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Saturday, 8 March 2014

The Origine of Elves

Some light reading my dear friends and followers
A short history on the origin of elves. I would love to hear your thoughts, Thank you

The origin of elves

Here's how these little people have evolved.



Ancient Norse mythology refers to the álfar, also known as huldufólk, or "hidden folk." However, it's risky to translate álfar directly to the English word "elf," said Terry Gunnell, a folklorist at the University of Iceland. Elves are thought of as little people, perhaps wearing stocking caps and cavorting with fairies, but the original conception of álfar was far less whimsical. Some ancient poems place them side by side with the Norse gods, perhaps as another word for the Vanir, a group of gods associated with fertility, or perhaps as their own godly race. It's likely, Gunnell said, that elves' inventors had no single, unified theory on elvish identity; rather, there were a variety of related folk beliefs regarding this unseen race.

"They look like us, they live like us — at least in the older materials — and probably, nowadays, if they're living anywhere, they're living between floors in flats [apartments]," Gunnell told LiveScience, referring to the notion of an invisible, parallel world inhabited by álfar— the friendly neighbors who live between the seventh and eighth floors.


Iceland was settled in the 800s by Scandinavians and Celts, brought from Ireland as slaves. Both Scandinavian and Celtic cultures had myths of fairies, elves and nature spirits, which began to meld into the concept of álfar as representatives of the landscape, Gunnell said. Iceland's eerie, volcanic setting probably played into these myths, Gunnell said, especially in the dark of winter, when the Northern Lights are the only thing illuminating the long nights.

"The land is alive, and really, the hidden people are a personification of a very living landscape that you have to show respect for, that you can't really defeat," Gunnell said. "You have to work with it." [Top 10 Beasts and Dragons: How Reality Made Myth]

Elves evolve

Scandinavians and Celts weren't the only Europeans who used unseen, supernatural species as symbols of the wilds surrounding them. Farther south, Germans believed in dwarves and little sprites called kobolds. Scots had house spirits called brownies.

Elves became part of this mythological mix throughout the first millennium A.D., according to Alaric Hall, a lecturer at the University of Leeds who penned an entry on elves for the upcoming "Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters" (Ashgate, 2014). The word "elf" derives from the ancestor language of German, English and today's Scandinavian languages, Hall wrote, and the first written references to them come from church texts starting around A.D. 500.

Medieval Europeans saw elves as dark and dangerous, and linked them to demons. In the Old English "Beowulf," which dates to sometime between A.D. 700 and 1000, elves get a mention as an evil race that descended from Cain, the biblical son of Adam and Eve who murdered his brother:

"Of Cain awoke all that woful breed,

Etins and elves and evil-spirits,

as well as the giants that warred with God."

These religious references reveal the clash and melding of folk beliefs and new religion as Christianity crept into Europe. In different tales at different times, elves alternated between good and bad, Hall wrote. They could deliver babies safely through a difficult labor — or steal away a human baby and replace it with a sickly and deformed changeling. Elves, known as alp in German, could cause nightmares (Alpdrück), perhaps similar to other mythology surrounding the scary experience of sleep paralysis. Nevertheless, elves were probably still considered human-size, rather than diminutive, Hall wrote.

By William Shakespeare's day, elves lost many of their malevolent undertones. Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," written in the 1590s, included an elflike figure, Puck, who acted as a jokester or trickster.


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From myth to Christmas


"Note!" nobody really knows what a Christmas elf looks like until I got this snapshot of them while walking in the woods one day. They had lost their way  and were looking to find their way back to Santa's house  



Much as the modern Thanksgiving menu dates back to the 1800s, so too do modern U.S. Christmas traditions. Elves became linked withSanta Claus in the 1823 poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas," better known today as "The Night Before Christmas." That poem refers to Santa Claus as a "jolly old elf."

With the elf-Christmas link established, other writers began to get creative with the idea. In 1857, Harper's Weekly published a poem called "The Wonders of Santa Claus," which tells how Santa "keeps a great many elves at work/ All working with all their might/ To make a million of pretty things/ Cakes, sugar-plums, and toys/ To fill the stockings, hung up you know/ By the little girls and boys."

The idea caught on. In 1922, famed artist Norman Rockwell released a painting of an exhausted Santa surrounded by tiny, industrious elves, trying to get a dollhouse finished in time for Christmas. A 1932 short movie by Disney called "Santa's Workshop" showed bearded, blue-clad elves singing, prepping Santa's sleigh, brushing reindeer teeth and helping Santa with the naughty/nice list. "Molly seems to be OK; she eats her spinach every day," an elf rhymes, before nixing another child's ambitious list because he doesn't wash behind his ears.


By Stephanie Pappas, Senior Writer | December 18, 2013 10:22am ET


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