Elves. Origin, Appearance, Risks and Dangers +15 Facts

We show you all the most fascinating stories about Elves. Discover their origins, legends and most surprising characteristics.

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Elves, discover their legend

Elves a mythical creature that appears to be human in nature, but has magical powers and does not age (or at least ages very slowly). They seem to have their origins in the Germanic tradition, but are also common in other European folklore.

The Elves are seen as a “luminous” group of people who are known to have a fair complexion far more perfect than the most beautiful human features. They are sometimes referred to as “the whites.” This is believed to be a reference to their pure morality or, perhaps, as a reference to their beauty and pale features.

Elf Perception

They were seen as a point of fear and curiosity in primitive societies. They were often known to be sociable and even friendly with humans, but were still greatly feared because of their temperament. If they perceived that a human had harmed or offended them in any way, they were quick to retaliate with punishment.

Common punishments included disease, night terrors, and cruel tricks and attacks directed toward the victim. It is noted, however, that elves sometimes helped to cure diseases in some cases. They are similar to the nymphs who hold many myths surrounding them.

The origin of the myth of the elves

Raised from the Murder of Abel and Cain

Some sources seem to think that the elves may have arisen from the murder of Abel by Cain. This is the case in Beowulf, which clearly states that the elves became a race because of this unfortunate event.

Half-earthed angels

Other sources seem to think that the elves may have been the angels who chose to remain neutral in the struggle for Heaven with God confronting Lucifer. They were banished from Heaven because they did not help God, but because they did not betray him they were not sentenced to Hell. Instead, they were banished to Earth, where they would be known as elves.

Lost Sons of Eve

An old Icelandic tale suggests that the elves may be the lost children of Eve. The story goes that one day when God was walking through the Garden of Eden, Eve was ashamed that her children were dirty. She told them to hide from God so that they would not have to be ashamed that God would see them in their condition.

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When God approached Eve and asked her where her children were, she lied and said she did not know. Angry that she dared to lie to Him, God told her, “What man hides from God, God will hide from man.” From that day on, Eve never saw her children again.

Rebirth in the elves

The Germanic tales believed to inspire the earliest stories of elves suggest that these beings might be created by the rebirth of the dead. The Old Norse texts seem to imply that the worship of elves and the worship of dead ancestors are the same thing. This suggests that a person may be reborn into a supernatural creature such as the elf when passing into the afterlife.

Evidence of this belief can be found in tales such as ‘The Saga of Olaf the Holy’ in which the king’s ancestor has a burial mound that is marked ‘Olaf, Elf of Geirstad’. This reflects the belief that the king’s ancestor became an elf in the afterlife.

Elves and birth

Elves are a curious legend. Although they are believed to never grow old (or to live for hundreds of years, depending on which story you follow), elves are believed to need human help to bring their children into the world. This help was often thought to be needed from midwives who could safely deliver the children and from wet nurses.

While midwives had a pattern of being married to preachers, wet nurses were usually women who had recently given birth. This caused great fear in many early European households.

Although both groups of women had something to fear in traveling to the elven world, the wet nurses were especially terrified of their fate. They were usually taken from their newborns and their families to the elven world to care for the elven newborns.

While this does not appear to be nefarious, it would have been terrifying to any woman who found herself in this situation. It was rumored that eating any food offered in the elven world or accepting their hospitality would prevent a person from returning to the human world.

It is unclear whether these rules applied to wet nurses, who obviously had to spend a long period of time in their world, but the fear of being prevented from returning to their families would have been enough to give them a great fright.

Human midwives

It was also common for midwives to be called upon to help bring elven babies into the world. It is not known why a midwife was needed, but it was common knowledge at the time that a human midwife was needed to deliver an elven child.

Usually, a midwife who was married to a preacher was called upon to perform the necessary tasks. It was important that the midwife called upon did not eat or drink while in the elven world for the reasons mentioned above.

