Origins of Elves

I have always wondered what the origin of Elves is. From which Mythological background do they come from. (ie. dwarfs are from norse mythology, Zeus from Greek mythology, etc.) what mythology do Elves belong to and from which region?
Any comments would be appreciated :smiley:



Elves and fairies and dwarves et al are greatly comingled. I’m not sure if one or the other can be clearly seperated in distant mythology and folklore.

I think that they are the precursors to modern day little green men.

Elves/Elfs are northern European, specifically Germanic. Since the Germanic and Celtic peoples commingled, there are instances where elf and sidhe have commingled in the legends.

The “modern” interpretation, however, owes the most to one man.

Can you be a bit more specific please :smiley:

The sense that there are other intelligent entities sharing this world, or a parallel world, with us. The elves, the faerie folk, the sidhe, the jinn, the peris, the pretas… John Keel terms these beings “ultraterrestrials.” The concept seems fairly well universal in all human cultures. As SimonX noted, the saucermen of modern folklore are these same archetypes refitted for a scientific age. I think Dogface was hinting at an English author, Professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973).

Now we’re getting somewhere. Does anyone have any links that would have some information on elves’ origins? I would love ot read up on it :smiley:

The Encyclopædia Britannica says this much about Elf on their free site. The full text does not add a lot, beyond mentioning that the German word for nightmare is Alpdrücken, meaning elf-pressure (from their habit of sitting on one’s sleeping chest and disturbing dreams), and then going on to talk about some beliefs in Britain.

IIRC, elves were also mentioned in norse mythology. They were light elves, spirits of the air, and dark elves, spirits of the earth. Its also the first mythology I’ve found which mentioned dwarves.

Moderator’s Note: This really seems more of a factual question than a debate, so I’ll move it over to GQ.

The origin of Elves begin with Jewish Folklore!

Once upon a time, God Almighty came to visit Adam and Eve.
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As Far as I know … Iceland is the only place to encounter an elf or Huldufolk (Hidden folk).

Icelandic elves, for example, can have long, spindly legs, big ears, or crazy hair but they don’t wear pointed hats or shoes.
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Here is a popular song that I learned in school when I was a child.
Of hidden folk, my mother spoke
I never quite believed
This failure oft I later thought
The reason why I grieved
Why little things were never right
I finally did believe
Each night in fright a gift I might
Never fail to leave.

Depends on your definition of “elf,” really.

Most Americans, these days, when someone says “Elf,” they think of actor Orlando Bloom, or at best, a sort of fuzzy mental picture of a slender, attractive blonde person made up to look like the bastard offspring of Robin Hood and Mr. Spock.

“Elf” is the Anglicized version of “Alf,” a Germanic word. The Germans used the word generically, as far as I can determine, to refer to a wide variety of spirits, pixies, dwarfs, elves, boggarts, brownies, and so forth.

The Celts, British, and other folks living in what would become the British Isles eventually adapted the word, as well as a variety of others (“goblin,” for example, is derived from the French “gobelin”).

The pointy-eared folks frolicking in the woods and famous for their bowmanship are descended from one variety of elf/faerie, the Dainoin Sidhe, a sort of fairy nobility, who looked like really attractive humans of incredible skill, nobility, beauty, and so on and so forth.

J.R.R. Tolkien would later borrow the Sidhe and turn them into the Elves of “Lord Of The Rings,” which, after being mined out by the Dungeons And Dragons people, eventually became the archetype for what Americans think of when they think “elf.”

Another definition of “elf” could be “attractive faerie who isn’t especially baneful to humans,” as opposed to “goblin,” which basically refers to “unattractive faerie who is probably baneful to humans,” or “troll,” a more Scandinavian term, which refers to “large unattractive faerie which is very likely baneful to humans, as well as rather carnivorous…”

They were created by an itty-bitty God.

As other’s have already pointed out the answer depends on what you mean by “elf.”

Are you seeking the origins of the word “elf” to describe a race of mythical beings?And if so, do you count earlier spellings, or other languages. The reference to Alfs or Alps has already been mentioned. (I.d appreciate it if anyone has links to the actual written works that mention Alfs or Alps and the dates they were written.)

Part of the problem with tracking down the early history, is that words and myths change over time. If you look at “olde” whitings many words have undergone changes in both meaning and spelling. the actual concept of elves as a mystical race seems to have been used before it was common to write things down, so any accurate information pointing to someone or some tale that coined it is unlikely.

I guess one could focus on the first instance of literary evidence. The Earliest I’m aware of is a brief mention in the story of Beowulf spelled “ylfe” in the Anglo-Saxon speech of that time (aprox 1000AD).
link to the original :
link to a translation :

If you seek the earliest spelling as it is today “elves” - then the earliest I know of is in the Canterbury Tales specifically, the Wife of Bath’s Tale & the Miller’s Tale (14th Century stuff).

I know that doesn’t exactly shed light onto if the origins of “elves” are Teutonic, Celtic, Nordic, or some other culture. But it is hard evidence of early literary works mentioning “elves” by name.

A summary of my understanding of the topic is as follows:

The term “elf” is attached to (at least) two different mythological creatures. I’m generalizing, but one kind of elf is derived from norse mythology, in which elves play a similar role to angels in the old testament of the bible. The term “elf” was also used in english (and apparently also german) mythology as a name for faerie-type creatures.

Derived from norse myth, we have the elves of Lord of the Rings, the elves of D&D, and other such “superior human” type people.

Derived from english myth, we have the elves of Santa Claus’s north pole workshop, the keebler elves, and other such abominations.

Here’s an Amazon listing for a good book o0n Elves.

Moderator’s Notes:
ArcticCircle, really. You shouldn’t go around plagiarizing other people’s writings. It’s not only wrong and possibly illegal since these are copyrighted works you’re re-publishing, it violates the terms of your membership agreement and just ain’t nice to boot. This is the second instance I’ve seen today of your engagement in this proscribed activity. Or perhaps it’s the third, since your post in this thread is a compilation of the words of two separate sources.

Now, I sent you e-mail regarding that other post of yours asking that you provide information that you have permission to republish copyrighted work, or convinving evidence identifying yourself as the original author, one Chelsea Bester. Since I have serious doubts, no matter how much paranormal tripe you appear to believe possible, that you are also Jón Arnason & Ann H. Waigand. Therefore, I have “suspended” your posting privileges for plagiairizing and for re-posting copyrighted materials. If you wish your privileges restored, you need to write me a very convincing e-mail explaining your actions here and making your case for reinstatement.