Elfshot or elf-shot is a medical condition described in Anglo-Saxon medical texts, notably Wið færstice, and believed to be caused by invisible elves shooting invisible arrows at a person or animal, causing sudden shooting pains localised to a particular area of the body. Modern diagnoses might include rheumatism, arthritis, muscle stitches or cramps. Similar concepts existed in other northern European cultures.
The Old English spell Gif hors ofscoten sie, "if a horse is elf-shot", meaning some kind of internal injury, may be an allusion to magical elfshot. However, the term aelfsogoða, which describes the internal pain from jaundice or a disorder of bile, is perhaps a more suitable fit. The notion of an elf causing the pain by shooting an arrow is not supported in the sources, although there is evidence of belief that a pain could be caused by an elf, with a possibility of a charm being used for exorcism. It was associated both with neolithic flint arrowheads and the temptations of the devil.
Belief in, or mentions of, elfshot persisted into the 20th century, in Scotland, though more modern elves seem to have concentrated their attentions on animals. In rural areas country folk would sometimes find small arrowheads (the remains of Neolithic or Mesolithic flints, or naturally occurring spear-shaped stones). The prevention or curing of elfshot comes from using a charm against the sudden stitch; the three plants used in the cure are feverfew, red nettles and waybread. All have vaguely spear-shaped leaves, which may have suggested their use as a remedy for pains attributed to elf-arrows.
- Jolly, Karen Louise (1998). "Elves in the Psalms?". The Devil, Heresy and Witchcraft in the Middle Ages: Essays in Honour of Jefferey B. Russell. Brill. p. 19. ISBN 9004106103.
- Electric Scotland. "Scottish Charms and Amulets" Elf-Arrows
- Shippey, Tom (2005) . The Road to Middle-Earth (Third ed.). HarperCollins. pp. 66–74. ISBN 978-0261102750.
- Hall, Alaric (2005). "Calling the shots: the Old English remedy gif hors ofscoten sie and Anglo-Saxon 'elf-shot'". Neuphilologische Mitteilungen: Bulletin of the Modern Language Society. 106 (2): 195–209. JSTOR 43344130.
- "Charm Against a Sudden Stitch". Heorot. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
- The Fairy Folk attack!, Orkneyjar