elf. According to Teutonic and Scandinavian folklore, a variety of DWARF possessing magical powers. In later times the word came to include many varieties of IMPS, FAIRIES and other supernatural beings, which may or may not harbour kindly feelings towards humans. Significantly, the word itself came originally from Old English oelf which in turn was derived from the Teutonic alp (meaning `nightmare'). In Welsh tradition elves were known as ellylon. In Scandinavian mythology the species was sometimes divided into light and dark races who differed not only in colouring but also in temperament. According to some accounts, the elves are delicate, lovely creatures, but in others they are described as squat and ugly. Elf women were said to be lovely when viewed from the front but their back view revealed a hollow body like a burnt‑out tree or a long tail. The traditional home of elves is sometimes identified as ALFHELM, ruled over by the Norse god of vegetation Freyr. The modern understanding of the term elf owes much to the writer J. R. R. Tolkien, who linked the Scandinavian elves with the Celtic ALFAR or SIDHE, identified as the inhabitants of the BLESSED ISLANDS.
Fear of elves was once profound in rural areas throughout northern Europe. If babies were born with minor defects they were quite likely to be described as `elf‑marked', suggesting that the infants had been marked out for future mischief. Even worse, elves might be suspected ofexchanging human babies with their own CHANGELINGS. If humans or livestock suffered any unexplained injury or sickness they were likely to be called `elf‑shot' and their ailment attributed to stone arrows fired at them by malicious elves. Actual examples of elf arrows preserved through the centuries are now understood to be, in most cases, Neolithic flint arrowheads. Less serious examples ofinterference by mischievous elves include the notion that tangled hair results from the toying of the elf queen MAB, whose favourite amusements were once said to include tying knots (`elf‑locks') in the hair of unsuspecting humans.
See alsoBROWNIE; PIXIE.
1. 2. from A Dictionary of Fairies, Goblins, Brownies, Bogies etc / K. M. Briggs (1976), p. 115.
Dwarfs. Germany is the great home of dwarfs, and the Isle of Rügen has dwarfs both black and white. The Swiss mountains are also the homes of dwarfs, but though there are many stunted and grotesque figures in English fairy‑lore, it is doubtful if they were ever explicitly called `dwarfs'. The best candidates for the name would be the pygmy king and his followers who accosted KING HERLA in Walter Maps's story in his De Nugis Curialium;but he is described as more like a satyr; the SPRIGGANS of Cornwall are small and grotesque and travel in troops like some of the German dwarfs, but they are never so called. There are more SOLITARY FAIRIES of the dwarfish kind, such as the `wee, wee man' of one of the Child ballads (No. 38), who is stunted and grotesque and of great strength. His description is anticipated in a 14th‑century poem quoted in the Appendix to No. 38. The nearest approach to a black dwarf is the North Country DUERGAR, and the BROWN MAN of THE MIUIRS is like him. Dwarfs are often mentioned as attendants on ladies in Arthurian legends, but these ladies hover so much between a fairy and a mortal estate that their attendants are equally nebulous. On the whole it is best, as KIRK would say, to `leave it to conjecture as we found it'.