In some fantasy stories elves and fairies (I’ll take both as roughly synonyms in this essay) are nice and friendly and very positive being, but this is not the case in a lot of actual traditional fairy stories. They often are rather sinister and sometimes even dark deceptive beings that you don’t want to meet in older European traditions, as anyone knows who has read old stories about actual elves and fairies from the UK for example. Some very interesting elves of this type appear in in Terry Pratchetts discworld series, for example in ‘Lords and Ladies’, but also in ‘the wee free men’ and the posthumously published ‘the shepherds crown’. In the latter 2 books Tiffany Aching is the heroine who needs to fight against the queen of elves, coming from another and very deceptive world in another dimension and having a lot of mind-altering trick including their so-called ‘glamour’.
This elven glamour is something like the sphere of influence where it projects a fake reality. In the case of the elves of discworld it shows for example the elven queen -called Nightshade in the last book- as creature of incredible beauty, with at moments a whole false world projected around her. She also uses her glamour to destroy the picture people have of themselves, to annihilate their confidence and self-worth filling their heads with very destructive images. At times the glamour is so strong it replaces all reality for those under its influence. Let’s not that this idea surely isn’t an invention of Sir Terry Pratchett, but a part of the fairy folklore of the British Islands:
The magic of the faeries, sometimes called ‘glamour’, is seen to be the art of illusions,movement, shape changing and enchantments. While it mostly used in the legends that told of the’noble’ faeries, some of the household faeries and wild faeries were said to possess it and to be ableto perform some minor tricks with it. A good example of this is a tale in which a mischievous pookamakes a woman lose her way in a forest by making a path disappear from her sight. According to different tales, the use of glamour is not restricted to simple illusions or tricks: inmany tales whole castles are built and with glamour. More commonly faeries use glamour to create their magnificent clothes and jewels or to make themselves more beautiful. (source)
There also are other examples of the same trick in a lot of mythologies, where for example sirenes and other monsters give themselves the appearance of beautiful women who lure in men to devour them. Only when they come too close and it’s too late the glamour fades, and the monster eats his prey…
I’ve always found this a fascinating and terrifying idea, this description a deceptive field of influence that makes and evil being more beautiful and creates a whole false reality around it, until you completely lose grip of any actual reality…
The reason why it fascinates me is are creepy parallels with our own world here (as is the case with a lot of motifs in legends and fantasy stories): Powerful and influential people often operate in the same way as queen nightshade and her minions with their charisma and charm. A powerful politician for example can weave a whole fictional world in the common thoughtfield of his people, and shut out the rest of reality outside of his own interpretation of the world. Look at the speeches of Adolf Hitler for a clear example which got extremely out of hand, but the same thing is done by all charismatic leaders to a lesser degree. Note also that this is not always done deliberately. While it’s certainly true that some of these illusion-masters knowingly weave a fictional story, there’s also others who believe in their own lies and illusions, creating their own wonderland for both themselves and the people.
Even in this world the way ‘charismatic’ people operate seems to be bordering on magic sometimes, at least in the way of being connected to group-hypnosis and NLP-like manipulation techniques and the weird art of bending of group-thoughtfields. Let’s also not forget that wilful paradigm-shifting in combination with ‘belief as a tool’ for one person already is one the basics of chaos magic and other magical traditions, and there is something very dark in manipulating a whole group of people to do so without them even realising it.
But even the strongest magic has limits. No matter how influential mass hypnosis can be, it’ll never be all encompassing. As Bob Marley sang’ ‘you can fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the time’. Even if a glamour field might be nation-wide (only resisted by those who consciously know what they’re doing, and are actively resisting as Dietrich Bonhoeffer did in the time of Hitler) it will never encompass the whole world.
A lot of things have changed though in our times of media, where news can go further than it could ever go and reach more people than ever. Combine that with the post-truth (non-)ethics of today and you have a recipe for disaster and a potential for great deceptions of whole masses. But even magic has to follow rules and invisible ‘laws of nature’, and there are certain requirement for this glamour to work, one of them being the need of an anchor. The glamour often works by appealing to a common core myth of the group is manipulates. When those anchors are not found the glamour will miss it’s effectiveness in part, or completely.
And in some cases most of the rest of the world, missing the common ground and thus resistant to the glamour, clearly sees that the emperor is naked. And quite ugly actually, it’s not a pretty sight. It wouldn’t be able to see the fine clothes made of elaborate illusions even if tried…
(Yes, I am indeed thinking of the current US president here, but he’s just one extreme example, and this technique can be used anywhere on the political spectrum, and by other types of leaders too than just politicians, as well as artists and musicians, religious leaders of any religion, and other influential persons.)
So to conclude, what are the things you keep to keep in mind to resist this elven glamour of charismatic people?
(Assuming that we’re not up against actual elves with a strong magical glamour but humans.)
The first weapon we have is just plain reason. Keep your eyes open. Try to see what is there and not what you want to be there or have been taught should be there. This is a very hard mindfulness exercise but it’s a very important ability in this world. Second thoughts and first sight are something we should all strive to cultivate, and they will help us bring the more simple forms of deception and manipulation to the light.
Another thing we should remember is to never buy into a whole package that cannot be questioned and of which every aspect has to be glorified no matter what. Every human system or human leader will have points that need to be criticised. President Obama might have been a good president, his executions of civilians with drones around the world were something that should be called out for example.
Note here also that almost nothing is more dangerous than glorifying the lesser of two evils as good. It might be true that in some cases a tactical choice has to be made where one evil is chosen against the other, but that still means that evil has to be named. There never is any obligation to uncritically accept everything from the person you’ve voted for, except when you’re actually in you’re living in a dystopian dictatorship… It’s okay to name the few good points of the lesser evil, but if that means you accept all of the evil you’ve just sold your soul. Don’t let any person or party lure you into their elven glamour because their evil is lesser than the other side. If you have to choose between Scylla and Charybdis and Scylla eats some of your friends but your ship gets out alive you still should mourn your death and curse the serpent, not praise it.
Shane Claiborne once said that the relationship Christians should have with politicians should be something like ‘advice everyone, endorse no-one’ and I think he’s really onto something there. Yes, even the biblical heroes were people who did terrible things, but that is no reason to condone sin that destroys people or nature. We should always keep them accountable, and while I certainly believe in a second chance a person has to repent first and change his ways exhibit signs of transformation before they can be given a second chance in some cases. As we say here in Flanders, you always have to call a cow a cow… (so don’t let anyone fool you that their cow is a magical unicorn farting rainbows…)
(It’s a good idea in general to only trust people who have a certain degree of humbleness anyway. People who need to brag are often just trying to affirm theirselves and build their own world, or just lying…)
And don’t forget to keep your eyes not just on loyalty to a person, but always to Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Justice, and so on. Don’t ever lose your values to party loyalty. From the moment a certain leader or group or party strays from their values they should be called out for it. And all of us even the most ‘enlightened’ leader are capable of falling.
What do you people think?