Ghost Story: The Midwife Of The Elves - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Ghost Story: The Midwife Of The Elves

Ghost Story: The Midwife Of The Elves

Published September 6, 2017

Main photo by
Arngrímur Sigurðsson

As many of our readers know, Iceland has Celtic roots. In addition to bringing over a lot of the myths and legends of the Norse people, Icelanders also borrowed Celtic folktales, amongst other things. The story of the Midwife of the Elves is a great example of this early cultural appropriation.

The story tells of a poor midwife, who was one night awakened and summoned by an elf to her home in a hill. There, she was brought to a high-ranking elf in labour, and was asked to help with the delivery of her baby. She did so, successfully, and the elves were very grateful. So grateful, in fact, that they gave the midwife a gift: they put a special ointment over one of her eyes, enabling her to see “the hidden world” with that eye wherever she went. There was just one catch, and that was that she must never tell a soul about her new ability.

You can see where this is going. One day many years later, she spilled the beans when she encountered an elf and let on that she could see her. The elf asked, “With which eye were you able to see me?” The midwife indicated which eye, and the elf prompted poked her in that eye, hard enough to render her blind for good.

Many Icelanders know this story or variations of it, but it can also be found in Ireland and England. The story is very old, and in fairness, there is really no way to know who was first to tell it. It is possible Icelanders “borrowed” the story from one of their Irish slaves. It is also possible that Norse people who settled in Gaelic regions brought the story with them. Either way, it’s a very creepy cautionary tale about gratitude, and minding your own damn business.

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