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 Looking for the Hidden Folk | Book by Nancy Marie Brown | Official  Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster

 Reading Nancy Marie Brown's Looking for the Hidden Folk: How Iceland's Elves Can Save the Earth


Why do Icelanders believe in elves?

Finally, a convincing answer.


If, as I did, you come to Nancy Marie Brown's Looking for the Hidden Folk: How Iceland's Elves Can Save the Earth looking for tales of Iceland's huldufólk—the hidden people—you'll be disappointed. Chapter after chapter, you'll think: Ah, now we're going to get to the stories. Chapter after chapter, you'll be wrong.

But don't let that put you off. Chapter after chapter, you'll find that you keep reading anyway. Why?

If tales of elves are what you want, there are plenty of books of those out there. This book, though, is doing something else.

Robert Kirk's The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies was published in 1815. Since then, the English-reading public has seen no book of elvish theory.

Not until now.


Oh, there's no shortage here of elf-tales, to be sure. Many of them will sound familiar. You will have seen many different variations on a few similar themes before: the international press loves stories about Icelandic elfdom.

You know the kind of stories that I mean. The new road necessitates the removal of a boulder said to be the home of an elf. Locals keep warning work-crews that there will be trouble if the boulder is moved, but in the end—after endless break-downs of machinery—the elf-stone is shifted. As predicted, a series of terrible accidents in that particular place ensue.

Finally, the authorities wise up. They replace the boulder and re-route the road. The accidents stop, forthwith.


When it comes to the elves of Iceland, and media stories about them, one can't help but think of the war in Ukraine. When war comes to some Third World place where black or brown people live, well, it's tragic, but that's just how it is.

But when war comes to a First World country and people that look like us—i.e. "white" people—then we feel it personally.

Same with exotic beliefs. When they're held by people of color in some exotic locale, well...that's just what those people do.

But when Icelanders—surely the very whitest of white people—start believing in things like elves, well now: that's press-worthy.


Why, Brown asks, do we privilege some beliefs over others? Why does it seem perfectly ordinary when someone believes in, say, “God,” but weird-ass when they believe in elves?

Surely, this is a question well worth the asking.


For some reason, I'm not the kind of person that gets consulted when they're doing surveys. (Maybe that would change if I started answering calls from numbers that I don't recognize.) But whenever I read the results of surveys, I can't help but ask myself how I would answer these questions.

Usually, my response would be to ask for clarification. Surely we all stand to benefit by a clearer definition of terms.

“Do I believe in elves? Well, that depends. What do you mean by 'elves'? What do you mean by 'believe'?"

That's what Nancy Marie Brown is doing in Looking for the Hidden Folk.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs



“So, what are you doing for Samhain this year?”

At a community pre-Halloween party, I'm talking with a local high priestess. (Witches mostly have other things to do on Halloween itself.) It's not long before I begin to regret my innocent question.

(Welcome to the Irony-Free Zone. What is it about the term “high priestess” that I find so cringe-worthy? Just how self-aggrandizing do we need to be? Isn't “priestess” enough?)

Turns out, the Seelie and Unseelie Courts [sic] have been duking it out recently over at Lakewood Cemetery—territorial disputes, I suppose—and the grand showdown is set for All Hallows' Eve. (Oof, Urban Elves: one of my most un-favorite genres.) Our HPss needs to go in, balance things, I guess.

Oh, my people. There's no one quite like pagans for letting our imaginations run away with us.

I suppose that, if you don't have anywhere better to be, there are worse places to spend the Eve of Samhain than a graveyard. Still, really? The Seelie and Unseelie Courts? In Minnesota?

There's little to her story that's not part of the Lore, I'll admit: inter-seasonal conflict, disputes between kindreds of the Other People, even the choice of a human referee to adjudicate. Surely a witch needs to work her territory, and that actively.

Still, where does reenchantment end, and delusionality begin?

Apparently, she believes what she's telling me. I do not roll my eyes. I do not.

