The Alfar: Dancing Light and Singing Dark
"I am not of the small folk," said Arafel in measured words and cold. "I am not paid in a saucer of milk or a handful of grain."
-From "The Dreaming Tree" by C. J. Cherryh
The Alfar - the Old Norse word that later became "elves" in English - are one subgroup of a race of beings whose mythology is spread across all of Europe. They are both the most archetypally well-known race, mostly due to modern fantasy novels, and yet strongly misunderstood and euphemized. Their lore is vague and garbled, perhaps even more so than that of the Jotunfolk, although many modern spirit-workers are teasing it out. Due to the nature of elf-folk themselves, it is often difficult to get straight answers out of them.
The word álf (pl. álfar) derives from the same Indo-European root word as the Latin albus (white). The original meaning of the word is significant to the character of the álfar of Norse mythology, who retained a reputation for being entities of "light". The implications of this for our ancestors were somewhat different than what might today imagine as "beings of light"; there was no assumption about their morals, goodness, or guaranteed helpfulness, only that they were entities with a great deal of magic and energy - "brightness" - to them. One spirit-worker acknowledges that "Out of their normal setting, 'Light Elves' live up to the name - they tend to seem very shiny. Once you're in Alfheim and adjusted to it, it's not so noticeable: it's more like watching television with the color ramped up a bit past normal intensity."
There is a great deal of confusion about what sorts of beings are referred to as Alfar, and from what we can glean of the lore, there seems to have been a great deal of confusion in ancient times as well. While this may seem surprising to people who imagine our ancestors to have all been highly "spiritual" shaman-types, if one remembers that elves of any type are elusive and mysterious about their natures, that spirit-workers have always been rare, and that the average person might easily have conflated elves, ghosts, land-spirits, and anything else that seemed powerful but that she didn't understand, the matter becomes understandable, if not clearer.
However, today there are more spirit-workers who deal with the elven race(s) than with any other nonhuman race. This upswing comes partly from the popularizing of the Fey Folk in general (although Celtic-oriented Pagans do a lot more work with them), and partly from the proliferation of people with elven blood, a phenomenon that will be discussed below. This gives us a great deal of spirit-work UPG which can be compared, and a great deal of it is very consistent, not only with individual accounts, but with historical and mythological ones. In that vein, the majority of the words in this chapter come directly from spirit-workers who have offered their experiences and perspectives. For the sake of consistency (and length; this could be a book in and of itself), I have chosen to include only those observances which are reiterated by more than one spirit-worker, and can thus be considered PCPG (Peer-Corroborated Personal Gnosis).
Light, Dark, and Black
The first obvious categories, when considering the Alfar, are the divisions of light and dark elves (Ljossalfar and Svartalfar). Here, again, there is confusion; the term "Svartalfar", meaning "black elves", mostly referred to the Duergar, who although they seem to have had an entirely different genesis from the Alfar (the first Duergar progenitors were born from Ymir's dismembered corpse), and were entirely different physically and in temperament, were thought to be related to the Alfar, or at least their "opposite numbers". On the other hand, occasionally the word Svartalfar refers to some kind of dark version of the Alfar, in the same way that the Celtic Sidhe were divided into the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. These have also been referred to as the Dokkalfar, or "dark elves"; there are vague references to Odin learning from them in his travels, and referring to them as "the old men". Modern spirit-workers affirm this division, and affirm also that some of the confusion stems from the fact that the Svartalfar share a world with the Duergar - called, annoyingly, Svartalfheim.
Long ago a faction of elves quarreled with the rest over certain magical practices that the others were squeamish and disgusted about, and also there were some political issues which remain obscure to outsiders. There was a civil war, and the dissenting faction was defeated and forced out of Alfheim, finally ending up in the land of the Duergar, who allowed them to stay in their world. Thus they became the Svartalfar, and to this day they are still far less numerous than the Ljossalfar. (This is why Hela only exacts half the tribute for the Teind from them than she does from the others.)
-Elizabeth Vongvisith, spirit-worker
Even if one takes this as compelling information - and from the number of spirit-workers who have verified it, I do - the question remains as to what terminology to use in order to be least confusing. I am choosing, somewhat arbitrarily, for the purposes of this writing, to refer to the Duergar only as the Duergar, since that is how they prefer to be called. I am personally using the term "Dokkalfar" to refer to the renegade Alfar of Svartalfheim; most of the spirit-workers use the term "Svartalfar", so both of those terms can be considered to refer to these entities for the length of this book.
The Dokkalfar are clearly of the same racial type as the Ljossalfar, from whom they broke away; they differ only culturally. (More extensive discussions of their nature can be found in the Svartalfheim chapter.) However, regardless of their personal enmity toward their "light" cousins, the lore records that they have chosen to be on the side of the Aesir should Ragnarok come to pass. Other than that, they are known to be more unkindly disposed towards humans, and more likely to mess with them. Traditionally, bad dreams are said to be within the domain of the Dökkálfar, as indicated by the German word for nightmare, "Albtraum" (elf-dream). It is said that the dark elves will sit upon the dreamer's chest and whisper the bad dreams into the sleeper's ears. (In Scandinavia, the creature responsible for this is known as the Mara.)
While the Dokkalfar seem to be culturally more willing to be violent and destructive, the Ljossalfar are no shirkers when it comes to attacking humans. Indeed, there is no way that we can simply assign all the positive elf/human interactions to the Ljossalfar and all the negative ones to the Dokkalfar. The Celts understood this, and their lore clearly warns that both the Seelie and Unseelie could be equally dangerous - or helpful - to humans, apparently with little rhyme or reason to their decisions.
The Ljossalfar see themselves as being just and fair, but they can also be cruel and extremely unforgiving; they can carry grudges for centuries. The Svartalfar are openly malicious and don't care who knows it, but will keep their word faithfully and can be generous and fair-minded in their dealings with others. They are all passionately interested in anything to do with magic, though the light-elves will pretend that certain brands of sorcery repel them. They can also become insatiably curious and even singleminded about it when the mood strikes them. As with many things, the light-elves and the dark-elves consider themselves rivals and enemies, and the old breach has never been healed, but they are more alike under the surface than they themselves are willing to admit.
