Folk Beliefs

Swedish Mythological Creature: Elves

Contextual Data: After talking to me about the Tomten, my friend mentioned that there was a similar tradition of elves in Sweden. They are seen as these mist-like creatures that come out at night over the lakes. The following is an exact transcript of conversation.

Informant: “One that I also think is really cool to talk about is, um…Has to do with elves. And in northern Sweden, when the temperature starts changing in the summer, um, you’ll get these clouds of mist [Mimes a sphere shape with her hands] that show up on like the lake surfaces — so the surfaces of the lakes, and obviously Sweden is one of the places that has, like, a ton of lakes just from the glacial paths and stuff. Um, and so at night obviously the lakes will be completely flat and then you’ll see these like balls of mist and the ball — and it’s weird because it’s not mist just like coating the lake, there are like balls of mist that are separate from each other, and I don’t know if it’s the wind or something but they kind of like twirl around. Um, and so when I was little and I saw them, my dad told me that they were, um…Elves that are dancing on the water and that’s kind of like a Swedish — well I mean at least in the northeastern part of Sweden where my family is from. Um…There’s this concept of the mist as being like the elves that come out of the forest at night and they dance on the water when you’re not watching. Um, and then of course by the morning — when the morning comes, the sun comes up and they disappear. So you can only see them in, like, the middle of the night when the temperature is just right… It’s actually really cool. And if you get too close, too, they kind of dissipate, so you can only see them — you can never actually get that close.”

Me: “Do you think that’s something they tell for the sake of the children? Or is there any other significance to it?”

Informant: “I think — That actually I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I think that—and one thing that I really love about northern Sweden is that, um, the connection between, like, humans and the land I think is much stronger than it is here in the U.S. or even maybe in more urbanized part of the country. Um, you know, people really—It’s remote. And you live out there, and my — I know my family, um, they built their house. Like, they cut down the logs and built the house, and then they — they built a boat to take them from the mainland to their house [Laughs]. I mean they’re very, like, they live off the land and in a way that a lot of people don’t now. I mean my…my…Like they weave their own blankets and I mean they’re…It’s really intense. Um, and just like I said: there’s this connection that doesn’t exist here… Um, and I think that people see — even adults see more magic in the land than we do now. And I think that’s something that, you know, while it’s for kids… I think people are more willing to accept it because they understand that nature has, like, a magical quality to it. You know…”

- End Transcript – 

My informant seemed to provide a pretty thorough account of why this tradition sticks around in Sweden. In particular, this idea of the elves as dancing on the water really does seem to speak to the perception of nature as having “a magical quality to it.” Beyond this, it also seems to be a way of making sense of an unusual natural phenomenon — this description of the mist as forming little balls or clusters over the lakes rather than just existing as a sort of loose blanket, as one might expect it to.

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