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Author Topic: Folklore: "Elemental Spirits" by Heinrich Heine  (Read 5127 times)

Faemon

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Folklore: "Elemental Spirits" by Heinrich Heine
« on: August 22, 2014, 12:36:11 pm »
So, I was also raised by a ballerina, so of course I know the ballet Giselle and the Willis, I think the story is interesting to interpret, and I found a copy of the text that inspired the ballet, "Elementargeister" by Heinrich Heine which is an essay about folklore.

I had it translated by Google, so my reading was patchy, but I did find what I was looking for in a passage about the Austrian "Wilis" that were originally Slavic and that was interesting.

However, I also read something odd another passage where Heine asserted that Elves weren't German, were originally Irish or French (no mention of Icelandic mythology), and that in Germany what were called "Elves" were actually...witches?

That's...news to me. Haven't read that in Keightley's books. Is that Google's fault, or is this just a snapshot of some variances of folklore at the time, or is Heine "just" a poet/essayist/critic and not necessarily a mythologist or folklorist?

Or is there really a consideration for the commonality between witches and leves, which I can understand, too--I mean, the word "eldritch" has been used on both.
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Re: Folklore: "Elemental Spirits" by Heinrich Heine
« Reply #1 on: August 22, 2014, 03:32:05 pm »
Quote from: Faemon;156923
I found a copy of the text that inspired the ballet, "Elementargeister" by Heinrich Heine which is an essay about folklore.


Heine is talking about the fact that the German-language poetic literary tradition of elves owes more to British Isles sources than to native Germanic/Scandinavian ones. He's right that central/northern Europe doesn't really have the same traditions of noble, courtly elves. Elves/fairies in Germanic/Scandinavian lore and legend are pretty much entirely dangerous/malevolent--there really isn't the same kind of folk record of positive elf/human interaction as exists in the British Isles.

Like, British/Irish fairies/elves are always chancy and it's always best to be careful, but there's also a strong tradition of fairies who will help you if you deserve it, backed up by the combined folk/literary traditions of courtly fairies who, much like human nobles, could be capricious or cruel but could also be appealed to. This is why Titania and Spenser's Faerie Queen are mentioned; you could also add in the stories about Ossian and Thomas the Rhymer, etc. There's also the link with, as he says, the French/British/Celtic stories of King Arthur and his court, which were influenced by, and subsequently influenced, existing fairy lore.

But German/Scandinavian elves don't have those sorts of traditions attached to them in the folklore: Heine argues that anytime you see that stuff in this area, it's a literary influence from Britain/Ireland or France. Most recorded Germanic and Scandinavian folk traditions of elves and fairies show them as hostile and malevolent: you have huldrfolk, mermaids, Alps, etc., all of whom it's very dangerous to encounter. Although there's a strong tradition of romantic/seductive elvenfolk, as there is in the British Isles, in German/Scandinavian sources it almost always ends very badly for the human. (In Britain and Ireland, positive or neutral outcomes are not guaranteed, but common enough in the lore.)

Hence the comment about elves and witches: there are like, roughly a gazillion folk explanations for "why fairies/elves exist" in every place that has them, and the belief that fairies were "the unholy spawn of witches" is not unknown; in German lands, given the nature of elves/fairies there, it's not surprising that elves were elided with witches/demons. Elsewhere, they get elided with the dead, fallen angels, old gods, etc.

Heine was writing in 1837. About a century later, Vladimir Propp would point out that in fairy tales/wonder tales/magic tales (such as in the Grimms' collection), it doesn't seem to matter much, in a fairy tale, WHAT the villain is: a witch, a malevolent fairy (i.e., in the Grimms' "The Water-Nixie"), an ogre, a stepmother, the Devil himself--they all seem to have the same powers (that is, whatever the story requires), and there's usually no specific power fairies have that isn't also theoretically available to witches or ogres or stepmothers. (Well, the Devil can take people to Hell, but Hell in these stories isn't much different than any other villain's lair; also, the Devil can be helpful as well.) The point being, fairies in Germanic tradition are much more consistently slotted into the narrative roles of "villains" than they are in stories from the British Isles--and that makes sense, given the fact that there's not the same kind of folklore about benevolent/neutral fairies there.

A note about the Grimms' "The Elves and the Shoemaker": this is one of the few German stories that features helpful elves in the British/Irish mold. But Heine's point still stands, that the noble, courtly, benevolent fairies are more likely an import from British/Irish/French sources.

