We’ve got used to the image of Legolas from the Tolkien trilogy, directed by Peter Jackson: a human shape, with crystal eyes, pointy ears and a long blond hair, dressed from head to toes and of a divine beauty. Is is tough to figure the male from the female elf. Just that, at first, things were a little bit different, regarding this angelic demigod of nature and fertility. It first appeared in pre-Christian mythology and the Northern religions.
In the Scandinavian mythology, the elves are on the same page with the dwarves. They are living in the woods or the most fertile corners of the nature, away from the curious eyes, and they’re not exclusively on the good side: Dökkalfar are the bad guys and Ljosalfar are the good guys – the first ones are living in caves and shady forests and the last ones are living in the sky and bright spaces. The elves are bright creatures, so bright that they are compared with the Sun. They’re spiritual beings which can hardly be differentiate from the Northern Gods. In relationships with the humans, they are described as being dual: they can bring diseases but also have the power to cure, especially if you’re making a sacrifice to honor them. If it happens that an elf should fall in love with a human or the other way around, their children are semi-elves, semi-humans: the image of a normal human being is surpassed by the powers of an elf. More than this, a human can become an elf after death, according to the Nordic mythology. The thing that makes these divine and extraordinary creatures is that although Christianity started being adopted by the Germanic cultures, the people continued to worship them, even more than the gods themselves.
The Icelandic folklore keeps the elves as respectable beings that imposed both fear and admiration.They didn’t talk about them often and the superstitions related to elves still persist today. A study conducted in 2006-2007 by the Social Science Faculty at the University ofIceland shows that the natives still believe in ghosts and elves.
In the Germanic culture, the elves are minuscule and malicious creatures that bring diseases or nightmares to the people, that steal new-born babies and replacing them with their own deformed children-this being the belief that preceded the one where the elves were good and magical fairies. As in the Danish concepts, Erlkönig is the herald of death that appeared in the life or the ones that were close to death, announcing them –without any reason- how they were going to die, in peace or in torment, according to the elf’s facial expression. As for their stature, it varies from tiny to very tall while the elf females could have been mistaken for simple women only that their appearance,from behind, was almost invisible, like a tree without its core, devoid of substance. The Danish folklore keeps on charming the visitors that go to their inns and traditional houses emphasizing the erotic side of the seductive elves that go after men and are fans of dance and sex. To be more exact, the elf females swirled along the King Elf, as his harem: beautiful, pale, with their blond hair, in white diaphanous dresses, dancing hypnotic especially near marshes, forests and graveyards, when the fog was dense. Whomever saw them were instantly attracted in their game until exhaustion. A few hours could turn into decades, so the death was imminent. As when a man was kidnapped by an elf, he was first used for sex and get to literally go crazy or die.
In the old English culture, the Greek and Roman nymphs were translated through derivatives terms from “aelf”, that shows their association. But more interesting are the literary references to the mystical lands of creatures, Elphame or Elfland, described in a negative way. Elf was a rarely positive reference. They were more than often referred to as malicious creatures, responsible for crimes and rapes, of a small stature, with insidious personalities. In the modern periods, a very interesting portrayal of them was similar to the Williams-Beuren syndrome (neurological disorder involving high features, distinct behavior, cheerful, sharp social capacity, skills in learning foreign languages and heart disease). Now, the elves are not that evil or malicious but they still mingle into people’s business. The fact that the country people moved to the city, in time, the elves features like the invisibility, the mysticism and the similarity with the fairies were also more pronounced and remained in the pop culture.
Obscure ways of the angelic tolkian elf exists in the Norwegian faith. The Norwegian folklore talks about the Hundras elves, women so beautiful that they seduce men to marry them, to get rid of their grotesque back appearance similar to a hollow tree and a cow’s tail. If the bewitched man sees her before the wedding, like she looks in reality, the elf kills him. If they get to be married she takes a human shape but she’ll still kill her husband, death being the destiny of this seduced man. What mythology says about elves has nothing to do with the mass culture that popped out with Santa Clause where the elves are tiny and energetic creatures with green or red hats dropped on their eyes, helping Santa wrap the gifts. The story started to take shape in 1879 and it remained deeply impregnated into people’s conscience.
The most important event in the course of elves history are the fabulous writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, where we were confused by the serene allure of the elves with pale lips, brighten by sun, the most seductive reinterpretation. Equally divine creatures like the Angels, tall, described suave and complex by the author long before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, at the end of the 18th century. The author’s poem respects their myth and it leads it to metamorphosis. Influenced by the Celtic mythology, the elf appears from old ages of a petite stature, being pressed by the rise of the humans. The tall statured elves referred to the people of Eden that were still pure and didn’t fall into the original sin. They’re wise, correct, with powerful supernatural powers, sharp senses, and extraordinary empathy towards nature, artists by excellence, beautiful, that lived a long life, noble, beings that need mystery to coexist and not perish.
“They are made by man in his own image and likeness, but freed from those limitations which he feels most to press upon time. They are immortal, and their will is directly effective for the achievement of imagination and desire”
A great example is the royal elf Galadriel, Lady of Light, Lady of the Golden Wood, “the mightiest and fairest of all”, “blessed with the ability to peer into the minds of others and she judged them so fairly”, “only female to stand tall in those days”.