Paul Briggs (Ash Rowen Thorn) writes:
Enclosed is an excerpt of a book I found on the WWW regarding Elves and spirits in Teutonic mythology. I’m sure you’ll find it interesting.
I divided the postings into various parts:
Part 1. The Valkyries (The Female Servants of Odin)
Part 2. The Disir and the Fylgia (Household and Personal Spirits)
Part 3. Alvar (Light Elves) and Dokkalvar (Dark elves) (NOTE: the spelling is also lois alfar and dock alfar) (Alvar = alfar meaning “elf”) (In my previous posts, I have been using the spelling “Alfar”)
Part 4. Various Notes on the Elves.
The included text is an excerpt from the following source:
Ravenbok: The Raven Kindred Ritual Book, By Lewis Stead & The Raven Kindred, 3rd Edition, Copyright (c) 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 by Lewis Stead.
In the various folktales and sagas we find very little which would lead us to a concrete system of what spirit was responsible for exactly what. Today, we call these various figures, who are neither mortal nor God, “Wights.” We are sure of the place of the Valkyries, who were responsible for bringing the slain to Valhalla, and also for choosing who in battle would die. They seem, judging by their actions, to be supernatural beings of some type. However, Valkyries appear in various places as very human figures and their exact nature is difficult to determine. Sigrdrifa was a Valkyrie who was cursed by Odin because she refused to bring victory in battle to those whom he had chosen. Her punishment was to be married to a mortal, and the implication is clear that this would end her days as a Valkyrie. It’s equally clear that she has great knowledge of the runes as she tutors Sigurd after he awakens her. In most respects she seems to be a normal human woman, although a very wise and independent one with great powers. Elsewhere, Voland and his brothers are said to have found three Valkyries sunning themselves without their swan-coats. When the brothers steal their feather-coats and hide them, the Valkyries again appear as otherwise normal women. This does not seem entirely in keeping with a supernatural origin, and it’s possible that some kind of magickal order of Priestesses has become confused over time with the supernatural beings we know as Valkyries or that mortal women may somehow ascend to the position. The swan-coat seems very similar in description to Freya’s falcon-coat and the entire issue may be something related to the practice of seidhr. As far as we know, the Valkyrie were not worshipped as such, but were considered more the messengers of Odin. They also serve the mead at Valhalla, and because of this whoever pours the mead into the Horn at Blot or Sumbel is today known as “the Valkyrie” (no matter what sex).
Closely linked to the idea of the Disir is the Fylgia. These spirits are attached to an individual person in much the same way that the Disir are associated with a family. Fylgia usually appear either as animals or as beautiful women. They correspond to the “fetch,” “totem,” or “power-animal” in other cultures. Most of the time the fylgia remains hidden and absent, it is only with truly great or powerful persons that the fylgia becomes known. They may have something to do with Seidhr as well, because many sagas offer evidence of spirit travel in the shape of animals. This corresponds exactly to notions of shamanism found in other cultures.
Of all the remaining spirits, the dwarfs are the most consistent in description. We know that the dwarfs are cunning and misanthropic in character and incredible smiths, capable of creating magickal objects so valuable they are considered the greatest treasures of Asgard. Thor’s hammer Mjolnir, Freya’s necklace Brisingamen, and Sif’s golden hair are all creations of the dwarfs. They live beneath the earth and have little to do with mankind or the Gods unless one seeks them out. What place they had in the religion we no longer know. It would seem wise to invoke them as spirits of the forge, but I can think of little other reason to disturb them.
Elves are the most difficult magickal race to pin down. Mythological sources tell us that the Alvar or light elves live in Alfheim where Frey is their Lord. However, we also have the enduring belief in folklore of the elves as faery-folk: beings associated with the natural world. These two conceptions of elves might still be linked, however, as Alfheim is known to be a place of incredible natural beauty, and Frey, their leader, is an agricultural deity. To further confuse this issue, Norse folklore has a strong belief in the Landvaettir, or land spirits who may fit into either or both of these categories. I’m inclined to lump them all together as similar beings that we simply don’t know enough about to tell apart. What is important is that Asatru, like all Pagan religions, honors the natural world and the earth very deeply. Whether one calls the spirits of the land as the elves, the faeries, or the landvaettir, or uses all of these terms interchangably, respect is all important. Asatru is known for being one of the most politically “conservative” of the modern Pagan religions, but you’ll find few of us who aren’t staunch environmentalists.
One of the most important spirits to honor is the house-spirit.Folklore is also filled with stories of various spirits variously called faeries, elves, kobolds, brownies, tom-tin, etc. who inhabit a house and see to its proper conduct. In the usual form of the tale, they offer to perform some housekeeping functions, but eventually turn on the owners of the house when they are insulted by overpayment. We don’t have any concrete evidence for how our ancestors honored these beings, but this is not surprising because such a thing would not be a public observance and it’s unlikely it would be recorded in the sagas or Eddas. We usually leave a bowl of milk out when we feel we need their help in something.
In general, we’re also very reticent to make decisions about classifying the various “other peoples.” It would be very easy to draw lines and place certain spirits into little boxes which label their function, but that seems overly mechanical and of little utility. Elves and other “wights” are not human, and it might be too much to try to classify them in other than subjective terms. It’s probably best to simply make your intent clear, experiment, and use the terms which work for you.