Supernatural/Paranormal Beings: Race or Species?

The Bluestocking

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Hi Chronners! I'm working on my novella WiP based in a story world that's packed with different supernaturals/paranormals such as kitsunes, reapers, banshees, wraiths, water elementals, ghosts, gods etc and recently got tripped up by the following question when writing a particular scene featuring a reaper gently correcting a young water elemental who called banshees a derogatory name based on the horrible behaviour of their Grande Dame:

Are supernaturals such as banshees regarded as races or species?

I had the reaper refer to the banshees as a race rather than a species because "species" sounds a bit too science-y. My writing group buddies are also not too sure whether the term "race" is the most accurate one. I've looked up synonyms ("breed", "kin", "kindred", "tribe") and none of them seem to fit just right either (though who knows - later on one of them might click?).

Any suggestions?
 

Toby Frost

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Given that this sounds like fantasy, I'd probably go for "race" rather than "species", but I'd prefer not to use either. It sounds as if this is technically a different type of organism, so "species" feels more accurate to me - humanity is one species but has (or had? I've not heard it said much of late) many races (whatever they are - it seems a vague and often loaded word in a way that "species" isn't).

I wondered about "people", although it does depend what you decide that "people" means (are non-humans people? I can imagine some good arguments in space about that). One option would not be to mention it at all, and just give them a generic name (like "the English"). Alternatively you could put in a scene where someone explains the naming structure which, if this is urban fantasy, could be entertainingly anachronistic.
 

Onyx

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While "species" is a rather modern concept, it at least has a somewhat universal application as every organism on earth is in one. "Race" is a word only applied to people. Different looking animals or plants of the same species get words like "breed" or "variety".

To use "race" properly, it should have a category that it falls under - "the Nordic race of men". So if a banshee is a race, what is the category? The banshee race of faeries? Deciding what group the banshee belongs in will tell you why it is important for it to be a race within that group.
 

Biskit

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Delving back to school biology, a basic definition of species is that only 'members' of the species can interbreed. From my existence on a farm, breeds are where you choose which animals to mate to emphasise certain characteristics but without actually creating a new species. In principle, if you kept going long enough a breed can become a species.
Race, as @Onyx says, is applied to people but is really a variation on breed - same species but a population with distinctive characteristics, although it seems to be used in a very non-specific way.
 

picklematrix

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Are banshees and, for example, goblins able to mate and producec offspring with characteristics of both?
 

HareBrain

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"Race" is a word only applied to people.

Just to be picky and nerdy, it's not quite "only". I've occasionally seen it used of birds (The Fair Isle wren is described as a race of the wren species, for example.)
 

Venusian Broon

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Putting aside the hard scientific side...

Just a quick survey of other sources seems to suggest that 'race of supernatural beings' is used quite commonly (as well, I note, the alternative 'breed').

For example, the modern-day Vampire seems to fit this description quite adequately in my mind, (esp. given their method of propagation, and the fact that they fundamentally derived from humans but have 'split'!)

Race can be used in a generalised sense - i.e. the human race - and thus I don't have problems with the statements such as the following: 'Angels are a race of supernatural beings created by, and servants of, the Almighty Presence...'

Possibly as a hand-wavy guide, I'd use breed or species for 'dumb' animals (sorry, dogs!) and races for 'talking social humanoid-like beings'. And the fact that a great many supernatural creatures either have a great deal of characteristics close to humanity and/or they also have mythic origins close to humans, means one could apply race according to this rule, I feel!

Races are used quite extensively in Lord of the Rings, even used to describe the dwarves and Ents although from memory their creation is very different from men, elves and orcs (assuming that orcs came into being from tortured elves???)
 

The Bluestocking

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Putting aside the hard scientific side...

Just a quick survey of other sources seems to suggest that 'race of supernatural beings' is used quite commonly (as well, I note, the alternative 'breed').

For example, the modern-day Vampire seems to fit this description quite adequately in my mind, (esp. given their method of propagation, and the fact that they fundamentally derived from humans but have 'split'!)

Race can be used in a generalised sense - i.e. the human race - and thus I don't have problems with the statements such as the following: 'Angels are a race of supernatural beings created by, and servants of, the Almighty Presence...'

