Search This Blog

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Slánugud na Mórrigna - the Healing of the Morrigan

Slánugud na Mórrigna

And-sin tánic in Mórrígu ingen Ernmais a Sídib irricht sentainne, corrabi ic blegun bó trí sine na fiadnaisse. Is immi tanic-si (mar) sin, ar bith a forithen do Choinchulaind. Dáig ni gonad Cuchulaind nech ar a térnád, co m-beth cuit dó féin na legis
Conattech Cuchulaind blegon furri, iarna dechrad d'íttaid. Dobretha-si blegon sini dó. Rop slán aneim dam-sa so. Ba slán a lethrosc na rigna. Conattech-som blegon sini furri. Dobreth si dó. Inéim rop slán intí doridnacht. Conaittecht-som in tres n-dig ocus dobretha-si blegon sine dó. Bendacht dee & andee fort, a ingen. Batar é a n-dee in t-aés cumachta, ocus andee in t-aés trebaire. Ocus ba slán ind rígan.
 - E. Windisch, 1905


not three teated cows


The Healing of the Morrigan

Then came the Morrigan daughter of Ernmas from the Sidhe in the form of on old woman, engaged in milking a three teated cow where he'd witness her. For this she came, for the sake of a remedy from Cu Chulainn. Since any wound of Cu Chulain anyone escaped him with, for a portion of life only himself could heal.
Cu Chulainn submitted to her for the milking, iron-furious his thirst. She gave him the milking of a teat. 

"May this be health promptly for me."
The Queen's one eye was healed. He submitted to her for the milking of a teat. She gave it to him.
"Promptly may this be health to whoever gave it."
He submitted for the third portion and she gave to him the milking of a teat. 

"Blessing of Gods and not-Gods on you, oh maiden."
Their Gods are the people of power, and the not-Gods are the farmers*. And the Queen was whole.


* I just want to note that although trebaire has been understood as farmers or tillers of soil the word also means warriors and heroes. This passage "Batar é a n-dee in t-aés cumachta, ocus andee in t-aés trebaire" *could* also be read as 'their Gods are the people of [magical] power and the not-Gods are the warriors'. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Álfablot - Honoring the Álfar

"It appears even that to these black elves in particular, i.e., mountain spirits, who in various ways came into contact with man, a distinct reverence was paid, a species of worship, traces of which lasted down to recent times. The clearest evidence of this is found in the Kormakssaga p. 216-8. The hill of the elves, like the altar of a god, is to be reddened with the blood of a slaughtered bull, and of the animal's flesh a feast prepared for the elves....An actual âlfabôt. With this I connect the superstitious custom of cooking food for angels, and setting it for them. So there is a table covered and a pot of food placed for home-smiths and kobolds; meat and drink for domina Abundia; money or bread deposited in the caves of subterraneans, in going past
- Grimm, Teutonic Mythology


equinox sunrise



There is a long and reasonably well documented history of offering to the elves which can be described as a more formal religious ritual or sacrifice. In the 11th century Austrfararvísur there is a passage which recounts the story of a Christian traveler who is turned away from a Swedish home because the family is celebrating an álfablót and fears to offend the Gods by allowing the unbeliever in (Hall, 2007). The widow who turned him away specifically cited a fear of 'Odin's wrath' which may indicate a link between the alfar and Odin, something which is reinforced by Odin's connections to the Wild Hunt (Gundarsson, 2007). Evidence suggests that the Swedish álfablót took place in late autumn; additionally the reference mentioned by Grimm from Kormak's Saga involved an injured man who was offering a bull sacrifice to the elves in hope of healing (Gundarsson, 2007). There is also an account from Norway from 1909 of a man whose family sacrificed a cow to 'the mound dwellers' when his father died (Gundarsson, 2007). This indicates that álfablóts were possibly both seasonal and done when need dictated. 

