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Elves: a History

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Author Topic: Elves: a History  (Read 1381 times)
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« on: January 27, 2007, 11:14:26 am »

Guys, I have decided to start a topic on elves because I believe they should be a separate classification from the rest of the Cryptozoology thread (and also cause I just saw Lord of the Rings again and the subject has peaked my interest).

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Elves are mythical creatures of Germanic mythology that have survived in northern European folklore. Originally a race of minor gods of nature and fertility, they are often pictured as small, youthful-seeming men and women of great beauty living in forests and other natural places, underground, or in wells and springs. They have been imagined to be long-lived or immortal and magical powers have been attributed to them. Something associated with elves or the qualities of elves is described by the adjectives elfin, elven, elfish, or elvish. Elves are staple characters in modern fantasy. They are also called:

Great Britain: addler
Iceland: Álfar and Álfa-fólk
Scandinavia: Elle
Sweden: alv "elf", alf "elf" and älva "female elf" or "fairy" (but not älv, "river", a word which is, however, etymologically related)

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« Reply #1 on: January 27, 2007, 11:16:06 am »

Characteristics of mythological elves
Norse mythology

Scandinavian mythology includes light-elves (Liosálfar) who dwell in the third space in heaven, dark-elves (Döckálfar), and black-elves (Svartalfar). The black-elves were skilled smiths, and the most skilled were reputed to be the sons of Ivaldi, the father of Idun.

The elves (light-elves) are often mentioned along with the Aesir, instead of the Vanir (a race of gods). The names Vanir and Alfar (light elves) may have been either synonymous, since the expression "Aesir and Alfar" meant "all the gods", or designating a difference in status between the major fertility gods, the Vanir, and the minor ones, the elves. The Van Freyr was the lord of Álfheim (meaning "elvenhome"), the home of the light-elves, and he had as servants two elves: Byggvir and Beyla. Like the Vanir the elves were associated with fertility and, in late fall, the "alfablót" (elven sacrifice) was performed in the homes. It was secret, no strangers were allowed in the homes, and so next to nothing is known of it.

The Scandinavian elves were of human size, which allowed "normal" human interactions: for example, in Hrólf Kraki's saga, the Danish king Helgi finds an elf-woman on an island and rapes her. Famous men could be elevated to the rank of elves after death, and in one such case, the full-sized smith hero Völund is called an elf.

There are also in the Norwegian Heimskringla notions about a line of local kings who rule over Álfheim, situated between Gautelfr and the present border between Norway and Sweden on the Swedish westcoast. The last king is named Gandalf.

The Svartalfar live in Svartalfheim. In some sources they are identified with the dwarfs of Nidavellir, who likewise had a reputation as skilled smiths. In general, however, elves and dwarfs are distinguished in surviving Norse literature.

Scandinavian folklore

In Scandinavian folklore, which is a later blend of Norse mythology and elements of Christian mythology, there are several groups of human-like nature spirits than are akin to "elves" in a modern sense. These are called tomtar, vittror, and älvor, and are grouped under the general name of vättar (compare wights).

The elves of Norse mythology have survived into folklore mainly as females. The älvor (Swedish, singular älva) were stunningly beautiful girls who lived in the forest with an elven king. They were long-lived and light-hearted in nature. They could be seen at night dancing over meadows. The circles they left were called älvdanser (elf dances) or älvringar (elf circles). If a human watched their dance, he would discover that even though only a few hours seemed to have passed, many years had passed in the real world. (This time phenomenon is common to stories about the Irish sídhe and is retold in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings when the Fellowship of the Ring discovers that time seems to have run more slowly in elven Lothlórien.)

In Denmark the elves seem to have merged with the Huldra and are beautiful females who can dance a man to death. If you see them from the back, they are hollow.

German folklore

What remained of the belief in elves in German folklore was that they were mischievous pranksters that could cause disease to cattle and people, and bring bad dreams to sleepers. The German word for nightmare, Albtraum, means "elf dream". The archaic form Albdruck means "elf pressure"; it was believed that nightmares are a result of an elf sitting on the dreamer's chest.

The Brothers Grimm fairy tale The Shoemaker & the Elves is probably the most famous original elf tale. The elves are only one foot tall in this story, naked, and like to work on shoes, as leprechauns do. When the shoemaker rewards their work with little clothes, the elves are so delighted, that they run away and are never seen again. (This tales is echoed in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter stories: see below.)

German folklore held that elves had a particular fondness for children and would appear to those about to die, rather like the Irish banshee. This aspect of the legend was immortalised by Goethe in his poem Der Erlkönig, later set to music by Schubert.

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« Reply #2 on: January 27, 2007, 11:17:48 am »

English folklore

Elves were imported into Britain with the Anglo-Saxons.
English folktales of the early modern period typically portray elves as small, elusive people with mischievous personalities (see illustration). They are not evil but might annoy humans or interfere in their affairs. They are sometimes said to be invisible. In this tradition, elves became more or less synonymous with the fairies that originated from native British mythology, for example, the Welsh Ellyll (plural Ellyllon) and Y Dynon Bach Têg.