-Elizabeth Vongvisith, spirit-worker
Another sort of reference to the word "Alfar", and the one which is the most confusing, is the use of the word to refer to male human ancestors, as distinct from the Disir who are female human ancestors. This use of the word is troublesome, as it is in widespread use today as part of votive ritual. However, nearly all of the Alfar-knowledgeable spirit-workers that I contacted during the writing of this book agreed that the actual Alfar are not the souls of dead humans. Estara T'Shirai emphasizes that "Those are in Helheim and, where appropriate, the particular halls of the Gods who chose them. In fact, within my own group we seem to find that people who work easily with the Alfar have great difficulty in contacting the ancestors and vice versa, because the energies are so different that it's unusual to have them both within one person's normal range of capability."
Yet another sort of word use is to refer to the general land-wights as Alfar or elves. This, too, seems to be a misnomer; the Alfar are clearly a non-human, non-Earthly race from somewhere else. While they can step in and out of our world (although many who work with them claim that the doors in and out of elven realms were once much more strong, and have mostly closed over the years), they are not the same beings as the small nature-spirits of our realm. They do, however, form bonds with "our" nature-spirits when they come here, and often use them as their eyes and ears.
To study the myths and folklore about elves, all over Europe, is to watch what was once (in preliterate days) a clear set of stories about a wise and powerful people, independent from humans and our world, become mangled and twisted up with tales of other beings. This change has clearly begun by the time of most Viking-era lore, and continues through the centuries in an ever-more-blurry downward spiral. With time, the figure of the elf merged in the minds of the Scandinavians, the Germans, the English, the Welsh and others with the guardian spirits of Nature, the wights of the forest and fields. The Anglo-Saxon terms 'wudu-aelfen' and 'sae-aelfen' are an intermediate state of such a merging. Eventually they became malignant sprites and demons that cause illness to men and cattle, or even in one case a historical tribe, the so-called 'Alfar' of 'Alfheimar', an area of Scandinavia between the two rivers Raumelfr and Gautelfr.
The Alfar Character
Physically, elves range from much smaller than human size to taller, though not as tall or large as Jotunfolk. In Rolf Krake's saga, the Danish king Helge, finds an elf-woman on an island and rapes her, suggesting that she was human-looking. Humans perceive some of them as very beautiful, and others as strange-looking, but there is clearly an inhuman nature to their beauty.
Visually, they usually appear as tall, blond of varying shades, with pale complexions and usually blue/grey eyes. That doesn't mean other colorings don't pop up, just that they aren't that common and are usually associated with having ancestors from other racial/cultural groups. Most of them seem to be quite reserved in expression. Their clothing styles are elegant and understated. In fact, a lot of their adornments are elegant and understated. They have their own language, quite apart from the other indigenous races in the lore, though are adept at several others, including a few human ones, and have a talent of picking them up.
The Ljossalfar are very egalitarian. You won't find anything, except for maybe childbirth (and I think they have ways around that, even), that both genders aren't capable of doing, and don't do. They're very no-nonsense as well and this can give the impression of them being distant, aloof and humourless. This doesn't mean that they are so, nor does it mean that they don't have a sense of humour, it just tends to be dry and sardonic, if not outright facetious. They do appreciate clever plays on words, but I don't think that's distinct to just the Ljossalfar.
The Alfar are organized into "Houses" -- the term doesn't refer so much to what kind of dwellings they inhabit as to extended kinship groups -- almost tribal, but the light-elves would smack you if you used such a term to describe their society. They take a great pride in tracing their lines of descent and keeping track of all their inter-House alliances and so forth. The Houses to which the Svartalfar belonged have been excised from the records in Alfheim; it seems that most, if not all the members of a few powerful Houses were banished from Alfheim when the Svartalfar fell, and they are never spoken of by the light-elves.
Regardless of which side they're on, the Alfar love anything to do with art or beauty, though their respective aesthetics are somewhat different. Svartalfar appreciate the morbid, weird and grotesque far more than the light-elves do. I imagine they'd much prefer the painting of Salvador Dali to the pre-Raphaelites, for instance. The Alfar are also good at drawing energy from their surroundings, and if those surroundings are pleasing to them in some way, then it doesn't necessarily have to be untamed, raw nature. The light-elves will not take energy from other living beings, mostly because they're too xenophobic to risk "polluting" themselves, but some of the dark-elves will happily feed on other beings if given the chance.
-Elizabeth Vongvisith, spirit-worker
What the Alfar themselves are like depends on the "caste," what realm you are in, and especially in the commoners' case, what job they do. The nobility very much resemble Tolkein's description, but even more on the side of esoteric, ethereal and mystical. Though they are not always slight, in the Duchy of Winter they are solid hardy folk; not so much dwarves, but people who thrive in the cold winter climes. Imagine a creature that can walk through a blizzard smiling but still be "Elven" and you get a good idea. The commoners range from ghastly (spirits of decay) to cantankerous (kobolds, tomte, and nisse) to homely (gnomes and brownies). The commoners are the ones that carry out the "jobs" of things. There are winged fey folk (they are quick to tell you they are not pixies) that paint the leaves the autumn colours. In the Duchy of Spring there are industrious creatures that do everything they can to help the flowers grow, and then coax the petals to open.
-Rod Landreth, seidhmadhr
It's all really a bit more like Tolkien than heathens tend to want to admit - except that there's a catch, because in The Lord Of The Rings, it so happened that the elves philosophically agreed with the humans' objectives, so they were kind and helpful. But this situation is not a given, and if in fact the Alfar are aware of you and do not approve of you or your objectives, the outcome is quite different.
