In Norse mythology, Dökkálfar (Old Norse "Dark Elves", singular Dökkálfr) and Ljósálfar (Old Norse "Light Elves", singular Ljósálfr) are two contrasting types of elves; the prior dwell within the earth and are most swarthy, while the latter live in Álfheimr, located in heaven, and are "fairer than the sun to look at". The Dökkálfar and the Ljósálfar are solely attested in the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson. Scholars have produced theories about the origin and implications of the dualistic concept.
In the Prose Edda, the Dökkálfar and the Ljósálfar are attested in chapter 17 of the book Gylfaginning. In the chapter, Gangleri (the king Gylfi in disguise) asks the enthroned figure of High what other "chief centres" there are in the heavens outside of the spring Urðarbrunnr. Gangleri responds that there are many fine places in heaven, including a place called Álfheimr (Old Norse "Elf Home" or "Elf World"). High says that the Ljósálfar live in Álfheimr, while the Dökkálfar dwell underground and look—and particularly behave—quite unlike the Ljósálfar. High describes the Ljósálfar as "fairer than the sun to look at", while the Dökkálfar are "blacker than pitch".
Theories and interpretations
As the concept is only recorded in Gylfaginning, it is unclear whether the distinction between the two types of elves was a creation of Snorri, and/or whether or not the distinction is a result of Christian influence by way of importation of the concept of angels. An argument against the angel theory is that the idea of "dark" and "light" aspects of the same beings is not inherently unlikely, death and fertility cults often being closely related.
Scholar John Lindow comments that whether or not the Dökkálfar and the svartálfar (Old Norse "swart elves" or "black elves")—whom scholars have commented appear simply to be dwarfs—were considered the same at the time of the writing of the Prose Edda is unclear.
- ^ Faulkes (1995:19-20).
- ^ Simek (2007:56).
- ^ Lindow (2001:110).