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The Elves, who are they?

The Elves are in our minds majestic beings, imbued with magic, mystery and immortality (or at least of an astonishing longevity). But what is really happening? Where does their myth begin? Especially: are they really what we believe?

Hello my Marmosets!

I know, I know, I was sooooooooo long absent … but I reassure you: “Here I am!” So you have the choice: either I tell you what I did during my half-holidays (I have a lot to tell you!), Or I speak to you about something else … then? Okay, OK… I’ll tell you about fantastic creatures … (pfff you’re really not friendly with me!).

Creature of the day, hello!

The Elves: Guardians of Nature

In fact, I realize that the word “Elf” is often used in the plural. Would it be a distortion of our imagination to perceive them thus? I think so. Try. Close your eyes and try to project an Elf into your mind. They are always imagined as a great family: “to many, we are better! “Great? Pointy ears ? With arcs perhaps? Fine? Almost immortal? Links with magic? Nature too? Do you see it ? A beautiful “Legolas” stands before you. (Do not babe too much, girls!) Is that it? Are you there? Good. If I told you that all these facts about them are not quite true? That our “literary” imagination has distorted the real image of these beings?

First of all, we must know that the origin of the Elvish myth is northern, even if they are also found in Celtic mythology.

This myth is still deeply rooted in Scandinavian folklore. Initially, they were minor divinities, linked to nature, but also to fertility.

That is, I think (this is still my personal opinion), which undoubtedly gave birth to their legendary longevity, but of course I can be wrong.

A human appearance

An elf is an anthropomorphic creature (whose appearance is human) that originally lived close to nature, was small in size and had pointed ears. The Norwegian term “Huldrefolk” refers to the “hidden people” or “vetter” a kind of earth-related “goblins”, approaching the dwarfs of northern mythology more than elves.
Their figure will be taken up again in fantasy, especially in the mythical writings of Tolkien, who then made them great characters, incredibly beautiful, imprinted with nobility and wisdom.

(Légolaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaas !)

Their attachment to nature persists, since they often live in forests. They are also given amazing magic powers and incredible longevity. In fact, humans perceive them as immortal. They will also keep their ears long and pointed. They would be incredibly agile, fast, gifted in the handling of bows and would have a piercing view. This makes them formidable hunters and warriors.
J. R. R. Tolkien, in parallel to the writing of the accounts of Middle-earth, invented a series of elvish languages ​​whose existence is not reduced to their mention in narrative; with other non elven languages ​​placed in the same imaginary world, they form the set of languages ​​of Middle-earth.
Once adults, the Elves no longer age, they never get sick. Only a serious wound (or deep grief) can cause them to die. Their astonishing longevity gives them a totally different view of the world (and life) from that of humans. In fact, they tend to view short-term adventures with disdain and indifference, as they necessarily project themselves on the “longer term”. Nevertheless, when they have a well-defined purpose, they are tenacious, with a determined determination. If they bind little friendship, it is always perennial.

It would seem that the Elves themselves would choose their first name in adulthood (about 100 years).

The Elves are generally more intelligent than humans (no, no, I will not comment), or at least endowed with greater wisdom. They possess ancestral knowledge, especially in the field of trees, plants … They live indeed very close to nature. This concept is probably derived from the Nordic and Germanic mythologies. I do not want to pass for a rambler, nevertheless, it seems to me to have said above that the Elves were minor divinities of nature. Their senses, mainly sight and hearing, are particularly refined and far superior to those of men.

The voice of the Elves is sometimes compared to the murmur of the water. In some stories, their song has a relationship to magic.

At the beginning…

In ancient texts in Norse (ancient Icelandic) the Elves are named “álfar” in the singular “álfr”. And in modern Scandinavian languages:

  • Icelandic: “álfur” – plural “álfar”, “álfafólk”;
  • Danish: “elver”, “elverfolk”, sometimes “ellefolk”, or “alf” – plural “alfer”;
  • Norwegian: “alv” – plural “alver”, “alvefolk”;
  • Swedish: ‘alv’ – plural ‘alver’, in the female ‘älva’ – plural ‘älvor’;
  • Scots: “elfen”.

Moreover, this first word “álfar” would have a proto-Indo-European origin, a prehistoric language that gave rise to the Indo-European languages. (What? I’m cheating it to death? No, not even true!). In fact, the word “alb” meaning “white” is found, for example, in Latin: “albus” which means the same thing. This linguistic “root” is found in ancient Germanic languages, but also modern: English (and Old English), Dutch (and Dutch), German (as well as Old High German and Middle High (without the letter “H” is a dead language spoken by the Goths in the Middle Ages).

Northern Mythology

Freyr, god of fertility in Nordic mythology, would be the lord of the “Alfes (Elves)”.

