Monday, September 27, 2010

Elves: Light and Dark

Artist: Unknown

Not long ago, I took a quiz called What Mythological Creature are you?. After answering the twelve questions, it told me I was an elf. This was news to me, since I never considered myself elf-like. Here is the paragraph the site produced.

What Mythical Creature are you?
Your Result: Elf
Elves are skilled, intelligent craftsmen and warriors. An elf will devote his or her life to a certain trade, and thus become the best in the universe at what they do. Elves are commonly very quiet and reclusive, causing them to be shy. However shy, they are not naive and posess a great deal of knowlege and wisdom that seems to be inherited at birth. Elves are immortal, and very dedicated to nature. They walk in harmony with their surroundings, but are not wholely over emotional beings. Love is not thought of as deep or passionate for these creatures, but rather a pairing, or mating that is ultimately result in offspring.
What Mythical Creature are you?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Knowing little about elves, I decided to do some research. I learned elves come from Norse mythology, and are a race of divine, or simi-divine creatures. Originally minor gods of nature and fertility, they can help, or hinder, humans with the aid of magical powers. They often deliver inspiration for art or music. Usually, when I think of elves, my first image is Santa's elves building toys in the North Pole. There's a lot more to elves than toy building. Before Christianity, elves were categorized as either light or dark. 

Light Elves

Light Elf
Source: Here

Like angels, light elves lived between heaven and the world of man. By heaven, I mean the Old Norse heaven Alfheim, found below the dwelling place of the gods. Though capable of interacting with gods, light elves weren't placed as high as the supreme beings. The Icelandic poet and historian Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241) wrote of the light elves, and their dark cousins in his Gylfaginning.

 "There are many magnificent dwellings. One is there called Alfheim. There dwell the folk that are called light-elves; but the dark-elves dwell down in the earth, and they are unlike the light-elves in appearance, but much more so in deeds. The light-elves are fairer than the sun to look upon, but the dark-elves are blacker than pitch."  

So, while the light elves are "fairer than the sun," their dark cousins are something very different.  

Dark Elves

The Nightmare (1781)
Artist: Henry Fuseli 

Dark elves, wishing to avoid light, live in the murky underground of Svartalheim. Though "dark elf" may allude to their subterranean living quarters, they are commonly described as avaricious and annoying to an extreme. They're actually very similar to dwarves. Like dwarves, dark elves grow from maggots in Ymir's body. Ymir, who I wrote about before, was responsible for a host of troublesome entities springing from various parts of his body. Also like dwarves, dark elves look like hideous people, and turn to stone when sunlight strikes them. They're often blamed for nightmares, sitting on peoples' chests; and whispering frightening dreams into ears. The German word for nightmare is Albtraum, or "elf-dream." 

Tall or Tiny?    

A small forest elf
The Sun Egg (1932) by Elsa Beskow

Though early light elves were human sized, in modern folklore they became tiny. Fortunately, 19th century Romanticism helped return them to their original stature. Since I think taller elves are more interesting, this was a positive development. J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings also promoted the taller elf.

Try taking the quiz yourself, and learn what mythological creature you are.


  1. I an elf too with leanings towards nymphs. In fantasy literature, elves are normally human-sized but more beautiful, immortal and have supernatural powers. It always sucks to be a human.

    I think of the little ones as pixies.

    1. Im also an elf skilled in magic and craftsmanship mixed with wisdom and bravery awesome i knew there was special about me!

    2. Im also an elf skilled in magic and craftsmanship mixed with wisdom and bravery awesome i knew there was special about me!

  2. Being a human does suck. Especially in the morning, when non-immortal joints grip-up. Sigh! Where'd that coffee cup go?