Question: Information about the Dark Alfar?

Dear GLE, I have been thinking lately about elves in the Eddas, and wondering if the light-elf/dark-(or black-)elf construct was true to common Nordic belief or a projection of Snorri’s Christian faith, as it’s sounding more and more like a heaven/hell dichotomy. If you consider the elves as the dead that is. Do you know of any other sources that classified the elves as light and dark/black?
Dear Anon,

This is tricky business, as the line between the who was an alf, who was a duerg, and who was a dead human are all pretty damn fuzzy. Later texts even start blurring the line between alfar and thursar (as in Grettis SagaBosa saga ok Herrauðs, mentions in Beowulf of alfar being like Grendel, etc.) and they become associated with sickness (as per the Anglo-Saxon charm spells and other folk traditions regarding elf-shot).

The alfar seem to merge in later beliefs and practices with dead humans to some extent (mound-alfar, haugbo/haugbonde/haugbui, etc). There’s a bit of arguing about whether “Dark Alfs” are Duergar, mound-alfar/dead humans, or a different category entirely. Even Snorri seems to be confused about precisely what the difference is between the Dark Alfar and Duergar. My own opinion lines up more with John Lindow and Lotte Motz (that the Duergar and Dark Alfar are basically the same and alf became liberally used to mean “supernatural being” later on, much like vaettir and troll were) than Turville-Petre’s theory that the (Dark) Alfar are the male counterparts to the Disir.

Jacob Grimm divides up the Light Alfar, Dark Alfar, and Duergar as separate beings, but he’s really an unreliable source.

Recommended Reading:

Question: What do you know about troll crosses?

A while ago I emailed the Viking Answer Lady about Troll Crosses. She said that they weren’t a Viking Age thing as the Othala Rune was not part of the Younger Futhark, and guessed they originated in the 1800s. In June, I visited the Iron Age Farm outside Stavanger. I noticed that some of the reenactors wore troll crosses. What do you know about troll crosses?

Dear guthbrand,

From what I’ve been able to find out about it, they emerged at some point in the Middle Ages. (Edit: The trollkors has turned out to be modern, please see the addendum post.) The fact that they vaguely look like Othala seems to be coincidence, as folklore focuses on the fact that the trollkors (also known as a häxkors) has to be made of iron or steel and that the arms have to form a cross.

Steel and iron were both thought to ward off many types of vaettir (trolls, alfar, huldufolk, you name it) and also avert the power of witches. Steel and iron appear in a number of pieces of folk magic to ward off vattir, root them in place so they become harmless, or break enchantments (in the latter case, by throwing a piece of steel or iron over the enchanted being or thing). Iron nails were hammered into door frames for this purpose and may actually be what the reginnaglar (iron nails hammered into the high-seat pillars of hofs) were used for. You can see this, too, with the tradition of placing iron or steel knives or scissors into baby cradles (which I will talk about more in a later post).

My best guess is that older folklore regarding the vaettir’s distaste towards iron and steel combined with introduced Christian beliefs that cross symbols were protective, and the trollkors was a result. I don’t do any smithing, so I can’t say if the shape came about because it was easier to bend iron into a cross that way rather than making two separate pieces and binding them together. (The shape also, perhaps coincidentally, resembles the fish used to represent Christianity.) Ebbe Schön has written a bit about them – that they had to be enchanted (besvärjt) by a klok gumma when it is forged in order to be made correctly, and that looking through the hole in the middle would enable you to see creatures that were normally invisible to the human eye. Unfortunately, I have not been able to get ahold of his books, so I can’t share any more of his research.

I guess the salient points you are looking for are:

  • It’s a later amulet from sometime in the Middle Ages, after the populace had converted to Christianity Turned out to be modern, please see the addendum post.
  • It does incorporate some earlier Heathen lore regarding protection against witchcraft and vaettir
  • In order to be effective at all, according to lore, it has to be from iron or steel, and the best ones are forged with a wisewoman enchanting it during the process. (According to current thought, but this is lore that was invented when the trollkors was invented.)

Streaming Documentary: Huldufólk 102

Beneath the quiet veneer of Iceland lies an invisible nation of Hidden People. This fascinating phenomenon, rarely discussed with outsiders, not only pervades Icelandic culture, but also impacts its infrastructure (e.g., road construction and buildings). This enlightening journey, through Iceland’s celestial and mysterious environment, suspends one’s state of reality-forcing you to question your own perceptual limitations and the mysteries of the natural world. Delving further into the stories of the hidden people, it is impossible not to consider the impact of the geographic position and isolation of this mysterious, celestial island of Iceland. Winter’s darkness allows the dazzling and supernatural Northern Lights to pervade the country with its amorphous shapes; casting brilliant colors of yellow, pink, and green downward to the land below. Black lava rocks, green mossy rocks, geysers, volcanoes, and glaciers all play their role in this mystical landscape, where the wind, snow and light show the power of nature. These spectacular displays reveal the paradoxes that man must contend with-the simplicity of things that we see on a daily basis versus the complexity of things we are unable to see within the world. (Written by Nisha Inalsingh)

You can watch the documentary here.

