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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.[1] Modern diagnoses might include rheumatism, arthritis, muscle stitches or cramps. Similar concepts existed in other northern European cultures.

Elf-shot, associated with "elf arrows", neolithic flint arrowheads sometimes used as amulets,[2] was one of the hints Tolkien used to create his Elves.[3]

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.[4] It was associated both with neolithic flint arrowheads and the temptations of the devil.[3]

Belief in, or mentions of, elfshot persisted into the 20th century,[5] in Scotland, though more modern elves seem to have concentrated their attentions on animals.[6] 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.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Electric Scotland. "Scottish Charms and Amulets" Elf-Arrows
  3. ^ a b Shippey, Tom (2005) [1982]. The Road to Middle-Earth (Third ed.). HarperCollins. pp. 66–74. ISBN 978-0261102750.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ a b "Charm Against a Sudden Stitch". Heorot. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  6. ^ The Fairy Folk attack!, Orkneyjar