Elves and Magic
More than any other race, the Alfar (and other elven races in other pantheons) work with magic on a daily basis. Other races have and use magic, perhaps even a great deal of it, but magic is interwoven into the fabric of every moment of an Alfar life. They do small magicks - one can't even call them spells, as they are much more instinctive than that - in the same way that we modern technological humans unthinkingly use technology - to flick on a light switch, to check the weather and our email, to nuke a bowl of food in the microwave. Where a non-Alfar would save their magical energy and light a torch, an Alfar in their own world will do the magical equivalent of flicking on the light switch, with as little thought as when we do it. Of course, just as we have an extensive system of electrical wires that allows us to do that, their world is a huge network of magical energy lines, accessible at will to those who know how to use them, and continually added to and improved by succeeding generations.
In a very real way, Ljossalfheim is the most "technological" of the Nine Worlds, but it is not a technology that travels well to any other place except in small amounts. While some may object to this idea, having seen or been the recipients of very effective elven magic in the past, it seems that the kind of magic that the Elven races can work outside of their homeworlds is actually quite small compared to the wonders that can be manipulated in Alfheim and its sister realms.
The key to understanding both the light- and dark-elves is that both races are folk who live and breathe magic. They are magic in a way that other folk - even the Aesir and Vanir - are not. They are slow to adapt to change, and very suspicious of anything that's not part of their established traditions, although once they've found that some new innovation works for them, they will lose no time in adopting it (and trying to give it the luster of centuries). It's said that the reason some of the light-elves turned to "forbidden" magic is that they were introduced to it by contact with the Jotnar. To this day, the light-elves consider the Jotunfolk savages, and have a great deal of disdain for them and for those who associate with them.
-Elizabeth Vongvisith, spirit-worker
It is my understanding that all the races of "Elf" have innate magic/energy working abilities, though some are more formalized than others. Magic/energy working for them is like breathing or simple thought is for us. They don't really think about it, they just "do". This doesn't mean that they also don't train or aren't schooled. Many Ljossalfar, if they are so inclined, use runes to focus the intent of the working because it can take a lot less energy than to simply will a major force or effect into being, though it isn't necessary. It also feels no-nonsense. There's not much in the way of "playful" in their workings, whether spur of the moment or not.
It's not magic to them, its part of their existence. Turning on a TV with a remote seems perfectly normal, disguising leaves to look like cash to pay you for something seems perfectly normal to them. You took the "cash"; they didn't make you. The "magic" is often pulled from the Realm in which they work and live. When a commoner paints the leaves in autumn, it's out of purpose.
As an example that I watched, an overseer of a group of commoners that was preparing corn for harvest had a mirror-like object that allowed him to look at the field they were working in at one time. Through colour and musical tone, he knew if a particular cornstalk had received what it needed or not. Rarely was there a problem, and when there was, he would just "step" to where the problem was; most often it was something wrong with the cornstalk. When I followed him once (I can't explain "stepping" beyond "you just stepped where the problem was and you were there". No words, incantations or anything; just desire and will. It took me a bit to "get it.") The stalk - actually several - had some sort of bug. He consulted his object and called an air spirit (I immediately thought of a sylph) and asked the spirit to relay a question concerning the quotient of blight for this field. It vibrated away (that's the best I can describe) and then sort of coalesced back with a report that 400 odd stalks were blighted. The overseer looked at his object, touched something, and a musical note responded. He turned to the commoner and told him to work on that stalk, but to leave the others alone.
The most fascinating expression of "magic" I saw was when a Winterland smith was making some wondrous filigreed instrument. He drew in the air before the object a complex design of sigils and as he did so sang, chanted and said ... notes, chords and tones? Colours were also involved. The sigils were clearly of a "base 3" and resembled runes and were coloured. This was used to "shape" the object by manipulation of sigil, note and colour. I felt a tremendous amount of energy applied in multiple ways and on different levels. Clearly the skill and talent of the "smith" was not in personal power, but in ability to manipulate this energy primarily through the sigils, although the notes and chants and colour played a part also.
I watched warriors fight, watching a play of weapon and flow. The Duke of Autumn explained to me that the individual warriors were interacting with the "spirit of battle" and using skill in weapon and parry to manipulate, pull and push this "spirit" into going against the opponent. To my sight, they were actually pulling and tugging at something that was around them. Again, colour and chants were involved, but it flowed into around and through the skill with the weapon. The warriors also touched different parts of their armour and spots on their weapons. Flashy and overdone moves, tugs or pulls on this "spirit of battle" would gain applause and cheers unless the opponent countered. Imagine the complex martial arts of the "Matrix" with a cloud of glowing lines that attached to everything in movement, moving in around and in intricate patterns of attack and defense relating to a sword and staff."
-Rod Landreth, seidhmadhr
Claiming Elvish ancestry was not at all unusual in ancient Germanic and Scandinavian lands; similar cases are to be found in all the Celtic countries as well. The mythic human figures who claimed such ancestry usually proved it with superhuman deeds. In "Das Niebelungenlied", the resistance of the Burgundianss endures mostly because of the feats of the hero Hagen (Hoegni), whose elvish ancestry was the source of his great prowess. He is finally vanquished by Dietrich of Bern, another hero who is the son of an elf. This is echoed in Welsh lore in the "Meddigon Meddfai", 1230 AD; here we find the story of three brothers, the sons of an elvish wife, who, due to virtues of their descent, became famous doctors in Wales. Another interesting tale is the sixteenth-century Icelandic poem "Koetlu Draumur", where an Elf's love for a mortal woman Katla is consummated in her dream; she bore his son, whom her mortal husband Marr accepted as his own. The elven ancestry serves as a reason why later the same son of Katla, the sea-traveler Are Marsson (actually well-known through Iceland), could reach the mysterious island of Hvitra-manna-land.
Katla's elven lover who fathered her flesh-and-blood child in a dream is quite believable when one thinks about the way that nonhuman blood gets into a human bloodline in the first place: spirit-possession during the conception of a child. It is quite possible that her Alfar lover came to her in the body of a human being that he had "borrowed", and that he passed on some of his traits to her human child in this way.
