Santa Claus, Keebler cookies, and overloaded shelves. If a person speaks of elves, the brain frequently goes to those who work for Santa or Keebler, or those that hide from small kids in the middle of night. All these are their roles in popular culture now, but it’s likely unsurprising to see that their roots stem from sources less merry and jolly. Instead, one of the first depictions of the elven race would be the ancient medieval sagas and poems of wars, gods, and even death.
Elves in Pagan and Christian Times
Germanic in character, the mythology of the elven race stems in the pre-Christian Norse religion and language. In Old Norse, elves are known as álfar, although this term can be broken up into subcategories. It’s long been considered that elves are creatures of light and goodness, but that is a misinterpretation of earlier texts. Elves in biblical literature are usually described as beautiful, slender, tall creatures with pale hair and skin, and unknowable magical abilities. The elves were very fluid creatures which didn’t adhere to regular gender or sexual roles. Further, occasionally these beings were considered gods or demi-gods, but they were above the human race.
The elves were broken down into classes of light and the dark elves, probably first by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century. It’s likely that this division of the elven race arose when Christianity became dominant. In the pagan religion, elves were capable of both positive and negative moralities, just like the Faer folk of ancient Ireland, England, and Scotland. Yet beings with dual natures did not translate well to the early medieval Christian faith. The closest comparison these writers could create was one with demons and angels –i.e., the followers of a good God versus the followers of a dark devil. Therefore, the álfar were similarly split into good and bad, or the ljósálfar and dökkálfar, respectively.
The Elves’ Homes
The good elves lived either above ground or in Álfheimr, one of the nine worlds of Norse mythology specifically for the elven race, while the dark elves lived like dwarves in the ground. Snorri goes so far as to reference a separate realm for the dark elves called Svartálfaheimr, thus explaining the use of svartálfar to describe the “black-elves” in his Prose Edda.
However, the use of svartálfar has been speculated by linguistic researchers as either synonymous with the dökkálfar or the dwarves; in the Gylfaginning (dictated in Snorri’s Edda), the dwarf Andvari (who later creates the ring which causes strife between Brunhild the Valkyrie and her lover’s wife, Gudrun) is described as being from Svartálfar. Thus it is not without merit to postulate that the dark elves themselves are merely dwarves–longstanding enemies of the elves–improperly renamed due to Christian misunderstandings.
Literary Works Interpreting the Role of Elves in Norse Mythology
One should be wary of the most valued texts referencing the Old Norse religion and elves. The aforementioned Snorri Sturluson is most often mentioned, as he was among the first authors who took the oral histories (i.e. sagas) of the pre-Christian Scandinavians and wrote them into a coherent codex. However, because of the second, third, and fourth-hand nature of the retellings of legends discussing elves and other aspects of Norse beliefs, and the fact that Snorri was trying to understand a pagan world through Christian eyes, much of the accuracy of his work is debatable. Nonetheless, Snorri’s work continues to be respected, because the Icelanders were converted to Christianity later than other cultures, and it is believed that the original pagan beliefs prevailed longer, allowing for a shorter time gap between the oral and written traditions.
According to Ph.D. candidate Alaric Hall from the University of Glasgow (2004), the business of elves is one of the few instances in which Snorri’s work is not as reliable as it is in other pre-Christian aspects. Instead, the poetry of the skalds (royal bards) is far more accurate regarding elves, as it is dated to the 9th century, just before the conversion of Iceland. In this poetry, the álfar (also sometimes written as álfr) are often mentioned in poems of mourning for fallen warriors. The earliest known skald, called Bragi inn gamli Boddason, provides álfr as an epithet for one of the strongest and bravest fallen warriors. (This is the equivalent of a warrior being called “god-like” or “shining” in Greek mythology.) It is therefore plausible that such an appellation indicates that elves were not merely an ethereal race wholly separate from humans, but valued as possessing skills and abilities humans could, and should, aspire to achieve.
A third valued work discussing Old Norse faith and elves is the Poetic Edda, a collection of tales written by an unknown author, likely written before Snorri’s text in the 13th century. The estimated dating of such an ambiguously authored poem is estimated due to subject matter, the names of poets and the style and meter of the poetry. As such, the Poetic Edda‘s estimated date could indicate that it was one of the many sources used by Snorri for his work–possibly in conjunction with the aforementioned poetry.
Despite the difficulty of recapturing the initial meaning of the álfar, whether light or dark, good or evil, or any combination of the two, the Nordic origins for elves has managed to survive in various forms because of the later efforts to preserve the Old North religion.