Middle Link’s webpage is here.

Question: Plant vaettir and how to contact vaettir?

How do Vaettir… work? Are they just an all around sort of thing, or is it like dryads/nymphs? Does every plant have a vaettir/spirit? etc? I suppose I just want to make sure… and what would you say the easiest way to contact/ask what the Vaettir want would be? Thanks very much.
Dear uncomfortablylongmelisma,

I answered part of your question the other day on the general What Are Vaettir post.

For the rest: it seems like plant species do have associated spirits with them, both individually and also a sort of ancestral/guardian spirit. What the ancestral spirit is called varies by plant, but often includes Mother, Father, Lord, or Lady somewhere in the name. (More well-known examples include hyldemoer and askafroa, who I’ll cover in separate vaettir posts. They’re the guardians of elder trees and ash trees, respectively.)

The easiest way I know of for communicating with landvaettir or plant vaettir is just to go outside, sit down somewhere where you’re not going to be disturbed (or right next to the plant in question), and go into trance if you are able to do so. Failing that, simply speaking aloud and asking your questions, then waiting to “hear” a response that will probably be more gut-feeling and images than words, or doing simple divination to try to make out the reply. Lithomancy works very well for simple yes/no questions, and it’s easy enough to find rocks while wandering around outside.

If you’re wanting to make friends, regularly offering bits of food and drink, providing water and food for the local wildlife, cleaning up litter and removing invasive species that are killing off native flora… all good ideas.

Vaettir Series: The nøkk/nykk/näck and bäckahäst


The nøkk/nykk/näck  is found predominantly in Norway and Sweden. They can take on many forms, but often appear as handsome men and try to lure humans close enough that they can drown them. Besides appearing at times as an appealing young man, the nøkk could lure individuals in by playing the fiddle. They can also be invisible, look like wood floating in the water, old bearded men, a cute boy with red or blond hair, a face peering out of the water, or a large greyish-white horse. Those that appear as horses to try to trick children into riding them are called bäckahäst (brook horse) in southern Sweden. They are occasionally captured and used as draft animals for farm labor, but escape back to the water as soon as they are able. Nøkken are so fond of waterfalls that they are also sometimes called fossegrim (“waterfall spook”).

Nøkken are renowned for being incredibly skilled musicians, particularly with the fiddle and other stringed instruments, and this can either be a danger or a boon. Besides luring people to their deaths, individuals could befriend the vaettr and he would teach them how to play. The skill wasn’t without danger – one tale from Skåne tells that a musician who learned to fiddle from a näck lost his mind and could not stop playing, and those who were dancing to the music could not stop dancing. They were only freed when someone resisted and cut the violin strings with a knife. (This can also happen if you let the nøkk tune your fiddle for you.)

Suggested offerings for befriending this vaettr have been coins, black animals, three drops of blood from one’s ring finger, brandy, and snuff or tobacco, put into a lake or thrown into a waterfall on a Thursday evening.

The nøkk has a peculiar cry called the varskrik, which is similar to the call of the storlom (Gavia Arctica, the black-throated loon) or other eerie birdcalls. It’s sometimes suggested that the nøkk may not directly drown some victims, but that the sight and sound of him may fortell water-related deaths and severe weather. The nøkk is also associated with water lilies, which are nicknamed nøkkeblomst, nykkjeblom, or nøkkeroser.

Nøkken are said to claim at least one human life per year. To avoid being drowned, it’s recommended to offer a small gift of food and drink to appease them. Nøkken are also repelled by spitting, or by throwing steel in the water, even something as small as a needle. An incantation from Norway that is recited while throwing steel in the water is thus: “Nyk! Nyk! Nål i vann. Jomfru Maria kastet stål i vann! Du synker, jeg flyter!” (Nyk, Nyk, nail in the water. Virgin Mary cast steel in the water! You sink, I float!) One can also bind a nøkk with a nøkkstein – you take a rock, throw it directly up in the air as high as you can, and let it fall vertically into the water, and it will pin the nøkk to the bottom where he cannot reach you. Similar to other vaettir, insult or calling out their name is another was to drive them off. An insult rhyme from Sweden goes as follows: “Näck, näck, nålatjuv, far din var en stålatjuv, mor din var en frilla, gick i gårdarna och gjorde illa! Näcken är bunden!” (Näck, näck, needlethief, your father was a stablethief, your mother was a whore, did wicked things and more! Näck, you are bound!)