Instead, I wish her luck in the endeavor, and (fortunately for my ability to keep a straight face) the conversation soon veers off in other directions.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
  • Mark Green
    Mark Green says #
    I have heard modern Paganism referred to as "a fantasy fandom, not a religion", and while I think that is really harsh, there are

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

A few days after our Ostara ritual, I finally looked for my stevia-sweetened apple cake to have for breakfast. It was nowhere to be found. I looked in the fridge, multiple times. In the freezer. In the pantry. More puzzling, the pan it was baked it was also missing. Had I eaten it and didn't remember? I looked to see if the pan was put away where my glass pans go. And where they don't go.

I posted about it, messaged people. Looked again. No square glass pan full of my first try at a sugarless version of mom's apple cake, which had turned out quite well. I pouted, and looked again. Checked my messages. My brother suggested making a sacrifice to the faeries.

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Seeing The Shape of Folklore: From Popculture to Source Culture

One of my favourite things to contemplate is the connection between folklore as its found in the living cultures, particularly the Celtic language speaking cultures, and folklore as its manifested in popculture. I have written articles about aspects of this and even presented a paper at the University of Ohio for a conference they had in February of 2019. There are so many diverse factors that influence and shape the way that folklore is preserved within a source culture and the ways that that same material is taken, reshaped, and spread throughout popular culture. 

As I was thinking about this all today, and particularly the ways that popculture reimagines older and existing folklore it reminded me of something. There was a time in Europe when very few of the educated elite there had been to Africa, especially the interior, and so descriptions of animals found there - and more to the point artwork depicting them - were quite fantastical. For example the image with this blog was created by Albrecht Durer in 1515, based on  a written description and rough sketch he had seen although he personally never saw a living (or dead) rhinoceros. 

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Magical Month of Hawthorn

Following the wheel of the year through the Celtic tree calendar, May 13th begins the time of the hawthorn tree and its ogham character Huath. While the tree calendar is a modern construct, it holds meaning because of the concepts it has come to symbolize and the significance it has for twenty-first century magic, ritual, and everyday life.

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  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven says #
    I love Hawthorn, and the one in my backyard is a good 30 feet tall. This year I harvested blossoms and leaves that I'm busy tinctu
Uniting Personal Gnosis and Folklore with Fairies

It's a perennial discussion that goes around online and in-person: how much should we rely on personal gnosis and how much should we look to recorded material and other people's experiences (i.e. folklore)? This is a particularly pertinent question when it comes to those who interact with fairies because of the diversity of understandings that exist in relation to them. There are those who argue in favour of relying solely on personal experiences and those who reject the idea of modern experiences entirely, and some who advocate different balances of the two. I used to think balance was the ideal approach myself, but as I've thought about it I've come to a different view.

Folklore is an essential groundwork for anyone, in my opinion, who wants to understand the Good People. Whatever culture we happen to be talking about looking at the accumulated material that has been collected to describe previous people's experiences with and beliefs around fairies is enormously helpful in building our own understanding. Such folklore represents a valuable corpus of belief going back countless generations that can be relied on to teach us how to safely interact with Otherworldly beings, what to expect in different circumstances, and show us various outcomes of previous encounters. In short, immersing in this folklore means we don't have to learn all the hard lessons (hopefully) all over again for ourselves because we can look back to other people's previous experiences to help guide us.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Finding Fairies in Grimoires - Part 2

Last time we looked at the female fairies which appear in the grimoire material; this time I thought we'd look at one of the main Fairy Kings that appears in the grimoires, Oberon. 

Oberon first appears in a French romance called Huon de Bordeaux in the 15th century and a hundred years later in Shakespeare's a Midsummer Night's Dream (Harm, Clark, & Peterson, 2015; Briggs, 1976). His description between the two accounts is very different however: in the 15th century account he is a king of the fairies but his form is that of a 3 year old child although he is still a very powerful being, in Shakespeare he is an adult in appearance and his form is taller. In Huon of Bordeaux Oberon is described as beautiful even though he is small and deformed, and he appears wearing a glowing, jeweled gown. His physical description is not given in Shakespeare but his power and temperament are intense and he is described as a lover of mortal women.  

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