JRR Tolkien, renowned writer of The Lord of the Rings and advanced Anglo-Saxon and Germanic scholar, brought much of the accuracy of the ancient traditions into popular culture, seemingly endeavoring to do so without the biased Christian eye of historians like Snorri. While Tolkien’s work is obviously fictional, it is a valuable example of an attempt to bring the ancient into the present. Jacob Grimm, one of the two brothers who collected Germanic fairy tales, is another pertinent individual relating to the survival of elven traditions.
Thanks in large part to the dedication of the skaldic poets and post-conversion writers, authors such as Tolkien are able to reconstruct facets of the Old Norse beliefs, combating the ever-persistent elven toy-makers, cookie bakers, and (somewhat creepily) grinning Christmas puppets.
Publisher: Ancient Origins
Original link: http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-europe/diverse-nature-elves-norse-myth-beings-light-or-darkness-008327
This Famous Sea Serpent Story Might Actually Have Been a Sighting of a Whale Penis
This week the New York Times reported on a new archaeological discovery that might prove the ancient Romans hunted whales, and asked whether this might explain epic tales of the time about fishermen harpooning ‘sea monsters’:
There’s an ancient Greco-Roman poem that tells the tale of brave fishermen who harpooned a sea monster. Once they hooked the beast, the men reeled it in from their rowboats near the shore and hauled it onto the beach. The text, which is dated to the second or third century, describes one onlooker as standing on a cliff and beholding the “tremendous toil of the men in this warfare of the sea.”
But was this “sea monster,” or “cetus” as it is called in Latin, actually a whale?
While this new suggestion that ‘sea monsters’ of ancient tales might have actually been whales is an interesting one, there has previously been an association between whales and sea monsters, though one you might not see in the New York Times anytime soon.
In 2005, ecologist Dr. Charles Paxton co-authored a paper titled “Cetaceans, Sex, and Sea Serpents” (PDF), in which he and his co-researchers analysed the 1734 sighting of “a most dreadful monster” off the coast of Greenland.
The account, originally recorded in 1741 by the Danish-Norwegian missionary Hans Egede, has been a regular feature of sea-monster folklore ever since it was reproduced in Henry Lee’s 1883 book Sea Monsters Unmasked:
[A] terribly big sea creature which in 1734 was seen in the sea… It was a so enormously big creature, [that] its head reached the [ship’s] yard arm and the body was as thick as the ship and was 3 to 4 times as long. It had a long pointed nose, and blew like a whale, [it] had big broad flippers, and the body seemed to be covered with a carapace, and the skin was wrinkled and rough. It was otherwise created at the rear like a serpent and when it went under the water it lifted itself backwards and raised then the tail up from the water a ship’s length away from the body.
Over the years, a multitude of explanations had been offered, including that the sighting might have been of a giant squid, an (extinct) Basilosaurid whale, a giant marine otter, or a giant longnecked seal. But Paxton’s group had a more interesting solution: that the witnesses may have mistaken a whale penis as the serpent-like projections from the water:
Many of the large baleen whales have long, snake-like penises. If the animal did indeed fall on its back then its ventral surface would have been uppermost and, if the whale was aroused, the usually retracted penis would have been visible. The penises of the North Atlantic right whale and (Pacific) grey whale can be at least 1.8 metres long, and 1.7 metres long respectively, and could be taken by a naïve witness for a tail. That the tail was seen at one point a ship’s length from the body suggests the presence of more than one male whale.
In support of this hypothesis, the researchers point out another ‘sea serpent’ case that also sounds suspiciously like it might have been a whale penis: a sighting from the merchant vessel Pauline in 1875, “when a sea-serpent in the form of a “whitish pillar” was seen amongst a pod of sperm whales “frantic with excitement” (the sperm whale penis can be pale).
It’s difficult not to agree with Paxton’s suggestion, especially if we compare the contemporary illustrations of the ‘sea serpent’ with modern photos of whale penises emerging from the water (or, if you prefer video, go watch some Attenborough).
For those that might think this is the ultimate solution to the mystery of sea serpents however, note that the researchers make clear they are not completely confident in their identification, and “nor are we suggesting that whales’ penises are a universal source of sea-serpent sightings”.
(h/t to Loren Coleman)
Is El Dorado Real? Myth, Legend or Lost City Of Gold?
The name “El Dorado” has been attributed throughout the years to a city or countries with a fabulous wealth, inaccessible to geographers, explorers, and adventurers. All those who have ventured to look for the utopian El Dorado have endured incredible sufferings and ended up either by losing their minds or by killing their comrades or by curtailing their lives by suicide.
Most people who are at least vaguely curious about the ancient history of the Americas and the Age of Exploration know of the legend of El Dorado.
It’s the tale of an ancient, advanced city built entirely of gold, and tucked away in the “New World” where it was either destroyed or simply never located by European explorers and their descendants.
It’s a wonderful idea, and the sort of thing that, like the great civilization of Atlantis or extraterrestrial influence on the construction of the pyramids, you can’t help but wantto believe.
