The moment when I first understood what the elves really represented came to me when I read a book, "Fedrekult" ("Ancestral Cult"), published in 1943 in Norway, by Otto Emil Birkeli. In his otherwise rather bland book he states that the elves were originally the spirits of the dead.
The term elf itself means simply "white", as seen from its etymology; Norwegian alv
("elf") derives from Norse alfr
, from younger proto-Nordic *albaR
from older ptoto-Nordic *albaz
from the proto-Indo-European root *alba-
(Like in Albania and the Italian town Alba).
The spirits of the dead were possibly called white because the dead were buried in white clothes, or more likely because they were the (by death) purified and thus innocent (again), waiting near the burial mound, behind the fence separating the world of the living (outside the graveyard) from the world of the dead (the graveyard) - the land of the elves, where no trees are cut and where no animals graze. Here they wait for the opportunity to be reborn in the kin.
In the Scandinavian tradition there are two kins of elves though; the light elves and the dark elves. The latter is also known as the dwarves. The light elves resided in the light, in the meadows and trees under the Sun, so they were called light elves, but what about the dark elves? Who and what are they?
The name itself is a bit confusing; "dark" and "white". However, as we all know the bodies of the dead are, well; dead pale. And these dead pale bodies reside in the darkness of the burial mound. So they are dark elves.
The dark elves are like I said also known as dwarves (No. dvergr
). This word is a bit more tricky to translate, but if you look at the feminine version of it, dyrgjâ
, it all becomes clear; dyrr
("door") and gjâ
("opening in the ground"). As we know the pale bodies of the dead are located behind that door opening in the burial mound, the ground. So that makes sense after all. They too are white (pale), and they reside in the burial mound.
Dwarves are said to produce and also possess much wealth. This too makes sense, because the dead were buried with all their valuables, and when the myths tell us that this or that item was crafted by the dwarves, what they really meant was that the item had been made by some forebear, and had then - when the same person was reborn in the kin - been collected in the burial mound for use in what would then be the "afterlife" of that forebear. He had been reborn, and naturally collected what was essentially his - from the burial mound housing his former body. So they were made by the dwarves; the dead forebears. This also explains why so many burial mounds have been "robbed" of all their valuables. Of course they were; whenever a person was reborn - or was seen as having been reborn anyhow - he collected what was his valuable possessions from his former life.
So an elf is either an immortal spirit of a dead nobleman, or the rotting body of a dead nobleman.
However, the elves are also known to be excellent archers and very good at hiding in the forest, and some think of them as equipped with wings too - although they are then often called fairies or fey creatures instead. This would explain why the Aurora borealis
is in Scandinavia called both "the road of the bees" and "the dance of the elves". The elves were said to take physical form of bees - logically enough, considering how common they are in flowery meadows - and this would explain their "archery" (bee stings) and their excellent hiding skills.
Even whilst dead, the dead family members were seen as a part of the family. They placed images of them in the house during high festivals, to allow them to participate. The church naturally wanted to end this European custom, which prevailed in Scandinavia well into the XIX century actually, and therefore propagated strongly against it; the elves were not the spirits of the forebears, they said, but demons and devils! They painted a picture of the beautiful elves as a… yes; a kobold, a goblin, a hobgoblin, a demon! It was no longer a lovely, immortal, beautiful, wise and noble spirit, a forebear waiting to be reborn in the kin, but a petty demon, ugly and cruel, vile and foul, twisted and tortured, coward and untrustworthy and utterly evil! A Satanic
To me only the beauty of European polytheism remains; the kobold and the other Judeo-Christian perversions of our elves are gone. They have been exposed to the Sunlight, we can all see what they are really like, so now they are gone; vanished in thin air. The beautiful elf alone remains - and the dwarf. HailaR FraujaR; The Lord of the Elves!