30.11.10

Elf Myths and Legends

Article

Elves are mythical creatures from the tradition of European folklore. Being ‘at one with nature’, they live in woods, and according to legend they were left offerings at the springs and trees. Over time Elves have been represented as both; beautiful and wise noble creatures with small human-like form, and mischievous little people sometimes possessing a darker force.

Literature

The earliest mention of Elves in literature is from the Dark Ages, around 1000 AD. In the Old English poem ‘Judith’, the heroine is described as ‘brightly beautiful as an elf.’

By the time Shakespeare wrote of Elves in the 1500s they had lost their beauty, and were small, mischievous sprites appearing in the plays ‘The Tempest’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.

In 1590 Edmund Spenser restored a bit of the Elves grandeur in his epic poem, ‘The Faerie Queene’, which was a tribute to Queen Elizabeth 1.

It was Tolkien however, who fully reinstated the Elves with ‘The Lord of the Rings’. 
His reference was from Norse mythology, and his Elves were tall, intensely beautiful and benevolent creatures.

The Shoemaker and The Elves – The Brothers Grimm

The Shoemaker and The Elves is the story of a shoemaker, who although very hard working, was very poor. One night, with only enough leather left to make one pair of shoes, he cut out the pattern and retired to bed. In the morning he found an exquisite pair of shoes which ended up making him a great deal of money. This same ritual went on for several nights, until the shoemaker and his wife hid behind a curtain and found that some little naked elves were creeping in to make the shoes and then leaving. The wife made them some clothes out of gratitude, and although the elves danced with joy at having something to wear, they then rushed off and were never seen again. However, from that time on everything went well for the shoemaker.

Elven Differences

In Scandinavia, there are three types of Elves: the light Elves who live with gods and goddesses in the Upper world; the dark Elves who live in the Lower world; and the black Elves who were skilled as smiths and lived in the world in between. They were known to be of human size, and the females were very beautiful.

In Germany, the Elves are small, mischievous creatures. They bring nightmares by sitting on the sleeper’s chest, and are responsible for the old German word for nightmare ‘Albtraum’, meaning ‘Elf Dream’.

In England, Elves are regarded as whimsical sprites. In the Dark Ages however, they were akin to gods, and the manifestation of a spiritual aspect of nature, which worked alongside humans. They were divided into two classes; rural Elves and their cousins, Hobgoblins and Robin Goodfellows (Puck).

© Copyright Jan Reid-Lennox. All Rights Reserved.