Elves are mysterious Northern spirits, sometimes equated with Fairies. Like Fairies, Elves have now been cleaned up and made over to suit sanitized children’s fiction, often portrayed as miniature, whimsical busy bees: Santa’s little helpers. Originally Elves were human-sized, sometimes taller, and they were renowned archers, artisans, and healers; author J. R. R. Tolkien’s portrayal of the sacred but dangerous Elven folk in The Lord of the Rings trilogy of novels hews closer to mythic tradition.

Elves live in a realm that parallels humans. Norse myth divides the Elves into Light Elves and Dark Elves, otherwise known as Dwarves. Scholars disagree as to whether the Elves and the Vanir spirits are the same, but they are closely affiliated. The Vanir spirit Freyr is the Elven King.

Elves are beautiful, volatile spirits of wild nature. They were not trivial spirits; once upon a time, bulls were sacrificed to them. Their significance is recalled in human names like Alvin, Elvis, Elva, and Elvira. Elves feature prominently in Anglo-Saxon spells and charms, many intended to protect from the Elves themselves. A hostile relationship between Elves and people is often now presumed, but before Christianity, spiritual alliances existed between Elves and people. Once this alliance ended, embittered Elves, previously helpful, may have turned dangerous, or, conversely, people were taught to fear Elves specifically so that they would not continue Pagan devotions. In Scandinavia, however, relationships between people and Elves were generally positive.

Like Fairies, Djinn, and Bori spirits, Elves can be benevolent or hostile; some can even cause illness. Elves strike at people with the poison dartsknown as Elf-shot, which cause illness and malaise. They may cause paralysis or stroke, too. Elves sometimes target cattle and livestock, as well as people. Various spells, charms, and amulets serve to protect against them. Elves are sources of wisdom, fertility, and wealth (when they want to be). They love music and dancing.




Seductively, alluringly beautiful


Alfheim (“Elf Home”)


Elder trees, roseMary

Sacred time:

Offerings are traditionally left out for Elves on Christmas Eve. Although this now appears to derive from the myth of Santa’s workshop, it may actually be related to Old Norse traditions. Yuletide was a traditional time for visitations from other realms.


  • Dwarves
  • Freyr
  • Hulda
  • Vanir


Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.

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