Modernly, many people are discovering, through memory or instinct or being told directly by the Elven folk, that they have some sort of Elven blood. There seems to be less Alfar blood around than, say, that of the Sidhe, but it is there. This kind of bloodline can gift a mortal with skill at certain types of magic - especially glamour magic - but it can also create genetic problems. Any nonhuman blood, especially in "throwback" amounts, can create physical and mental health problems - often unusual ones - but this is a field that requires much more study and discussion. More research and interviewing needs to be done to distinguish the specific maladies peculiar to Elven blood, including such things as dietary intolerances, allergies, and mental illnesses.
Some scholars who work with the thin crossover point between folklore and medicine have catalogued the folkloric physical indicators of "changeling" children, and matched these up with a variety of rare but recognized genetic disorders in the genetic demographic of the mythmakers. One good essay on the subject is "Fairies and the Folklore of Disability: Changelings, Hybrids, and the Solitary Fairy" by Susan Schoon Eberly in "The Good People: New Fairlylore Essays" (ed. Peter Naraváez, University Press of Kentucky, 1991). Their claim, of course, is that ignorant peasants mistook these diseases and malformations as evidence of faeries. I would throw out for debate the controversial idea that while these may certainly be evidence of legitimate genetic disorders, that does not rule out the possibility that these disorders are caused by - not mistaken for - Elven blood in a human child.
Both groups of Alfar tend to have very few children at any given time -- this fact has always plagued them, and therefore the tales that the faeries steal human babies to replenish their failing bloodlines has a basis in fact. The Svartalfar will steal other races' babies too, not just humans; there are more than a few dark-elves with Duergar blood, not surprisingly, and even one or two with Jotun blood, though they tend to be picky about the kinds of giant-children they take. They'd prefer to get their hands on an Iron Wood infant, but any child from a line of sorcerers will do. Part of Angrboda's deep dislike for the Alfar comes from the dark-elves' habit of trying to steal babies from among her kinsfolk (they have rarely succeeded), as much as from her irritation at their snobbery towards her people in general.
The light-elves, on the other hand, have mostly only taken infants from mortal families which already had Alf-blood, which rather beggars the question of who first thought to take a human child and why, but they conveniently ignore that. They have a kind of condescending fondness for humans from Midgard or other mortal realms, and tend to treat favored ones rather like indulged pets. However, there is also a true basis for the legends about faerie men or women falling in love with mortals and taking them away to their own land, and of course, the time discrepancy between the two places accounts for the many stories of people coming back to find that hundreds of years have passed. The Celtic legend of Oisin is a good example of this.
-Elizabeth Vongvisith, spirit-worker
I cannot confirm or deny that I am descended from them. Frequently, particularly in the Realm of Autumn, and to a lesser degree the Hall of Winter, they call me "cousin," which I have only been able to ask once what they meant (asking such a thing in the high court is just rude, I've gathered), and a "knight" told me that it is because I am so close to them and their nature. Many of the commoners claim to be amazed that I can visit them and interact with them, or that I can perceive them at all when they do their jobs on Midgard. There clearly is some intimation that "my nature" is different....To further complicate things, several generations back (three "greats" back) my grandfather was a Witchbinder in the Ozarks. There was a tradition that the grandparent taught their grandchild (of the opposite sex) how to use their various skills and their talents. My grandmother said I was the one to learn some of her "recipes" and other skills. So because of this, I may very well be descended from them, and that has given my family these natural skills and talents. In other words, we have a little Alfar magic in our blood.
-Rod Landreth, seidhmadhr
I have always had a mild disaffinity to cheap metals, and alloys (I break out in hives). This limits what I can wear for jewelry, and eliminates getting piercings at all. That said, I seem to have no real problems with iron. There are a lot of people I know who have an Elven/Fae bent who have extreme susceptibility to iron."
The Ljossalfar are extremely touchy about protecting and preserving not only the sanctity of their realm, but their own bloodlines. Necessity has often forced them to mingle their blood with that of mortals, as they have over time become a somewhat inbred folk, but having fae blood will not necessarily guarantee you a warm welcome into Ljossalfheim unless you know your lineage and can prove you're related to some noble House. Bloodlines are far more important to the nobility than to the rest of the Ljossalfar, however.
Whereas their response may be friendly to lukewarm if you're fae-blooded, you should expect contempt and even hostility if you are a mortal who has Jotun blood, or possibly if you carry any other nonhuman blood than Alfish (save for obvious, direct descent from one of the Aesir or Vanir -- if you're descended from Freyr, the Ljossalfar will go out of their way to keep you happy, afraid that you'll report back to their Lord). If your business takes you into the light-elves' land and you have nonhuman ancestry that's likely to offend them, they won't attack you outright unless you misbehave, but be prepared to deal with insults, snubbing and other unpleasant treatment. Getting insulted and trying to attack them certainly won't help matters; ignoring it and treating them with firm but distant politeness will enable you to quickly conclude your business there and leave as soon as possible.
The Svartalfar have bred with humans as often as their cousins have, but they are not nearly as snobbish as the light-elves in regards to other races. There are those in Svartalfheim/ Nidavellir with Jotun or Duergar blood, or even blood from races that dwell outside the Nine Worlds. Ljossalfar who have been banished from Alfheim for "tainting" their bloodlines may find sanctuary among the dark-elves. Jotnar are not unwelcome in Svartalfheim, nor are their mortal kin -- or at least, they're no more unwelcome than anyone else. The dark-elves are insular, secretive, and more than a bit suspicious about strangers, but they are far less concerned with maintaining "pure" blood than their cousins.
-Elizabeth Vongvisith, spirit-worker
This is where things get tricky. Having Alfar blood is a different situation than having an Alfar soul that has been reincarnated into a human body. First of all, how did this happen? The answer, corroborated by several spirit-workers who deal with the Alfar and the Northern Gods, is that Hela does it deliberately.
