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Elves, Brownies, Dwarves And Giants


Guest Hephaestus
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I'm reading into Heathenry, and I keep coming across the terms 'elves, brownies, dwarves and giants'. However, these terms are never actually explained as such. Don't get me wrong, I know what beings these terms are generally understood to refer to, but I'd be intrigued to know how they are understood by modern pagans today.

 

Are they like spirit-beings which take the forms that have traditionally been ascribed to them (eg. a giant is a big, muscly spirit - if that's possible!), or are they more nebulous than that - perhaps like other species of wight/land-wight which inhabit specific places, have specific attributes? Or do different traditions vary in how they conceive of them?

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Within Heathenry, the world tree Yggdrasil spans the worlds (often called Nine worlds, but it's best not to assume that figure is literal). Dwarves appear in the Eddas but don't seem to have a named world. Elves split into two forms in the Eddas: light and dark. There isn't much information on dark elves. The word brownies is ?medieval ?Scottish/gaelic and neither Old Norse nor Anglo Saxon. It tends to be used by some Heathens for housewights. I'll use it that way myself. :) Giants = jotun= ettins. There's a great deal of debate on the nature of the jotun. They intermarry with gods.

 

How heathens perceive these words and how non-Heathen pagans perceive them, may be two very different things. For example, I don't think the term "wights" is used much outside of Heathenry, but "elves" giants" and "brownies" are all figures from folklore in the various native communities in the UK, so have been subject to centuries of development as concepts.

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I'm not sure but I suspect that the καλλικάντζαροι (a sort of Hellenic goblin) arise out of ancient animistic beliefs filtered through the demonizing glasses of monotheism.

 

Something I should research, I suppose...

Edited by Ellinas
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I tend to think the καλλικάντζαροι (kallikantzaroi) are a later folklore creation, from the medieval period, as Christmas is there. But yes - the sawing of the world tree and the 12 days seems to place the folklore as an import from northern Europe into Southern Europe. They were handy for me, as i morphed them into a sort of werewolf in one of my books :)

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Wuh? The sawing of the world tree??? That happened? I hope its a metaphor.

 

I do get rather upset about damage to trees. They cut some trees down near where I lived, always with a sense of mourning...

 

Um anyway, back on topic.

 

I wonder sometimes whether such terms as elves and brownies are a sort of archetype that are kind of conjured in times of trouble, like the hob of hob hole in Yorkshire where the poor would beg the hob to remove a cough from a dying or poorly child, long ago.

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I wonder sometimes whether such terms as elves and brownies are a sort of archetype that are kind of conjured in times of trouble,

 

Not within modern Heathenry. Nor within Heathenry for centuries. These folk are part of the cosmology. You see a similar thing of people leaving out milk and cake in rural Ireland for "the Little Folk". In Iceland, roads are diverted around places occupied by elves.

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So from a heathen perspective, brownies etc a literally a distinct ?creature? of some kind, similar to the polytheistic notion of, say, a heathen deity? In that they are/have distinct character traits, identity etc.

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So from a heathen perspective, brownies etc a literally a distinct ?creature? of some kind, similar to the polytheistic notion of, say, a heathen deity? In that they are/have distinct character traits, identity etc.

 

from a polytheist perspective (probably any pre-monotheism pagan religion) the world is populated by many creatures. Worlds is more usual - usually three: the sky, our world and the underworld. Gods may dwell in the overworld or the underworld, or both. Other (hidden folk) populate streams, trees, the land, the air etc. In addition, there are creatures who may look human, or a variation of human (even if a strange variation) who live their own lives. Different forms of these creatures each have their own character traits, identity etc.

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.. but there's lots of lovely writings, Fizz, some of it very enigmatic to make of what you will ............

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Yes I have read some of the stories of the Norse gods via crossley Holland (the text is larger). I keep trying to read the more, um, academic stuff but my heads like mush usually (health etc).

 

I'm focussing in Yorkshire folklore atm and often wonder about the influence from the time of danelaw etc.

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I tend to think the καλλικάντζαροι (kallikantzaroi) are a later folklore creation, from the medieval period, as Christmas is there. But yes - the sawing of the world tree and the 12 days seems to place the folklore as an import from northern Europe into Southern Europe. They were handy for me, as i morphed them into a sort of werewolf in one of my books :)

 

Now that really gave me a good chuckle - in future centuries it may be that another evolution in the understanding of these little blighters will be traced back to you!

 

You may be right regarding the mediaeval origin - but then again, Christianity has always had a way of demonising the old beliefs. Equally, folklore can be no less syncretic as ancient religion. I'm not aware if the origin of these particular critters has ever been explored academically.

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