WTF is "cold iron", and why's it so special?

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Emphasis added. I'm really not sure what to do with this argument.

All those seem unnatural to me. Demons, angels, kids of angels... where are you going here?
Okay, so, we have two branches here, two meanings of, "unnatural". One meaning is about being dark, or morally wicked - "the cultists performed unnatural acts." The other is about not being part of the natural world, as a D&D druid might conceive of it.

In the sources adapted to Christianity, all things come from the Creator. The Creator made trees and grass, and angels. Demons are powers that are unnatural in the morally wicked sense. But angels and their powers? They are they are part of the world as the Creator made them - as natural as trees. If the creator made a wood sprite, are you going to gainsay them and say it is unnatural?

Humankind, with free will, can themselves create, and so some of our works may be unnatural in either of the above senses - not of the world as created, or wicked. There are a few suggested fae origins in here that are such that we could debate their position in the scheme of things. But that gets a bit theological, and thus a bit dicey for EN World. I will note that they were not cast into the Abyss, so there's a limit on how bad or outside the intended order they can be.

In sources not adapted to Christianity, the moral wickedness portion of this does not apply. In most of these traditions, the natural world quite normally has magic in it. To these traditions, the natural world exudes and generates magic. Anything of that magic is natural - the sylphs and nymphs of the glade and the wood are totally part of nature - they are nature spirits! Yes, there are magics in these traditions that are not of nature, but the fae are not generally associated with those powers.

Now, to bring this back around to D&D - to classify things as natural or unnatural will depend strongly on the metaphysic of your given world. I will note the Monster Manual says: "Fay are magical creatures tied closely to the forces of nature." I don't know of any official rules for cold iron - fay creatures in the MM are not listed as being vulnerable to it.
 
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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Okay, so, we have two branches here, two meanings of, "unnatural". One meaning is about being dark, or morally wicked - "the cultists performed unnatural acts." The other is about not being part of the natural world, as a D&D druid might conceive of it.

In the sources adapted to Christianity, all things come from the Creator. The Creator made trees and grass, and angels. Demons are powers that are unnatural in the morally wicked sense. But angels and their powers? They are they are part of the world as the Creator made them - as natural as trees. If the creator made a wood sprite, are you going to gainsay them and say it is unnatural?

Humankind, with free will, can themselves create, and so some of our works may be unnatural in either of the above senses - not of the world as created, or wicked. There are a few suggested fae origins in here that are such that we could debate their position in the scheme of things. But that gets a bit theological, and thus a bit dicey for EN World. I will note that they were not cast into the Abyss, so there's a limit on how bad or outside the intended order they can be.
I think this is wrong. You're trying to split unnatural into two meanings and only argue cases where one meaning applies. It's special pleading.

In this case, you're using 'unnatural' to mean 'not in the wishes of a supernatural being' with only mankind being allowed to choose to become 'unnatural' or against these wishes. This fails to explain the core of the Christian faith, though, where an angel turned against God and rebelled. All things that God made in the world are according to his wishes, sure, with mankind having free will, but free will is only important because of the existence of the Adversary -- ie, there's a choice. Prior to that choice being known, there was Eden. So, even under this conception of 'unnatural' there are clearly things outside of the world - angels and demons, if you will - that don't adhere to the concept you're providing. Point in fact, 'unnatural' acts are often encouraged by demons/devils to pull mortals from God's path.

Looking under the 'part of the natural world', the same problems occur -- demons, devils, and angels all where not created with the world, so any fairy that is really one of those in disguise is already supernatural in origin and therefore not natural.

Christian adaptations of local folklore don't cohere to your arguments that it's the fairies that are natural and worked iron that isn't.

In sources not adapted to Christianity, the moral wickedness portion of this does not apply. In most of these traditions, the natural world quite normally has magic in it. To these traditions, the natural world exudes and generates magic. Anything of that magic is natural - the sylphs and nymphs of the glade and the wood are totally part of nature - they are nature spirits! Yes, there are magics in these traditions that are not of nature, but the fae are not generally associated with those powers.
But, you still have to make the argument under these constructs that iron is unnatural. You have two parts to your argument. If you stand and declare that fairies are natural under some unspecified, non-Christian belief system, you still have work to do to get to iron being unnatural.

I'd also like a specific concept you're referencing, because I'm having trouble coming up with one that had both nature spirits are part of nature but also only vulnerable or extra vulnerable to iron -- most could be killed normally. The Greek and Roman myths had spirits that were definitely fearful of non-iron wielding mortals. The mythology you pull from here has to have both natural-world spirits AND vulnerability to iron to address my questions.
Now, to bring this back around to D&D - to classify things as natural or unnatural will depend strongly on the metaphysic of your given world. I will note the Monster Manual says: "Fay are magical creatures tied closely to the forces of nature." I don't know of any official rules for cold iron - fay creatures in the MM are not listed as being vulnerable to it.
Yes, the question wasn't that I didn't get how a completely made-up, modern mythology could be whatever the author desired, but your's and Max's agreement that iron hurts faeries in myth because iron is unnatural.
 

