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Faerie Folklore: Elves and Pixies

Updated on February 2, 2015
kittythedreamer profile image

Kitty has been independently researching and studying the fae for over 15 years. She enjoys sharing what she's learned with her readers.

The Fairy King and Queen
The Fairy King and Queen | Source

Faerie Folklore: Elves

Dating back centuries, legends and faerie folklore of the elves has crossed entire continents and spanned a multitude of cultures. The stories of the elves vary from sweet, innocent beings to devious, kidnapping creatures. Where did the folklore of the elves originate and what were some of the popular beliefs about the elves in their native countries? In this article, we will take a look at some of the most magical and spookiest stories of the elves in the entire realm of faerie folklore.

What do you picture in your mind when the word "elf" is uttered? Most people think of little men that aid in Santa's workshop in the North Pole, or maybe they think of Legolas and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings. These depictions or illustrations of the elves are so different from each other, how are we to know what the elves were really like in faerie folklore before mainstream culture snatched up the name "elf"? Let's take a look back in time to when the Pagan peoples roamed and ruled the majority of the continent we now call Europe, before Christianity took rise over the land and turned these ancient beings into demons. We will also take a look at the faerie folklore of elves as a whole, including the beliefs after Christianity took rise.

Interestingly the term "elf" comes from a combination of two old English words meaning "nightmare" and "hiccup". Apparently both nightmares and hiccups were thought to be caused by the elves, and so the elves were named thus. While many accounts will say that the elves are of germanic legend, the elves are also seen in Norse legends, old English legends, Scandinavian legends, and even Icelandic legends. Elves were a phenomenon across the entire continent of Europe, and the people of old had a real belief in the elves. Other names for elves include elb, mannikin, erl, alb, alp, alfar, and more.

The appearance of elves ranges from culture to culture in Europe with many saying that elves were of a smaller, chubby stature (sometimes confused with dwarves in the Northern countries) and others believing the elves to be quite tall...almost god-like and sometimes therefore believed to have been deities or fallen deities of sorts. Elves in faerie folklore were usually seen in groups and were called "trooping elves", and usually in groups they were considered to be non-threatening. If an elf was solitary, usually the legend had it that the solitary elves were mischievous or malevolent in some way.

Take for instance the story of Rumpelstiltskin. He was an elf...did you know that? Rumpelstiltskin goal was to acquire a human child by spinning gold from straw. In the end, he did not win as the hero learned his name and used it against him. This feeds into another legend in faerie folklore that if a person learned the name of a solitary elf, that they could use that name to gain control over the malevolent elf.

In many legends in Europe, the elves were thought to be helpful in the areas of spinning cloth and making shoes, and sometimes they would lend a hand to a human in dire need. It was also said in faerie folklore that elves had one true enemy - the cat (which is kind of ironic as the picture to the upper right depicts an elf with kittens surrounding her). Mice were their familiars (according to author Edain McCoy) and it was even believed that elves could shapeshift into rodents at will.

To the old English, the elves were portrayed in many mythos as dark creatures probably due to the Christian Church's pull on the people in the Middle Ages. Stories about elves being in cahoots or being the same as witches abounded and people came up with remedies against sickness and disease that were supposed to ward off the elves' powers or evil curses against the victim/patient. Many times, especially in ballads, the elves in their male form would come to kidnap women and do dark, sinister things to their victims.

In Iceland, the "hidden folk" were elves that were thought to live in the rocks and come out at night. In Germany, there are many legends and faerie folklore with elves, giving way to the Grimm brothers' fairy tales and many more fairy tale and fantasy authors to follow them in years after. In Old Norse faerie folklore, crossbreeding between humans and elves was a strong the Old Norse beliefs consisted of the elves being very attractive and powerful beings.

As you can see, the elves have been around for centuries, if not longer, and the beliefs range from dark to captivating depending on the region and period in time. Do the elves still exist in Europe...hiding in the rocks and hills as faerie folklore suggests? Or are they now a figment of our imaginations and only able to be called upon in the magickal, spiritual realm?

Faerie Folklore: Pixies

Now the pixies are interesting little characters, indeed. They have been seen for hundreds of years, particularly in Scotland, England (in an area known as East Anglia) and Cornwall. Many people today claim to see them in their gardens and in meadows all over the world. Other names for the pixies in faerie folklore include piskies, pisgies, pechts, pechs, pickers, grigs, and dusters. They are mostly associated with the element air, and probably so because of their light, airy wings. The image of the pixies is one that has been used in many modern books and movies, in particular Tinkerbell from Peter Pan. The portrayal of the pixies in Tinkerbell is actually quite close to the image of the pixies from Old English faerie folklore. Tiny faeries with wings, large heads, pointed ears, and arched eyebrows. The clothing worn by the pixies usually consists of seasonal colors and flowers or greenery.

