Alfs, Dwarves, Land-Wights, and Huldfolk
The word alf (álfr, elf) is used for many sorts of wight: not only the Light Alfs, Dark Alfs (mound-elves), and Swart Alfs that Grimm separates out of German folklore and the Norse sources, but also different sorts of land-wights (wood-elves, mountain-elves, field elves, water-elves, and sea-elves). In the Troth, we usually speak of the Light Alfs and Dark Alfs as alfs, the Swart Alfs as dwarves, and the rest of them as land-wights.
The alfs are clearly a holy folk; the alliterative phrase "Ases and alfs" is often used in the Poetic Edda. The question, "What is (the trouble?) among Ases? what is among alfs?" is also asked in Þrymskviða 7, hinting that the happenings of the two are closely bound. The phrase "at ganga álfrek" (Eyrbyggja saga ch. 4), literally "to go drive out the elves", meant to relieve oneself, which fits in with the general belief, also described in Eyrbyggja saga, that excreting on holy ground defiled it - this, again, hints that the alfs and the god/esses go closely together. This likening also, as Turville-Petre points out, appears in the Anglo-Saxon charm "Against a Sudden Pain" in which the phrases "shot of Ases...shot of alfs...shot of hags" appear together (Myth and Religion, p. 230) - though the context of the charm suggests rather that the Ases had sunk to a level where they could be counted together with witches and lesser spiritual wights than that the alfs were seen as godly beings at the time the charm was composed. Of the Light and Dark Alfs themselves we see nothing in the Eddas; it is only the dwarves who seem to take part in myth.
The word "alf" is likeliest to stem from a root meaning "white", with the various suggestions of "gleaming" (as in the Anglo-Saxon man's name Ælfbeorht - "alf-bright" and adjective ælfsciene - "beautiful as an alf"), and "white mist-form" (de Vries, Wörterbuch p. 5). The latter reading may be tied to the mysterious Nibelungen ("mist-folk" - ON Níflungar), who are a supernatural tribe in the first part of Nibelungenlied but whose name is also attached to the Burgundian royal house in the later half of the poem and in the Norse materials, perhaps through the character of Hagen/Högni, whom Þiðreks saga tells us was the son of an alf.
The alfs had a very strong cult in the Viking Age; the Winternights feast was sometimes called álfablót (as well as dísablót and Freysblót). When the skald Sigvatr, a christian converted by Óláfr inn digri, came to a farmhouse in late autumn, he was told that he could not enter because the Alf-Blessing was being celebrated - as a christian, he was presumably unwelcome at the family's holy feast. We do not know what sort of alfs were being hailed at this blessing, though, as spoken of later, it is likeliest to have been the mound-alfs. Interestingly, although the alfs are usually thought of as being tied to the Wanic cult, Sigvatr tells us that the housewife told him "I am afraid of Óðinn's wrath" (Austrfararvísur, ca. 1019 C.E.), suggesting that Wodan, also, had a special relationship with them. Since Sigvatr was a first-generation convert, he is not likely to have confused Wodan with another god, or used the name without reason.
In his Edda Snorri tells us that the Light Alfs are bright and shining, very fair to look upon, which fits well with the first reading of the word's etymology. The Sun is also called "álfröðull" (Glory of the Alfs), which seems to fit largely with the Light Alfs, as neither the Dark Alfs nor dwarves care for her light; according to Alvíssmál, the alfs also name the Sun "Fair Wheel". These alfs are closely tied to Fro Ing, the lord of Álfheimr; as airy and bright wights, they may help in the bringing of fair weather. Grimm comments that, "Of the dwellings of light elves in heaven the folk-tales have no longer anything to tell" (Teutonic Mythology, II, p. 454). It is also possible that the term "Light Alf" may have been a synonym for "god/ess", with "alf" being used poetically as a broad term for "spiritual being". In modern times, the Light Alfs are sometimes seen as messengers for the god/esses, bringing might down from the Ases' Garth to the Middle Garth.
We know far more about the Dark Alfs, or mound-alfs, than about the other two sorts. It is clear from both Norse sources and Scandinavian folklore that the Dark Alfs are dead folk, especially those ghosts dwelling in the howe. One of the many Norwegian kings named Óláfr, after his burial, was thought to bring fruitfulness and good to his kingdom even from the howe, and therefore was called "Geirstaðaálfr", the Elf of Geirstaðr. Indeed, the Old Norse word álfkarl (male elf) was taken over in Irish as alcaille, "ghost of the dead" (de Vries, Wörterbuch, p. 6). In Hávamál, when Óðinn is speaking of those who teach runes to the various folks, he says, "Óðinn among the Æsir, but Dáinn for the alfs, Dvalinn for the dwarves..." The name "Dáinn", also a dwarf-name, simply means "Dead One".
