Wicked dreams, teary eyes, and salty noses: Elvish pathologies and folkloric exorcisms from medieval germanic europe

Pp. 29-58

  • Karel Fraaije
Keywords: elves, exorcism, medievel charms, folklore, manuscripts, disease names


Medieval sources preserve a significant number of verbal remedies against elves and comparable beings. Similarly, a substantial number of manuscripts include references to pathologies named after elvish entities. The argument presented here explores the multivalent relationships between folkloric afflictions and performative texts that claim to expel folkloric characters. Specifically, this article concentrates on unpacking the various interpretative implications of elf exorcisms, and it refers to several newly discovered medieval sources. The most significant conclusion it presents is that the lexicon that past individuals used to designate elvish pathologies emerged from complicated linguistic and literary processes and that the variability of symptoms and conditions for which texts contra elphos were used seems to have been inspired in part by the fact that people did not always conceptualise the behaviour of elves in the same way. The argument also considers the views of authors who commented on contemporary beliefs regarding folkloric illnesses and ailments, as well as some sources that shed light on the relationship between popular beliefs and Christian worldviews.

Author Biography

Karel Fraaije

Karel Fraaije, University College London. He specialised in incantations from
the early medieval period, concentrating specifically on texts recorded in West
Germanic vernaculars. His main objective of research is to offer a clearer understanding
of how illocutionary genres such as charms and prayers can throw
light on the intersections and the overlaps in the histories of magic, literature,
religion, and medical science.