Elf - Fairies

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005


Elf, an Anglo-Saxon word, refers to the indigenous spirits of the Teutonic lands. The words fairy and fée are of French derivation and began to replace “elf” in the fourteenth century. The words are now somewhat interchangeable, although “elf” is more specific and is never a generic term like “fairy.”

Orisha originally came from Yorubaland, Lwa from Dahomey. Rusalka derive from Russia, Sidhe from Ireland, Djinn from the Middle East, and so forth. Who are the indigenous Anglo-Saxon spirits and what are they called in plain English? Some would say there are none but this just demonstrates the intensity with which traditions were suppressed. Indigenous Anglo-Saxon spirits are Elves.

Elves feature prominently in the spells and charms of the Anglo-Saxons. Many of these charms were intended to protect from elves and so a hostile relationship is presumed; however some perceive that pre-Christianity, spiritual alliances existed between elves and people. Once this alliance ended, embittered elves, previously helpful, turned dangerous or, conversely, people were taught to fear elves specifically so that they would not continue pagan devotions. Clues that this was the case arise in Teutonic mythology devoted to Freyr and Hulda, Elven King and Queen. (See DIVINE WITCH: Hulda.)

Like fairies, elves have now been cleaned-up and made-over to suit sanitized children’s fiction, often portrayed as miniature, whimsical busy-bees: Santa’s little helpers. Originally elves were human-sized, sometimes taller, and were renowned archers, healers, and artisans. Author J.R.R. Tolkien’s portrayal of the sacred but dangerous elven folk in The Lord of the Rings trilogy of novels hews closely to mythological tradition.

Elves had their own kingdom paralleling those of humans. Like fairies, elves could be benevolent and helpful but were also feared: elves reputedly had a tendency to be hostile to humans, sometimes striking them with the poison darts known as elf-shot, which lead to illness and malaise.

Among theories surrounding elves is that they were the indigenous people of North-western Europe, eventually pushed deep into caves, forests, and mountain halls by Indo-European invaders.