Since the worship of the mound-dead has been carried out from the Stone Age onward, the cult of the alfs is one of the oldest strands in the weave of the elder Troth. From the oldest times, that worship has been characterized by the offering of food and drink to the howe-dwellers. In Kormáks saga, it is told how a badly wounded man was instructed to put the blood and flesh of a steer on a hill in which the alfs dwelt. Gifts of food and drink put on the howe nearest the house at holy times, especially Yule, were known up through modern times (Feilberg, Jul, II, p. 20); it is quite likely that in older days this was done whenever there was need. In the Bronze Age, many holy stones were marked with small round depressions, now called alf-cups; till modern times, again, offerings were poured or set into these little holes in the rock. Those true folk of today who do not live near Germanic Heathen howes can chip or grind small cup-shaped depressions into whatever rocks are near their homes so as to make offerings of a like sort to the alfs.
Turville-Petre suggests that the álfar may have been manly counterparts to the womanly dísir - the dead men of the clan, as the dísir were the dead women - and this has often been taken up by true folk today, Fro Ing and the alfs being called on together with the Frowe and the idises. Aside from Óláfr, there is no reason to think of the mound-alfs as being necessarily manly: women were buried in howes as often as men, and individual alfs are not seen often enough in Norse sources for us to know whether they are likely to have been of one sex or not. However, it may be that the words, while referring to the same wights, were distinguished by gender in the Viking Age. Certainly álfr is a masculine word and dís is feminine, so, at least regarding their use in the cult of the dead, the two could quite easily have been polarized. Turville-Petre supports this theory by mentioning that, according to Heiðreks saga, "the woman who reddened the altar during the dísablót was called Álfhildr; she was daughter of Álfr, king of Álfheimar" (Myth and Religion, p. 231). Since the source is relatively late, antiquarian consistency might have changed dísablót to álfablót, or Álfhildr's name to one of the many names with "dís" as an element, but this did not take place, suggesting that a tradition may have been reported accurately.
If such a distinction did indeed exist during Heathen times, it was lost later, and all the mound-folk called alfs; but Scandinavian folk ballads offer tales which suggest that these alf-women still acted as the idises (in their darker shape) could. The Danish "Herr Oluf Han Rider" tells of a man who rides through a grove where elf-folk were dancing on his wedding-eve. One of the women asks him to dance with her, but he refuses. She strikes him over the heart; he rides home to his betrothed, and the two of them are dead by the next morning. In the Icelandic "Ólafur liljurós", the alf-woman asks the man to dwell in the hill with them; he refuses on the grounds that he is a christian. She then asks him for a kiss, which he gives "half-heartedly" (with half-hugr); she stabs him with her knife, mortally wounding him. As spoken of under "Idises", such bidding and its consequences are typical: one way or another, the chosen man will join the woman in death.
The mound-folk are especially interested in human babies, whom they will steal if they can, leaving changelings in their place. According to folk belief, they can breed, but this is rare and difficult, and there are several tales of human women called to midwife alf births.
Alfs, like trolls, etins, and god/esses, can mate with humans. This happens often in Scandinavian folklore. From the late heathen/early mediæval period, perhaps the most notable example is Högni (Hagen) of Þiðreks saga. According to the saga, he was "gray as ash, and sallow as bast, and pale as a dead man", easily mistaken for a troll in a dim light. The belief that Hagen was the son of an alf may have come to Scandinavia through the original German source for both Þiðreks saga and Nibelungenlied (though, as mentioned above, the Níflungar/Burgundian association suggest the possibility of an older connection which, like Siegfried's spear-death, was lost in the Norse but retained in the German materials); but the description is typically Norse. There are a number of later folk stories of men who are seduced by alf women (and father children on them), and of brides who are stolen by the alfs on their wedding day. There are also stories of men who cast steel over their elvish lovers to bind them to the Middle-Garth so that they can marry them.