Again, Heine was writing in 1837, and my German isn't so hot. :D But that's basically what he's saying, and he's not really wrong, from what I know of fairy lore.
« Last Edit: August 22, 2014, 03:33:32 pm by catja6 »

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Re: Folklore: "Elemental Spirits" by Heinrich Heine
« Reply #2 on: August 27, 2014, 11:01:10 pm »
Elves have been a part of human society for a long time. They're a supernatural people with abilities to hide and be made invisible. Some are often linked to families and places.

Originally the word "elf" is from Old English, and Old Norse word "alfr" and Old proto German "alp". These words mean "nightmare", "evil spirit" and "white".

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Re: Folklore: "Elemental Spirits" by Heinrich Heine
« Reply #3 on: August 27, 2014, 11:29:36 pm »
Quote from: BlueFire;157336
Elves have been a part of human society for a long time. They're a supernatural people with abilities to hide and be made invisible. Some are often linked to families and places.

Originally the word "elf" is from Old English, and Old Norse word "alfr" and Old proto German "alp". These words mean "nightmare", "evil spirit" and "white".

 
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Faemon

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Re: Folklore: "Elemental Spirits" by Heinrich Heine
« Reply #4 on: August 28, 2014, 02:44:21 am »
Quote from: BlueFire;157336
Elves have been a part of human society for a long time. They're a supernatural people with abilities to hide and be made invisible. Some are often linked to families and places.


Within human society there are regional variations, I gathered. I think I read from Keightley how the attitudes of beings called trolls changed with region, like in one place the lore has them attracted to the sound of bells whilst in another they can't abide it.

Quote
Originally the word "elf" is from Old English, and Old Norse word "alfr" and Old proto German "alp". These words mean "nightmare", "evil spirit" and "white".


I gathered that it had something to do with that. Interesting point about the word history, though. Would Svart√°lfar be a philological contradiction in terms, then?
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Re: Folklore: "Elemental Spirits" by Heinrich Heine
« Reply #5 on: August 28, 2014, 03:25:53 am »
Quote from: BlueFire;157336
Elves have been a part of human society for a long time. They're a supernatural people with abilities to hide and be made invisible. Some are often linked to families and places.

Originally the word "elf" is from Old English, and Old Norse word "alfr" and Old proto German "alp". These words mean "nightmare", "evil spirit" and "white".

 

Depends on what part of the world one is in.

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Re: Folklore: "Elemental Spirits" by Heinrich Heine
« Reply #6 on: August 28, 2014, 10:47:04 am »
Quote from: catja6;156930
Heine is talking about the fact that the German-language poetic literary tradition of elves owes more to British Isles sources than to native Germanic/Scandinavian ones....


I need a "like" button for this informative post (as we have come to expect from Catja). I also need a "Summon Catja" button so I can blip her in for all questions of folklore. (I'll trade you for a "Summon Altair" button for any bird questions.)
The first song sets the wheel in motion / The second is a song of love / The third song tells of Her devotion / The fourth cries joy from the sky above
The fifth song binds our fate to silence / and bids us live each moment well / The sixth unleashes rage and violence / The seventh song has truth to tell
The last song echoes through the ages / to ask its question all night long / And close the circle on these pages / These, the metamythos songs

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Re: Folklore: "Elemental Spirits" by Heinrich Heine
« Reply #7 on: August 28, 2014, 01:23:38 pm »
Quote from: Altair;157392
I need a "like" button for this informative post (as we have come to expect from Catja). I also need a "Summon Catja" button so I can blip her in for all questions of folklore. (I'll trade you for a "Summon Altair" button for any bird questions.)

 
Aw, thank you. :D And I would love a "summon Altair" button as well!

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Re: Folklore: "Elemental Spirits" by Heinrich Heine
« Reply #8 on: August 28, 2014, 01:35:29 pm »
Quote from: Faemon;156923

That's...news to me. Haven't read that in Keightley's books. Is that Google's fault, or is this just a snapshot of some variances of folklore at the time, or is Heine "just" a poet/essayist/critic and not necessarily a mythologist or folklorist?


