Changelings are both born and made. Born into the bodies of human infants, most changelings spend the first parts of their lives as normal children, sometimes reaching their teens or even full adulthood before the part of themselves that belongs to the Dreaming manifests. Regardless of when—or how—the changeling spirit emerges, this transformation begins with an explosive, often traumatic, inner awakening known as the Chrysalis.
Hints of the Dreaming Edit
The Chrysalis, or moment of becoming, breaks the shell of Banality that hides a changeling's true self from the mortal world. Like the Big Bang that created the universe, this event propels the newly aware changeling headlong into her first real contact with the Dreaming. Assaulted from every side by a barrage of sights, sounds, smells, tastes and tactile experiences that contradict the harsh, cold reality of her life up to this point, the new changeling may believe that she is going mad. In a way, perhaps, she is — according to the world's definitions of sanity. But in another sense, somewhere in the depths of her psyche, she realizes that she has, at last, come home.
Many changelings grow up as misfits in their societies. Even as children, some undefinable essence clings to them, causing those who know them to label them "exceptional," "gifted" or — too appropriately — "fey." As children they are likely to have imaginary playmates (who might not be so imaginary after all), or insist on believing in magical worlds of dragons and superheroes long after their playmates have progressed to team sports and dating. As they grow older, these changelings-to-be continue to strike their families, friends and colleagues as eccentric, holding onto a whimsicality that prevents them from being fully at ease in the modern world. This sense of not-quite-belonging comes from the nascent Kithain soul, still quiet but now faintly stirring within the changeling's mortal flesh, waiting for the proper time and circumstances to make itself known.
Just as a dormant volcano puts out warning signals of an impending eruption, the Chrysalis announces its approach by enacting subtle (or occasionally not so subtle) shifts in the reality of the changeling. These can take the form of sudden flashes of impossible — to mortal eyes — vistas, hallucinations of mythical creatures in unlikely places (a unicorn in the boss's office), periods of personality dissociation or the feeling that another person has taken up residence in the mind. Few changelings realize at the time what it is that they are experiencing; some, in fact, seek psychiatric or medical help.
Dream Dance Edit
When the time is right, usually at the most inopportune moment in a changeling's life, the warnings stop and the Dream Dance begins. This is the high point of the Chrysalis, when a new changeling's world takes a hard left. The volcano erupts, the earth trembles and rives apart, the tsunami strikes the shore, and cosmic fireworks announce the changeling's liberation from the tyranny of form and reason. Glamour rushes to surround the awakening changeling, engulfing her with the stuff of raw Dreaming, so that nothing she sees, feels, hears, smells or tastes bears any resemblance to the paltry senses that once connected her to the world outside her body. In fact, during the Dream Dance, the fledgling changeling has a hard time perceiving just where her physical body ends and where the world of experience begins.
The changeling plunges into direct confrontation with the Dreaming for the first time. Surrounded by Glamour, she sees her true fae self resplendent in the light of chimerical reality. The Mists that have clouded her mind until now roll away, revealing the world as seen through changeling eyes — a world formed by Glamour and infused with faerie magic. Visions of Arcadia, vignettes of earlier manifestations of her immortal fae self and sometimes vague glimpses into her future scroll rapidly through her mind, too quickly for her to take it all in or comprehend. Later, she may remember only fragments of these revelations.
Her waking thoughts and deepest dreams (or nightmares) coalesce out of the roiling pool of Glamour centered on her, becoming the chimeric partners of her Dream Dance — and attracting the attention of every changeling in the neighborhood. Often these chimeric creations invade the surrounding reality, overcoming the local Banality and giving rise to rumors of dragon-sightings in downtown Manhattan or sea monsters in San Francisco Bay.
Not all changelings can cope with the intensity of the Dream Dance. Some succumb to madness as the walls of their human facades come crumbling down around them. Others take refuge in Banality, forcibly denying the reality of their experience and refusing to accept that they are something other than "normal." A few turn against the Dreaming and everything connected to it, giving themselves over to the ranks of the Dauntain, the destroyers of the Dreaming.
A changeling is at her most vulnerable during the Dream Dance. Helpless to make sense of the barrage of sensual and perceptual transformations that are exploding in and around her, she exudes Glamour like a beacon, allowing all Awakened creatures to home in on her location. This makes her easy prey for some of the less wholesome supernatural denizens of the World of Darkness as well as for those who hunt changelings.
Changelings in the area of an individual undergoing the throes of the Dream Dance have a duty to locate and protect their new cousin, and most willingly do so — if only to take advantage of the overflow of Glamour. This is often the first introduction a fledgling has to the larger changeling community, and to other changelings.
Once a changeling has undergone the Dream Dance and is aware that she is one of the exiled fae, she now has to find a place among those like herself. Usually, other Kithain — those alerted to her existence by the telltale surge of Glamour from her Chrysalis — bring the fledgling to the nearest freehold. There, she begins her education as a child of the Dreaming. She leams the reason for the overwhelming experience she has just undergone and discovers her true nature as well as her faerie kith (or race).