Folk who spend time with the alfs often come back mad, or at the very least sorrowful and wandering in their wits. The expression "taken into the mountain" was used whenever someone underwent a sudden psychological change, which was often associated with getting lost in the mountains or woods. The ringing of church bells was thought to force the alfs to let their captives go (Kvideland & Sehmsdorf, Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legend, p. 212). Simek tells us that the German "Erlkönig", on whom Goethe's ballad (set as a song by Schubert) is based, "originates from an incorrect translation of Herder's who misunderstood the Danish elverkonge ('elf-king') to be Erlenkönig ('alder-king'), but attributed to it some of the darker attributes of elves (Dictionary, p. 74); that is, trying to lure a child away, and when that fails, taking it by force, leaving a corpse behind.
Alfs are also well-known for "alf-shot" - little invisible arrows which cause effects in humans and cattle ranging from sudden sharp pains, local swellings, and inexplicable wasting sicknesses to bone cancer and even death. Lumbago and arthritis are especially thought of as the result of alf-shot. This belief is common throughout the Northern world, with forms of the word appearing in all Germanic dialects (together with the similar "troll-shot", "witch-shot", and "dwarf-shot"); it probably stems from the eldest times. Those who suspect they or their animals may be suffering from alf-shot should work the charm "Wiþ Færstice" (Against a Sudden Pain), the text and translation of which can be found in G. Storms' Anglo-Saxon Magic.
Alfs dislike it greatly when stables are built or people relieve themselves on their mounds. There are also several stories of mounds with trees growing on them from which it was forbidden to break branches; when this bidding was broken, great ill-luck overcame the one who had done it.
However, the alfs can also get along well with humans. Tales abound of folk who have done favours for them and are well-rewarded for it. If offered a gift by them, especially in payment for services done, it is far safer to take it than to refuse it. Food and drink are quite common (though there is a counter-belief that to eat alfish food within their hall will trap one there forever) . There is also a recurring theme of an alf-gift which seems worthless (dead leaves, wood-shavings, and such) turning into gold - quite the opposite of the Celtic belief in "fairy gold" which looks valuable, but is actually something worthless with a glamour laid on it. The Anglo-Saxon names such as Ælfgifu (Alf-Gift), Ælfred (Alf-Rede - mod. Alfred), and Ælfwin(Alf-Friend - mod. Alvin) also speak of a close and good relationship between alfs and humans in the English tradition.
Alfs can be seen through knot-holes (elf-bore), holes made by an alf-shot in an animal's hide (Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, II, p. 461), and probably natural holes in stones, which were thought to be especially magical.
Swart Alfs (Dwarves)
Norse literature tells us more about the Swart Alfs, or dwarves, than about the other sorts of alf. According to Snorri, the dwarves were made from the maggots crawling in Ymir's corpse when the Middle-Garth was shaped. He also mentions that the Swart Alfs are black as pitch, but this may well be his own understanding drawn from the name; in Alvíssmál 2, Þórr comments on how pale the dwarf Alvíss is, and asks if he has been with a corpse in the night.
Like the Dark Alfs, the Swart Alfs are closely associated with death, and may in fact often be dead folk themselves, as the names "Dáinn" (a dwarf-name as well as the alfs' ruler), Nár (Corpse), and Bláinn (blue/black - cf. "Hel-Blue", a common description of corpses, especially undead ones) suggest. Other dwarf names relate to their crafts: Næfr (the Capable One). They have magical skills, as shown by the names Gandálfr (Wand-Alf or Magical Alf), and are wise, as seen by the names Fjölsviðr (Very Wise - a name shared with Óðinn), Alvíss (All-Wise), and Ráðviðr (Rede-Wise). They can be deceitful: their ruler is called Dvalinn (Deluder). The word "dwarf" itself has been variously etymologized as stemming from Indo-European *dhuer- (damage), Old Indian dhvaras (demonic being), and Indo-European *dreugh (the root of "dream", but also of the German Trug, "deception"). The last reading fits best with the meaning of "Dvalinn". Simek mentions that "the origin of the concept of dwarves is either to be found in nature spirits or else in demons of death...(but) Nature spirits are probably more likely to be elves. However, it is possible that there was a mixture of concepts" (Dictionary, pp. 68-69).
The relationship of dwarves with dreams and delusion has led today to the understanding that their land, Swart-Alf Home, is mirrored in the human soul by the subconscious, the realm of shadows where thoughts are forged into being.
Four dwarves, Austri (East), Norðri (North), Vestri (West), and Suðri (South), hold up the sky - the dome of Ymir's skull. These dwarves are sometimes called on today in warding the quarters of the holy ring. Alice Karlsdottir's reading of the tale of the Brísingamen also has them as the four forgers of the Frowe's necklace (who are not named in Sörla þáttr).
