Elves

 

What fascinating creatures elves, (Alfr or Alfar) are. They have been known throughout time and history. What and who they are is up for interpretation. Whatever you believe about them, they are fascinating. In the past fifty years, Elves have made a massive comeback in pop culture, from Syfy, to Tolkien. But are the elves tall majestic creatures? Or are they more like Christmas elves? Well hopefully we shall find out! But remember  everyone's opinions may differ, actually, they will differ. What I may think may be very different what you think, but neither are wrong.

"An elf (plural: elves) is a type of supernatural being in Germanic mythology and folklore. Elves are first attested in Old English and Old Norse texts and are prominent in traditional British and Scandinavian folklore. 

 

Elves were originally thought of as ambivalent beings with certain magical abilities capable of helping or hindering humans..." (1) 

 

I, as well as many others consider elves, (remember they are also known as Alfr, or Alfar) as The Holy Powers. What they may be and whom they may contain however, is up to you. In some tales and legends, the Alfr's might and power are only challenged by the Aesir and Vanir themselves. It is even possible that some Alfr ranked among the tribes of gods. Their power is great, and can be used in many ways. To help us, or to harm us, depending greatly on how we treat them. Elves are ancient and powerful spirits, there is a lot to learn about them, and a lot to learn from them. 

 

 

 

"The word alf (álfr, elf) is used for many sorts of wight: not only the Light Alfs, Dark Alfs (mound-elves), and Swart Alfs that Grimm separates out of German folklore and the Norse sources, but also different sorts of land-wights (wood-elves, mountain-elves, field elves, water-elves, and sea-elves). In the Troth, we usually speak of the Light Alfs and Dark Alfs as alfs, the Swart Alfs as dwarves, and the rest of them as land-wights. 

 

 

The alfs are clearly a holy folk; the alliterative phrase “Ases and alfs” is often used in the Poetic Edda. The question, “What is (the trouble?) among Ases? what is among alfs?” is also asked in Þrymskviða 7, hinting that the happenings of the two are closely bound. The phrase “at ganga álfrek” (Eyrbyggja saga ch. 4), literally “to go drive out the elves”, meant to relieve oneself, which fits in with the general belief, also described in Eyrbyggja saga, that excreting on holy ground defiled it - this, again, hints that the alfs and the god/esses go closely together. This likening also, as Turville-Petre points out, appears in the Anglo-Saxon charm “Against a Sudden Pain” in which the phrases “shot of Ases…shot of alfs…shot of hags” appear together (Myth and Religion, p. 230) - though the context of the charm suggests rather that the Ases had sunk to a level where they could be counted together with witches and lesser spiritual wights than that the alfs were seen as godly beings at the time the charm was composed. Of the Light and Dark Alfs themselves we see nothing in the Eddas; it is only the dwarves who seem to take part in myth.

The word “alf” is likeliest to stem from a root meaning “white”, with the various suggestions of “gleaming” (as in the Anglo-Saxon man’s name Ælfbeorht - “alf-bright” and adjective ælfsciene - “beautiful as an alf”), and “white mist-form” (de Vries, Wörterbuch p. 5). The latter reading may be tied to the mysterious Nibelungen (“mist-folk” - ON Níflungar), who are a supernatural tribe in the first part of Nibelungenlied but whose name is also attached to the Burgundian royal house in the later half of the poem and in the Norse materials, perhaps through the character of Hagen/Högni, whom Þiðreks saga tells us was the son of an alf. 

 

 

The alfs had a very strong cult in the Viking Age; the Winternights feast was sometimes called álfablót (as well as dísablót and Freysblót). When the skald Sigvatr, a christian converted by Óláfr inn digri, came to a farmhouse in late autumn, he was told that he could not enter because the Alf-Blessing was being celebrated - as a christian, he was presumably unwelcome at the family’s holy feast. We do not know what sort of alfs were being hailed at this blessing, though, as spoken of later, it is likeliest to have been the mound-alfs. Interestingly, although the alfs are usually thought of as being tied to the Wanic cult, Sigvatr tells us that the housewife told him “I am afraid of Óðinn’s wrath” (Austrfararvísur, ca. 1019 C.E.), suggesting that Wodan, also, had a special relationship with them. Since Sigvatr was a first-generation convert, he is not likely to have confused Wodan with another god, or used the name without reason. 