Shasarak

Visitor
Yes, the question wasn't that I didn't get how a completely made-up, modern mythology could be whatever the author desired, but your's and Max's agreement that iron hurts faeries in myth because iron is unnatural.
I always imagined that Faeries were vunerable to Iron in the same way that everything is vunerable to being hit with an Iron sword. ie Very.
 

Mike R

Visitor
Was very obviously answered by my question. Person 1:"Hey Mike! You wanna go to Vegas with us?" Mike:"Did Mike Tyson hit like a ton of bricks?"

Humans are naturally occurring. Nature provided them, unless you are arguing creationism.

Dunno. I didn't say that. What I said is that some acts are natural and some, probably most, are not.
What makes an act natural or unnatural, and why?

As I said, the end result is the determining factor. Yes ant construct the dirt hill, but dirt hills are as common as, well, dirt. Beehives, not so much. What bees construct are not found nature. Sure, you can find hex shapes in nature, but not made out of wax and built into a home. That's also the reason that reproduction is a completely natural act, but building a house/hive is not.
From this, it seems like the assertion is that an act is unnatural if it results in something that is rare, or if the act is rare. Is this a correct interpretation? If so, why does rarity make a thing unnatural?

Yah. And, to bring it back around to the OP, that's kind of the distinction made for iron. There is a point somewhere between bees and humans where we are doing things that are not clear results of natural processes. If you have a seed, and plant it in the right place, you get a tree. If you have a queen bee, and put her in an appropriate place, you will get a beehive. If you put a person down... you probably *won't* get smelted iron. If you put an entire village down, you still probably won't get smelted iron.
If human beings are natural, why aren't the things they do natural? If human beings aren't natural, why aren't they natural?
 
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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
What makes an act natural or unnatural, and why?
I already answered this upthread.

From this, it seems like the assertion is that an act is unnatural if it results in something that is rare, or if the act is rare. Is this a correct interpretation? If so, why does rarity make a thing unnatural?
I made no assertion of rarity at all. Either something occurs in nature, or it doesn't. It's a true dichotomy. Cars do no occur in nature. Cats do.

If human beings are natural, why aren't the things they do natural? If human beings aren't natural, why aren't they natural?
Some things they do are natural. Some things are not. The reasons I explained upthread and am not going to repeat.
 

Mike R

Visitor
I made no assertion of rarity at all.
"Yes ant construct the dirt hill, but dirt hills are as common as, well, dirt. Beehives, not so much."

So you assert that dirt hills are common and beehives are rare. In what way is this related to them being natural or not?

Some things they do are natural. Some things are not. The reasons I explained upthread and am not going to repeat.
"Natural because it occurs in nature" is a circular argument that communicates nothing: A thing is natural if it is natural. Your reasons are insufficient, arbitrary, and explain nothing. You have not established what makes an object natural, nor why some processes are natural and others are not.

Either something occurs in nature, or it doesn't.
Everything occurs in nature. Nothing (that humans can observe, anyway) can possibly take place outside of it.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
"Yes ant construct the dirt hill, but dirt hills are as common as, well, dirt. Beehives, not so much."

So you assert that dirt hills are common and beehives are rare. In what way is this related to them being natural or not?"
You do know what context is, right? When discussing whether things are natural or not, saying one is common as dirt and the other not so much is saying that one is natural and the other is not is in the context of natural vs. unnatural, not rarity. We're back to that dichotomy, though as happened later in this discussion I acknowledged that hives are a part of nature. That's why I'm back to cars as the example of something unnatural.

"Natural because it occurs in nature" is a circular argument that communicates nothing: A thing is natural if it is natural. Your reasons are insufficient, arbitrary, and explain nothing. You have not established what makes an object natural, nor why some processes are natural and others are not.
It's not circular. It's a thing is natural if it occurs in nature. That, despite your assertion there, does not equate to a thing is natural if it's natural. A car for example, does not occur in nature. Ever. It must be constructed by mankind through a large number of unnatural(does not occur in nature) processes.

Everything occurs in nature. Nothing (that humans can observe, anyway) can possibly take place outside of it.
No. Everything occurs in the universe. That's different than occurring in nature.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
You do know what context is, right? When discussing whether things are natural or not, saying one is common as dirt and the other not so much is saying that one is natural and the other is not is in the context of natural vs. unnatural, not rarity. We're back to that dichotomy, though as happened later in this discussion I acknowledged that hives are a part of nature. That's why I'm back to cars as the example of something unnatural.