As part of the religious aspect of my practice of Álfatrú I do celebrate álfablóts [sacrifices to elves], although I am not in a position to sacrifice cattle. I generally offer butter and milk or cream, as these are two things that folklore across many cultures says that the hidden folk value. I have a boulder in my yard, and for all intents and purposes I consider it an álfur steinn, or elf-stone. Elf-stones, called elf-stenar in Swedish, are boulders with cup like indentations, or that are strongly associated as being the homes of the alfar, and are believed to have healing powers (Lockey, 1882; Towrie, 2016). These boulders were places that people would go to make vows, and to leave offerings which ranged from lard and butter to copper coins, flowers, and ribbons (Lockey, 1882). The acknowledgment of the one in my yard is obviously personal gnosis on my part but I have my reasons for believing this is what it is - I can say for example that the spring after I started this acknowledgment my entire backyard was inexplicably taken over by raspberry canes, something I consider a great gift and the only fruit that grows wild in my area - and the stone serves this purpose for me certainly. It is at this elf-stone that I leave my offerings for the alfar and where I celebrate my álfablóts. 

I celebrate my álfablóts twice a year on the equinoxes, as well as at any point that I feel one is needed. Some years that may not be any, some years that may be often. My connection to the alfar is an organic thing that is always in motion and depends a lot on my respecting them, knowing what I should and should not do, and listening when I need to listen. I do a lot of listening.

I like honoring the alfar on the equinoxes. To me the equinoxes are a good time symbolically to honor the Álfar because they represent a time of balance, a time which is naturally liminal, but I also like this because to me the Álfar are tied into the fertility of the earth and the harvest. Honoring them on the vernal equinox when the earth in my area is just beginning to ready itself for a new year of growth and planting as well as at the autumnal equinox during the harvest seems very appropriate. There is also a nice balance in the twice yearly offering specifically to the elves at such a time, or the spirits that we may call elves in English. At Yule I honor my house spirits, and at Yule and and Walpurgisnacht (Bealtiane) I honor the Wild Hunt. At Midsummer I honor the Good Neighbors more generally, as I also do at Samhain and Bealtaine. So I like the idea of having those two equinoxes to honor the alfar, the elves, to remember them and offer to them. 

As day and night hang in balance, I will go out and offer butter and cream, and remember to be grateful for the blessings in my life. 


References
Hall, A., (2007). Elves in Anglo-Saxon England
Grimm, J., (1883) Teutonic Mythology
Lockey, N., (1882) Nature, vol. 26
Towrie, S., (2016). Orkney's Standing Stones
Gundarsson, K., (2007) Elves, Wights, and Trolls

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Alfar, Huldufolk, and Elves

Ängsälvor by Nils Blommér (1805)
One of the challenges in understanding the Norse and Germanic material is that many different Otherworldly beings are translated into English as "elves", just as many different Irish beings are called fairies. The Norse word Alfar appears in German as Alp or Elb, and English as Elf, while in modern Icelandic they are known as both alfar and Huldufolk (hidden folk), although Huldufolk is also used as a generic term, like elf, that can describe alfar, trolls and land spiritis. Landwights are also sometimes conflated with the alfar, because the two have many commonalities, but also key differences that indicate they actually are separate types of beings (Gundarsson, 2007). The modern view of elves as tiny laborers is vastly at odds with the traditional view of the Alfar as tall, beautiful, and powerful beings. If you are familiar with Tolkein's elves then you have some idea of the older view of the alfar.

The alfar were created when the Gods created the world and in Norse myth one of the nine worlds belongs to them: Ljossalfheim (Light Elf Home). Properly there are at least three groups referred to as alfar in Norse myth: the Ljossalfar (light elves), svartalfar (literally black elves; often conflated with duergar - dwarves), and drokkalfar (literally dark elves; mound dead), although it is difficult to know with certainty if these were originally seen as different beings altogether which were all later simply called alfar for convenience, or if they were always seen as related beings. Jacob Grimm tried, in his Teutonic Mythology, to make a literal division of the groups by color, so that the ljossalfar were white, the svartalfar black and the drokkalfar grey, but this is almost certainly his own invention (Grimm, 1883). I think it is more likely, personally, that alfar was sometimes used as a term to describe supernatural beings who were neither Gods nor giants and so could be used in a more general sense, as well as specifically with the ljossalfar probably being the original beings under that name. In the lore however we do see beings referred to as alfar at one point and elsewhere as other types of beings, including gods or giants, so it can be difficult to have any real clarity on this (exactly like the Irish material). There is some clear distinction between the ljossalfar, the more traditionally understood Otherworldly elves, and the drokkalfar, who are understood to be the mound-dead, but there is also significant crossover as well which may indicate an understood connection between the two groups (Gundarsson, 2007).