Some stories say that midwives (who usually had time to prepare, unlike kidnapped wet nurses) sometimes packed food and water to take with them so that they could avoid starvation. There are several stories of midwives who were summoned and were widely accepted in their day.

Elves and their relations with humans

Although there seemed to be many ways in which elves could threaten a human’s safety, there were some elves who lived in peace with humans and even formed relationships with them.

Although there are some accounts of elves who tried to seduce humans into having sex with them, there seem to have been some humans and elves who had children consensually. These children were known to be especially beautiful and often did great things.


Most of the time, the half-human children appeared to be human in their features (although they were often very beautiful) and were capable of great magical feats. Sometimes they became wizards, sorcerers and healers.

There are several ballads and stories about elves mating with humans. They usually involve some sort of riddle that the person must solve to become their lover. Some stories also require the character to rescue a converted human in order to win the hand of his lover in marriage.

The elven knight

The Elf Knight is a story that can be told in two ways. The first is that the knight threatens to steal a woman to be his mistress unless he can complete an impossible task. The second is that a woman must complete an impossible task to win the Knight’s hand in marriage. Over time, the second has become more popular.

The story begins with the Knight blowing into a magic horn that causes desire to emerge in the heart of the maiden. She makes a wish to be able to marry the Knight. Suddenly, the elf knight appears and tells her that he will marry her if she can perform several tasks, all of which are impossible.

In return, the maiden responds with several impossible tasks that the Knight must complete and wins the Knight’s hand in marriage.

The story of Tam Lin

The story of Tam Lin begins with a warning that Tam Lin is an elf who takes possession or the virginity of any maiden who travels through the Carterhaugh Forest. One day, a young girl travels through the Carterhaugh forest and plucks a double rose from the ground.

Tam Lin appears and asks her why she has entered his forest and taken his possessions. She replies that Caterhaugh belongs to her – it was a gift from her father. The young maiden goes on her way, but later discovers that she is pregnant.

She returns to the forest and plucks another set of roses from the ground. Tam Lin appears again to challenge her actions. He asks her if she has ever been human or if she has always been an elf. Tam tells the maiden that he was once a mortal, but was captured by the Fairy Queen and turned into an elf. He also reveals that he is afraid of being sacrificed in a tithe to hell this year if she does not save him.

Together they devise a plan to rescue Tam Lin from the Fairy Queen. They enact the plan and the maiden wins Tam Lin’s love. The Fairy Queen admits defeat and frees Tam Lin.

Lady Isabel and the elf knight

Unfortunately, not all relationships between elves and humans end well. The story of Lady Isabella and the Elf Knight begins just like “The Elf Knight”, with the Knight blowing on a horn that causes a desire to rise in Lady Isabella’s heart. She wishes she could marry the Knight and he appears and tells her that she will be his wife if she will come with him to the forest.

Upon arriving in the green forest, Lady Isabella is shocked when the Knight reveals that he has killed the daughters of seven kings to steal their treasures and possessions and intends to make her the eighth.

Fortunately, Lady Isabella is a quick thinker and tells the Knight to lay his head on her knee to rest together before he dies. She then lulls him to sleep with a charm, binds him with her own belt and kills him.

Elven Appearance

Most of the elves described in folklore are female, although there were certainly male elves as well. The description of an elf’s appearance varies depending on the time period and the place in which the story takes place. It seems that most female elves are known to be beautiful creatures.

Theyoften have blonde hair and blue or gray eyes (these are also the characteristics they value in humans) and are known to have features that are similar to humans but much more perfect in nature. There are, of course, some variations in their appearance. These characteristics, however, are the ones most often used in fairy tales.


Male elves were often described as old men, although this is not the case for all elves that appeared in literature. There are also very handsome elves who appear and seduce women such as the elves in Tam Lin and The Elfin Knight.

Most of the literature describes elves as human beings in shape and size. They are known to have especially fair features and are sometimes described as even taller than the average human.

