The Origin of Scandinavian Elves

We see them in our favorite novels and movies. While some imagine them slim, wise, and tall, others see them short, mean, and almost goblin looking. It doesn’t matter the source. The word elf means something to most of us.

The Many Mythologies

Before the Church grew throughout Europe, elves were already in popular beliefs. Furthermore, the elves were in not only Norse mythology, but also Germanic with similar attributes. Additionally, It even found its way into Celtic mythology as well.

The etymology of the word itself in German used to translate to “white being” in its old form. Alternatively, the context in which elves grew, depends mostly on what Christian people wrote regarding the elves.

The details of what people used to believe when it came to elves are quite hard to find due to the changing of religion that occurred at the time.

Celtic
Celtic

Trying to reconstruct its origin is a task in itself because of religion spreading. In Old and Middle English, the Medieval texts often associated elves with god-like beings. They were capable of bringing health and disease, magic and beauty, as well as famine.

Once the Middle Ages passed, the word elf lost its meaning, and we can see lesser use of the word in texts from Germany papers. However, we can easily find the belief in elves persisting in Scandinavian countries in early modern times.

Medieval Castle
Medieval Castle

Even Scotland seemed to believe in beautiful beings. The Celtic beliefs coming from English Isles, such as Scotland, depict elves as wanting to abduct humans. Findings of such precise attributes are related directly to early modern ballads from the British Isles.

The Elf Shot

In Anglo-Saxon England, back in the Medieval period, people associated elves with medicine. The mention of elves relates to old medical texts where there are mentions of them afflicting humans and livestock with intestinal diseases and mental disorders.

One of the most popular medical texts is, Metrical Charm Wið Faerstice, which translates to “Against A Stabbing Pain.” Directly from the tenth-century compilation of Lacnunga. The appearances of elves remained even past the Middle English medical texts.

Ängsälvor Nils Blommér 1850
Ängsälvor Nils Blommér 1850

Mostly part of Scotland’s belief, elves kept the population believes in their powerful means. When the witch trials occurred, some people shared believing elves gave them healing powers. Sometimes, elves could be kind just like they could be mean.

Old Norse beliefs also had their description of elves. The creature even made its way to Ireland as well in Serglige Con Culainn. Soon after, in the early Renaissance, elves crossed to the practice of alchemy.

The Elf Play

In the Norse folklore, elves were mostly females. Additionally, they lived hidden in the mountains protected by mounds of stones. The Swedish word to describe them as beautiful females who lived in forests with their Elven King was, älvor.

The conventional view of elves would be dancing around meadows, at dawn or dusk. One could know of their presence due to a circle left by them dancing. A word to categorize that elvish behavior was, älvdanser. If one would be caught urinating in one of those circles, they would, without a doubt, get a venereal disease.

Celtic
Celtic

Comparative to a fairy circle, an elvish circle would consist of a circumference of mushrooms. Furthermore, if one watched elves dancing, time would slow down around them—like they would pull gravity as an event horizon would.

To the observer, years passed, but to those around and within the circle, minutes went by. Commonly, in Scandinavian ballads, humans are lured by elves to join and watch them dance.

Medieval Castle
Medieval Castle

What is impressive is that not all elves descriptions revolve around youth. Sometimes, a beautiful old female elf would come in a ballad or poem. The common theme, beautiful.

“…On lake shores, where the forest met the lake, you could find elf circles. They were round places where the grass had been flattened like a floor. Elves had danced there. By Lake Tisnaren, I have seen one of those. It could be dangerous, and one could become ill if one had trodden over such a place or if one destroyed anything there.”

Anne Marie Hellström, Local Historian

The Elven Cross

Scandinavian folklore often describes elves as delivering diseases. It would go from skin rashes, i.e., älvablåst, translated to Elven puff cured with a strong counter-blow, which required a pair bellow, i.e., an air blower.

To make elves happy, often Scandinavian would offer them butter. The belief was that peculiar petroglyph would be on the rocks. Those would be, älvkvarnar, a word for Elven mills. Those rocks warned people that the mills were of Elven origins and butter would be a gift to them.

Pentagram
Pentagram

To protect themselves against mischievous elves, Scandinavians would use the Älvkors, translated as the Elven Cross. Strangely, it is the common pentagram we know.

One would carve the Elven Cross on their doors, walls, utensils, or anything they would use to protect it and themselves. Another way to use the Elven Cross was to wear it around their neck or carve it on a silver plate.

So Much To Say

This article is only a short origin of elves. Furthermore, I believe other articles might come concerning their origins as those creatures, just like many others, are part of humankind’s folklore from all over the world.

Celtic
Celtic

While this article spoke of mostly Scandinavia, you can rest assured I am digging into some more information about them. Elves are part of the fantasy world now, but when reading this article, they also belong in the Gothic era.

Either way, more is coming!

The OCD Vampire
A.D. Wayne


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.