Possibly as a hand-wavy guide, I'd use breed or species for 'dumb' animals (sorry, dogs!) and races for 'talking social humanoid-like beings'. And the fact that a great many supernatural creatures either have a great deal of characteristics close to humanity and/or they also have mythic origins close to humans, means one could apply race according to this rule, I feel!

Races are used quite extensively in Lord of the Rings, even used to describe the dwarves and Ents although from memory their creation is very different from men, elves and orcs (assuming that orcs came into being from tortured elves???)

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH! I think you've just nailed what was nibbling away at the edges of my mind when I used the term "race" in the first place - I'm writing fantasy (so @Toby Frost is correct there, though whether what I write is Urban Fantasy exactly, I don't quite know) set in an Afterlife populated by all sorts of supernaturals who are the stars of the story. There are no humans on this side of the life/death divide (though there are souls and ghosts).

So I was trying to figure out whether my kneejerk use of the term "race" came from somewhere and looks like it's sort of a convention used by many Fantasy writers thanks to Tolkien?

Possibly as a hand-wavy guide, I'd use breed or species for 'dumb' animals (sorry, dogs!) and races for 'talking social humanoid-like beings'.

Okay... I think this works as a general guiding principle insofar as there can be one that meshes with the internal logic for my world.

I mean, we'd use "breed" or "species" for dragons, unicorns, and the like and "race" or "tribe" for human-esque supernaturals like reapers, fae etc yes?

Following this logic - which delves with the point @Toby Frost made earlier - I guess we use "race" for supernaturals who can be called "people" and "species" or "breed" for those who aren't humanoid and so can't be called "people"?

Hmmm...
 
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Venusian Broon

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I mean, we'd use "breed" or "species" for dragons, unicorns, and the like and "race" or "tribe" for human-esque supernaturals like reapers, fae etc yes?

Following this logic - which delves with the point @Toby Frost made earlier - I guess we use "race" for supernaturals who can be called "people" and "species" or "breed" for those who aren't humanoid and so can't be called "people"?

Hmmm...

yeah, I'm sort of on-board for that logic. As you said the Fae are comfortably called a race by many (also other mythological creatures such as the Djinn)

I would possibly not use the 'looks like a human' template as the full arbiter for race, but rather whether you could sit down and have a nice (or not so nice, depending on their temperament) conversation with them! So 'People', but people in the sense that we recognise them as social, intelligent beings? I'm just thinking of the poor aliens out there, building civilisations, but don't look at all like us. ;)

Mind you that makes some incarnations of supernatural beings problematic if the being is more bestial than intelligent. Traditionally, I believe, Banshees were very 'one note' creatures, just screaming if a death is about to occur. But I assume you have another lore that paints a different picture!
 

The Bluestocking

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Mind you that makes some incarnations of supernatural beings problematic if the being is more bestial than intelligent. Traditionally, I believe, Banshees were very 'one note' creatures, just screaming if a death is about to occur. But I assume you have another lore that paints a different picture!

In my story world, the banshees are one of the two supernatural races (I guess I'm sticking with this term now until I can think of a more accurate one?) who dominate the media industry. Their Grande Dame is a cross between Anna Wintour and Rupert Murdoch who runs her media empire with an iron fist. Everyone's terrified of her because she could crush your reputation so thoroughly you'd never be able to show your face in public ever again.

Yes, they started out as heralds of death (and traditionally worked for Death himself) but they do put their wailing and drive to communicate to good use in the Afterlife, frequently working as journalists/reporters, emcees, wailing telegrams, postal workers and the like.

So no - banshees aren't one-note creatures in my world.
 
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tinkerdan

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With an understandable measure of salt there is this from wikipedia.
In biological taxonomy, race is an informal rank in the taxonomic hierarchy, below the level of subspecies. It has been used as a higher rank than strain, with several strains making up one race.[1][2] Various definitions exist. Races may be genetically distinct populations of individuals within the same species,[3] or they may be defined in other ways, e.g. geographically, or physiologically.[4] Genetic isolation between races is not complete, but genetic differences may have accumulated that are not (yet) sufficient to separate species.[5] The term is recognized by some, but not governed by any, of the formal codes of biological nomenclature.

Anyway--I think you might be safe enough to call them a race.
 

