Woefully little is known about the mythological ancestor of the modern day elf, despite the frequency with which they appear in modern fantasy epics, both written and filmed, tabletop role-playing games and the video games they’ve spawned. Utilizing linguistic and textual evidence, Alaric Hall attempts to construct a portrait of belief in Ælf in Anglo-Saxon England, specifically chronicling evidence pertaining to health and sickness as well as gender and gender roles.
Despite the scholarly tone of this work, there is something within the writing which makes it seem a little more personal and thus accessible than some other scholarly works I’ve read. That’s not to say that it is a necessarily easy text to work through — Hall specializes in studying the subtleties of linguistic evidence drawn from medieval mythological and medical texts as well as place names and kennings for renowned folk of the time. It can be a little intimidating, no doubt about that.
All of this evidence is divided neatly into seven chapters. Each chapter is topped with a conclusion pertaining to the evidence examined (chapter one focuses on Scandinavian Alfar as a backdrop against which to examine the Anglo-Saxon evidence, and poses some tantalizing theories regarding the Alfar and the Vanir). Each chapter builds upon the last until we’re brought to a summary of the evidence and the conclusions which can be drawn from it.
Make no mistake — this is not written from the pagan point of view. This is a secular study in folklore, written in a very scholarly fashion. Nonetheless, this could be a potentially useful resource for people drawn to entities or spirits such as the Anglo-Saxon Ælf or their Scandinavian counterpart, the Alfar, both of which are supported by rather scant evidence as opposed to the more popular Æsir, Vanir, or even Jötnar.
If you are interested in the Anglo-Saxon Ælf or even the Alfar, this could be a very valuable source for good, solid scholarly information. The mythology and the information packed into these pages could also serve as a jumping-off point for a more spiritual practice. And if you’re a linguistics buff I can only imagine that a work like this would be a delicious treat. If you’re both, you shouldn’t pass this one up.
[Tahni is beginning to lose track of how long she has been a practicing pagan, but she believes that it’s been somewhere around eight years. She recently became a devotee of Loki, but continues to work with deities and spirits from many pantheons. She often honors the deities and spirits she works with by telling stories for and about them in her art and writing. Some of her work has been featured in Huginn, Lilith: Queen of the Desert and Unto Herself: A Devotional Anthology for Independent Goddesses. She often shares snippets of writing at tahnijnikitins.deviantart.com.]