Courts are larger divisions of the Fae. Different fae in different parts of the world divide themselves differently while still using the same or an analogous term.
Since the Shattering, the Fae have dealt with duality in major ways. They are creatures of Glamour and Banality, Mortality and Immortality. However, even before the Changeling Way the fae were intrinsically dual beings in their Seelie and Unseelie natures. These two strands of the fae world enlivened the Dreaming as the dance of light and dark, chaos and order, always does. Theirs was an eternal rivalry for ascendence. Now, since the Interregnum and the Compact, theirs is an uneasy truce which is closer to shattering once again.
Each of the two mindsets of the Fae has a Court. While each Kithain has both a Seelie and Unseelie side, every fae is ruled by one side or the other with a personality to match. This is not secret knowledge. The Seelie and Unseelie know each other for what they are and the information colors dealings between the fae.
The court of a changeling marks him or her in many ways. While behavior isn't always clear-cut, it is usually not hard knowing to which court the faerie belongs. They react to each other instinctively because of innate differences. The Seelie distrust the dishonorable Unseelie and the Unseelie sneer at the simplistic ways of the Seelie. The Compact may force them to tolerate each other but prejudice and hostility still exist and can break out.
The Law of Rule
Before the Shattering the Seelie and Unseelie courts alternated their rule over the fae, dividing the year in half. The Seelie ruled in Spring and Summer with the pageantry of life and growth. The Unseelie ruled in the Autumn and Winter honoring death and entropy. Between the two courts the complete cycle of life and decay, fertility and fallowness, was celebrated. The Seelie would transfer power to the Unseelie on Samhain while the Unseelie would relinquish their power at Beltaine. The custom ceased during the Interregnum as both courts were forced to rely on each other to survive. Since the Resurgence the Seelie have held power and have refused to turn that power over to the Unseelie. Some Unseelie sages point out that this is unnatural and will lead to problems.
Since the Shattering, through the Interregnum, all over the world and particularly in Concordia, Seelie and Unseelie put aside their mutual antipathies for their survival and the survival of the Dreaming. This has led to some mixing in Kithain society. It is completely likely for the lord or lady of a Freehold to be of a court different than most of their vassals and Oathcircles will often include fae of both courts, bound by oaths that transcend their differences.
While neat pigeonholing of the two courts is mostly impossible, there are a few distinctions. Seelie are associated with Light, Summer, and Daytime while the Unseelie belong to Darkness, Winter, and Nighttime. The Seelie represent Law and Tradition while the Unseelie represent Breaking Traditions and Change. Between the two courts they embody all that is good and bad, static and dynamic, light and dark, in changeling society.
While it is rare, is is known that a changeling will permanently change Courts, usually after a great personal transformation. This is not done lightly as the Kithain must forswear their old nature and surrender to the other side of their personality. It changes their place in society and with their own self-perceptions. As such, if the change happens willingly, it is often done at symbolic times of the year, especially Samhain or Beltaine.
Some Changelings switch between their Seelie and Unseelie legacies easily, while others may go their entire lives never changing Court. Others, either by choice (e.g., House Eiluned members can voluntarily change Courts to learn a secret) because they are cursed or simply by natural inclination, change their dominant legacy regularly, usually according to cycles of the seasons.
In any case, such a change has significant ramifications socially for the changeling, both in their motivations and relationships with others.
And One More
Within the Unseelie Court is the Shadow Court. Most Fae, even Unseelie ones, only know the Shadow Court as a time of reveling in one's unseelie nature during Samhain... a mock court that lambasts the Seelie and lifts the Unseelie. It is, however, a much deeper thing and meets at other times of the year to discuss their own dark plans for hastening the coming Winter.
A Commoner View
The bast majority of commoners are conservative in their outlooks, so it makes sense that Seelie outnumber Unseelie by a bit. Trolls, boggans, and pooka are often Seelie while redcaps are almost always Unseelie. With satyrs, nockers, eshu, and sluagh, it just depends. The funny thing about encountering an Unseelie troll, boggan, or pooka, is that they tend to be exceptionally nasty. Why? maybe it's because they're normally so noble, dedicated, or wonderfully cute (like me), depending on the kith, that when the Unseelie side takes over, these folks make up for lost time. What you may find interesting is that it's the most conservative of all the commoner kith who advocate equal splits between Courts. Some flip-flop at the seasonal changes of Beltaine and Samhain, others whenever they feel the time is right. You have been Unseelie at least once in your life, right?
