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From Emi comes this topic:
Before I dig into the topic I want to voice my deep appreciation to Emi for suggesting this topic. One of the challenges of writing for patrons through my Patreon is that sometimes they throw me curve balls like this to where, when you’ve been avoiding certain Beings (Álfar) and Their World (Álfheimr) and now that a patron has asked about Them you not only need to do more research, you need to recall your interactions and understanding of Them.
One of the biggest challenges and joys of the Patreon is writing for other folks on something as powerful and personal as religion and spirituality, particularly as a Heathen spiritworker. It pushes me to talk about things that I normally would not. It pushes me to talk about my experiences with certain vaettir like the Álfar, vaettir that I have not written much about here, and that I have not spoken about much on Around Grandfather Fire or 3 Pagans on Tap. This disclosure could have no effect, or, as I have found with other writings, it can change folks’ perspective, reinforce their understanding of their experience, or just be a helping piece for them. This is the power of sharing our experiences. Writing on our understandings and experiences like this can develop our sense of comradery and coherence. This is especially true for places like Àlfheimr and the Álfar, which have very little in the way of anything written about them in the sources most Nordic Heathens use.
Álfheim is often reckoned as one of the Nine Worlds mentioned in the Völuspá. It has a brief mention in Gríminsmál, and Gylfaginning. The mentions are brief, sparse on information. Where we have a great deal of information on the Álfar from a historical context are the compendiums of stories and writings of folklorists. The Álfar are remarked on by Claude Lacouteaux in several contexts throughout his various books, all of which are excellent.
Of his books that I have read, Lacouteaux’s most useful in our context are in Demons and Spirits of the Land, The Tradition of Household Spirits, The Return of the Dead, and his entry for Elves in Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore. To summarize the Álfar as any one thing seems a fool’s errand. Over time they go from being, in the earliest sources, similar in stature to the Aesir Gods. At some point the Álfar was conflated with landvaettir, the Dvergar, the húsvaettir, and in others with human Dead. Cat Heath explores this in her own work Elves, Witches, & Gods. She devotes a whole chapter to Freyr and clear ways of working with the Álfar in a Heathen context.
If little is known about the Álfar, even less is known from our sources about Their World, Álfheimr. Almost everything we have now is from modern Heathens and Pagans who have traveled to the land or spoken with those who call it home. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, because on the one hand we do not have preconceived notions of what Álfheimr must be from primary or secondary sources. On the other, we have no way of using primary or secondary sources as a guide for discernment of our experiences with this place.
Most of my experiences in Álfheim and with the Álfar are in context of other Work. An example of this World would be when I was assigned travel to the various Worlds by Óðinn to take in lessons from various Gods and vaettir. In part because I have been putting it off for awhile and in part pushed by this blog post, though more of the former than the latter, I was pushed to visit the World.
I found it…unsettling. Inviting and welcoming, to be sure. Yet, it feels like so much is either hidden or just beyond seeing. Almost like the whole time I was there this feeling of something in the place I was visiting being out of the corner of my eye. Not in a threatening way, yet it was there just the same. The way it looks to me is a combination of Rivendell and an Old Growth forest. Old trees taller than you can see sometimes stretching up. Many places, like in front of these old trees, exudes age and yet, there is youth to be felt too. The trees beside them, the road I was walking on, and many of the Álfar I met were this, some old and some young feeling, and some an interesting combination of the two. Some Álfar looked rather like Tolkien’s elves, and others more like those from one of Brian Froud’s Fairy Oracle deck. Some Álfar were not human-shaped at all, but trees Themselves.
An except from my journal:
“Álfheimr was a great Old Forest and there was a feeling of deepness to it, of ancient beyond ancient to it. Yet there was a stone paved road before us and we walked to what I recognize as one of if not the capital of it. Great sloped walls, some of wood and others turf, some of these like the Old Icelandic turf homes and others akin to Earthships.”
Since I have only scratched the surface of the place, and since we know so little about the World Itself from lore, I do not recommend folks visit ‘just to visit’. Granted, I do not think any of the Worlds are wise to visit ‘just to visit’ or without an invitation. If you do decide to engage with the Álfar, I would recommend folks take a good look at Elves, Witches, and Gods by Cat Heath. She dedicates a chapter to Freyr and the Álfar, and has a lot of techniques and workings that folks, especially if you are looking to make contact and do seiðr, would find useful. However you decide to move forward it is well worth taking care in reaching out to the Álfar, especially since most of the sources of folklore we have reference elfshot and the like as the result of angering Them. While over-worrying can be an impediment to good relationships with vaettir, approaching any vaettir level-headed with the desire to do well by Them and good offerings is a good tack to take and will serve you well.