In Mythic Europe, faeries are drawn to stories, and to transgressions of boundaries. In the real world, people like to play at being ghosts. How do these two ideas combine? Can pretending to be a ghost cause a haunting?

I recently listened to an episode of the Folklore podcast by Mark Norman, in which he interviewed Dr David Waldron of the Federation University of Australia. Dr Waldron studies folk history around the goldfields, and in this episode he discussed “playing the ghost”: the rash of hoaxes in the late Nineteenth Century.

Many hoaxes are quite elaborate productions, but some were simple affairs taking advantage of new (and toxic) luminescent paint. Victoria, in Australia, was a hive of headless horsemen, glowing animals, and people in sheets.

Often the goal was simply to give people, in general or particular, a scare. In Mythic Europe, some faeries feed on fear and may pick up the role. Other motives included crime (robbery, assault and rape also attract faeries), rebellion against the ruling class, and, on a less material level, the release psychological pressures by transgressing social norms.

Dr Waldron tells some lovely stories of “laying the ghost”, the tradition of vigilantes seeking out hoaxers to mete out frontier justice. This was a sport, and avoiding hunters was part of the charm of the game for some of the hoaxers. There are many types of Faerie that want to be pursued.

In the following page, I quote reports of Spring-Heeled Jack, a story which may have started as a jape by some bored, wealthy men. His story escalates from costumes to stage tricks, then to supernatural powers. This may indicate a faerie taking up the role, once it has been established by the hoaxers.

Excerpted from
“Gossip In The First Decade Of Victoria’s Reign”
by  John Ashton
recorded  for Librivox by David Wales

In the Mansion House Police Court, on 10 Jan., the Lord Mayor announced that he had received five letters relative to an individual who was going about the metropolitan suburbs frightening females to such an extent that they were afraid to go out at night, as they were met by a man, who, under different disguises, would suddenly appear before them, and as suddenly disappear with terrible bounds, which earned him the name of ” Spring-heeled Jack,” and he inspired such terror, that the recital of the victim had to be taken with caution. Whoever he was, or why he so acted, was never known, as he was never taken ; but, certainly, robbery had no part in his escapades, for he was quite content with paralysing the poor women with fright.

The first facts I can gather about Jack are at the latter end of 1837, at Barnes, where he appeared as a large white bull ; at East Sheen he was a white bear ; he then visited Richmond, and after having terrorised that town, he went to Ham, Kingston and Hampton, where he was clad in brass armour, with large claw-like gloves. Teddington, Twickenham and Hounslow were all visited by him, and at Isleworth we hear of him wearing steel armour, in which he seems to have been attired when seen at Uxbridge, Hanwell, Brentford and Ealing. At Hammersmith he took the form of a huge baboon, and as such was seen in the moonlight, dancing at Kensington Palace, ever and anon climbing over the forcing houses. He varied his localities frequently, one day being at Peckham, another at St. John’s Wood, and anon at Forest Hill.

This about brings up to the time of its being mentioned by the Lord Mayor, the consequence of which was that a Committee was formed at the Mansion House for the purpose of receiving subscriptions and deciding upon the best means of capturing this erratic genius. Probably feeling that he had sufficiently terrorised the districts before mentioned, he turned his attention to the East end of London, and particularly favoured Bow. 

A case is given in the Times of 23 Feb. A gentleman named Alsop, living between Bow and Old Ford, appeared before the police magistrate at Lambeth Street (then the Thames Police Office) accompanied by his three daughters, one of whom stated that at about a quarter to nine o’clock on the evening of the 21st February, 1838, she heard a violent ringing at the front gate of the house, and, on going to the door to see what was the cause, she saw a man standing outside, of whom she enquired what was the matter. The person instantly replied that he was a policeman, and said, ” For God’s sake bring me a light, for we have caught Spring-heeled Jack here in the lane.”  

She returned to the house, and brought a candle, and handed it to the man, who was enveloped in a large cloak: The instant she had done so, he threw off his outer garments, and, applying the lighted candle to his breast, presented a most hideous and frightful appearance, vomiting forth a quantity of blue and white flame from his mouth, his eyes resembling red balls of fire. From the hasty glance which her fright enabled her to get at his person, she observed that he wore a large helmet, and his dress, which appeared to fit him very tightly, seemed to her to resemble white oilskin. Without uttering a sentence, he darted at her, and catching her partly by her dress and the back part of her neck, placed her head under one of his arms, and commenced tearing her clothes with his claws, which she was certain were made of some metallic substance.

She screamed out as loud as she could for assistance, and, by considerable exertion, got away from him, and ran towards the house to get in. Her assailant followed, and caught her on the doorstep, when he again used considerable violence, tore her neck and arms with his claws, as well as a quantity of hair from her head ; her story was fully corroborated by her parents and sisters, and her injuries, which were very considerable, bore unmistakable testimony to the truth of the assault.

At the same police court, on 8 Mar., 1838, a Miss Scales deposed that as she and her sister were walking in Limehouse, about half -past eight in the evening, on coming to Green Dragon Alley, they observed some person standing in an angle in the passage. She was in advance of her sister at the time, and just as she came up to the person, who was enveloped in a large cloak, he spirted a quantity of blue flame right in her face, which deprived her of sight, and so alarmed her, that she instantly dropped to the ground, and was seized with violent fits, which continued for several hours. In this case no violence to the person was done.

