There’s a story I really like by Peter Tremayne in “Shadows Over Innsmouth“, a collection of Lovecraftian horror stories featuring the icthyic Deep Ones. Titled “Daoine Domhain”, the Gaelic phrase for approximately “the People of the Deep”, it proposes the Deep Ones as analagous to the Fomorians or Fomorach of Irish folklore. The story is set on the island of Inishdriscoll, an isolated community near Baltimore in Cork where a sinister aspect of the Old Ways remains in the form of a ritual sacrifice of an outsider every seven years… but enough spoilers. Read the story for yourself.
So back to Ars Magica. According to The Contested Isle: the Hibernian Tribunal, the Fomorach have long been exiled to the islands off the north coast of Leinster, where they maintain a remnant kingdom ruled by their king.
The ArM5 Fomorach are depicted as a form of misshapen Magic Human linked to the seas, at home in water but suffering when on land, with the more powerful potentially possessing additional magic powers aligned to Aquam (see The Contested Isle, page 119). Their heroes and legendary leaders are portrayed as Aspects of powerful Daimons, further stressing their alignment to the Magic Realm.
Realms of Power: Faerie, page 91 however presents the ancient Abgal variant of mermen, alluding to their underwater cities and tutoring of ancient humans and suggesting that these Faeries may be a response to stories told by sailors about the Atlanteans (Realms of Magic, page 90) or a similar tribe of Magic beings, the apkallu. In private discussion with Timothy, he always intended the Abgal to represent his version of Mythic Europe’s Deep Ones, although they were not specifically presented as such to remain within official paradigm at the time ie. Line Editor: “No you can’t have Cthulu in Ars Magica Timothy” or similar.
Turns out from the sketchy sources that the Abgal are thought linked to the apkallu or “sages”, ancient men-fish from the Erythraean Sea (modern Persian Gulf) detailed in Sumerian myth as teaching mankind the arts of civilisation (and magic). The first of the apkallu, known as Adapa (or Uanna) was referred to as Oannes and may be synonymous with the Philistine deity Dagon, later equated with the god Marnas of Gaza mentioned in the life of St Porphyry.
Are these opposing depictions compatible?
To some extent yes.
I ran a short poll on the Atlas Forums a while back asking whether the luminaries felt that Deep Ones were better represented as Faerie or Magic creatures. Given I voted Dark Faerie initially, the survey came out 4:2 in favour of Magic – not the best sample size admittedly but some of the comments were helpful and clarified my concepts.
The aloof nature of the fish-frogs does fit a Magic creature more than a Faerie and making these Mythos beings aligned to the Magic Realm allows for Aspects of Daimons to represent the more powerful of the dark pantheon. For Dagon and Mother Hydra, Faeries may make better “false gods” but there are still ways to simulate worship in the context of the Magic Realm using Spirit Votary or a similar Virtue package. Hybrids are a bit easier to realise in my opinion using the Faerie related mechanics, but I could tinker around with making Magic-blooded versions if required. It’s the Warping that’s the key aspect to get right and I think I’ve worked out how to achieve this using a modification of the gruagachan Transformation rules.
I’m coming around to thinking that the majority of Deep Ones and their leaders are Magic Human (or perhaps Magic-kin for hybrids) but that there may be local Faerie versions based on previous colonies where the faeries have co-opted the mundane folks memories of the ancient apkallu and re-enact the old stories to prey on Vitality. Thus the ancient versions are Magic, but the “modern day” representations and perhaps the hybrids are Faerie impostors.
All this wrangling aside, the main issue really in the ArM5 context is that both Magic and Faerie are clearly subservient to the Divine, which chafes against the representation in most Lovecraftian work that the agents and symbols of the Divine have little effect on the minions of Cthulu. Of course this is Ars Magica with Mythos concepts, not Call of Cthulu so some variance in mechanics is to be expected.
I hope to tackle this better soon, but currently my copy of The Contested Isle and my various Cthulu Mythos resources I’ve collected are in deep storage and therefore inaccessible.
When I do however get around to it however, there will be shoggoths.
Tekel-li tekel-li tekel-li!
<cue maniacal laughter>
The Rising of Oannes
At first they led a somewhat wretched existence and lived without rule after the manner of beasts. But, in the first year appeared an animal endowed with human reason, named Oannes, who rose from out of the Erythian Sea, at the point where it borders Babylonia. He had the whole body of a fish, but above his fish’s head he had another head which was that of a man, and human feet emerged from beneath his fish’s tail. He had a human voice, and an image of him is preserved unto this day. He passed the day in the midst of men without taking food; he taught them the use of letters, sciences and arts of all kinds. He taught them to construct cities, to found temples, to compile laws, and explained to them the principles of geometrical knowledge. He made them distinguish the seeds of the earth, and showed them how to collect the fruits; in short he instructed them in everything which could tend to soften human manners and humanize their laws. From that time nothing material has been added by way of improvement to his instructions. And when the sun set, this being Oannes, retired again into the sea, for he was amphibious. After this there appeared other animals like Oannes.
– Berossus, 3rd century BC