At this point in history, however, El Dorado is usually discounted fairly easily as a myth, or at least a dramatic exaggeration.
Perhaps the most well-known version of the legend we have in modern times is an animated Dreamworks film that, curiously enough, was critically panned (with most animated films of the era traditionally doing quite well). Said one review, the less you know about history, the better your chances of enjoying The Road To El Dorado.
That’s a nicer way of stating that the film somewhat butchered the legend, as well as the whole era of exploration, conveniently avoiding the genocidal aspect of it all.
The only major version of the El Dorado tale that’s more recent than this somewhat regretful film is Gonzo’s Quest, an animated online slot machine game that has taken the digital casino world by storm.
Revolving around an explorer in Peru, it uses New World symbology and a cartoonish but engaging jungle setting to capture the notion of hunting for lost riches.
While this game too makes light of explorers who, in real human history, committed atrocities, it’s almost a better take on the legend, presenting El Dorado as a goal to be sought, rather than the cheesy setting of an insensitive film.
In both cases though, El Dorado is treated as a fiction. It is, as stated, a myth or an exaggeration in the minds of the creators and animators who have attempted to bring it to life. This is fair enough given that we have no conclusive proof of a New World city of gold, and such a thing sounds unlikely. What’s important to remember however is how little we actually know about the Americas in ancient times. And for that reason it’s fair, despite everything just mentioned, to ask the question: is El Dorado actually real?
It’s a question that can’t be answered with certainty, but one that’s worth more consideration than some assume.
In particular, there are two legitimate cases for something resembling a “city of gold” has existed.
The first concerns satellite evidence of an undiscovered, great civilization in the heart of the Amazon. Fairly recently, satellite imagery has detected more than 200 huge geometric earthworks near the Brazil-Bolivia border.
These earthworks, which evidently hint at much more beneath the surface, are evidence of a “sophisticated pre-Columbian monument-building society,” according to one journal.
And in a more abstract sense, they may well be evidence of a mysterious civilization that was sought by numerous explorers. Some refer to it as El Dorado, and others as the Lost City Of Z (a similar idea that has spawned its own legends, most notably in the form of a book and recent film adaptation).
Whatever the case, we know that there were, in fact, early South American explorers who either glimpsed or heard tell of a great, deep Amazonian civilization and a great, hidden city.
None ever found it to document it in what we’d call recorded history, but the modern satellite evidence suggests the civilization really did exist.
The second case is actually, if anything, a little bit more concrete. It is essentially the existence of the Colombian Muisca tribe, which has been said to be responsible for the origins of the El Dorado legend.
There are different accounts, but the basic idea is that a people called the Muisca (whose descendants still live today) occupied Columbia thousands of years ago, and established a tradition of burying old kings and crowning new ones via a great deal of ritual.
That ritual included coating people in gold dust and stacking rafts with rich golden artifacts to be sent into a special lake.
It is largely accepted these days that Muisca traditions were distorted in tales, ultimately leading to tales of an entire city of gold.
This seems a satisfying explanation for the hyper-rational, but at the same time, it seems almost difficult to believe such a straightforward set of rituals being so dramatically misinterpreted.
This begs the question: might the ancient Muisca people have established something more closely resembling a small city of gold? Might it in fact now be at the bottom of the aforementioned lake?
The truth of it all is that we just don’t know what, if anything El Dorado ever was, and where its remains might be today.
However, while modern versions of the legend are quick to dismiss it as something playful or imagined, there is still compelling evidence out there for a version of the story (and city) that may have been very real.
Shocking Footprint Found On Mars Shows Astronauts Visited This Planet
A footprint found on the Red Planet undoubtedly serves as evidence that life on Mars is indeed possible or that, at least, astronauts had already set foot on this planet.
This controversial picture is available on the official NASA server as well which makes the whole thing very weird. But it’s even weirder how this footprint resembles the footprints the astronauts left behind on the lunar surface.
NASA’s caption officially explains that the footprint is, in fact, “soil disturbed by the left front wheel of the Spirit rover evokes impressions of the first footprint on Mars.”
The Spirit rover, on the other hand, leaves traces which can be seen on the photo beneath.
As the following image clearly shows, the tracks the Spirit rover leaves behind don’t look like the aforementioned footprint.
Instead, the controversial print is unique with regard to where weight was used, in particular, the peak and the bottom.
The same thing is characteristic for the print on the moon. Therefore, many will conclude it is a footprint left by astronauts wearing space shoes.
We are aware that NASA hides many things from the public. Taking everything in mind, this image could be the evidence we missed to terminate whether humans have stepped on the Red Planet or not.
As you already know, there were many whistle-blowers who said there had been secret manned missions to Mars. Some of them even claimed to have engaged in those missions.
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