Elves: there’s different cultures and folklore

07 Jun

Researching for a rewrite of a book can be time consuming and exhausting, however, it can also be rewarding.

When I began Black Mask & Pale Rider, it was just a simple story.  Now I realize it can be a lot more than just a simple story.  It can be something that can educate as well.  The elves of this story had to be different, as did the characters.  The first step was breaking from tradition and making the main characters female.  The second step was giving Shani and Pania backgrounds in folklore and myth.  Which I did find.  The third step came (happily) when I began to learn a little bit about other folklore from different cultures, and I decided that this story doesn’t need just two elves, but three.  And then four.

And so, Shani and Pania are joined by Wren, Shani’s sister.  On their world Wren in a Consoler, sort of like an undertaker with full armour, a sword and an ability to perform medical needs.  Wren is sort of like the classic Dungeons and Dragons cleric, dressed in full plate armour and carrying a sword and a shield.  Wren most likely won’t be wearing full plate, or carrying a shield, but she’s still very much like a classic cleric.

And then, I came up with the idea for the fourth character.  Abisayo Temilolu, a Yoruba elf, who comes from Nigeria and captured and sold into the slave trade.  Shani, Pania and Wren find her and free her and Abisayo joins the four (safety in numbers, expecially with your own people).  Abisayo’s name means (based on my research) born into joy; while her last name means Surrounded by God.  With that meaning I decided quite quickly that Abisayo would in fact be a paladin.  She is a holy warrior from her people.  To that end, the other three elves would feel much safer having her with them.

So these elves aren’t your basic Tolkien style elves, nor are they the basic Dungeons and Dragon elves.  They come from actual myth.  And yes, Yoruba and Iroquois had folklore about elves.  Abisayo is the only character that I did research for a name and a meaning that fit.  The other three characters all have their names written long ago.

Abisayo Temilolu, Yoruba elf.

Born into joy; Surrounded by God.

From African Archives

(iii) The Spirits

Spirits are believed to be apparitional entities which form a separate category of beings from divinities and ancestors. The Yoruba regard them as powers which are almost abstract entities that take on human shape. They are usually associated with natural phenomena like trees, rocks, rivers, lagoons, forests, bushes, hills, earth, mountains, winds, dark groves and unusual places, and these become their abode. These spirits may even inhabit animals or birds or snakes. Such objects as they inhabit are regarded as having certain mysterious powers and they may become the emblems of the spirits. The objects may be used in the preparation of magic and medicine in the belief that they possess magical significance because of the spirits residing in them.47

The spirits come under various names such as Ajija or Aja (spirit of whilrlwind with knowledge of the use of herbs), Aroni (a spirit with one leg that teaches the use of herbs), Egbere (a smallish elf that carries a small mat and weeps all the time), oro (spirits of trees), ebora, iwin (a fairy believed to live in the ground, rock, forest or hill). The actual position of these spirits in Santería and Candomblé‚ requires further investigation. But among the Yoruba, they have real existence and they can be good or bad, beneficent or malevolent. Consequently, they are propitiated out of fear. They neither have priests nor festivals like the divinities and they assume no universal worship. That may explain why they do not command much attention in the diaspora.

Shani and Wren Wennemein; half European French, half Iroquois.

From The Native American Story of the Elves, The Red Indian Fairy Book by Frances Jenkins Olcott, An Iroquois Story

The little Elves of Darkness, so says the old Iroquois Grandmother, were wise and mysterious. They dwelt under the Earth, where were deep forests and broad plains. There they kept captive all the evil things that wished to injure human beings,—the venomous snakes, the wicked spiders, and the fearful monsters. Sometimes one of these evil creatures escaped and rushed upward to the bright, pure air, and spread its poisonous breath over the Upper World. But such happenings were rare, for the Elves of Darkness were faithful and strong, and did not willingly allow the wicked beasts and reptiles to harm human beings and the growing things.

When the night was lighted by the Moon’s soft rays, and the woods of the Upper World were sweet with the odour of the Spring flowers, then the Elves of Darkness left the Under World, and creeping from their holes, held a festival in the woods. And under many a tree where the blades of grass had refused to grow, the Little People danced until rings of green sprang up under their feet. And to the festival came the Elves of Light,—among them the Tree-Elves, Flower-Elves, and Fruit-Elves. They too danced and made merry.

But when the moonlight faded away, and day began to break, then the Elves of Darkness scampered back to their holes, and returned once more to the Under World, while the Elves of Light began their daily tasks.

For in the Springtime these Little People of Light hid in sheltered places. They listened to the complaints of the seeds that lay covered in the ground, and they whispered to the Earth until the seeds burst their pods and sent their shoots up to the light. Then the little Elves wandered through the woods bidding all growing things look up to the Sun.

The Tree-Elves tended the trees, unfolding their leaves, and feeding their roots with sap from the Earth. The Flower-Elves unwrapped the baby buds, and tinted the petals of the opening flowers, and played with the Butterflies and Bees.

But the busiest of all were the Fruit-Elves. Their greatest care in the Spring was the Strawberry Plant. When the ground softened from the frost, the Fruit-Elves loosened the soil around each Strawberry root, that its shoots might push through to the light. They shaped the plant’s leaves, and turned its blossoms toward the warm rays of the Sun. They trained its runners, and helped the timid fruit to form. They painted the luscious berry, and bade it ripen. And when the first Strawberries blushed on the vines, these guardian Elves protected them from the evil insects that had escaped from the world of darkness underground.

The old Iroquois Grandmother tells how once, when the fruit first came to earth, the Evil One, Hahgwehdaetgah, stole the Strawberry Plant, and carried it to his gloomy cave, where he hid it away. And there it lay until a tiny sunbeam pierced the damp mould, and finding the little vine, carried it back to its sunny fields. And ever since then the Strawberry Plant has lived and thrived in the fields and woods. But the Fruit-Elves, fearing lest the Evil One should one day steal the vine again, watch day and night over their favourite. And when the Strawberries ripen, the Elves give the juicy, fragrant fruit to the Iroquois children as they gather the Spring flowers in the woods.

Pania Alow, Celtic elves.

From Faeries

To understand what they are, we should look at some of those found in Celtic mythology and other Celtic traditions. But, then you would discover that fairies are not just confined in Celtic traditions. Many cultures and civilizations have their own versions of fairies.

There are enough kinds of fairies to confuse anyone, because sometimes writers have associated one fairy with a different kind.

In Celtic religion, there was Celtic deities in Gaul (France and Belgium), Hispania (Spain) and Britannia (Britain) during the Roman occupation of these regions or provinces. But the situation changed when Christianity spread to the west and north. These deities that were worshipped before the conversion to Christianity were reduced to the status of fairies in Celtic mythology and folklore.

So in Ireland the gods in the Tuatha De Danann were degenerated to the roles of fairies (eg. Dagda and Lugh), people living under the dune mound or fabled islands, or even within underwater domains. Similar degeneration occurred with old deities in Wales, Scotland and other surviving pockets of Celtic kingdoms (such as Cornwall, Brittany and island of Man).

These earlier Celtic traditions of fairies, the former Irish or Welsh deities were also not fairies in the usual sense. They looked very much like human, in size and shape, except that they have special magical powers and they seemed eternally young, but they don’t have wings. The Dananns or their Welsh counterparts were usually seen as race of fair people. They can die just as mortals can, but their lives could last hundreds or even thousands of years.

The problem is that sometimes, the Christian authors have also turned them into beings serving the Devil, and that the fairies were actually demons. However this view is no longer shared, today.

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Posted by on June 7, 2013 in Fun, randomness, Writing


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