Of Aelfs and Angels

"We beseech thee, O Lord, Pour thy grace into our hearts; that, as we have known the Incarnation of thy Son Jesus Christ by the message of an angel.."

 

So starts the final verse of the well known Angelus.  But what is an Angel and what do they have to do with Elfs, or Aelfs, as we spell the word.

 

The Biblical Angel

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The word 'angel' itself is Greek in origin, and means 'messenger', 'announce' or 'proclaim'.  Angels are not unique to Christianity, being acknowledged by Jews and Muslims too.  All three of these religions see them as celestial beings that act as messengers for God.  Their role is to communicate or carry out the will of God for both individuals or whole nations.  In the Old Testament, God is actually represented as the 'Angel of Yahweh'.  Individual Angels are entrusted with God's will for humankind and form part of the glorious heavenly host who continually worship and praise him. 

 

In the New Testament, Angels intervene in human affairs several times to make important announcements.  The most famous of these is the announcement of the Incarnation, remembered in the 'Angelus'.  It was also two Angels who were present at Christ's empty tomb and announced his resurrection.

 

They do not always appear to us directly.  They can play a role in making God's will known to humankind through prophecy and dreams.  The final days of the world as we know it were supposedly 'revealed' to John in a dream and Angels play a key role both as messengers and as agents of God's will.  Whilst the English Folk Church is sceptical of the relevance of this book to our own understanding of these events, it does serve to show how Angels are perceived as being able to intervene directly in human affairs as well as indirectly through prophetical dreams.

 

Angels play an important role in helping us overcome difficulties in our daily lives and our spiritual journey.  They came to both Peter and Paul in dreams, helping them during periods of persecution.  Jesus himself was helped by them as he fought the temptations of the devil during his forty days in the wilderness.  This understanding of Angels has developed over the years to a belief that they help us in our everyday lives, warning us of dangers and supporting us when we die, although the Bible does not actually support this view.  We shall come back to this later.

 

When we think of Angels, we think of 'good' beings, clothed in white robes and bathed in golden light.  They are heavenly beings who guide us to heaven when we die and look after us.  But not all Angels are 'good', although we don't usually call them Angels as such.  The opposite of an Angel is a demon. These are seen as forces of darkness, of the devil rather than of God.  However, demons are in many respects the picture image of Angels - Angels 'who have gone wrong'.  Lucifer himself is a fallen Angel, once one of God's favourites according to tradition.

 

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Aelfe

 

So what does this have to do with Aelfs?  Well, in many ways our ancestors understood Angels well before they had heard of Jesus.  The EFC believes that the All Father or High God created many different kinds of spiritual beings, including those we call gods and goddesses, Elfs and Wights.  The distinction between them is not always as clear as we might think.  Ing Frey, for instance, is seen as both a god and Aelfe.  But these spirit beings were created for a purpose, often to look after us as individuals and as a folk group.  They can act as a bridge between ourselves and All Father.  As such they are worthy of praise, though are not to be elevated to the same position as All Father, the Creator.  The Hindu and Zoroastrian religions, for instance, have a similar belief system.  Hinduism teaches that there are a great variety of benevolent, angelic like beings called Devas.  This word is derived from an Indo-European word meaning ‘celestial’ or ‘shining’.  It is cognate with our modern word ‘deity’, although the Devas are but manifestait0ons of the one God.  Zoroastrianism has a similar concept in which Ahura Mazda creates, or emanates, from himself a number of Amesha Spenta or Holy Immortals who are each an aspect or hypostasis of the creator.  The Holy immortals are themselves assisted by various lesser divine beings, the Yazata – or ‘those worthy of worship’. 

 

 

Our ‘folk’ understanding of Angels has always been more than their ‘official’ role as messengers and the reason for this is that our pre-Christian beliefs of these spirit beings never really went away and was simply grafted onto the Judeao-Christian view of Angels.  

 

Light Aelfs

 

The Anglo-Saxons saw the cosmos in terms of seven different worlds, each existing in the same time and space but in different dimensions of reality.  Our Norse cousins saw things in much the same way, though they divided the cosmos into nine worlds.  However, what is important here is that they all saw the Universe as being composed of different levels of reality, sometimes known as the Multiverse.Although there are different views as to exactly how these seven worlds were seen, we know that at least two were inhabited by Aelfs.  The first is the realm of the 'Light Aelfs'.  This realm is more spiritually advanced than our own, its inhabitants closer to God.  They are therefore 'higher order' beings than humans.  People would have been conscious of the existence of Aelfs in their daily lives because it was thought that they can easily slip between the different worlds.  They were seen as the spirits of features of the natural world such as woods, streams, rocks and fields.  They were left offerings of food, drink and other gifts.  Indeed, Frea and his sister Freo were seen as the Lord and Lady of the natural world as well as being King and Queen of the Aelfs. We still have the tradition of throwing money into a 'wishing well' and of 'well dressing' as a folk memory of these traditions.  In Sweden, this tradition grew into a full scale communal ceremony known as the 'Alfablot' or 'sacrifice to the Elfs'.  The Aelfs were not remote spirits, they were real and tangible.  People saw them as friends and companions, part of their human world and guides to the next.  Many in Iceland still see the Aelfe in this way – even if they are not regular Church goers.