It's not circular. It's a thing is natural if it occurs in nature. That, despite your assertion there, does not equate to a thing is natural if it's natural. A car for example, does not occur in nature. Ever. It must be constructed by mankind through a large number of unnatural(does not occur in nature) processes.


No. Everything occurs in the universe. That's different than occurring in nature.
Okay, how are you defining nature, and how does it differ from the universe?
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Okay, how are you defining nature, and how does it differ from the universe?
If it has to be artificially created, like a car, it's not natural, even though it exists within the universe. A plastic bottle is another good example. You won't be finding those occurring naturally.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
If it has to be artificially created, like a car, it's not natural, even though it exists within the universe. A plastic bottle is another good example. You won't be finding those occurring naturally.
You're just using words and not defining what you mean. Artificial here appears to mean not natural, which you have as meaning occurs in nature, but you haven't defined nature in any useful way. Please define nature.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
You're just using words and not defining what you mean. Artificial here appears to mean not natural, which you have as meaning occurs in nature, but you haven't defined nature in any useful way. Please define nature.
un·nat·u·ral
ˌənˈnaCH(ə)rəl/Submit
adjective

1. contrary to the ordinary course of nature; abnormal.

2. not existing in nature; artificial.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
un·nat·u·ral
ˌənˈnaCH(ə)rəl/Submit
adjective

1. contrary to the ordinary course of nature; abnormal.

2. not existing in nature; artificial.
You're being circular. I've asked you to define nature and you keep telling me unnatural means not in nature.

Again, define nature. For bonus points, do so in context of the fae and iron.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
You're being circular. I've asked you to define nature and you keep telling me unnatural means not in nature.

Again, define nature. For bonus points, do so in context of the fae and iron.
nat·u·ral
ˈnaCH(ə)rəl/Submit
adjective

1.existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind.

Bonus points: Cold forged iron does not exist in or caused by nature, and is both made and caused by humankind.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
nat·u·ral
ˈnaCH(ə)rəl/Submit
adjective

1.existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind.

Bonus points: Cold forged iron does not exist in or caused by nature, and is both made and caused by humankind.
Okay, finally. So, the definition of natural your using is "anything not made by man." Are things made by fae then natural? Are shoes cobbled by gnomes natural while ones cobbled by man are unnatural?

The argument you put forth earlier is that iron harms fae because iron is unnatural. But, then, so is bronze, or leather. What, in the mythologies iron harmed fae come from, suggests fae are part if the natural world? What about iron makes it soecial, in tge vast realm of unnatural things man can wield?

Also, for reference, cold iron has nothing to do with forging, and cold forging is a marketing gimmick. It's a poetic reference, much like cold, hard steel isn't a special version of steel. Cold iron is just iron.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Okay, finally. So, the definition of natural your using is "anything not made by man." Are things made by fae then natural? Are shoes cobbled by gnomes natural while ones cobbled by man are unnatural?
Do they exist in or caused by nature? You seem to have forgotten that portion of it.

The argument you put forth earlier is that iron harms fae because iron is unnatural. But, then, so is bronze, or leather. What, in the mythologies iron harmed fae come from, suggests fae are part if the natural world? What about iron makes it soecial, in tge vast realm of unnatural things man can wield?
Why does silver harm werewolves? Why do wood stakes through the heart kill vampires? Why ask why? It's cold iron because the stories say it is.

Also, for reference, cold iron has nothing to do with forging, and cold forging is a marketing gimmick. It's a poetic reference, much like cold, hard steel isn't a special version of steel. Cold iron is just iron.
But I provided a picture that shows cold forging still goes on!!!!!! :p
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Do they exist in or caused by nature? You seem to have forgotten that portion of it.
You should read up on semi-colons a bit -- those aren't separate definitions but instead interrelated ones.



Why does silver harm werewolves? Why do wood stakes through the heart kill vampires? Why ask why? It's cold iron because the stories say it is.
Your argument was that iron harmed fae in the stories because iron was unnatural. Pointing to other, different stories as if they illuminate your argument isn't helpful. Why doesn't iron being unnatural cause it to be anathema to fae? If your point was meant to be 'because the stories say so' then I'm confused as to why you've been so strident on the unnatural nature of iron.

Iron, btw, is natural. A sword may be unnatural under your defintion, but the iron in it, which is the operative part, is still natural. Man does not cause iron to exist.