Medieval literature proliferated the concept of the "teind to hell", the legend that stated that the faeries were barred from the Christian heaven but exempt from going to the Christian hell by sacrificing some of their number to the Devil every few years. This tale weaves in and out of various stories, including the famous "Tam Lin". Apparently there is a pre-Christian basis to this tale, and the Alfar are indeed bound to sacrifice a certain number of souls to Hel, but it is to the goddess of Death and no Devil. What hold Hela has over them that requires them to make an offering of the teind is unclear. Some people's UPG suggests that the Alfar, after having come into the Nine Worlds and made themselves a home, wished to continue their policy of death as it had been wherever they came from: they would reincarnate only into new Alfar bodies, among their own people.
Hela, it is said, likes to mix souls and bodies up a bit, and considers this sort of thing the deathly equivalent to inbreeding, and so must be bought off. This means that a certain number of Alfar souls must sacrifice themselves - or be unwillingly sacrificed; which way that ratio swings is unclear - so that She can do what She will with them. Apparently one of the places that they end up is here.
Humans with Alfar souls, especially those who were very recent sacrifices, often have a problem with living in this world. Alienation from the physical body is rife, as is generally ignoring it, perhaps even to the point of slow suicide. Those who are a little more balanced and comfortable in their skins still may feel a vague-to-intense longing for some other place, somewhere that is more beautiful than here. There are many reasons why people might feel like aliens among the human crowd, but this condition is endemic to Alfar-souled beings. This continual longing can interfere with the practicalities of ordinary life, especially when it comes to committing to a mundane, prosaic career (or marriage, or child-raising, or anything else that one couldn't just run away from if that beautiful unknown door to the Otherworlds suddenly opened).
There is some evidence that Alfar souls incarnate more comfortably in bodies with some Alfar bloodline, which means that the two conditions may be co-morbid, as it were, but that doesn't always happen. Sometimes they have to deal with living in a perfectly ordinary and not very magic-sensitive body, because Hela feels that it would be good for them in some way. This can be excruciatingly painful to an Alfar soul, who perceives this as a kind of blindness or deafness or other permanent disability, and treats it accordingly.
So what happens if you are fae-blooded, and/or you are what has been termed "otherkin" - a fae-souled being who, for whatever reason, has been reborn in a mortal body? Will that affect things? Yes and no. First of all, being fae-blooded - having at least one Alf in your line of ancestry - generally isn't a big deal unless you're descended from someone of particular note, for good or ill. Having fae blood might make some things easier, like seeing through glamour, but it doesn't generally get you better treatment in either Ljossalfheim or Svartalfheim because to the Alfar, it's the elves with a bit of human blood, not the humans with a bit of elf blood, that are really important. If you are blood kin to a living Alf or a line of Alfar, however, that's going to be taken more seriously. Both dark-elves and light-elves will readily "adopt" human relatives if they are certain you're one of them. This may be good or bad, depending on your point of view.
"If you are fae-souled, an Alf who's been reincarnated as a human, then your treatment by the Alfar will depend on who you used to be rather than who you are now. The Ljossalfar, being as proud as they are, consider any life but a near-immortal, elf one to be inferior. If you were one of the unlucky sacrifices that died for the Teind to Helheim and was reborn as a mortal, don't expect a warm homecoming. For many centuries the Ljossalfar have been in the habit of sacrificing unwilling victims of questionable soundness, and if you're one of those unfortunate souls who was forcibly dispatched to appease Hela's demand for tribute, the very sight of you will make the light-elves highly uncomfortable and inclined to avoid you at all costs. If you were one of those who died willingly, their attitude will soften somewhat, but they will still consider you someone to be pitied and ashamed of, rather than someone who deserves respect for sacrificing yourself for the good of the rest. It's their problem, not yours, so try not to feel insulted by this.
If you left Alfheim via other means, then your reception will be entirely dependent on the circumstances of your death and how you found your way into the mortal realm. The exception to this is banishment. Sometimes the Alfar will forcibly exile repeat troublemakers, politically inconvenient members of various Houses, or those who have committed what is, in their eyes, an unforgivable crime. Many wander into one of the other worlds and eventually die (the high-Court Ljossalfar in particular lead ridiculously sheltered lives and can rarely cope with the denizens or ways of other realms). A few also end up dead by their own hand, unable to bear the shame of banishment. Occasionally these folks get reincarnated as mortals, depending on what Hela decides is best for them. If you know you were exiled from Ljossalfheim or Svartalfheim, you would do well never to attempt to return -- they will probably kill you if they can, since most banishments are magical curses as well as legal proclamations. If your god-boss(es) send you anyway, the Alfar will just have to take it up with Them.
As with most things having to do with the Alfar, perversely, the Svartalfar are much more tolerant of "otherkin" - unless they have banished you from their own land, that is. Otherwise, they have a kind of morbid fascination with human-bodied fae, and are even likely to regard those sacrificed unwillingly in the Teind or kicked out of Ljossalfheim as "one of them," since the Svartalfar as a group were driven out of Alfheim long ago by their less open-minded cousins. If you were ill-treated by the Ljossalfar and that's why you're wandering about in a human body, you'll probably get a surprising amount of sympathy from the dark-elves. If you were one of the willing sacrifices, they will treat you with respect, since one of the things that the Svartalfar look down on the Ljossalfar for is their cousins' unwillingness to accept that the Teind serves a necessary purpose for the survival of both their realms. The Svartalfar are much less squeamish about death than their kin are - they're not shy about dealing it out, either - and for all their general ill-will, they do understand that idealism and isolationism don't make the worlds go round.