Elf, fairy, and other terms for nature spirits like pwcca, hobgoblin, Robin Goodfellow, the Scots brownie, and so forth are no longer clearly distinguished in popular English folklore, nor are similar terms in other European languages.

Before they became diminutive and whimsical, elves were probably akin to powerful pre-Christian forest spirits like the woodwose, the Green Man, and the drusi in the mythology of the Gauls — beings to be respected and even feared. A trace of the former importance of elves in Germanic culture exists in names like Alfred (Old English Ælfræd, "elf-counsel") and Alvin (Old English Ælfwine, "elf-friend").

The term ælfsciene ("elf-shining") is used in the Old English poem Judith referring to elven beauty. On the other hand oaf is simply a variant of the word elf, presumably originally referring to a changeling or to someone stupefied by elvish enchantment.

Little documentation exists on English rustic beliefs and terminology before the nineteenth century, but it seems that the term elf was used, at least on some occasions or in some places, for various kinds of uncanny wights, either human-sized or smaller. But other terms were also used.

However, in Elizabethan England, Shakespeare imagined elves as little people. He apparently considered elves and fairies to be the same race. In Henry IV, Part 1, i. 4, he has Falstaff call Prince Henry, "you starveling, you elfskin!", and in his Midsummer Night's Dream, his elves are almost as small as insects. On the other hand, Edmund Spenser applies elf to full-sized beings in The Faerie Queene.

Elf-shot was the name use for found neolithic flint arrow-heads, imagined as created and used by the elvish folk, and sudden paralysis was sometimes attributed to elf-stroke.

There every herd by sad experience knows,
How winged with fate their elf-shot arrows fly;
When the sick ewe her summer-food foregoes,
Or stretched on earth, the heart-smit heifers lie."
— Collins, The Fairy Mythology (1870)

Fairy tales with elves in them include:

Addlers & Menters
Ainsel & Puck
Childe Rowland
The Elf Maiden
Elfin Woman & Birth of Skuld
Elle-Maid near Ebeltoft
Hedley Kow
Luck of Eden Hall
The Shoemaker & the Elves
Sir Olof in Elve-Dance
Wild Edric
The Young Swain and the Elves
Elves of myth include:

Helfrat (elf father of Sigurd, Volsung Saga)
Argante (Elven Queen of Avalon)
Summer (Queen of the Elves of Light, in Algonquian myth)

Elves in Victorian English literature
The influence of Shakespeare and Michael Drayton made the use of elf and fairy for very small beings the norm. In Victorian literature, elves usually appeared in illustrations as tiny men and women with pointed ears and stocking caps. There were exceptions, such as the full-sized elves who appear in Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter.

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« Reply #3 on: January 27, 2007, 11:19:28 am »

Elves at Christmas

In USA, Canada, and the United Kingdom, the modern children's folklore of Santa Claus typically includes diminutive, green-clad elves as Santa's assistants. They wrap Christmas gifts and make toys in a workshop located in the Arctic. In this portrayal, elves slightly resemble nimble and delicate versions of the dwarfs of Norse mythology. However, the elf legends are in fact, even older than Saint Nicholas, the bishop on whom Santa Claus was originally based.
In the Nordic countries where elves have since become associated with Christmas, elves are clad all in red and have long beards and black boots. On Christmas Eve, one must give the elves a bowl of porridge to keep them from playing pranks. In Iceland, from December 12 until Christmas Eve, thirteen elves called the Yule lads visit homes, a lad each day for 13 days, and play tricks on the children, as well as leaving presents for them.

Modern fantasy elves
Modern fantasy literature has revived the elves as a race distinct from fairies. Fantasy elves are different from Norse elves, but are more akin to that older mythology — and to the Irish sídhe — than to folktale elves.

In 1954, Poul Anderson introduced grim Norse-style elves in his fantasy novel The Broken Sword and made them full-sized.

The twentieth-century philologist and fantasy writer J. R. R. Tolkien had little use for Shakepearean fairy portrayals or for Victorian diminutive fairy prettiness and whimsy, aligning his elves with the god-like and human-sized elves of Norse mythology, the Ljosálfar. He conceived a race of beings similar to humans but fairer, with greater spiritual powers, keener senses, and a closer empathy with nature. They are great smiths and fierce warriors on the side of good. Tolkien's Elves of Middle-earth are not deathless and can be killed by injury, and while they are sufficiently long-lived to be called immortal by humans, they do age.

Tolkien is responsible for reviving the older and less-used terms elves, elven, and elvish rather than Edmund Spenser's invented elfs, elfin, and elfish. He probably preferred the word elf over fairy because elf is of Anglo-Saxon origin while fairy entered English from French.

Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954-1958), became astoundingly popular and was much imitated. In the 1960s and afterwards, elves similar to those in Tolkien's novels became staple non-human characters in high fantasy works and in fantasy role-playing games (RPGs).

Post-Tolkien literary elves (popularized by the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game) tend to be human-sized or only slightly smaller than humans, and tend also to be capable warriors, especially skilled in archery. Terms like hob or brownie or other genuine regional folklore terms are seldom used of such creatures: they are unlikely to sneak in at night and help a cobbler mend his shoes.

Tolkien's elves were enemies of goblins and orcs and had a longstanding quarrel with the dwarves: these motifs also often reappear in Tolkien-inspired works. In gaming, and to some extent fantasy, elves have a great depth of knowledge (especially regarding magic) due to a racial inclination as well as their extreme age. There are also "dark elves" popularized by TSR as drow.

Wendy and Richard Pini's long-running comic book Elfquest attempts to avoid the usual Tolkienesque elven clichés by placing their elves in a setting inspired by Native American rather than European mythology. It later turns out that they are actually the descendants of a shape-shifting alien race rather than mythological beings.

The Harry Potter book series by J. K. Rowling features house-elves that resemble brownies or goblins more than modern high-fantasy elves. Rather like the elves in The Shoemaker & the Elves, Rowling's house-elves are released from servitude when they are given clothes.

The Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett feature extradimensional creatures called elves, that go back to the old myths of cradle-robbing fairies. The book Lords and Ladies is about an encounter with "the fair folk".

Christopher Paolini's Eragon also features elves of a Nordic persuasion.

Towards the end of the 20th century, a number of people have begun to describe themselves as elves, usually more of the Tolkien than the folkloric Santa type. Many of these people can be found in the Otherkin subculture.

See also
Dark elf
Eldar (Warhammer 40,000)
Elves (Middle-earth)
Elf versus dwarf
Elvish language
High elf
Night elf
Sprite (fantasy)
Yule lads

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« Reply #4 on: January 27, 2007, 11:23:13 am »

History of the Elves
The Creation of the Drow

Long ago, the elves were one race, but the capricious nature of the gods caused them to be divided into two new races: those called the high elves and those called the low elves. The high elves were, in many ways, considered superior to their cousins. It wasn’t long before they had established their great city as one of the most prominent centers of learning on the continent while the low elves retreated into the wilderness, living in clans and hunting for their food.

But the threat of famine, drought, war, and disease caused many low elves to beg their cousins for protection time and again. Of these, many stayed on as farmers, craftsmen, and laborers and the high elves were grateful to be spared of the work themselves. But like humans, not all elves are so good and pure of heart and there were many nobles who exploited their villagers, who, in the long years of living in relative safety, had forgotten how to survive on their own in the wilds.

In one small village, a rebellion began and the movement spread like wildfire before the high elves realized what was happening. Armies were sent out to subdue the low elves; villages were put to the torch, men, women, and children were slaughtered until the earth was soaked in blood and the low elves were forced to give ground. Many began to flee into the mountains to escape certain death. The high elves pressed on, forcing the survivors to take shelter in caves where the rock helped protect them from both physical and magical weapons.

Angry though the high elves were, they as a race are not given to cruelty so they did not have the heart to seal up the refugees and make the caves their tombs, but their sense of justice demanded some form of punishment for those who had betrayed them. They gathered every mage and cleric they had, prayed to their gods, and fashioned a curse that would damn the traitors and their children for all time.

Never again would they freely walk in the sunlight - their eyes would crave only darkness.
Their skin would be black - so that all who saw them would know of the treachery that lies in their hearts.
Their eyes would be red like blood - so that they would never forget how their actions had caused their kin to be slaughtered
Their hair would be white - so that they would remember their fall from grace

The other races would come to avoid them, to fear and shun them, and so their betrayal would never be forgotten.

The curse was released, but the gods, who have their own sense of justice, granted these low elves a gift of magic almost equal to that of the high elves. But the high elves were unaware of this and returned home to continue on with their lives, content with what they had accomplished. And those unlucky elves who found themselves changed by the curse became the drow, creatures of darkness hated and feared by those who walked the path of light.

The drow, confined underground, worked to establish a new way of living. With so many men lost in the rebellion, women were forced to run their households and handle all family decisions. The men that remained were carefully guarded and looked upon as priceless possessions with little say in matters of importance. Eventually they would to be considered inferior and women would rule their houses as powerful matrons. A matriarchal society was born.

The city of Chul’Adeth was established first. Centuries later, a group of younger people with radical ideas left the city and made a dangerous overland journey to the west, where they built a second, smaller city: Chul’Azal. Contact between the two cities has been infrequent throughout the centuries since each disapproves of the other, but never have they fought each other.
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« Reply #5 on: December 24, 2008, 12:10:09 am »

Wow Shocked you have done a lot of research! thank you for posting this i've really enjoyed reading it
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