The pixies are usually portrayed throughout faerie folklore as being friendly faeries. Pixies are trooping faeries, which means that they are usually always found in groups, and love to dance, play, and hear music. They don't like lazy humans and have been said in faerie folklore to pinch lazy humans or play tricks on them to wake them out of laziness. Pixies do fly, and the "pixie dust" of much legend has been seen left-over from the pixies' footsteps in faerie rings. The ancient Celts were the ones who coined the term "pixie dust"; however, they most likely called it "pict's dust".

The origins of Pixies are thought to have stemmed from the earliest inhabitants of Scotland known as the "Picts". Once these people were ran out of Scotland or an effort was made to push them out, it was thought that they went into hiding in the hills and forests. It is said that pixies can be hurt by iron (other faeries fear iron, as well), and this is probably because of the Iron Age in Europe and the fear of humans that wielded iron weapons.

Pixies have been seen in flower gardens most often, and there is a story from the early 20th century about two little girls in England who captured some pixies on film. Their photos were later debunked and they admitted to four out of five being faked; however, to the day that the one lady died, she claimed that the last picture was indeed a true photo of trooping pixies in her Uncle's garden in England. This story is known as the Cottingley Fairies, and you can read more about it by clicking here.

Written and copyrighted © by Kitty the Dreamer (May Canfield), June 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Titania | Source

© 2011 Nicole Canfield


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  • kittythedreamer profile image

    Nicole Canfield 2 years ago from the Ether

    Cath Thomo - I have no idea. If you follow the link it'll take you to the artist's name though.

  • profile image

    Cath Thomo 2 years ago

    What book does the first image on you page come from - the one with the king and queen of the fairies?

  • flashmakeit profile image

    flashmakeit 6 years ago from usa

    very interesting detailed hub on elves and it folklore origin. It was a quest of mine to find an enchanting story like this one you wrote. You have a good writing style so i gave it a thumbs up.

  • kittythedreamer profile image

    Nicole Canfield 6 years ago from the Ether

    Thanks so much, I'm checking her out for sure! :)

  • TKs view profile image

    TKs view 6 years ago from The Middle Path

    Hi, kitty. I was going to send the link to you directly, but I didn't see contact availability on your profile page.

    You can go to www .paintingpixie .etsy .com. She has done a lot of gnomes lately but if you click on favorites to the left, you'll see a wider selection. (Hope I don't get in trouble from the hub police for this).

  • TKs view profile image

    TKs view 6 years ago from The Middle Path

    Hi, kitty. I think I'd get in trouble from the hub police by providing the link here, but will send you a direct message with it.

  • kittythedreamer profile image

    Nicole Canfield 6 years ago from the Ether

    TKs view - Too cool! What's her website? I'd love to check out her faerie stuff. I'm very happy to hear that others are as interested in beings such as faeries as I am. Thanks for reading & caring. :)

  • TKs view profile image

    TKs view 6 years ago from The Middle Path

    Glad I came across this hub kitty. I so love the different types of nature spirits and fae. I have a friend, who is most certainly a pixie in human form, she has an on-line business, where she sells homemade faerie figures. So cool to be able to read more about them.

    I thought I was following you, it appears I'm not. A fact which I will remedy momentarily.

    Voted up, interesting and useful, because it's important to be able to identify the beings if we're so lucky to meet them in our travels.

  • kittythedreamer profile image

    Nicole Canfield 6 years ago from the Ether

    Clovescharms - They are beautiful, aren't they? Thanks for reading & voting, sweetie.

  • Clovescharms profile image

    Clovescharms 6 years ago from New York

    those pictures fo elves are soooo beautiful! voted up!

  • kittythedreamer profile image

    Nicole Canfield 6 years ago from the Ether

    Thank you, pmccray - you rock!

  • pmccray profile image

    pmccray 6 years ago from Utah

    Interesting read. Thank you for sharing, voted up, marked interesting.

  • kittythedreamer profile image

    Nicole Canfield 6 years ago from the Ether

    Alexander - Hope you come back!

    Melisssa - Yes, but these contradictions occur in almost every type of faerie - dwarves, brownies, etc. Thanks for reading!

  • Melissa McClain profile image

    Melissa McClain 6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

    I had always wondered about the differences between trooping elves and solitary elves. They seem contradictory but I guess as some humans are social and others aren't that it makes sense! Interesting and informative hub. Voted up!

  • Alexander Pease profile image

    Alexander Pease 6 years ago from Maine

    Definitely bookmarking this one to read. Liked what I read so far.