One thing to remember, if you are fae-souled, is that while you tarry in either Ljossalfheim or Svartalfheim, you should take care to avoid kneeling before anyone of consequence. The reason for this is that if you formerly departed that world under a cloud of some kind, kneeling in front of nobly-born people is essentially a sign of repentance and an indicator that you have officially placed yourself under that person's dominion. Because of this, the Alfar may even try to trick you into kneeling in front of one of their lords or ladies. Bowing to someone for respect or politeness's sake is fine, but avoid getting down on one or both knees in the presence of highly placed Alfar unless you really want to beg their forgiveness and become a thrall, and your stay to become permanent.
-Elizabeth Vongvisith, spirit-worker
When considering the Alfar relationship to the other races, the first thing to take into account is the Vanir God Frey, who is called the "lord of Alfheim". What this means, in real terms, is not so much "head of the Elves" as "colonial governor of the World of Alfheim". Frey is the go-between for the Ljossalfar (the dark Alfar do not answer to him, and he considers them to be not his problem) and the other worlds, most specifically Asgard and Vanaheim. His rulership is another part of the "rent" that the Alfar have to pay to keep their prime piece of real estate in the Nine Worlds; in a sense, Frey's rulership is Odin's equivalent of Hela's teind. (It is interesting that the two deities to whom the Alfar must pay tribute are Odin and Hela; it does set a clear idea of the real balance of power in the Nine Worlds.)
Frey will, in a pinch, be a go-between for the Jotun worlds as well; his marriage to Gerda gave him a good deal of clout and respect with the Jotnar. Skirnir, Frey's good friend and right hand, is an Alf; so are his two servants, Byggvir and Beyla. They travel with him from world to world on his yearly perambulations through Alfheim, Asgard, and Vanaheim, taking care of his household and farms.
The Alfar, so far, seem to have a good and non-resentful relationship with Frey. It was probably wise of Odin to select his young Vanir hostage to be his diplomat and governor; golden Frey is almost impossible to dislike, even for the mercurial Alfar, and generally gets his way in Alfheim. He does not interfere with their daily lives, reserving his influence solely for managing dealings with the folk of other worlds - including our own. This means that Frey can be called upon to help with problems that you may have with the Ljossalfar.
"Freyr rules Alfheim as its high Lord, and the elvish Lady and Lord of the ruling Houses answer to him. When he's not there, they are the de facto rulers. He pretty much lets them mind their own people's business, although when he feels moved to lay down the law about something, they have to obey. He does not have anything at all to do with Hela's Teind; that is something strictly between Her Ladyship and the elves, and he keeps out of it, though they have asked him numerous times to use his influence to make Hela quit demanding blood sacrifices of them."
-Elizabeth Vongvisith, spirit-worker
Dealing With The Alfar
Long ago, the ways that peasants dealt with the Elven folk had largely to do with avoiding and appeasing them. Especially in Celtic mythology, there are a great deal of stories warning how dangerous it is for ordinary mortals to have regular dealings with the Fair Folk, We know little about how the actual Alfar were treated ritually, except that they are frequently mentioned in passing prayers, but this many be more like thanking the bad fairy at the christening in order to be left alone. There are references to an "alfablót", which was performed in homes in late fall, but it was secret and never done with strangers in the house.
If you are a journeyer and/or a spirit-worker, you may well end up dealing with the Fair Folk in one capacity or another, dangerous or not. Attitude, in these dealings, is of prime importance. Advice on this is as follows:
The Alfar are their own folk. Their culture has not changed as much as ours, so they can come across in some ways as rather archaic - in fact they will sometimes play this up to strangers. They still live tribally, with distinct clans that tend to serve specific functions within the tribe. They have their own relationship with the Gods, who come across somewhat differently both in Alfheim and to this world's fey-blooded than they do to other people. My experience is that they are, on one hand, sticklers for custom and proper behavior (mostly by their own definitions of those), but on the other demand absolute freedom of association and movement, so they are seldom interested in the lines we draw regarding such things.
They are a bit arrogant, which they feel is somewhat mitigated by their self-avowed "talent for diplomacy." Meaning that they will be coolly polite to anyone... but they remain far more likely to be genuinely hospitable to those who carry their blood or a fey spirit, or at least have become well known to them, than an outsider.
It does not do to deal with them as you would a minor land-wight; it offends their sense of dignity. That said, they are noticeably better-disposed toward people who have previously worked respectfully with plant and animal spirits. They also look favorably on creative types, so showing up in a nicely embroidered cloak or singing a heroic ballad (on key) serves well. Note that their aesthetic and general manners dictate that you pay attention to detail and harmonize with what's around you - so if your cloak is dayglow hunter orange or your ballad interrupts a lovely birdsong they were listening to before you got there, you've blown it. Beauty is one of their core values, particularly beauty that looks natural or mimics nature in some way.
Theirs is what Deborah Tannen would term a "high-courtesy" form of interaction. Speakers do not interrupt each other with trivial bits of agreement or side issues, nor is their meter of speech particularly hurried. You wait your turn, and then say what you mean to say, preferably in a composed and attractive manner. Of course, they have human visitors at a disadvantage here, because many of those trivial bits are carried for them by linguistic inflection and by empathic bonds. The ones who deal with humans much do come to understand this, and once they're familiar with you, you can be a bit less formal, but it's best not too presume too much too soon.
They tend to be a bit close with their real names, so expect that the first name you learn for a contact will actually be one of their titles or a nickname. They may in turn prefer to call you by a nickname they will most likely choose for you. If they like you, they may eventually tell you what it means.
The Alfar have a very low tolerance of stupidity, perceived or otherwise, which is probably their worst fault. Much like cats, they don't like to be called on it when they do something that could be interpreted as stupid or clumsy for that matter. They can appear proud and arrogant, and are to some extent, but are also very sure of their abilities, knowledgeable and skilled, which can be mistaken for pride and arrogance by those less so (people do tend to overcompensate with trying to denigrate their "opponent" when bested).