The Seelie Code
What can I say you haven't heard before? The Seelie do like their honor, and all that goes with it, like justice, mercy, truth, apple pie, and hot dogs. Conservative and even many moderate commoners roll in this stuff. I don't disagree that it's important to fight against Banality and preserve Glamour, of course. But when some Seelie pass, they want you to think they're clad in angel wings. Yaaawn.
- Death Before Dishonor: Helloooo! We aren't samurai, so I don't know where they got this whole suicidal thing. Whatever happened to a good old apology? Trolls are serious as a heart attack about this, too. Many of the Seelie kith don't take it quite so literally, though some accept exile in place of death.
- Love Conquers All: Love schmove. Some wuss from House Fiona must've invented this one and the Seelie caught the bug. There's no such thing as true love, and that whole courtly love nonsense is a big waste of time. I know love is part of the Dreaming and all that, but even most Seelie don't have the courage needed to offer pure, selfless love. If you see it, remember it's rare indeed.
- Beauty is Life: Sure, I like pretty things. Who doesn't? But there's more to life than that. What about danger? When you stare death in the face and come away laughing and whole, then you know what living is about. That's what the Seelie are missing about the big picture.
- Never Forget a Debt: True, it's not much fun to owe somebody, and the larger the debt, the greater the nuisance. But rather than break your back trying to pay the person off, why not see to it that they owe you something? Even the score. Or if you're really clever, make sure the rube is Seelie and owes you a bigger debt than the one they hold over you. They take this debt stuff to heart.
The Unseelie Code
OK, you've probably figured out by now that I belong to the Unseelie Court. Let me set you straight on a few things.
- Change is Good: Stagnation is Banal, so why not shake up the status quo? This is the main problem we commoners have to cope with if we're ever going to get anywhere and accomplish something. The conservatives haven't a friggin' clue about how much their stone-clad ways hold the commoners back.
- Glamour is Free: Look around you! Everywhere mortals are making Glamour, and we're just letting it slip away while we age and lose ourselves. Besides, they're mortals, and taking Glamour from them seems like a pretty natural thing to me. I know this probably disgusts the Seelie commoners, but why should we let it go to waste?
- Honor is a Lie: Tell me, who's going to give a damn if you have tons of honor when you're dead? Honor has no place in this modern society; it's not honor, but the law of the jungle, survival, that we need to follow. Honor is a meaningless trapping, one that the sidhe have convinced most Seelie commoners is vital to the fae way of life. I say poppycock to that!
- Passion Before Duty: We commoners are much luckier than the sidhe; at least if we die, we're pretty certain to come back. But there's a big difference between pretty certain and 100% sure. So, my advice is to forget all the millions of responsibilities and commitments you've got lined up for the next few months. Kick off your shoes, drop your knickers, and have a good time. Love may be false, but I didn't say anything about passion, did I?
The Courts of the Eastern Fae, the Shinma, are based around ideology and worldview.
- The Li Shen - Confucian guardians of the Elements.
- The Xian Mo - Individualist followers of the Tao Te Hsien.
- The Yü - Societies based on prehistoric feudal Asia.
- The Xian Mun - A society of Hsien who focus more on their human lives.
- The Wu Hsien - the majority of Hsien who fulfill their duties under Heaven.
- The Tu Shen - Sybarites trying to bring around the Age of Joy.
- The Shu Shen - The dissolute of Hsien Society.
- The Yellow Lotus - A secret society of Shinma bent on Rebellion.
- The Mu Courts - Two "Evil" courts bent on bringing on the Sixth Age.
- The Empire of Stones - Composed of the Glomes.
- The Empire of Seeds - Composed of the Kuberas.
- The Empire of Tears - Composed of the Ondines.
- The Empire of Skies - Composed of the Parosemes.
- The Empire of Flames - Composed of the Solimonds.
- The Empire of Dolls - Composed of the Mannikins.