-K2-

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Perhaps the 'number of' a particular type of being and whether they are linked as in being generational is the key. What has been asked about "kitsunes, reapers, banshees, wraiths, water elementals, ghosts, gods etc." all infer to me that they're individual entities. IOW, this ghost and that ghost have no direct connection to one another, except that they both exist on the same or similar planes, and are both called ghosts.

So entity is the word I would use. They may be similar, yet each is unique.

K2
 

tinkerdan

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Seems an entity might distinguish a single being. So if there is just one banshee then yes it's an entity.
If there are more banshees then they would have to remain some how distinctly different that there would be no question of lumping them into a category.

In a hierarchy
Ghost might be your species
and what follow under that are races. unless there might be subspecies.

of course that hinges on accepting their existence so that you might recognize them under some higher order such as perhaps.

Paranormal beings.
or
Paranormals

It could depend on how or if they procreate(by some definitions).
So in that case if there is no ability to procreate they might be considered Entities by some(but those might just be a bunch of racists, it's hard to judge).

No doubt about it these Supernatural/Paranormals do qualify as a marginalized group.
 
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The Bluestocking

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So in that case if there is no ability to procreate they might be considered Entities by some(but those might just be a bunch of racists, it's hard to judge).

The answer to this based on the rules of my story world:

If one race of supernaturals calls another race of supernaturals "entities", you bet your bottom dollar that the former are a bunch of racists.
 

-K2-

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Seems an entity might distinguish a single being. So if there is just one banshee then yes it's an entity. If there are more banshees then they would have to remain some how distinctly different that there would be no question of lumping them into a category.

Well, the difference or defining factor would be in how they come to exist in the first place. Now I suppose you could argue that 'ghosts' all originate from a single race(s), yet they're not self perpetuating (as in daddy and mommy ghosts having baby ghosts). Those I'd cast into a spiritual plane and not refer to them as anything other than 'ghosts'. IOW, not a race or species, but ghosts (as though it is a classifier unto itself).

Banshees (by my understanding) are not a race unto themselves (as in self perpetuating), yet the result to whatever individual makes the transformation. Sirens in contrast are of a race/species. Gods in kind typically spawning one another not just simply *poof* here I is ;)

In any case, I would say the defining factor is how one comes into being. In the end you might classify them as though their own 'thing.' Neither race nor species, yet you have races, species, ghosts (wraiths, shades), banshees, etc..

In the end I'd say there is no firm rule... However, establish your rules for classification, then go from there.

K2
 

Onyx

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Races are used quite extensively in Lord of the Rings, even used to describe the dwarves and Ents although from memory their creation is very different from men, elves and orcs (assuming that orcs came into being from tortured elves???)
This is actually what I was thinking of: Tolkien would refer to the various sentient creatures as races: The dragon race of intelligent beings. But he wouldn't use race for a cow, I think.
 

Ihe

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If you want to be a bit more unique you can also have them use a special word that only the "insiders" within that world use. Sort-of-slang to replace the traditional Tolkienesque "race". It'd make more sense to bunch all supernaturals together and call them maybe "The Godless", or more slangy, the "divs" (divergences), irregs (irregulars), Moonborns, etc to separate them from the "natural" world, and then each different type within that strata would be considered a different "strain", "clan", "lineage", or "moon-cycle", etc. Something like that. Make it your own; add layers of culturally/historically relevant slang to their world and deepen the etymology of the words they use to describe themselves and their paranormal history. This also has a bonus for your fantasy world: it'll give the sensation of there being much more backstory than you let on. It's a world-building method in its own right, but with the added lazy benefit that you don't actually have to go through the hassle of fleshing it out. Win-win.

I find "race" is used to differentiate between organisms that share important features but are different enough to justify categorizing them separately. If you were talking about humanoids, it might be useful to differentiate between humanoid race A and humanoid race B. Same goes for sentient beings, or being that are "alive". You choose what main feature you want to concentrate on. That's why when you hear "dragon race", you assume that this means there are other types of "dragons". Not humans, not monsters. Only other types of dragons.

What you wouldn't do is try to differentiate between a human and a dog, race-wise, for example, as they're different enough to not need that distinction. Spirits, gods, the undead, and other monsters are all under the umbrella of "unnaturals" or "non-humans" to me, far removed from the need to differentiate between them and humans, and they might even be different enough among themselves to not need the term race. It's all a matter of context and who you are contrasting a specific "race" to.
 

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