 

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Neither are they ephemeral spirits.  They have real bodies and a human like appearance.  Light Aelfs were seen as beautiful and glowing with an inner beauty and goodness. To call a woman 'Aelf-like' was the highest compliment she could be paid.  As a higher order being than ourselves, they represent everything that is more beautiful, more spiritual and more advanced in all ways than ourselves.  They can be seen as what we are intended to evolve into when we leave this world on our journey towards union with God.  In this sense, we have another understanding of Angels that is derived from our ancient folk customs rather than the pages of the Bible.  This is that we humans can become Angels after death - we get our wings as they say.  These are not the ghosts and spirits of dead humans trapped in this world, but beings in their own right.

 

As higher order beings, Aelfs also have a more advanced state of consciousness and intellect than ourselves.  Indeed, when these qualities are particularly evident in humans, it can be a sign that people are closer to the Aelfs than most of the rest of us.  Our ancestors often used the word Aelf in their names to convey this idea.  For instance, that traditional English name 'Alfred' literally means having the 'rede' or 'wisdom' of the Aelfs.  We must not forget that the divine is not just external to us, but also a part of us.  In this sense, our higher consciousness and intellect is that part of us more connected to the world of the Aelfs.  It is this we seek to develop and take with us into what we call the after life.

 

The Dark Elves or Deorc Aelfe

Not all Aelfs are 'good' though.  As with 'dark angels', so there are also 'dark aelfs'.  These inhabit a separate world considered less advanced than our own. Indeed, if Aelfham itself is a goal for us to reach in terms of spiritual advancement, so the world of the dark aelfs represents a step backwards on our journey.  Neither are dark Aelfs particularly friendly to humans.  Our ancestors thought them responsible for many human ailments.  In both Christian and Heathen times they had charms to counter the effects of 'Aelfshot' which they believed was a poison literally shot into us with a bow and arrow.  Thus are Aelfs represented in this way to our modern world.  Indeed, our ancestors believed that dark aelfs could 'possess' a human body, causing illness and madness. Healing was often seen as a spiritual battle fought out between the shaman and the dark Aelf for control of an individual's body.  This has obvious parallels with the Christian ideas of possession by demons.  Whilst it is impossible to tell how far these ideas were influenced by Christianity, or indeed, themselves influenced Christianity, it seems likely they were features of our folk's religious ideas well before Jesus walked the earth.

 

The Faecce and The Guardian Angel

This brings us to the subject of our Guardian Angel.  Although, traditional Christianity teaches that Angels may help us in certain situations, there is nothing to suggest that each one of us has a personal Guardian Angel.  And yet this is one of our strongest day to day beliefs in Angels.  This is because the concept of a personal Guardian Angel is not Christian in origin, but goes way back deep in our ancestral folk religion.  This tradition teaches that we all have a personal guardian spirit, known in Old English as our Faecce (pronounced Fetcha) or Fylgia in the Norse tradition.

The Faecce is both a separate entity in its own right and part of our own make-up.  In spiritual terms, it joins to us at birth and separates at death - but always remaining close to us.  It inhabits both the spiritual world and our own human world.  It is able to see the emerging patterns of Wyrd's web and is therefore able to warn us of dangers ahead and even offer us a measure of protection.  It communicates with us at a deep sub-conscious level, perhaps giving rise to a 'feeling' that something should be avoided, that something is not right or that we should be doing something.  Our Faecce remains with us, even after death.  Indeed, this is the first time that most of us will become conscious of it. It prepares a way for us through the primordial world and acts as an advocate for us at the time of judgement.

 

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Traditionally, the Faecce is represented as some form of animal spirit that has association with our own character and psyche.  Our ancestors were often named after an animal they most associated with, or their parents associated them with.  Wolf and Bear were the most common and signified the person had the spirit of that animal - not just that they had its characteristics.  Indeed, Beowulf had the spirit of both bear and wolf!  Although not the subject of this article, this form of animism is well documented in our northern literature.  The Norse saga of King Hrolf Kraki, for instance, tells us the story of the warrior hero 'Bodvar Bjarki' who appears in battle as a great bear whilst his mortal body lays safely asleep.  This tale is generally believed to be related in source to that of Beowulf itself.  Indeed, the idea of the invincible 'bear warrior' probably lies behind the berserker tradition.

 

Indeed, the Lady Freo is portrayed in mythology as being able to shape shift into animal forms and is the patron of cats.  From this, the medieval Church drew stories of Mary the Mother of God being associated with cats.  Unfortunately, later Christians associated this with 'evil' witchcraft and to this day witches are seen as having cats as 'familiars'.  This is a far cry from a true understanding of our Faecce and a gross corruption of an extremely important and personal part of our folk religion.  This dreadful representation of our noble spirit guide must in time be fought against.

 

These stories are relevant to our consideration of Angel, Aelfs and Faecce though.  The Faecce is our animistic spirit guide - our Guardian Angel.  As a spirit of the natural world, it can at least in some ways be seen as a Light Aelf.  Through our understanding of the Faecce, we can begin to understand how the spiritual world is both within us and around us at the same time.  It is our closest spiritual friend - one we should honour and seek to come closer to through meditation.

 

 

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