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I'm looking for a noun from English folklore.

It should describe a place where unusual, mysterious, possibly magical, occurrences happen.

The locals shun and avoid this place. Its influence might be beneficial sometimes, but it's unpredictable - only the desperate, mad, or naive would seek it.

I suppose archaisms and obscure words should be fine. I need it for a translation of a fantasy game.

The Polish noun I'm looking to translate is "uroczysko" - in case some of the answerers know Polish.

The sites in question aren't one-of-a-kind so unique names starting with capital letters, like Shangri-La or Xanadu, won't do.

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  • uroczysko 1: nature reserve, 2: sacred site, 3: wilderness. – FumbleFingers May 17 '14 at 12:47
  • My first thought was sacred land. I searched a bit and ran into this list which might be useful for you: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mythological_places. – Damkerng T. May 17 '14 at 13:12
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    I feel like single word requests are on topic, but I'm not sure there's actually going to be a satisfactory answer for this one. I think the best answer is to give it a name and just describe it (ex "The Lost Hiddenlands" can be the proper name, and then just write a few paragraphs description). Because I don't think there's a single English word that gets this across. So the only answer I know to give isn't really an ELL answer. Hmm. Cc @fumble – WendiKidd May 17 '14 at 16:07
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    @Fumble - I'd venture to say that a majority of questions on the Stack Exchange don't have a "single" correct answer. I'd prefer to keep it that way. – J.R. May 17 '14 at 16:58
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    I'm fine with an ambiguous answer. I would be surprised if english didn't had many possible words suitable for the situation. When I was mentioning the meta, I meant this question. Top-voted answer states that questions like "My native language has a word for [concept], is there an equivalent word in English" belong here on ELL. And that's an exact description of my question. My native language has a word for a concept which I described, and I'm looking for an equivalent english word. – tsuma534 May 17 '14 at 17:37
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Eldritch. It's an adjective, and you can slap it on any geographical feature you want: "an eldritch waste", "an eldritch wild", "an eldritch moor", "an eldritch fen", "an eldritch barrow", etc.

  • ... or, using the "wilderness" of the dictionary definition, an eldritch wilderness. (Some dictionaries have both spellings, but "eldritch" seems to be more common.) – Marthaª May 25 '14 at 23:32
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There are a few of names from lore that get reused and repurposed.

One of the first that came to my mind was Shangri-La. It seems to fit the first part of what you seek (a place where unusual, mysterious, possibly magical, occurrences happen), although it often refers to a utopian place without the dark aspects you describe (that is, a place that only the desperate, mad, or naive would seek).

The word originated from a 1936 work, but it has been reused so much that most English dictionaries have an entry for it. Collins defines it as "a remote or imaginary utopia" and attributes its origin to "the name of an imaginary valley in the Himalayas, from Lost Horizon (1933), a novel by James Hilton."

However, some have used the word in ways that could make it seem more mystical and dark. For example, a book entitled Lost in Shangri-La is described as "a gripping non-fiction adventure narrative .. an untold true story of war, anthropology, survival, discovery, heroism, and a near-impossible rescue mission."

Another in-the-dictionary locale is Xanadu. The word originates from an early 19th-century poem, but some dictionaries indicate that it can be used to mean, "An idealized place of great or idyllic magnificence and beauty." Again, there's not much dark side there, but, for the purposes of a fantasy game, I'd deem it acceptable.

Another interesting term is Hotel Califiornia, which hasn't wormed its way into dictionaries yet, but Wikipedia mentions:

The lyrics weave a surrealistic tale in which a weary traveler checks into a luxury hotel. The hotel at first appears inviting and tempting, but it turns out to be a nightmarish place where "you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave". The song is an allegory about hedonism, self-destruction, and greed in the music industry.

All three of these locales show up on a Wordnik list of metaphorical places, and another entry on that list – bedlam – seems far less utopian, although it would emphasize the "unpredictability" you seek.

The word bedlam now means "a state of noisy confusion," but its etymology is interesting:

bedlam (n.)
"scene of mad confusion," 1660s, from colloquial pronunciation of "Hospital of Saint Mary of Bethlehem" in London, founded 1247 as a priory, mentioned as a hospital 1330 and as a lunatic hospital 1402; converted to a state lunatic asylum on dissolution of the monasteries in 1547. It was spelled Bedlem in a will from 1418, and Betleem is recorded as a spelling of Bethlehem in Judea from 971.

In short, if there's an exact translation of uroczysko in English, I can't put my finger on it, but there are some interesting and exotic words that seem to dance around the edges. And then there's that place Rod Serling made famous:

“You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into… the Twilight Zone.”

  • Of course, Serling's words are much better when you hear him say them. – J.R. May 17 '14 at 20:39
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    I can't read them without hearing him saying them! – CoolHandLouis May 18 '14 at 7:08
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I grew up on English-language fantasy literature, and I can't think of a direct translation so general, though there are specific places which have terms which might work for you:

Fairy ring
Rath
Fairy path
Barrow -- Tolkien used this

Note the wikipedia page on the obscure term tumulus is chock full of other terms for interesting man-made geographical features associated with the dead, and reasonably expected to be considered uncanny.

  • "Fairy ring" has the meaning I need. But the "fairy" part is unfortunate. It could be disinformating for an english reader, as there there are no fairies in that fantasy world. One could argue that there are no fairies here either, yet we still have fairy rings. So I guess it's a best call for this moment. As for barrows and tumuluses, those are both mounds or other elevated areas - not universal enough. I'll read through that wikipedia entry later, it may contain what I'm looking for. – tsuma534 May 18 '14 at 10:50
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Other possibilities (none exact matches) are Utopia (not all it's cracked up to be), Arcadia, Camelot, Erewhon.

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I think mythical would be a suitable word as it encompasses both good and bad.

Myths cannot be proofed but are believable.

historical stories involving supernatural beings or events

widely held but false believed

To seek it, one really has to be mad or beyond logical reasoning (or positively, sense of adventure/zealous curiosity). However, myths can also be enchanting!

Delightfully attractive and charming.

Since you are finding a word related to a fantasy game, I think mythical explains a lot.

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Avalon comes from the Arthurian legends.

It is the timeless, magical place from whence came Excalibur. Arthur was taken to Avalon after Camlan.

The name is used today for any mystical place, especially in the West Country.

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I doubt there's a single English word which carries the desired meaning. You might like:

  • Faery [or fairy] place [ring, path, mound, tree, etc.] (noun), though it carries a fairly specific meaning. Particularly in English and Celtic mythology, faery places are magical or enchanted, because of their connection with faery folk, who are notoriously capricious beings. Those who are wary or superstitious (or simply prudent, if these places and their effects are commonly known) will avoid faery places. 1, 2
  • Fey (adjective), which comes from the same lore as above. It carries the sense you're after: mysterious, otherworldly, foreboding, and most likely preternatural or magical. This is term I would use. If you want to emphasize the negative atmosphere of the place, I recommend enhancing fey adverbially with darkly, uncomfortably, etc. 1
  • Sorcerous (adjective), though this doesn't imply unpredictability.
  • Unhallowed (adjective), though this is more sinister than you want.

If you want to add some decidedly dark descriptions, I'd recommend perusing the works of HP Lovecraft, whose writings are packed with sinister and archaic terms. Note though that this is recent (~100 year old) American horror mythology, not English fantasy folklore, though he did make an effort to effect an older sounding style.

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