Extra creepiness: due to the way drowning victims often get a reddened face or nose, Norwegian folklore suggests that the victim got “sucked on” by the nøkk. 

The Icelandic nykur is similar to the bäckahäst. The Finnish näkki is very similar to the nøkk. German Nixen are more like river mermaids (I will cover similar German vaettir in a separate post.) Similar spirits are the English nicor/knucker (which is more like a water wyrm), the Scottish/Irish kelpie, and the terrifying Jenny Greenteeth of English folklore.

Works Referenced

  • Grimm, Jacob. Teutonic Mythology, 4 vols. Translated by James Stallybrass. London: Dover, 1966.
  • Gundarsson, Kveldulf. Elves, Wights, and Trolls. New York: iUniverse, 2007.
  • Hodne, Ørnulf. Norsk folketro. Oslo: Cappelen, 1999.
  • Kvideland, Reimund and Sehmsdorf, Henning K. Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legend. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.
  • Nordisk Familjebok (Stockholm, 1914, entry for näck)
  • Ordbog over det danske sprog 1700-1950 (entry for nøkke)
  • Simpson, Jacqueline. Scandinavian Folktales. London: Penguin, 1988.

What Exactly ARE Vaettir?

I’ve gotten a few questions about what, precisely, vaettir are and if the are the same as Greek nymphs.

Let’s start with the word itself. Vaettr (pl. Vaettir, sometimes rendered as wights, vetter, or väsen depending on the language and location) is etymologically related to the verb to be (ON vera). The word can be translated as “beings”, usually with the connotation that we’re talking about supernatural beings or spirits of some sort, and there are many types of vaettir.

Landvaettir are the closest to the Greek nymphs (as far as I can tell) in that they are tied to particular locations or natural objects. Housevaettir are spirits that appear in and around the home and interact with humans (such as the nisse, haugbonde, kobolds, etc. The concept is very similar to the Scottish and English folklore about brownies). Alfar and Duergar are also vaettir, Jotnar are vaettir, the spirits of the dead can count as vaettir, and even the Gods can be considered vaettir. Generally speaking, however, vaettir refers to “lesser” spirits, not Deities.

Vaettir are also not exchangeable with the Irish sidhe or other Irish and Gaelic fairies. They have some things in common with the alfar, but there are some cultural differences and the customs and behaviors one needs to obey to stay safe are not always the same. Even the mound-alfar (the dead in their howes), when there was cultural exchange with the Irish, were not translated as sidhe because it was understood that they were different spirits altogether. The Irish translated them as alcaille, “ghost of the dead”. (de Vries, Jan. Altnordisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, 2nd Ed. p.6)

There are too many types of vaettir for me to outline them all in one post, so I’m going to try to put together an informational series giving information about different specific vaettir types. In general, it’s worth knowing that turning down food and drink from Scandinavian vaettir is dangerous because it insults them (the opposite of Irish/Gaelic advice about fairy consumables), with the exception of troll drink (which can burn human flesh). Humans seem to have interacted with vaettir on a more regular basis than they did with the Gods, in the same way that you interact with your next door neighbors far more than you do with the mayor or the politicians representing you in the government.

Question: Protection Techniques?

I’ve been reading some of the things you have written here about spirits, shielding, etc. The idea off unfriendly spirits kind of freaks me out. But I’m pretty headblind. Sometimes I’ll feel contact with Loki but it’s faint, rare, and I get the idea that it takes a MASSIVE amount of effort on Loki’s part to get through. How worried should I be about not-nice spirits and how can I protect myself? Can I learn to shield etc. despite my overall lack of sensitivity to spirits and such?

wwwkellicom asked:

What is the best protection amulet to use for unwanted spirit invasions? Especially those who try to follow in the astral, or follow you back home?

These two questions are somewhat related, so I’m going to combine them. I’m also a bit lazy today, so this may be a bit disjointed and disorganized.

Giving an overview of protection techniques is tricky because there are so many options out there. A lot of it is a matter of skill, taste, what materials you have on-hand, and whether that technique is cross-functional or only applies in particular situations.

I have a couple of older posts you may want to read.

Wyrdvinr has two good curse defense posts.

In terms of easy-to-obtain books, Draja Mickaharic puts out excellent work that leans heavily towards folk magic practices, so the techniques tend to be easy to do. I rather like Jason Miller, and he’s put out a book on Protection and Reversal Magic that gives some bare-bones basics and is easy to digest. Spiritual Protection is a book I’ve recommended in the past, but I’ve found out Sophie Reicher and Galina Krasskova are the same person, so choose to spend or not as you will.

Even if you’re headblind and have trouble visualizing and meditating, you can learn to center, ground, and shield effectively. Folk magic is even easier, as it tends to focus on manipulating physical objects.