 

In his Edda Snorri tells us that the Light Alfs are bright and shining, very fair to look upon, which fits well with the first reading of the word’s etymology. The Sun is also called “álfröðull” (Glory of the Alfs), which seems to fit largely with the Light Alfs, as neither the Dark Alfs nor dwarves care for her light; according to Alvíssmál, the alfs also name the Sun “Fair Wheel”. These alfs are closely tied to Fro Ing, the lord of Álfheimr; as airy and bright wights, they may help in the bringing of fair weather. Grimm comments that, “Of the dwellings of light elves in heaven the folk-tales have no longer anything to tell” (Teutonic Mythology, II, p. 454). It is also possible that the term “Light Alf” may have been a synonym for “god/ess”, with “alf” being used poetically as a broad term for “spiritual being”. In modern times, the Light Alfs are sometimes seen as messengers for the god/esses, bringing might down from the Ases’ Garth to the Middle Garth. 

 

We know far more about the Dark Alfs, or mound-alfs, than about the other two sorts. It is clear from both Norse sources and Scandinavian folklore that the Dark Alfs are dead folk, especially those ghosts dwelling in the howe. One of the many Norwegian kings named Óláfr, after his burial, was thought to bring fruitfulness and good to his kingdom even from the howe, and therefore was called “Geirstaðaálfr”, the Elf of Geirstaðr. Indeed, the Old Norse word álfkarl (male elf) was taken over in Irish as alcaille, “ghost of the dead” (de Vries, Wörterbuch, p. 6). In Hávamál, when Óðinn is speaking of those who teach runes to the various folks, he says, “Óðinn among the Æsir, but Dáinn for the alfs, Dvalinn for the dwarves…” The name “Dáinn”, also a dwarf-name, simply means “Dead One”. 

 

 

Since the worship of the mound-dead has been carried out from the Stone Age onward, the cult of the alfs is one of the oldest strands in the weave of the elder Troth. From the oldest times, that worship has been characterized by the offering of food and drink to the howe-dwellers. In Kormáks saga, it is told how a badly wounded man was instructed to put the blood and flesh of a steer on a hill in which the alfs dwelt. Gifts of food and drink put on the howe nearest the house at holy times, especially Yule, were known up through modern times (Feilberg, Jul, II, p. 20); it is quite likely that in older days this was done whenever there was need. In the Bronze Age, many holy stones were marked with small round depressions, now called alf-cups; till modern times, again, offerings were poured or set into these little holes in the rock. Those true folk of today who do not live near Germanic Heathen howes can chip or grind small cup-shaped depressions into whatever rocks are near their homes so as to make offerings of a like sort to the alfs.

Turville-Petre suggests that the álfar may have been manly counterparts to the womanly dísir - the dead men of the clan, as the dísir were the dead women - and this has often been taken up by true folk today, Fro Ing and the alfs being called on together with the Frowe and the idises. Aside from Óláfr, there is no reason to think of the mound-alfs as being necessarily manly: women were buried in howes as often as men, and individual alfs are not seen often enough in Norse sources for us to know whether they are likely to have been of one sex or not. However, it may be that the words, while referring to the same wights, were distinguished by gender in the Viking Age.

Certainly álfr is a masculine word and dís is feminine, so, at least regarding their use in the cult of the dead, the two could quite easily have been polarized. Turville-Petre supports this theory by mentioning that, according to Heiðreks saga, “the woman who reddened the altar during the dísablót was called Álfhildr; she was daughter of Álfr, king of Álfheimar” (Myth and Religion, p. 231). Since the source is relatively late, antiquarian consistency might have changed dísablót to álfablót, or Álfhildr’s name to one of the many names with “dís” as an element, but this did not take place, suggesting that a tradition may have been reported accurately. 

If such a distinction did indeed exist during Heathen times, it was lost later, and all the mound-folk called alfs; but Scandinavian folk ballads offer tales which suggest that these alf-women still acted as the idises (in their darker shape) could. The Danish “Herr Oluf Han Rider” tells of a man who rides through a grove where elf-folk were dancing on his wedding-eve. One of the women asks him to dance with her, but he refuses. She strikes him over the heart; he rides home to his betrothed, and the two of them are dead by the next morning. In the Icelandic “Ólafur liljurós”, the alf-woman asks the man to dwell in the hill with them; he refuses on the grounds that he is a christian. She then asks him for a kiss, which he gives “half-heartedly” (with half-hugr); she stabs him with her knife, mortally wounding him. As spoken of under “Idises”, such bidding and its consequences are typical: one way or another, the chosen man will join the woman in death. 

 

 

 

The mound-folk are especially interested in human babies, whom they will steal if they can, leaving changelings in their place. According to folk belief, they can breed, but this is rare and difficult, and there are several tales of human women called to midwife alf births. 

