The Invisible Web

Your Trip Into the Chapel Perilous

YuleTide: Santa Klaus and His Companions #3 – ELVES (and their Kin)

Posted by invizweb on December 22, 2008

Since the 19th Century, there has been a tradition that elves are little people that work for Santa Klaus (or some mass production food companies) who live inside trees.  Those who are familiar with folklore and fantasy know that is not the always case; in fact, when Lord Dunsany  wrote his celebrated, The King of Elfland’s Daughter, the first modern tale which elves appear, they still live in the legendary Alfheim (of Norse Heathenism, albeit with an Anglicized name), and they are tall enough and capable of mating with humans.    Tolkien, however, would be the one to bring elves into their current level of popularity with The Hobbit (1937), followed by his Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

One of the antecedents of pint sized elfs was the short story, “The Elf of the Rose,” of fabled storyteller Hans Christian Andersen.  In this tale, the namesake elf was in fact the size of a blooming rose and had wings.   In 1933, Snap, Crackle, and Pop made their debuts for Kellog’s Rice Crispies ads.  They were however, originally identified as gnomes.   Note the spellings used in this paragraph; elf aficionados have made a case that the original regular sized are elves, whereas the smaller ones are the “elfish” of the “Elfen race.” The guys clad in green who assist Santa in  making (or in some stories, importing)  are Elfen.  In some traditions, they also works on logistics year round for the Saint’s one-day journey circumnavigating the globe.  According to some folklorists including noted archivist of Scandanavian stories, Viktor Rydberg, they are headquartered somewhere between the Arctic and Lapland, as their are no reindeer for Santa to ride at the Pole itself (more on this at another date), in a secret, may be even camouflaged, village.

The first mention of elves historically is in Norse tales perhaps dating back before the Aesir and Vanir House of Norse Gods.  The Light Elves were said to be tall, eternally youthful, and fairer than even Nordic peoples.  They lived in heavenly Alfheim.  Their cousins, the Dark Elves, however, live in the bowels of the Earth similar to Dwarves.  The last known monarch of the elves was Gandalf, who like his counterpart in Middle Earth, wielded a magic wand to protect his kin.  Humans and Elves can have kids together with the most famous being the Half-Elf sorceress princess of Norse legends, Skuld, being the most notable.  Elves  similar to other preChristian entities were later demonized and thus the term “Little People” today.  They were believed to cause mischief such as replacing human children with their own (though Changelings were more famous for this) to improve their bloodlines.  Modern day philosophers of the metaphysics such as Robert Anton Wilson, note the similarities between alien abductions and the “spiriting away” attributed to “fairy mounds.”  Wilson in fact, classified Mr. Spock, “the little green man” of Star Trek as being of the same archetype as Elves.

property of the National Museum in Poznań

property of the National Museum in Poznań

A related group of entities are the Weissen Frauen, which have been translated to the ‘White Ladies” (the more common term) and “Wise Ladies.”  Unlike the common usage for the phrase, these White Ladies were not Caucasian human women but ghostly translucent feminine entities similar to elves and their kin.  They were also linked to the Goddess of Spring, Ostara, and Wilderness Goddess Lady Perchta (Bertha).  They were known throughout many European cultures, but most prominently the Germanic and Celtic ones.   Sightings of these apparition-like beings have been numerous over the centuries.  Originally thought to have been spirits of feminine wisdom, Christianity demonized them as witches and demons.

On a side note, upon discussion of a piece of Scandinavian-American literature during my Junior Year of high school, I brought up an article on the Heathen revival discussed in a recent issue of Time magazine. When my uneducated English professor’s mind blanked, I used an example of how some folks believed in the possibilities extraterrestrials as some the existence of “Fair Folk.” The instructor balked and asked in a mocking diction, “Do you believe in fairies?” That signaled almost the entire class of 33 mostly Orthodox Jews, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox students to laugh at me in a manner to ridicule. I was so tempted to break 33 backs and humble people in “the Old Country Way,” but had been suspended the year before when I brawled with a kid who called my mother a “cheap 5 cent VietCong whore.” I am almost sure I have mentioned how Forest Hills High School, its denizens, and the nearby environs have the reek of bigotry. I wonder do these fools dare mock the nation of Iceland for their cultural belief in “Hidden Folk.”  Screw those guys.  A wise man once said “fairy tales and legends are terms for OTHER PEOPLE’s religion.”

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