Bearing Gifts: All the Alfar love music, poetry and stories though their aesthetic preferences vary wildly -- the Svartalfar, for instance, prefer the grotesque to the delicate and refined. If you are a skald, a musician or singer, or a good storyteller, and you are willing to entertain with your gifts, you will earn a measure of respect from the Alfar. If you lack these talents, you can always give them gifts. All elves are fascinated by strange, cunningly wrought and/or precious things -- unusual, beautiful art or craftwork, cleverly made toys or dolls, musical instruments, items of fine clothing or jewelry, rare and delicate sweetmeats or drinks, exotic flowers that do not grow in the Northern lands of Midgard or its sister realm. (Just don't give them cold iron.) They are rather childlike in this respect. If you know you have to win someone's favor or ask for a boon, an appropriate gift can make all the difference even if you aren't a witty skald or gifted musician.
-Elizabeth Vongvisith, spirit-worker
The creatures of Alfheim follow the "fairy tale" rules, which are a protocol all its own. The nobility contain all the rights and wrongs about such a caste. The commoners can be capricious and their pranks take on nasty sides (they find it hysterical when a person gets frostbite, for instance). To them things are far more literal, as they are actual representations of nature's activities. Words can be heavier, and actions can be revelations of deep character virtues or flaws. Emotions can be weapons, and a touch a metaphor. I need to stress these beings are not human; they can and do take a great deal of joy of making the human realize their limitations. Take drinking, for instance. Don't even try to match them; it's viewed as a challenge and you won't win, nor are you sure exactly what game you might be playing. They do not share many of our common cultural considerations, and can come across cold and alien.
Remember that you are dealing with higher beings. They view us humans as different but lesser beings, though they often envy us our spontaneity and individualism. Gaining the trust of one or two helps you navigate through things. Watch your words, limit your actions and make sure you adhere strictly to any promise you give. My most important bit of advice from experience is don't tell them "thank you" when they offer you anything. It's a high insult to them. You can appreciate their gift and be honored, but the best way to respond, even if its not immediately, is to give them a gift in return or perform an action for them. Learning this gains a great deal of societal currency with them."
-Rod Landreth, seidhmadhr
My overall relationship with them evolved over the years, especially when I started working with Skirnir directly regarding things runic. In the lore, he is Frey's messenger, and was sent (pleaded with - believe me, Skirnir's take on things is very different than what is in the lore, which he takes great amusement in) to woo Gerdh on Frey's behalf. Skirnir is also a rune-master, and a very strong one. From what I gather from Skirnir, he is more Frey's proverbial right hand, and head of House in his own right. A couple of Easters ago, I sent him a rather pointed letter (via a shaman), which resulted in my getting adopted into his house by Skirnir personally. I felt when he received that letter. It didn't help any that I was at work at the time, and trying to ring people in on a cash register. It was disconcerting, to say the least.
Anyway, the agreement I made with them was essentially to be their representative here. They had already acknowledged that I was akin to them. With people becoming aware of their natures (waking up, so to speak) in greater numbers, someone who is able explain to them what was going on is very useful. There's something else as well, something about being an "anchor", but I'm really not sure what that's referring to.
My first interaction with them was when I was a child of about eight. I was walking to one of my favourite places in the woods near my home shortly after lunch. I remember seeing my dog, Lady, stop and lay down strangely. I remember turning around and seeing the roof of my home and then being surrounded by laughing, giggling, whispering and joking voices. I remember that these voices seem to come from the ground, the trees, the bushes and then "wrap" around me, touch me, and fill me with a sense of joy and fun. I was not afraid as these voices seemed familiar and my friends. I remember "coming to" very near the same place, except it was late in the evening. My mother was yelling for me to come home, quite angry with me as it was well past the time I was to come home. I have no real recollection of that time but vague impressions of playing and cavorting with creatures of light. A few years later, I got my hands on Tolkien and was convinced I had been in the company of the Elves.
-Rod Landreth, seidhmadhr
As with just about any being out there, treat them with respect and courtesy, and don't make assumptions about who you think they are and are not. They aren't all cutesy and nice, and if you succeed in irritating them enough, they will curse you. Gerda, Frey's wife, almost had that happen, though those circumstances were somewhat unique (and which she doesn't like being reminded of). That said, they also don't expect everyone who comes to visit to fully understand their ways, and do allow some leeway, though they also expect people to clue in, and won't necessarily explain things. Their reasoning is that if people are observant, they'll pick things up.
They don't take well to being "summoned" (as in a classical Wiccan/Ceremonial Magick circle), and will likely ignore it (unless they find something interesting). And if someone does catch their interest is this fashion; look out! Likewise, trying to banish them - or more likely their landwight allies, the beings who can be and often are their eyes and ears here - is also unwise. Remember, they are magically inclined beings, whose magic is innate. They tend to have a better understanding of it than we do, and can seemingly bend reality far easier than we can.
From the Alfar, I've learned that protocol and formality are very serious when traveling the Nine Worlds. The lessons of Hospitality are found all through this. I've learned about their influence on weather, the seasons, and the "mechanics" of such things. I've learned that power ought to be used with a velvet glove, and with the most attention to control rather than expenditure. They've actually shown me the functions of nature and the necessity of the various aspects of "cycle of life." They've taught me that extensively to think on my feet, and that even if I don't do it perfectly, intent does mean quite a bit. So being gracious in my faults often gets me far even if I'm considered a bit of a rube.
-Rod Landreth, seidhmadhr
As we will discuss in the Ljossalfheim chapter, one of the most difficult things to remember is that the Alfar live and breathe glamour. To them, it is as important as clothing (or at least recreational clothing) would be to us; walking about with no glamour would be like wearing nothing more than an old T-shirt and a pair of grubby jeans all the time. While there are a few lower-class Alfar who do the glamour equivalent of just that (and are received in the upper classes with about as much enthusiasm as the T-shirt-and-jeans guy is in the fancy restaurant), most consider personal glamour as much an art form as dressing one's self for the purposes of looking attractive or making one's self feel good.
