The Álfar

The Álfar (elves) are perhaps some of the most elusive and contradictory figures in the eddas. They’re rarely mentioned on their own and the one time an alfa is the lead of a tale in Norse lore, he in many ways far more resembles a dwarf in ability and function. In addition, things become even more difficult as the depictions and associations of the alfar change drastically after Christianization. They go from demigod-like beings to being invisible pests and menaces in some tales and essentially land spirits in others. It is for this reason I think it’s worth noting Gunnell’s statement that one should be “highly wary of ever referring to the earlier manifestation of alfar as ‘elves’ unless we use the term in the Tolkien sense of the word.” For that reason I’m choosing to focus more on the functions scholars have discerned they played in pre-Christian Scandinavian religions rather than those of the “folklore elves”.

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