The Swart Alfs are, so far as we can tell, always male - though modern fantasy writers have come up with the ingenious explanation that dwarf-women exist, but are also bearded, making it difficult for humans to tell the sexes apart. However, male dwarves are known for stealing human women away (Grimm, II, pp. 466-67), while human men do not marry dwarf-women; the one reference Grimm quotes to this happening speaks of a mound-alf's daughter, not a dwarf. The dwarves usually appear to be old, with long gray beards; they are short and gnarled, but powerful. Often they wear red caps, which make them invisible to human folk; the Tarnkappe of Nibelungenlied, which had the same power, was also a dwarfish product, and part of the Nibelungen-hoard guarded by the dwarf Alberich (Alf-Ruler). In the Norse version of the story, the magical cap from the dwarf's hoard was the ægishjálmar (Helm of Awe), which made shape-changing possible and terrified the foes of the one who wore it.
Like trolls, dwarves dwell in mountains and stones, which are often the doorways to the Otherworld. Ynglinga saga tells how the Yngling king Sveigðir sought for Óðinn's dwelling a long time, and one evening after sunset, when he went from the mead-hall to his sleeping place, he saw a dwarf under a great stone. The dwarf stood in the stone's door and called Sveigðir, bidding him come in if he wanted to meet Óðinn. Sveigðir leapt into the stone, and it closed behind him, and he never came out. In Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks, the king Svafrlami (or Sigrlami in an alternate version) saw two dwarves, Dvalinn and Dulinn, by a stone at sunset and barred them from the stone with his sword until they had promised to make him the best weapon possible. That was the sword Tyrfingr: but when they had given it to him, Dvalinn told him that it would be a man's bane whenever it was drawn, and would do three niðing-works, and that it would be Svafrlami's own bane. Then Svafrlami struck at him, but the dwarf had already gone into the stone. Dwarves are not warrior-like, and can be forced to work by threats - but they hold grudges very well, and always get their revenge.
Again like trolls, dwarves are turned to rock by the light of the sun; Thonar gets rid of his daughter's dwarfish suitor Alvíss by distracting him with questions until daylight strikes him, a theme otherwise typical of troll-tales both in Norse poetry (cf. Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar) and Icelandic folk-tales. They can, however, fare above ground by daylight in the form of stags; the four stags that chew at the World-Tree's bark all have dwarf-names, and may indeed be North, East, South, and West in their daylight shapes. The dwarf Andvari, keeper of the Rhine's hoard, took the shape of a great pike, and the Old English charm against dwarves also describes them in the form of spiders.
Above all, however, dwarves are the greatest of smiths (with the exception of Weyland, spoken of later in this chapter). They made all the great treasures of the god/esses, and many things for human folk. Although there are no traces of a common cult of the dwarves, as there was for the alfs, it is not unlikely that smiths might have given these wights special worship and called on them for craft. Certainly our legends sometimes have heroes being apprenticed or fostered by dwarves. The German Siegfried is sent to the dwarf Mime as his apprentice; in the Norse version, Sigurðr is the foster-son of the smith Reginn. According to the German tradition preserved in Þiðreks saga, Weyland was also apprenticed to dwarves.
The dwarves are also the keepers of all the wealth within the earth, and do not necessarily appreciate humans taking that wealth out: most mining communities have legends of ill-willing wights who cut ropes and weaken shorings. Those who work with metals and stones, as well as hailing the dwarves for crafts, would do well to give them gifts for this sake.
Human beings can become dwarves or alfs. Such a transformation appears in the Norse Völsung/Nibelung legend, where Reginn - originally a human, the brother of Fáfnir and the skin-changer Óttarr - turns into a dwarf, even as Fáfnir becomes a dragon. Since the Germanic dragon, as Professor Tolkien pointed out in "The Monsters and the Critics", is never a natural animal, but rather the ghost of a dead man guarding his hoard, and some dwarves also seem to be dead people, it is possible that the transformations of Fáfnir and Reginn were brought about posthumously by their obsessions with the hoard of the Rhine (originally belonging to the dwarf Andvari). As a smith, Reginn was naturally closest to the dwarf-kind.