The Alfar can see through each other's glamour, but they can tell when another Alfar is trying to peek beneath their "face", and it is considered extremely impolite to do so - rather like trying to look under a woman's skirt. Indeed, the nature of their glamour creations is a subtle language unto itself, a way of communicating without words to their audience. This is especially so among the Court Alfar, where it can take on the stylized complexity of the Victorian "language of flowers", where bouquets were used to send arcane messages between lovers.
Another factor to be aware of is that things in the lands of the Alfar are very seldom as they seem. All types of Alfar use illusion-magic (or glamour) not only to alter or disguise their own appearances and the appearances of objects as a matter of course, but to enchant the unwary and/or naive with a kind of mild brainwashing. Glamour is less about making people see things differently than it is about making them feel differently about what they're seeing. If you suddenly find yourself nodding avidly and agreeing to outrageous requests or ridiculous statements, you've probably been glamoured. Recognizing this fact makes it much easier to break, and mostly it just takes a focused effort of will. Using rune magic, such as throwing a Kenaz rune at something you believe to be glamoured, will also break the enchantment, though it's also likely to piss off the elves. (Depriving an Alf of his or her personal glamour merely out of idle curiosity is rude and ill-advised; only do so if there's a compelling reason or your survival is at stake). The best protection against falling under someone's spell, however, is to not to take anything for granted.
The Alfar can actually shapeshift, and indeed the line between glamouring and shapeshifting is pretty thin, but many of the light-elves consider shapeshifting as overkill and glamouring a more subtle and refined art. Svartalfar will use whatever means necessary or whatever suits their fancy to alter the appearance of things. Many Alfar use glamour simply to make things prettier or more interesting, without any real intent to deceive, so if you detect that someone or something has been glamoured, don't assume there's an ulterior motive. Fae-blooded mortals generally are far less susceptible to glamour than others, and more likely to see through it.
So long as we're on the subject of untruth, here's a warning: don't lie to anyone you meet in either Ljossalfheim or Svartalfheim. They can see right through it, and will not appreciate either your duplicity or your creativity. One of the frustrating things about dealing with Alfar is that they hold high expectations for mortal behavior while not bothering to stick to those standards themselves - as all their fascination with illusion and glamour shows. An Alf will never tell a bald-faced, staightforward lie - not even a dark-elf - but they may freely trick, bedazzle, cozen, exaggerate, understate, lie by silence or omission, and otherwise try to obscure things, and will see nothing wrong with this. If you can beat them at their own game of smoke and mirrors, they'll most likely respect you for it, and perversely, might even become friendlier. But don't attempt to tell them blatant untruths - not even teeny white lies - unless you want to return home black and blue from their pinching, with your hair snarled in elf-knots, unable to remember who you are and why you went to Alfheim in the first place...
-Elizabeth Vongvisith, spirit-worker
One of the most debated issues among those who work with elven-wights is the problem of whether the (strongly similar) fey-types from other cultures and pantheons are the same folk as the Alfar - either broken off and gone to the World of Yggdrasil, or actively traveling from world to world even now. Others claim that they are similar in species, but different in tribe and culture; still others that they are all different races. Folks that I interviewed had varying opinions on this.
I do think that they're all linked in some way, though with some much closer and easier to reach than others. The Sidhe are particularly close neighbors, and in fact IMHO almost as closely related as the Dark Alfar - they live in the hilly places rather than the forests, and are somewhat different culturally, is all. But many other, more unlike races live...well, my instinct is saying "way to the South," so I guess I'll run with that. Some of the more important tribes have shortcut "portals" to some of these places, and there is, I understand, something akin to a faery U.N. where interracial matters are settled.
I see all the elf-races as distinct, though related, and having their own realms. They do interact, however. In fact there is a Sidhe - well, diplomat/emissary is the closest descriptive that fits - whom I was introduced to several years ago by Frey, in residence at one of the houses I visited. As for how I view them as distinct, that gets a little tricky. We all have several sets of energy patterns, one of which is "racial/cultural". There are detectable differences, if you clue in to what to look for (which I cannot describe how to go about). About the only way I can describe these differences is that the Sidhe feel "cyclic" or "spiral", the Tuatha feel "angular" and the Ljossalfar feel "linear". Though I know that doesn't make much sense.
To me the Sidhe, trooping fairies and the Alfar all seem to be the same. The commoners conform to many expectations of all the lesser fairy beings that have been catalogued in numerous sources. I know that these forms have changed as the years go by and that what was considered wealful at one time now has taken on a much darker cast, mostly because of Christians view of nature and the world. The nobles are the Sidhe as far as I am concerned. I use the information found in sources about many of the Faerie, and also use the sources of the Germanic world. Alfheim, to me is what has been called Faerie in later Irish and English sources. I think much of the folklore preserved in these "fairy tales" reveal a great deal of their worlds. Reading these later sources has helped me a great deal in understanding how to deal with intricate protocols, etiquette and interactions. It has also helped me understand our ancestors much better, and the important concepts the Nine Noble Virtues try to encapsulate."
-Rod Landreth, seidhmadhr
Of all the races in the Nine Worlds, the Alfar are the ones that will attract the most adoring human beings. Elves are like a glowing, glittering beacon to certain humans - especially those who are imaginative, artistic, lovers of beauty, and feel alienated and misunderstood. We grubby physically-bound humans call them the Fair Folk for a reason. As a species, we are bound to them by many generations of ambivalent contact and exchange, and we always will be.
"The nature of the Alfar, as with any other race, is widely variable, and all this information is given as a general guideline rather than infallible rules. Some of the haughty light-elves are very sympathetic and kind towards humans, while others see humans as mere playthings. Some Svartalfar are likewise friendlier than the rest of their folk, while others are best avoided no matter what. Sometimes the smallest sprite or most ordinary wood-dwelling solitary Alf can be more powerful than an entire cavalcade of nobly-born Ljossalfar mounted on their strange, fey steeds. Use your best judgment and don't assume anything is as it appears.
-Elizabeth Vongvisith, spirit-worker