 
I realized I forgot to address this. :) Basically: yes, he was "just" a poet/essayist/critic, in that unlike the Grimms he didn't have serious academic credentials in the areas of philology or history (which were the primary fields from which folklorists sprang during that period).  However, it's worth noting that the Grimms were really the ones who more-or-less started "professionalizing" the discipline; much of the important and influential work of folklore observation/collecting/interpreting had been done, and would continue to be done into the early 20th century, by amateurs. Heine was an "amateur", but that didn't, at the time, mean that his work wouldn't be taken seriously--Clemens Brentano, an earlier writer/poet/essayist, had a big impact on the development of folklore studies (mainly as someone the Grimms were reacting AGAINST, but still).

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Re: Folklore: "Elemental Spirits" by Heinrich Heine
« Reply #9 on: August 28, 2014, 06:55:00 pm »
Quote from: Altair;157392
I need a "like" button for this informative post (as we have come to expect from Catja). I also need a "Summon Catja" button so I can blip her in for all questions of folklore. (I'll trade you for a "Summon Altair" button for any bird questions.)

 
There is always the "add to a user's reputation" button:whis:


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Re: Folklore: "Elemental Spirits" by Heinrich Heine
« Reply #10 on: August 29, 2014, 01:06:07 am »
Quote from: Melamphoros;157484
There is always the "add to a user's reputation" button:whis:

"You must spread some Reputation around before giving it to catja6 again."

Sigh.

Quote from: catja6;157407
Quote from: Faemon;156923
That's...news to me. Haven't read that in Keightley's books. Is that Google's fault, or is this just a snapshot of some variances of folklore at the time, or is Heine "just" a poet/essayist/critic and not necessarily a mythologist or folklorist?
I realized I forgot to address this. :) Basically: yes, he was "just" a poet/essayist/critic, in that unlike the Grimms he didn't have serious academic credentials in the areas of philology or history (which were the primary fields from which folklorists sprang during that period).  However, it's worth noting that the Grimms were really the ones who more-or-less started "professionalizing" the discipline; much of the important and influential work of folklore observation/collecting/interpreting had been done, and would continue to be done into the early 20th century, by amateurs. Heine was an "amateur", but that didn't, at the time, mean that his work wouldn't be taken seriously--Clemens Brentano, an earlier writer/poet/essayist, had a big impact on the development of folklore studies (mainly as someone the Grimms were reacting AGAINST, but still).

Bretano versus Grimm Brothers. I've got to see that.
« Last Edit: August 29, 2014, 01:08:32 am by Faemon »
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Re: Folklore: "Elemental Spirits" by Heinrich Heine
« Reply #11 on: August 29, 2014, 02:44:15 am »
Quote from: Faemon;157549

 
Bretano versus Grimm Brothers. I've got to see that.

 
Hee, thanks!

And Brentano vs. Grimms is super-interesting! It gets at some of the early tensions which helped formulate the discipline. Basically, before the Grimms came along, folklore studies was called "popular antiquities" (in English), and was the realm of random people with an interest in popular stories and customs; there were learned societies set up for people interested in this stuff, many of whom were not, like, university professors--the "superstitious nonsense of peasants" wasn't a respectable area of study. most early folklorists were writers, journalists, or clergymen. Keightley was a journalist/writer, as was Sir Walter Scott; William Thoms, who coined the English term "folklore," was a hospital clerk. The Grimms basically made the study of peasant stuff an acceptable thing for academics to do, for a couple reasons. One, their work, particularly Jacob's Teutonic mythology was such a monumental work of scholarship that even the worst snobs were impressed. And two, they were building upon ideas and concepts whose time had come--presaged by people like Brentano.

In the late 18th century, Romanticism encouraged writers, poets and artists to look to the pagan past--not the "civilized" Greeks and Romans whose works underpinned the rationalist philosophies of the Enlightenment, but the "wild" "barbaric" and therefore more Romantic paganisms of Northern and Eastern Europe. This allied with new political ideals of revolution and self-determination, to become Romantic nationalism--the idea that states garner their legitimacy from an organic, essentialist "unity" of spirit of the people being governed. (It's super-important that folklore studies as we know it was basically developed by people in places like Ireland and Finland--which were governed by a foreign power and were agitating for freedom--or in groups of city-states like what became Germany and Italy, where many of the folklorists (notably the Grimms) were actively arguing that they should BE countries.) Folklore collection and scholarship became a way of arguing for the unique spirit--the Volksgeist--of a given group of people.