Another such change seems to take place in Weyland, as spoken of in Völundarkviða. Although the legendary smith is called "prince of alfs" early in the poem, he seems wholly human: he eats, hunts, and is overcome by sleep, making it easy for his foes to capture him. However, during the long trial in which he is imprisoned, hamstrung, and made to forge for Niðuðr, the might of need and his craft begin to change him. He does not need sleep any more, but smiths continuously, becoming as tireless and mighty a smith as any of the Swart Alfs. By the time he has wrought his full revenge, he has passed wholly outside of the human world and become an alf in truth. When he says "Well I...would be on my feet, those which Niðuðr's warriors took from me", he is acknowledging the destruction of Weyland the man; when he takes to the air on the wings he has forged for himself, he becomes wholly Weyland the Smith of our folk-legends, the "wise alf" who lives yet and was given gifts and worship throughout the Teutonic world.
The land-wights are beings who dwell in natural features such as streams, stones, and waterfalls. They take many shapes, often humanlike, often not. The land-wights can be roused to defend their land against magical attacks, as in the story from Heimskringla (Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar) in which a wizard goes to Iceland in whale-shape to see if it can be invaded. He sees it crawling with land-wights everywhere. When he tries to go ashore, the four guardians of the land - dragon in the east-northeast, bird in the north, bull in the west, and mountain giant in the south-southwest - each with a host of smaller beings in the same shape following them, attack him. He returns to report to King Haraldr Gormsson that Iceland is too strongly warded for an invasion to be successful. These four warders still appear on the back of Icelandic kronur.
Unlike some alfs and dwarves, the land-wights seem never to have been human; Iceland, which had been uninhabited except for the odd Irish monk (and some of them were very odd indeed), was already virtually seething with them when the Norse landed. They are the wights which can most easily be reached by those who dwell in the New World; while those land-wights have long been used to Amerindian ways, it has been found that they respond well to whoever comes to them with courtesy and respect. Some true folk in America add tobacco to the land wights' offerings of bread and drink to honour the local customs and see that the wights get what they are used to.
Throughout the Germanic world, the cult of the land-wights lasted far longer than the cult of the Ases and Wans; in fact, it is still a living belief in Iceland today, where many farmhouses have boulders that they will not mow too closely around nor let their children play on. From the period of christianization onward, there were stringent laws against giving any sort of worship to rocks, trees, or springs, such as the General Admonition of Charlemagne, ca. 787, and his Special Capitulary for the Missi, ca. v802, and the Sermon VI of the False Boniface, ca. 800 (Chisholm, Grove and Gallows). This worship was usually characterized by bringing food and drink to the place, then eating it in the name of the dweller there and/or leaving a share of it at the holy stead.
According to the Heathen law of Iceland, as recorded in Landnámabók (Hauksbók ch. 268), the dragon-prows of ships had to be taken off before coming within sight of land to keep from frightening the land-wights away. They were probably raised for the same reason during attacks and raids: they terrified the wights who dwelt in the defenders' lands and kept them from lending their aid in the battle. When Egill Skalla-Grímssonr set his horse-head níðstöng (nithing pole) against King Eiríkr Blood-Axe and his queen Gunnhildr, he first stated that he turned it against the royal couple, then faced the horse-head towards in to land and said, "I turn this nith against the land-wights who dwell in the land, so that all of them fare wild ways, nor find nor meet their homes, before they drive King Eiríkr and Gunnhildr out of the land" (Egils saga, ch. 57). The horse-head pole probably worked in much the same way as the "dragon-prow"; in fact, remnants of a Danish ship-prow show that it was a beast with a horselike head and mane of iron curls.
If the land-wights are frightened or angered, all things in the land will go badly until they are at rest again. It is needful to get their permission before doing any major landscaping, especially if it involves moving trees or boulders, in which they often dwell. The landwights tend to dislike loud noises and are affrighted by the violent shedding of blood. It can be guessed that they also dislike pollution, large quantities of motor traffic, and littering. They can speak directly to those who are sensitive enough to hear them; to others, they may appear in dreams.
Worship of the land-wights was probably not carried out as a large-scale religious activity, though it is good to save food and drink from the holy feasts to put by whatever creek, stone, or tree houses the ones nearest to you. From the Icelandic sagas, we have two examples of individuals with close personal relationships with land-wights. Kristni saga and Þorvalds þáttr víðförla speak of how a chieftain brought sacrifice to a rock-dweller called his ármaðr (harvest-man) or spámaðr (spae-man) until the wight was driven out by holy water splashed on the stone. The names given to the rock-dweller suggest that not only do land-wights bring fruitfulness to their friends, but they can also give wise rede. In Landnámabók, a man by the name of Goat-Björn had trouble with his goats. He dreamed that a rock-dweller came to him, offering to become his partner. After that a new billy-goat appeared among Björn's herd and they began to breed. When Björn went to the Þing, or his brothers went fishing, folk with the Sight could see all the land-wights with him. Making friends with the land-wights is clearly a personal thing, calling for a certain degree of quiet and privacy so that you and they can hear each other.
