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Neolithic flint arrowheads, believed to be elf arrows, were sometimes used as talismans.[1]
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Elfshot or elf-shot is a medical condition once believed to be caused by invisible elves shooting invisible arrows – elf arrows[a]Also known as fairy arrows, fairy darts and fairy stones.[1] – at a person or animal, described in Anglo-Saxon medical texts, notably the 11th-century Lacnunga.[2] Illness could take the form of a sudden seizure or paralysis, cramping, or most distinctively a sudden internal shooting pain, without any clear cause.[1] The Lacnunga‘s charm “Against a sudden stitch”, meant to treat elfshot and involving the herbs feverfew, nettle and plantain, each of which has spear-shaped leaves,[3] suggests a belief in the power of sympathetic magicThe Law of sympathy, the basis of all magic according to the anthropologist and folklorist Sir James George Frazer, is founded on the idea that things act on each other because they are linked by invisible and secret bonds..

Elf arrows appear in Irish and Scottish folklore, used by both fairies and witches.[1] In her extensive confessions given over four days in 1662, the Scottish witch Isobel GowdieIsobel Gowdie was accused of witchcraft in 1662; she was likely executed although that is uncertain. Her detailed testimony provides one of the most comprehensive insights into European witchcraft folklore at the end of the era of witch-hunts. claimed that she had visited the elf-hills where she had seen elf-boys finishing off arrows under the direction of the Devil.[4] The arrows were then allocated to witches with instructions that they were to be fired in his name; no bows were supplied so the arrows were flicked by thumb.[5]

Over time elf arrows became associated with Neolithic flint arrowheads, and to many it was considered lucky to find one on the ground.[6]

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Citations



Bibliography


Briggs, Katherine Mary. An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogeys and Other Supernatural Creatures. Pantheon Books, 1976.
Daimler, Morgan. A New Dictionary of Fairies: A 21st Century Edition. Ebook, Moon Books, 2020.
Drout, Michael D. C. J.R.R. Tolkein Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. Routledge, 2007.
Jolly, Karen Louise. “Elves in the Psalms? The Experience of Evil From a Cosmic Perspective.” The Devil, Heresy & Witchcraft in the Middle Ages: Essays in Honour of Jeffrey B. Russell, edited by Alberto Ferreiro, Brill, 1998, pp. 19–44.
Pitcairn, Robert. Ancient Criminal Trials in Scotland, Vol III, Part II. Bannatyne Club, 1833.
Shippey, Tom. The Road to Middle-Earth. HarperCollins, 2005.