 

Alfs, like trolls, etins, and god/esses, can mate with humans. This happens often in Scandinavian folklore. From the late heathen/early mediæval period, perhaps the most notable example is Högni (Hagen) of Þiðreks saga. According to the saga, he was “gray as ash, and sallow as bast, and pale as a dead man”, easily mistaken for a troll in a dim light. The belief that Hagen was the son of an alf may have come to Scandinavia through the original German source for both Þiðreks saga and Nibelungenlied (though, as mentioned above, the Níflungar/Burgundian association suggest the possibility of an older connection which, like Siegfried’s spear-death, was lost in the Norse but retained in the German materials); but the description is typically Norse. There are a number of later folk stories of men who are seduced by alf women (and father children on them), and of brides who are stolen by the alfs on their wedding day. There are also stories of men who cast steel over their elvish lovers to bind them to the Middle-Garth so that they can marry them. 

 

Folk who spend time with the alfs often come back mad, or at the very least sorrowful and wandering in their wits. The expression “taken into the mountain” was used whenever someone underwent a sudden psychological change, which was often associated with getting lost in the mountains or woods. The ringing of church bells was thought to force the alfs to let their captives go (Kvideland & Sehmsdorf, Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legend, p. 212). Simek tells us that the German “Erlkönig”, on whom Goethe’s ballad (set as a song by Schubert) is based, “originates from an incorrect translation of Herder’s who misunderstood the Danish elverkonge (‘elf-king’) to be Erlenkönig (‘alder-king’), but attributed to it some of the darker attributes of elves (Dictionary, p. 74); that is, trying to lure a child away, and when that fails, taking it by force, leaving a corpse behind.

Alfs are also well-known for “alf-shot” - little invisible arrows which cause effects in humans and cattle ranging from sudden sharp pains, local swellings, and inexplicable wasting sicknesses to bone cancer and even death. Lumbago and arthritis are especially thought of as the result of alf-shot. This belief is common throughout the Northern world, with forms of the word appearing in all Germanic dialects (together with the similar “troll-shot”, “witch-shot”, and “dwarf-shot”); it probably stems from the eldest times. Those who suspect they or their animals may be suffering from alf-shot should work the charm “Wiþ Færstice” (Against a Sudden Pain), the text and translation of which can be found in G. Storms’ Anglo-Saxon Magic. 

 

Alfs dislike it greatly when stables are built or people relieve themselves on their mounds. There are also several stories of mounds with trees growing on them from which it was forbidden to break branches; when this bidding was broken, great ill-luck overcame the one who had done it. 

However, the alfs can also get along well with humans. Tales abound of folk who have done favours for them and are well-rewarded for it. If offered a gift by them, especially in payment for services done, it is far safer to take it than to refuse it. Food and drink are quite common (though there is a counter-belief that to eat alfish food within their hall will trap one there forever) . There is also a recurring theme of an alf-gift which seems worthless (dead leaves, wood-shavings, and such) turning into gold - quite the opposite of the Celtic belief in “fairy gold” which looks valuable, but is actually something worthless with a glamour laid on it. The Anglo-Saxon names such as Ælfgifu (Alf-Gift), Ælfred (Alf-Rede - mod. Alfred), and Ælfwin(Alf-Friend - mod. Alvin) also speak of a close and good relationship between alfs and humans in the English tradition. 

 

Alfs can be seen through knot-holes (elf-bore), holes made by an alf-shot in an animal’s hide (Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, II, p. 461), and probably natural holes in stones, which were thought to be especially magical." (2) 

 

Elves live in many places, and call many places thier home. Rocks, stones, mountains, forests, rivers. Any place. The places that they live are sacred, especially to them and should be shown the utmost respect. Elves can be great friends, or dangerous enemies. 

 

Álfar (elves) are close confederates of the gods. In the story of creation, the elves and the gods are linked, as if the elves were only one step lower than the Æsir. The light elves live in a splendid place called Álfheim, while the dark elves live underground. A frequent refrain in poetry is “How fare the Æsir? How fare the elves?”, a beautifully alliterative couplet in old Norse. While sacrifices to the elves (álfablót) are mentioned in the sagas (for instance, chapter 22 of Kormáks saga) the elves seem to be less important at the time of the sagas than they had been earlier. Elves are hard to deal with, rewarding generously, but attacking cruelly. 

 

Here is a great documentary on elves, and other vaettir: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRjatXe5bis 

 

I highly recommend watching it! Some part i believe are a little off, but for the most part it is a very good documentary! 

 

Well I think that does it for the Elves...for now at least! 

 

Hail the Alfr! May they be kind to us all! But only when we respect them! 

 

Sources: 

 

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elf 

 

(2) http://heathentemple.tumblr.com/post/15384801814/the-alfar-wights-vaettir-of-asatru 

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