Although the land-wights were not subjects of myth, they seem to have been very much a part of the daily lives of all our Germanic forebears - wights to be loved and dealt with often. As Óðinn suggests in "Hávamál" 44: "If you have a friend whom you trust in well, and wish to have good of him, open your mind to him and share gifts, fare often to find him". In the old days, as we see from the wide spread of the cult of the land-wights and the law of the Icelanders, caring for these beings was very much in the minds of all. That is even more needful in these times, when a great many human activities seem as though planned to offend them. It is up to the true to make friends with the land-wights again so that both we and they can flourish.
The Huldfolk (hidden folk) are figures of continental Scandinavian folklore. They often overlap with both the Dark Alfs and the land-wights, and in the later folklore the term is applied generally to every sort of being which cannot usually be seen by human beings, particularly the mound-dwellers.
One of the most typical characteristics of huldfolk is that they appear as beautiful human beings, but have animal features such as cow-tails or hooves; or else their backs are hollow or overgrown with bark. They try to keep these things hidden, as they take particular delight in seducing and even sometimes marrying human beings.
The Swedes believed in a woman called the skogsrå (Forest Ruler), who lives in the wood and seduces hunters and charcoal-burners. In return for their sexual favours, she helps their work by charming their rifles so that they will never miss, or keeping their fires burning while they sleep. Any good done for the skogsrå is likely to be returned with good. In one folktale, a pair of hunters run across two forest women, one of whom is about to give birth. They give her pieces of their clothes to wrap the baby in, and she tells them that the next day, one will shoot her dog and the other her cat. The next day, one shoots a wolf and the other a lynx (Scandinavian Folktales, p. 89). Such wood-wives are also found in German folklore, where they teach humans herb-craft and help with milling and other such tasks; it was customary to bake a little loaf for them with each lot of bread, and to leave it out in the wood, and they would answer by leaving cakes of their own on the plough or in the furrow. They highly dislike bread flavoured with caraway seeds, as do several other sorts of huldfolk. There are also male wood-wights, but they are more retiring and less good-natured (Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, II, pp. 483-85).
Another sort of water-wight is the nöck or näck who dwells in streams, pools, and rivers. The word is the same as our English "nicor" or the much diminished form, "nixie". In the Anglo-Saxon sources, they are fearsome etin-kin, worthy foes for Beowulf to use his sword on; however, in the Scandinavian folklore, they can be helpful. The Näck will tune fiddles and teach folk to play the fiddle if he is offered a black lamb; if a fiddler lets this wight suck blood from his finger, the Näck will teach him a certain tune that everyone who hears must dance to. He is still a fearsome wight: it is said in Norway that he claims a life every year. Although German and English folklore remember less of the wights themselves, there are many rivers of which the same is said, including the small and sluggish English Cam (the Warder of the Lore can verify the truth of this legend) and the German Saale, who claims her victims on Walpurgisnacht or Midsummer's (Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, II, p. 494). When going out on a river, it is recommended to make a small gift of food and drink so that the wight does not get the idea of choosing its own sacrifice. In Iceland, such water-wights are said to disguise themselves as horses, which are perfectly safe to ride so long as they do not get near open water; if they do, they sink down and drown the rider. Landnámabók (Hauksbók 71) describes what was probably such a creature. Auðun stoti sees an apple-gray horse running over from the lake Hjarðarvatn; he sets the horse to work, and it works so hard that its hooves are sunken to the fetlocks in the field, but after sundown it breaks all its harness and runs back to the lake.
The Scandinavian näck is always male, but havfruen (harbour-maids, mermaids) are known as well. The most famous female water-wight is probably die Lorelei of the Rhine. These women have spae-sight, and can be made to answer questions; in Nibelungenlied, Hagen sees three water-maids bathing in the Danube, and they prophesy to him that all who cross the river must die.
The folk of Hrafnar
Kveldulfr Hagan Gundarsson, from "Wayland the Smith", in Mountain Thunder 2, 3-5.
Alice Karlsdottir, from "Freyja's Necklace", in Mountain Thunder 10, pp. 21-22.