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Where does the Fairies and Cold Iron thing come from anyway?

The Fiendish Dr. Samsara

The elegant assassin
Validated User
(Maybe this shouldn't be in Open. I don't know. It's kind of a history question, but it comes from a role-playing place in my mind.)

Everybody knows that faeries are repelled or harmed by cold iron; right? Of course, what exactly "cold iron" may be is debatable, but not the idea. Right?

Except that I have never seen any primary source for this. I don't know how many times I have read some variations on "traditional folklore holds that faeries were vulnerable to cold iron", but I have personally never read any pre-Victorian source that says this. I've read stuff about horseshoes bringing luck and the suggestion that this is a remnant of the idea, but that is speculative to say the least. I've read about church bells scaring off faeries et.al. but that is more about church power than the material constituent of the bell.

So, can anybody point me to some actual, pre-modern source for the idea that elves, faeries, or whatever have some vulnerability re cold iron?
 

Mortimer

Registered User
Validated User
Was it Shakespeare? Something from a Midsummer Nights Dream? sorry I can't be more helpful than that.

(On a side note, I always took 'cold iron' just to mean iron, metal tending to be cold when out of direct heat "give 'em a taste of cold steel" sort of thing)
 

Peter Svensson

Reads Too Many Comics
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It comes from Rudyard Kipling as best as I can tell, who introduced the concept in his "Rewards and Fairies" short stories, which also included the poem "Cold Iron." As he was an incredibly influential storyteller, it looks like his idea just got adopted by other fantastic writers.
 

TheMouse

garmonbozia
Validated User
(On a side note, I always took 'cold iron' just to mean iron, metal tending to be cold when out of direct heat "give 'em a taste of cold steel" sort of thing)
That's my take as well. It's like if someone today were to say that faeries were vulnerable to hot lead, meaning that you can shoot them with a gun. Just a poetic turn of phrase. There's nothing special about the iron beyond the fact that it's a sword or a spear or an axe, and there's nothing special about the lead other than that it's a bullet.
 

Starry Notions

She who wonders
Validated User
The idea is that fairies are vulnerable to human industry I think.

I'm critical of the statement "I've never come across a primary source [for peasant gossip that was only recorded when literate people found it relevant or interesting]" though. We come across a lot of gaps in stuff like this where "common knowledge" was so common no one bothered to record it. Truth be told, it may never have been a belief of the people who were on the ground floor with the fey. Especially since when the people who supposedly used this knowledge of cold iron were around, "faeries" were gods or ancestors, not fairies.
 

Max

A dapper chap without a doubt
RPGnet Member
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The idea that fairy creatures are allergic to iron is a very old one, probably almost as old as iron working; it might or might not have something to do with distorted re-re-re-re-tellings of some early iron age people's conflicts with more primitive, still bronze-using cultures.

The concept of cold iron as some sort of special magical kind of iron, on the other hand, is almost certainly a literal-minded misunderstanding of Kipling's poetic turn of phrase in "Cold Iron".
 

Snoof

Time-Travelling Layabout
RPGnet Member
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The idea that fairy creatures are allergic to iron is a very old one, probably almost as old as iron working; it might or might not have something to do with distorted re-re-re-re-tellings of some early iron age people's conflicts with more primitive, still bronze-using cultures.
I (and I think the OP) get that, but do we have any sources for it? Incunabula, manuscripts, folk songs, stone carvings, burial mounds... Is it genuine medieval mythology? A Victorian invention? Older? Younger?
 

Starry Notions

She who wonders
Validated User
The idea that fairy creatures are allergic to iron is a very old one, probably almost as old as iron working; it might or might not have something to do with distorted re-re-re-re-tellings of some early iron age people's conflicts with more primitive, still bronze-using cultures.
Can you substantiate this? This is literally what's in contention. Everyone says it's old, no one can really prove it beyond dothraki citations. The idea of Druids being mystic witchery human sacrificers is at leat two thousand years old, and it's not true a'tall.

It's an interesting topic really. How deep is the perpetuation of things that are just "known"?
 

Rand Brittain

Go on until you're stopped.
RPGnet Member
Banned
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As far as I know, the idea that "cold iron" is different from ordinary iron was invented by White Wolf.

When last the subject came up I think it was even mentioned that it's nearly impossible to work iron into anything useful without heat anyway?
 

Max

A dapper chap without a doubt
RPGnet Member
Validated User
I'm away from my usual references, but IIRC Pliny recommends driving iron coffin nails to your doorjamb to repel malicious spirits, and iron in general as a counter against magic.
 
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