At the same time, the new changeling usually acquires a mentor, who "adopts" her and acts as her guardian and tutor during the first year or so after her Chrysalis. This period of fosterage takes its name from the medieval custom whereby nobles exchanged children so that alliances between new generations could form. Because the new changeling's mortal family (if she still has one) cannot understand the profound revelations induced by the Chrysalis, the mentor and his companions become a second family to the fledgling. To protect the bond between guardian and ward, both parties swear an Oath of Fosterage. This is usually the first experience a changeling has concerning the power of the oathbond.
Usually the mentor is an older, more experienced Kithain, often a grump, but sometimes a wilder. The choice of the individual who serves in this position falls upon the ruler of the freehold which first sheltered the changeling. If the fledgling is a member of the nobility, the local lord often chooses a mentor. Although this relationship exists to benefit the fosterling by easing her into Kithain society, all too often local Kithain politics determine who receives the "honor" of taking a new changeling under his wing.
When a motley — a group of commoner Kithain — discovers a new changeling, it rarely delivers its prize into the hands of the nobles, preferring to foster her itself. In these cases, the mentor is the most influential member of the motley or the one who best suits the ward. Fosterage among commoners lacks the hierarchical nature of noble fosterage, and the new Kithain's guardian often acts more like a big brother or sister than a foster parent.
Although a guardian is the single biggest influence on a new changeling, often imposing his viewpoints and interpretations of Kithain society and interactions upon his ward, this does not mean that the ward becomes a carbon copy of her mentor. In fact, the reverse happens as often as not: the natural rebellion of youth asserts itself, and the new changeling patterns herself after the opposite of her mentor. Thus, a Seelie guardian can have an Unseelie ward, or a traditionalist noble can foster a changeling with strong anarchist tendencies. Despite these differences, however, unless the mentor abuses the bond between himself and his ward, a changeling often retains feelings of respect and affection for her first protector throughout her life.
Since the Mists separate a changeling's mortal kin from knowledge of the Dreaming or Kithain society, a guardian often makes his ward the heir to his estate and titles (if he has any). This custom assures continuity from one generation to the next.
The Saining Edit
The period during which new Kithain adjust to their roles in changeling society typically lasts for a year and a day, and is divided into two distinct parts: the time of warding and the time of watching.
During the time of warding, guardians or mentors keep a close watch on childling or wilder fledges, taking responsibility for any transgressions of Kithain customs or traditions made by their wards. Gradually the restrictions upon new fledglings are relaxed, and they begin to interact more directly with their new surroundings and other changelings. This relaxing of supervision marks the beginning of the time of watching. Now the fledgling learns from hard experience, making her own mistakes and bearing the consequences of her actions.
Changelings who undergo the Chrysalis late in life, after they have reached adulthood in the mortal form, receive slightly different treatment. Rather than suffering through a period of adoption, these new "grumps" (as older changelings are called) are guests of a sponsoring freehold or motley. They still receive instruction about their faerie heritage and place in Kithain society, but their hosts make allowances for the wisdom and experience their human existence has taught them. For many new grumps, the transition between their former lives and their new existence comes as a relief, an explanation for all the nagging feelings of discomfort and displacement they felt in human society. For others, the upsetting of everything they have known places them in a precarious state of mind and only the most judicious treatment can help them acclimate.
When a new changeling has successfully survived both warding and watching, she undergoes a ritual called the Saining (literally, "naming") that initiates her as a full member of Kithain society. During this ceremony, seers versed in special Arts are able to part the Mists and discover the True Name of the new Kithain. This secret name defines each changeling's relationship to the Dreaming and embodies her essence. All changelings who have undergone their Sainings know that their True Names must be held closely and told to no one outside their household or motley. Knowledge of another being's True Name gives the knower power over that creature, so some changelings refuse to tell their True Names to anyone.
A sidhe changeling undergoes a variation on the Saining ritual, a secret ceremony attended only by members of the noble house that has sponsored the fledge. In addition to the naming ceremony, the newly awakened sidhe undergoes the Fior-Righ, an ordeal which tests her physical, mental and social prowess. The results of the Fior-Righ determine her rank and to which noble house she belongs.
Occasionally, noble houses deliberately plant one of their own into a mortal family and bide their time until the mortal host undergoes her Chrysalis. Under these circumstances, the house already knows much of the information normally revealed by the Saining, such as the changeling's house, character, strengths and weaknesses.
After her Saining, a changeling swears an Oath of Fealty to the lord of her freehold or to the motley which has adopted her. Depending on her skills and her willingness to do so, she may take service in the household of her new lord. The Saining marks the end of the Chrysalis for a changeling and the beginning of her life as a resident of both the mortal world and of her true reality, that of the Dreaming.