He had a literature of his own. I know of three pamphlets on the subject ; one, from which is taken the accompanying illustration, is entitled “Authentic particulars of the awful appearance of the London Monster, alias Spring-heeled Jack, together with his extraordinary life, wonderful adventures and secret amours. Also an account of his horrible appearance to Miss N and his singular letter to the Lord Mayor of London.

There is much more to be related of Jack, but space will not permit ; but, whether too much attention was beginning to be paid to him with a view to his capture, or whether his love of mischief had died out, cannot be told ; but certain it was that nothing was known publicly of this singular being after April, 1838, having kept London in a ferment of excitement and terror for about six months.

Story hooks

Laying the ghost

A merchant’s daughter has been groped by the son of a nobleman pretending to be a ghost. He wants revenge, but the difference in social standing makes this difficult. He’d like the player characters to arrange an accident: not necessarily fatal, but enough to encourage a more pious life.

Protecting the brand

A group of young noblemen have been all acting the ghost, but one of them is taking things too and is attacking people. One of the others approaches the magi to ask for a favour: can they discover which one was responsible, and reign him in?

Murderous faerie

A faerie has appeared, taking the role of a ghost that was created for play by a group of noble lads. It has sufficient cognizance to know its role might be changed by the humans playing the role, so it has started murdering them in private. The player characters are contracted to defeat the faerie, before it kills again.

Breaking the guilty

The player characters have discovered a Dark Secret from an enemy, but can’t use it publicly.  Could they instead use a faux ghost to trick the enemy into confirming the truth of the information they have uncovered.

This has been going on for a while

A line of vigilantes has been acting the ghost for generations in a nearby city, but one of the magic items they have been using has been damaged and needs replacement. The current vigilante contacts the player characters to buy new gear, and is surprised they do not know that the originals were provided by one of their predecessors.

Do the player characters care that one of the elders of their covenant was selling magic items on the sly? Do they want to tidy up after him, by finding his scattered wares? Do they want to find his lab notes and create a league of heroes?

Spring heeled Jack (faerie version)

This faerie is within the range of power that suits player characters replacing magi. It could be granted an extra couple of Virtue points to balance it out in some sagas. Alternatively, it could have its sunlight restriction removed and its Traditional Ward swapped for a less restrictive one. It also works best alone, which causes in-play issues.

Faerie Might: 20 (Corpus)

Characteristics: Int +0, Per +0, Pre +0, Com +0, Str +1, Sta +0, Dex +2, Qik +2

Size: 0

Virtues and Flaws: Greater Powers, Increased Faerie Might (major), Faerie Sight, Faerie Speech, Humanoid Form, Improved Initiative, Narrowly Cognizant, Passes for Human, 2 Personal Powers, Restricted Might (major – sunlight), Traditional ward (cannot enter homes)

Personality Traits: Enjoys shocking people +3

Combat:

Clawed hands or gauntlets: Init +3, Attack +14, Defense +12, Damage +5*

*Often chooses to less damage, by attacking clothes.

Soak: +2, some versions wear leather clothes or bronze armour (for a total of +3 or +5  Soak)

Wound Penalties: –1 (1–5), –3 (6–10), –5 (11–15), Incapacitated (16–20), Dead (21+)

Pretenses: Area Lore 6 (rooftops), Athletics 5 (leaps), Brawl 6 (claws), Faerie Speech 5 (potential victims).

Powers:

 

Fearful Flaming Eyes*: 2 points, Init 0, Corpus: Completely paralyses a human that makes eye contact with the faerie. Costs 15 spell levels (Base 5, +1 Eye, +1 Conc)

Hound: 2 points, Init 0, Corpus: Allows the faerie to know the direction and distance to its human quarry. Costs 20 spell levels (InCo Base 3, +4 Arc, +1 Conc)

Silent Motion: 0 points, constant, Imaginem: allows the character to move without making a noise. Costs 10 spell levels (Base 3 +2 Sun +1 constant, +1 intricacy point for cost)

Supernatural Agility: 5 points, constant: This power allows the character to perform minor supernatural feats when using its Athletics Pretense. These include swiftly scaling walls, leaping from the ground onto the back of a galloping horse, and dropping great distances to the ground without harm. Costs 25 spell levels (Base 10 +2 Sun +1 constant).

Transform Into Animal: 3 points, Init –1, Animal: transforms the character into a specified land animal of human size or smaller. Faeries retain the power of speech in animal form. Costs 25 spell levels (Base 10 +2 Sun, +1 size) to turn into a larger animal, like a horse. This costs 3 Might per use.

* The faerie’s flaming breath is only ever used to scare people into immobility through shock, so it’s considered a visual effect of the Fearful Flaming Eyes power.

Equipment: Often said to wear armour.

Vis: 4, a dead frog.

Appearance: See the excerpt previously for details. Sometimes takes animal form.

Photo credits:
Spring heel’d Jack
Photo credit: The British Library via Foter.com /
No known copyright restrictions

Spring heeled Jack (monstrous)
Photo credit: Internet Archive Book Images via Foter.com /
No known copyright restrictions

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