Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A History of Elves

Image Source: Timeidol.com.

In 2004, Alaric Hall finished a PhD dissertation on elves at the University of Glasgow (why, why, why didn't I do my dissertation on elves, I ask myself).  He's now based at the University of Leeds.  The dissertation is formally titled, "The Meanings of Elf and Elves in Medieval England."  Somehow, I suspect that this superficially cheery little subject gets much less cheery the more one digs into it.  There's a link to the abstract here (hat tip: @medievalbook):

Abstract: This thesis investigates the character and role of non-Christian belief in medieval societies, and how we can reconstruct it using written sources. It focuses on Anglo-Saxon culture, contextualising Anglo-Saxon material with analyses of Middle English, Older Scots, Scandinavian and Irish texts. We lack Anglo-Saxon narratives about elves (ælfe, singular ælf), but the word ælf itself is well-attested in Old English texts. By analysing these attestations, it is possible to discover much about the meanings of the word ælf— from which, I argue, it is possible to infer what ælfe were believed to be and to do, and how these beliefs changed over time. Using methodologies inspired by linguistic anthropology (discussed in Chapter 1), I develop these analyses to reconstruct the changing significances of non-Christian beliefs in medieval English-speaking societies, affording new perspectives on Christianisation, health and healing, and group identity, particularly gendering. The body of the thesis, chapters 2–9, is in three parts. Because of its historiographical prominence in discussions of Anglo-Saxon non-Christian beliefs, I begin in Chapter 2 by reassessing Scandinavian comparative evidence for elf-beliefs. I also show that it is possible to correlate the meanings of Old Norse words for supernatural beings with other Scandinavian mythological sources for world-views, providing a case-study supporting similar approaches to Anglo-Saxon evidence … By combining detailed linguistic and textual analyses in a suitable comparative context, I reconstruct aspects of non-Christian belief which are marginalized in our early medieval sources, and detect how they changed over time. Such beliefs illuminate various aspects of medieval culture, including social identity, health and healing, the sources and use of supernatural power, and Christianisation. My methods, meanwhile, provide paradigms for taking similar approaches to studying belief and ideology in other areas of medieval Europe.
You can read his whole dissertation here.  Happy elf-hunting.
Image Source: Timeidol.com.