Writers of Shakespeare’s time, however, took a different approach in describing elves. They morphed into diminutive beings that often had wings and were strikingly similar to fairies. This version of elves was known to enjoy playing tricks on humans.

Modern literature tends to take a mixed view of elves. While you can still find the occasional reference to elves being small beings, there are also many stories that portray elves as human-sized.

where do elves live?

Most story lines state that elves dwell in houses found deep in forests, carved out of hollow trees, or under the earth (often on a hill). This was quite common for most supernatural creatures in early European times.


Most people have lost faith in the existence of elves, but there is still a large population that maintains their beliefs – or at least is open to the possibility – of the existence of elves in Iceland. The people of Iceland have taken special precautions to ensure that the homes of their beloved huldufolk are protected today.

Dangers of Elves

Elves and disease

Elves were often thought to be the cause of many illnesses that could not be properly diagnosed or treated by a physician. The Elves were thought to be able to live parallel to the human world (though invisible to the human eye) and would make a person sick if offended by the individual.

This was said to be accomplished in several ways. Sometimes a person would become ill if an elf cast a spell on them. Other times, however, an elf could shoot a man with an invisible arrow that carried the disease. Therefore, it was not uncommon for people to be diagnosed with “shot in the sore” when they were sick.


Elves were also believed to cause other health-related misfortunes, specifically with sleep. The German word Alpdruck means “nightmare,” but the literal translation means “elven oppression.” From this, it can be assumed that elves were the cause of nightmares and night terrors, probably as punishment for an offense that had been done to them or as a cruel joke.

Interestingly, it seems that elves were often blamed when an individual suffered from epilepsy. This is possibly due to the complicated nature of the disease and the lack of medical resources available to treat such an ailment.

Elves and Alchemy

Elves were known to be magical beings, so it is not surprising that they were often credited with various types of magic. There are many different types of magic credited to the elves, but one of the most popular by today’s standards was alchemy.

Alchemy was a scientific and philosophical practice that aimed to purify different elements. One of the most popular types of alchemy recognized by humans was the practice of taking an element from the earth (usually some type of metal) and attempting to transform it into a precious metal such as silver or gold.

The goblin’s link to alchemy is probably why there are so many stories that refer to a goblin giving a human being something that seemed worthless (such as coal) that had magically transformed into gold by the time they returned home.

Elves and seduction

Another common threat that elves were believed to have over humans was seduction. For some reason, elves had many desires to lure humans into sexual relations with them and were often warned about in stories.

Some elves were recorded to be very forceful with this desire. At some point, the idea arose that male elves would force themselves on women while they slept. This matter was reported in the Scottish witch trials, and the elves in the tales were interpreted as an alias for the devil himself.

Elves and Gospels

Interestingly, it was thought that elves sometimes valued human babies more highly than their own kind. There was much speculation as to why this might be, but there were two main theories. The first was that the elves took a liking to the human babies they stole because of their blond hair and blue or gray eyes.

The second was that the children were stolen to use in a tithe to Hell so that the elves would not have to sacrifice one of their own. Regardless of what their motivation was, human parents came to dread the thought of losing their child to the elves.

It was thought that when an elf came to steal a child, he would leave one of his own in place of the stolen baby. This elven child was known as a ‘changeling’. These babies appeared to be human, but often suffered from unexplained illnesses. Discovering a mutant in place of a human baby was a serious situation.

Often, because of the many problems that came with mutants and their remarkable need to eat more than a human baby, mutants were killed before they had a chance to reach early childhood. It was thought that to let the mutant live was to jeopardize the resources of the entire family, making infanticide the best option for the unfortunate couple.

The explanation for the strange occurrences

Last but not least, it is certainly possible that elves were created simply as a way to explain the unexplainable at the time. This is evidenced by some of the more common events attributed to elves, such as elves (when a lock of hair was found to be knotted).

This would also have helped people reconcile with unfortunate events such as the birth of a deformed baby. It certainly would have been easier to get rid of a child that endangered the new family if it was thought to be an elven mutant rather than their own offspring.

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