The alfar are known to interbreed with the other beings, particularly humans, and some mythic heroes and kings (as well as the king's half sister in the Saga of King Hrolf Kraki) were said to be half-elven. Icelandic patronyms sometimes show this possible ancestral connection (Gundarsson, 2007). This may reflect the common belief that the birthrate among the elves is low or that females are rare; a common theme in mythology is the stealing of brides and babies or of midwives to help at births. In the older Norse material Alfar always appear to be male, although in later Icelandic folklore we see females as well, and in the Swedish material we mainly see alf women (Gundarsson, 2007).

Alfar are associated with their own world, ljossalfheim, of course, but are also believed to live in or access our world through natural sites including mountains, cliffs, and boulders. They are known to be associated with certain places, and particularly certain individual trees, and it is believed that to disturb the places belonging to the Hidden Folk is very bad luck (Gundarsson, 2007). As recently as October 2013 protesters in Iceland were trying to block a highway project on the grounds that the construction passed through an area belonging to the alfar, who would be angered (Scherker, 2013). It is believed by many that disturbing the alfar with construction will result in bad luck and machines breaking down and often a special person who is known to be able to see and communicate with the elves will be brought in to negotiate (Gruber, 2007). Those who are brave enough to enter an alf-hill or visit the realm of the alfar may find that time moves very differently there, and sometimes the alfar will not release those who have gone among them.

In folklore the Alfar are seen as being especially active during the twelve days of Yule and at Midsummer. Gundrasson suggests - and I have long agreed - that the summer activities of the alfar, while still potentially perilous to humans, are less dangerous in nature and intent than the Yule activities (Gundarsson, 2007). The alfar ride out in full procession at midsummer and Yule, an activity which may convey blessing on the areas they pass through, but in Iceland the Yule ride of the alfar, the alfarieth, is equated to the Wild Hunt and is extremely dangerous to see or contact (Gundarsson, 2007).

Interacting with the alfar is always a tricky business, as they can give blessings or lay curses on a person. In many traditional tales those who encounter elves and please them - often with good manners and generosity - may receive gifts, but those who offend them are killed or driven mad. When offered a gift from the alfar one should not refuse, and these gifts might include food, drink, or worthless things like leaves which will later turn to gold (Gundarsson, 2007). The alfar can also heal illnesses and injuries, if properly petitioned, and can be called on with a specific ceremony to protect a baby (Gundarsson, 2007).

The alfar are angered by several types of human activity including the aforementioned disturbance of their places. They are also driven out of an area by the placing of an alfreka or by people urinating on the ground (Pennick, 1993; Gundarsson, 2007). When angered they can cause bad luck, sickness, madness, or death. Elves were also thought to be able to inflict illness on humans through the use of alf-shot or an elf-blast, the first being a small, invisible arrow that created diseases including bone cancer and arthritis, the second being a method where the elves would breath or blow sickness into a person. There are several surviving charms aimed at curing alfshot (Gundarsson, 2007). There is also a reference in older material to "alf-seidhr" possibly a type of magic worked by the alfar against humans to cause madness and death (Gundarsson, 2007).

In Norse lore iron and steel are used as a protection against dangerous alfar and other spirits, although it is not effective against giants (Gundarsson, 2007). Any item made of this metal may be used, but traditionally bladed weapons and nails were the most commonly seen, and iron or steel nails might be hammered into a post or doorway to protect a home. Sulfur, rowan, and juniper are also traditional Norse protections, as well as a blend of woody nightshade, orchid and tree sap which was said to protect against the "unwanted attentions" of the huldufolk (Gundarsson, 2007). It is also said that church bells ringing will drive off the alfar, as will Christian prayers, although this may perhaps represent more of a reaction by the alfar to a religion which offends them than a sign of any power that faith actually has over them.

It is wise to remember to honor the alfar, with rituals and offerings. The alfar are closer to us and our world and affect us more often than the Gods generally do, and they should be respected. It is also a good idea to understand how the alfar can affect us, for good and ill, and ways to best deal with them.




References

Gundarsson. K., (2007) Elves, Wights, and Trolls
Grimm, J., (1883) Teutonic Mythology
Scherker, A (2013) Protecting Elves from Highway Construction is a Thing in Iceland
Gruber,B., (2007) Iceland: Searching for Elves and Hidden People
 



Excerpt from Fairycraft