But I provided a picture that shows cold forging still goes on!!!!!! :p
Heh.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Your argument was that iron harmed fae in the stories because iron was unnatural. Pointing to other, different stories as if they illuminate your argument isn't helpful. Why doesn't iron being unnatural cause it to be anathema to fae? If your point was meant to be 'because the stories say so' then I'm confused as to why you've been so strident on the unnatural nature of iron.
My argument has never been that iron harmed the fey. Cold forged/worked iron, yes. Just iron, no.
 

pemerton

Legend
Artificial things are, by definition, unnatural in some sense.

But artifical things clearly exist in the world, and are produced by beings that exist in the world. Hence there is some sense in which things can exist in and as part of the world, yet not be natural.

What's the relevant sense, and where are the boundaries to be found? The most pithy treatment I know of in the D&D context is found in Gygax's AD&D books, particularly the discussin of True Neutral alignment:

The "true" neutral looks upon all other alignments as facets of the system of things. Thus, each aspect - evil and good, chaos and law - of things must be retained in balance to maintain the status quo; for things as they are cannot be improved upon except temporarily, and even then but superficially. Nature will prevail and keep things as they were meant to be, provided the "wheel" surrounding the hub of nature does not become unbalanced due to the work of unnatural forces - such as human and other intelligent creatures interfering with what is meant to be. (PHB p 33)

Absolute, or true, neutral creatures view everything which exists as an integral, necessary port or function of the entire cosmos. Each thing exists as a part of the whole, one as a check or balance to the other, with life necessary for death, happiness for suffering, good for evil, order far chaos, and vice versa. Nothing must ever become predominant or out of balance. Within this noturalistic ethos, humankind serves a role also, just as all other creatures do. They may be more or less important, but the neutral does not concern himself or herself with these considerations except where it is positively determined that the balance is threatened. (DMG p 33)​

Nature is "the cosmos" that is in a state of balance as a result of the interaction of its constituent elements and processes. Intelligent beings are a risk to that balance, as they bring their own goals and purposes which are not necessarily integrated into the balance of natural elements and processes. It's easy to see how this idea relates to certain real world religious and philosophical positions (eg Stoicism; some forms of Taoism and Taoist-influenced Buddhism; some strands of contemporary environmentalism). And it helps us see the difference between natural and unnatural human activity - the latter consists in purposive activity undertaken with indifference to its impact upon the balance of natural elements and processes. Building a small homestead or even village probably doesn't count; raising an army and mining the ore and then forging the arms and armour to equip them almost certainly does!

How exactly this fits into our understanding of "cold" iron and faeries I'll leave for others to work out.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Artificial things are, by definition, unnatural in some sense.

But artifical things clearly exist in the world, and are produced by beings that exist in the world. Hence there is some sense in which things can exist in and as part of the world, yet not be natural.

What's the relevant sense, and where are the boundaries to be found? The most pithy treatment I know of in the D&D context is found in Gygax's AD&D books, particularly the discussin of True Neutral alignment:

The "true" neutral looks upon all other alignments as facets of the system of things. Thus, each aspect - evil and good, chaos and law - of things must be retained in balance to maintain the status quo; for things as they are cannot be improved upon except temporarily, and even then but superficially. Nature will prevail and keep things as they were meant to be, provided the "wheel" surrounding the hub of nature does not become unbalanced due to the work of unnatural forces - such as human and other intelligent creatures interfering with what is meant to be. (PHB p 33)

Absolute, or true, neutral creatures view everything which exists as an integral, necessary port or function of the entire cosmos. Each thing exists as a part of the whole, one as a check or balance to the other, with life necessary for death, happiness for suffering, good for evil, order far chaos, and vice versa. Nothing must ever become predominant or out of balance. Within this noturalistic ethos, humankind serves a role also, just as all other creatures do. They may be more or less important, but the neutral does not concern himself or herself with these considerations except where it is positively determined that the balance is threatened. (DMG p 33)​

Nature is "the cosmos" that is in a state of balance as a result of the interaction of its constituent elements and processes. Intelligent beings are a risk to that balance, as they bring their own goals and purposes which are not necessarily integrated into the balance of natural elements and processes. It's easy to see how this idea relates to certain real world religious and philosophical positions (eg Stoicism; some forms of Taoism and Taoist-influenced Buddhism; some strands of contemporary environmentalism). And it helps us see the difference between natural and unnatural human activity - the latter consists in purposive activity undertaken with indifference to its impact upon the balance of natural elements and processes. Building a small homestead or even village probably doesn't count; raising an army and mining the ore and then forging the arms and armour to equip them almost certainly does!

How exactly this fits into our understanding of "cold" iron and faeries I'll leave for others to work out.
Thank you for the random musings on the existence of a supernatural cause of nature that mankind is not a part of. If man's actions can act against the natural order of things, then you're assuming some supernatural shaper of such an order. It can't otherwise exist without such a will. I covered this earlier, along with the ramifications to the topic.
 

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