Onwards to a selection of other sorts of protection magic:

Charlemagne’s Helping Rings – in order, protection against devil’s tricks and enemies’ attacks and despair, against sudden death and collapse and heart palpitations, against enemies’ anger and to put fear in them, against the bite of swords, against mockery and to avoid going astray, against wrath of chieftains and the persecutions of evil men, for victory in court cases and friendship, against all terrors, and lastly for defends against lusts and luxury. These should be inscribed on a surface and worn over one’s breast, as with a necklace.

Icelandic Magic Staves can also be helpful. (Wikipedia has a few archived if you find Strandagaldur’s site confusing.)

Eihwaz and Algiz are good to use for defense. Thurisaz can also be used, although it’s a bit trickier and can cut you as well if you’re not careful. These can be drawn, carved, or burned onto objects. You can burn protective herbs, add water to make a paste, and draw with the ashes. You can draw the runes using oils. Temporary window paint “markers” are also majorly useful if you need to put up defenses on mirrors or windows.

Other things to inscribe for protection on amulets: 
Um(bi)bada (protection, safety): image

Sigli (i)s na hle (brooch of protection against walking dead): image

Gibu auja (give good luck + sigil):image

La (Protection): image

Iron, especially with a sharp edge (such as a knife or a pair of scissors) wards against most vaettir. So do gunpowder, sulphur, rowan (mountain ash) wood and berries, juniper, angelica, and garlic. Holly can catch vaettir and prevent them from doing harm. Sunnawort (St. John’s wort) can allow you to see vaettir and also helps ward against them. Some vaettir find caraway seeds to be disgusting and will avoid them or food with them in it. All vaettir loathe human bodily waste and will be driven away by excrement or urine. Houseleek is also protective (sempervivum tectorum). In Scandinavian folk tradition, red ribbon or thread is tied around objects or beings you want to ward to prevent them being messed with or stolen. Drumming can also scare jotnar and some malevolent vaettir off, as they associate the sound with Thor making an appearance and flee.

Troll crosses ward off malevolent magic and vaettir.

Other misc cleansing/protection from a post from my personal blog:

Cleaning Yourself:

Egg Method – take a raw, room temperature egg and slowly, carefully roll it over all parts of your body. Work from the head downward, like you were sweeping gunk off of you down towards the floor. Do not drop the egg. When you are done, the egg will have absorbed all the negative gunk. Go outside and throw it at an older, strong tree (that can survive the negative gunk) or into a crossroads to be dispersed. If throwing it into a crossroads, throw it over your left shoulder and do not look back.

Bath – Take 1/2 cup salt, 1 tbsp ammonia (or your own urine, the first of the morning) and 1/2 cup vinegar or 1 cup salt, 1 cup vinegar, and 9 drops turpentine. Add one of these two mixtures to your bath water. You may also add additional ingredients per the list below. Using a bowl or bucket, stand in the tub and pour the water over your head. Wash from the head downwards, like you were scrubbing gunk down into the tub. Collect a portion of the bath water into the bowl or bucket when done, and you can let the rest go down the drain. Air dry, or else you will remove the cleansing work from your skin. If possible, step out of the tub between two white burning candles, as if you were going through a gate of fire that will burn away any lingering impurities. When you are dry and dressed, take the collected water and throw it at an older, strong tree or into a crossroads toward the sunrise.  If throwing it into a crossroads, throw it over your left shoulder and do not look back.

Other ingredients to add – hyssop and rue are traditional for “erasing sin” but are hard to find. Far easier to find are lemon or lemongrass (the idea being the way lemons cut through dirt, bleach via their acidic qualities, and the fact that lemon and lemongrass have both been long used in cleaners to signify “clean”). Oak bark and eucalyptus are also good if you can find them (Jinx-removing and repels evil). Rosemary (wards off evil), Sage (cleansing, purification, reverses evil), and Pine Needles/Resin (cleanses and drives away spirits) are also used for cleansing. White/Yellow Mustard Seed gives protection, Mint breaks spells and jinxes should you have left cursing residue on yourself. Chamomile also works for breaking jinxes and comes in convenient tea bags for steeping for a bath or wash water. If you use essential oils for any of the listed herbs, 3-15 drops will do for a full tub. Be cautious about skin safety should you make a smaller room-wash mix that’s only a gallon.

Cleaning the Work Space:

Use the bath water (and your steeped herbs of choice) as wash water. Move from the back of the space to the doorway, like if you were sweeping dirt out of the house. Wash all the wood and metal surfaces – baseboards, doorframes and window ledges, etc. Wash the floors if they are wood, or asperge the carpet lightly if the room is carpeted. Burn cleansing incense or herbs if possible to smoke-cleanse the space (rosemary or sage work well for this. Mugwort also works well.)

This should give you some things to start with.