This leaves us immediately to think that if the myth relates “elves of light” and therefore “benevolent” there must also exist “black elves”, therefore “dark”. Be that as it may, Elves appear in various ways in northern mythology (but also in Germanic mythology). They are generally described as semi-divine beings associated with fertility (thank God Freyr) and ancestor worship.
The concept of “Elf” thus seems similar to the animist beliefs: everything is provided with soul, with spirit, even objects like a stone, or an element like the wind. The belief of the “fylgjur”: “the spirit totem” and the “vörðar”: “the protective spirit” is identical in Nordic mythology. The Elves are frequently compared to the nymphs of Greek and Roman mythology, to Vili (the northern god, brother of Odin) and to the Roussalki (close beings of the naiads, sirens, fairies or Greco-Roman wonders) of Slav mythology .
Many Germanic first names are taken from the name of the elf: Ælfric, Ælfwine, Ælfréd (modern Alfred), Alberich. It is also the case of some ancient French names of Germanic origin, such as Auberon and Aubry.
The mythologist and mythographer (Mythographer, not to be confused with mythomaniacs!) Seriously, mythography is studying … myths, not even funny, I know) Icelandic. Snorri Sturluson sometimes refers to the Nordic Dwarves as “Dark Elves”: “dökkálfar” or “black elves”: “svartálfar”. They would be blacksmiths and guardians of treasures. But this is a mistake. For Dwarves and Elves are two types of different creatures, not remaining, and moreover, in the same place. The “Dark Elves” would live in Svartalfheim while the Dwarfs would be in Nidavellir. It would therefore be a belated belief. The distinction between light Alfes (from the sky) and black Alfes (subterranean) influences the vision of these creatures. Since then, Men have been suspicious of the Black Alves, while the Clear Alves remain beneficial.
The Elves would be as closely linked to the “Æsir” (or Ases), the main gods of northern mythology, as to the “Vanir” fertility gods, but each “group” would have its own translations of words which would mark the difference of their status.

European Folklore

From the beginning of Christianization of the Germano-Scandinavians, belief in the Elves is assimilated to paganism (those who are not considered Christian or Jewish). In fact, this belief is severely opposed. The Elf then becomes a kind of demonic creature. An important amalgam is set up between Dwarves and Elves.
The British “pixies”, little winged fairies, are assimilated to “älvor” in modern Swedish or “alfer” in Danish.
The original myth of the Elves was perpetuated in European folklore as predominantly female beings who established their dwellings in hills, mounds (mounds only consisting of earth, covering a burial) or tumuli (mounds of earth and stones ). However, belief in the common people is rare in France, unlike the Scandinavian countries.

Folklore of the Germanic regions

The “dark side” is what remains most of the Elves in German folklore. Their nature would have “evolved”. They would be mischievous, mischievous. They would be the cause of diseases of cattle and people, bad dreams.

The German word for nightmare, “Albtraum or Alptraum” literally means “dream of Elf” and its archaic form “Albdruck” means “Elf pressure”.

This aspect of the Germanic Elvish belief comes from the Scandinavian belief of the “mara“: this evil spirit that provokes nightmares.

It could also come from legends about incubus (demons that take male form to abuse women in their sleep) and succubus (demons that take feminine form to seduce men during their sleep and their dream).
We find a posterity for the Elves of Germanic folklore in the tetralogy of the “Ring of the Nibelung” by the German composer Richard Wagner.Il serait rapporté que les Elfes danseraient dans les prés, surtout les nuits et les matins où la brume est dense. Ils laisseraient alors derrière eux des sortes de cercles, à l’emplacement même de leur danse ; on les appelle « älvdanser » : « danses d’elfes » ou « älvringar » : « cercle d’elfes ».

This is how many legends in the Middle Ages would have been born: nymphs, dryads, elves and gnomes would be responsible. Urinating in one of these circles is believed to cause venereal disease. Typically, these circles are traced by a multitude of small mushrooms, but they can also be traced by drawing grass stripped against the ground.
There would be several Elf peoples, such as the High Elves (Elves of Light), Elves of the Woods (Elves of the Woods), Gray Eves (or Moon Elves), Elves of Water (or Undines) … The Dark Elves, or drows, are most often the obscure counterpart of the Elves.

Some literary works …

(Incomplete list)

  • The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, J. R. R. Tolkien;
  • The Forgotten Realms, R-A Salvatore;
  • The Annals of World Records, Terry Pratchett;
  • The Legacy, Christopher Paolini;
  • Tara Duncan, Sophie Audouin-Mamikonian;
  • The Chronicles of the Lodoss War, Ry? Mizuno (MANGA);
  • The Knights of Emerald, The Heirs of Enkidiev, Anne Robillard;
  • Aïnako, Ariane Charland;
  • Amos Daragon, Bryan Perro (comic);
  • Merry Gentry, L.K. Hamilton;
  • The legendary Patrick Sobral (comic)

Video Games

  • Warcraft;
  • The Elder Scrolls;
  • The Legend of Zelda (called Hyliens);
  • Final Fantasy;
  • Dragon Age;
  • Magic, the assembly;
  • Naheulbeuk Dungeon;
  • Dungeons and Dragons;
  • Warhammer;
  • Warhammer 40,000;
  • The world of Palladium;
  • Shadowrun;
  • Heroes of Might and Magic;
  • The Witcher.

Whether they provoke us nightmares or make us dream, the Elves will always be assimilated, for me, to allies or representations of Nature, those beings who remind men that Mother Nature also has a say and that it will not let anyone deteriorate without flinching or replying. The Elves are the spirits of this Nature that we love so much and that makes us well … provided we take care of her so that she continues to protect us and bring us her blessings.

Article written by S-P Decroix, author of The Princess of the deepest Times, from Lysons editions.