Editor's Note: For more on Ardea's comments, see Faeries (revised edition) p72 onwards

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