Big, influential writers and philosophers like Goethe and JG Herder were advocating these ideas in the late 18th-early 19th century. So Brentano, and his buddy Achim Von Arnim, published a book of German folk ballads called Des Knaben Wunderhorn. However, they significantly tarted up the material they collected, stripping it of its "low-class" character and making things far more literary and elegant. This was pretty common--Bishop Percy's 1765 collection of English folk ballads did the same thing. But for the Grimms, this was missing the whole point--they WANTED that rustic peasant authenticity. They argued that the attention paid to peasant stuff should be scholarly, and be about uncovering that Volksgeist; they advocated for taking stories down straight from the mouths of storytellers, and making minimal alterations. So the Brentano/Archim stuff, while they respected it as an important precursor, was what the Grimms argued we SHOULDN'T be doing.

(Of course, what the Grimms SAID and what they DID are wildly different: the fairy tale collection went through 7 editions from 1812-1857, and Wilhelm in particular made gazillions of big and small changes to stories to bring them in line with middle-class attitudes and tastes. A big chunk of scholarship on the tales is about tracing the editorial changes; English speakers will be able to see for themselves, when Jack Zipes's translation of the first edition of 1812/15 comes out next year.)

If you're interested in this stuff about the history of the field of folklore, a really good book is Regina Bendix's In Search of Authenticity.

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Re: Folklore: "Elemental Spirits" by Heinrich Heine
« Reply #12 on: August 29, 2014, 03:01:28 am »
Quote from: catja6;157551
.


Also, forgot to add: this stuff--Romantic nationalism and the development of folklore studies--is basically THE primary underpinning of the eventual pagan revival. Even for Greek and Roman paganisms--the Renaissance and 18th c PhilHellenism made it acceptable to love their stuff (with proper caveats in place about how it was a shame they didn't know the ~True God). but Romanticism a) made "barbarism" cool, b) made resistance to existing authority of church and state cool, c) valorized the perceived "semi-pagan" people against the sneering urban sophisticates of the Establishment, d) championed local folk culture over the urban-centric universalism of Christianity, and e) legitimized intense emotional responses, which are necessary for a proper religious movement. (It's worth noting that modern Christian fundamentalisms got their start during this same period--different side, same coin.)

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Re: Folklore: "Elemental Spirits" by Heinrich Heine
« Reply #13 on: August 29, 2014, 03:06:49 am »
Quote from: catja6;157551
In the late 18th century, Romanticism encouraged writers, poets and artists to look to the pagan past--not the "civilized" Greeks and Romans whose works underpinned the rationalist philosophies of the Enlightenment, but the "wild" "barbaric" and therefore more Romantic paganisms of Northern and Eastern Europe. This allied with new political ideals of revolution and self-determination, to become Romantic nationalism--the idea that states garner their legitimacy from an organic, essentialist "unity" of spirit of the people being governed. (It's super-important that folklore studies as we know it was basically developed by people in places like Ireland and Finland--which were governed by a foreign power and were agitating for freedom--or in groups of city-states like what became Germany and Italy, where many of the folklorists (notably the Grimms) were actively arguing that they should BE countries.) Folklore collection and scholarship became a way of arguing for the unique spirit--the Volksgeist--of a given group of people.


I was reading a lot last fall on the emergence of and transference between the U.K. and Germany of  the Gothic literature form (Walpole, Radcliffe et al). Your mention of the embracing of the wild and 'pagan' was much spoken of in the books  I read and I wonder if the rising of this new form had an effect on the analysis and/or preference for certain 'styles' of folklore at this time or whether the borrowing was all on one side? Did the embedding of the Romantic folkloric tropes *within* this new narrative form create a heightened taste and curiosity for folklore itself?
« Last Edit: August 29, 2014, 03:07:29 am by carillion »

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Re: Folklore: "Elemental Spirits" by Heinrich Heine
« Reply #14 on: August 29, 2014, 06:08:55 am »
Quote from: Melamphoros;157484
There is always the "add to a user's reputation" button:whis:


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The first song sets the wheel in motion / The second is a song of love / The third song tells of Her devotion / The fourth cries joy from the sky above
The fifth song binds our fate to silence / and bids us live each moment well / The sixth unleashes rage and violence / The seventh song has truth to tell
The last song echoes through the ages / to ask its question all night long / And close the circle on these pages / These, the metamythos songs

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