The Origin of Underground People

Legends about fairies, elves, trolls, and other hidden creatures
translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1997-2022

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.


Fallen Angels

  1. Origin of the Elves (Iceland).

  2. The Origin of Bergfolk (Denmark).

  3. When Satan Was Cast Out of Heaven (Sweden).

  4. The Origin of Fairies (Scotland).

  5. Angels Who Were Turned Out of Heaven (Ireland).

  6. The Fairy Race (Ireland).

  7. The Fairies as Fallen Angels (Ireland).

  8. The Tylwyth Teg (Wales).

  9. The Origin of the Elves (Switzerland).

  10. Lower Elemental Spirits (Bohemia).

Eve's Unequal Children (Folktales of Type 758)

  1. The Genesis of the Hid-Folk (Iceland).

  2. The Origin of the Troll Folk (Denmark).

  3. The Hidden People in Valdres (Norway).

  4. The Origin of Fairies (Wales).

  5. The Baby Farmer (Wales).

  6. A Curious Legend (Slavonic).

  7. The Creation of the Underground People (Germany).

  8. Eve's Unequal Children (Germany).

  9. Eve's Children (Austria / Italy).

The Offspring of Lilith, Adam's First Wife

  1. The Origin of the Tusser (Norway).

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Fallen Angels

Origin of the Elves


A traveler once lost his way, and knew not whither to turn or what to do. At last, after wandering about for some time, he came to a hut, which he had never seen before; and on his knocking at the door, an old woman opened it, and invited him to come in, which he gladly did.

Inside, the house seemed to be a clean and good one. The old woman led him to the warmest room, where were sitting two young and beautiful girls. Besides these, no one else was in the house. He was well received and kindly treated, and having eaten a good supper was shown to bed.

He asked whether one of the girls might stay with him, as his companion for the night, and his request was granted.

And now wishing to kiss her, the traveler turned towards her, and placed his hand upon her; but his hand sank through her, as if she had been of mist, and though he could well see her lying beside him, he could grasp nothing but the air.

So he asked what this all meant, and she said, "Be not astonished, for I am a spirit. When the devil, in times gone by, made war in heaven, he, with all his armies, was driven into outer darkness. Those who turned their eyes to look after him as he fell, were also driven out of heaven; but those who were neither for nor against him, were sent to the earth and commanded to dwell there in the rocks and mountains.

These are called elves and hidden people. They can live in company with none but their own race. They do either good or evil, which they will, but what they do they do thoroughly. They have no bodies as you other mortals, but can take a human form and be seen of men when they wish. I am one of these fallen spirits, and so you can never hope to embrace me."

To this fate the traveler yielded himself, and has handed down to us this story.

The Origin of Bergfolk


Bergmen originated in this way, that when Our Lord cast down the wicked angels from heaven they could not all get to hell together, and some of them settled in the mounds and banks.

Brownies, bergmen, and such creatures originated in this way. When Our Lord cast the wicked angels down from heaven some of them fell on mounds and banks, and these became bergmen; some fell into woods and mosses, and these became fairies (ellefolk), while those that fell into buildings became brownies (nisser). They are just little devils, the whole lot of them.

When Satan Was Cast Out of Heaven


Know that when Satan was cast out of heaven, on account of his pride, and fell to the earth, there were other spirits, which, like him, were also cast out. These spirits, in their fall, were borne hither and thither on the winds like the golden leaves in the autumn storm, falling to earth finally, some into the sea, some into the forests, and some upon the mountains. Where they fell there they remained, so the saying runs, and found there their field of action. After their abiding places they were given different names. Thus we have sea nymphs, mountain fairies, wood fairies, elves, and other spirits, all of which are described in the catechism.

The Origin of Fairies


Various theories have been advanced as to the origin of fairies and as to the belief in them. The most concrete form in which the belief has been urged has been by the Rev. Robert Kirk, minister of Aberfoyle, in Perthshire. Another theory of the origin of fairies I took down in the island of Miunghlaidh (Minglay; and, though I have given it in Carmina Gadelica, it is sufficiently interesting to be quoted here.

During October 1871, Roderick Macneill, known as Ruaraidh mac Dhomhuil, then ninety-two years of age, told it in Gaelic to the late J. F. Campbell of Islay and the writer, when they were storm-stayed in the precipitous island of Miunghlaidh, Barra:

The Proud Angel fomented a rebellion among the angels a of heaven, where he had been a leading light. He declared that he would go and found a kingdom for himself. When going out at the door of heaven the Proud Angel brought prickly lightning and biting lightning out of the doorstep with his heels.

Many angels followed him -- so many that at last the Son called out, "Father! Father! the city is being emptied!" whereupon the Father ordered that the gates of heaven and the gates of hell should be closed.

This was instantly done. And those who were in were in, and those who were out were out; while the hosts who had left heaven and had not reached hell flew into the holes of the earth, like the stormy petrels. These are the Fairy Folk -- ever since doomed to live under the ground, and only allowed to emerge where and when the King permits. They are never allowed abroad on Thursday, that being Columba's Day; nor on Friday, that being the Son's Day; nor on Saturday, that being Mary's Day; nor on Sunday, that being the Lord's Day.

God be between me and every fairy,
Every ill wish and every druidry;
Today is Thursday on sea and land,
I trust in the King that they do not hear me.

On certain nights when their bruthain ( bowers ) are open and their lamps are lit, and the song and the dance are moving merrily, the fairies may be heard singing light-heartedly:

Not of the seed of Adam are we,
Nor is Abraham our father;
But of the seed of the Proud Angel,
Driven forth from Heaven.

Angels Who Were Turned Out of Heaven


It is said by those who ought to understand such things, that the good people, or the fairies, are some of the angels who were turned out of heaven, and who landed on their feet in this world, while the rest of their companions, who had more sin to sink them, went down further to a worse place.

The Fairy Race


The Sidhe, or spirit race, called also the Feadh-Ree, or fairies, are supposed to have been once angels in heaven, who were cast out by Divine command as a punishment for their inordinate pride. Some fell to earth, and dwelt there, long before man was created, as the first gods of the earth. Others fell into the sea, and they built themselves beautiful fairy palaces of crystal and pearl underneath the waves; but on moonlight nights they often come up on the land, riding their white horses, and they hold revels with their fairy kindred of the earth, who live in the clefts of the hills, and they dance to gether on the green sward under the ancient trees, and drink nectar from the cups of the flowers, which is the fairy wine.

Other fairies, however, are demoniacal, and given to evil and malicious deeds; for when cast out of heaven they fell into hell, and there the devil holds them under his rule, and sends them forth as he wills upon missions of evil to tempt the souls of men downward by the false glitter of sin and pleasure. These spirits dwell under the earth, and impart their knowledge only to certain evil persons chosen of the devil, who gives them power to make incantations, and brew love potions, and to work wicked spells, and they can assume different forms by their knowledge and use of certain magical herbs.

The Fairies as Fallen Angels


The islanders, like all the Irish, believe that the fairies are the fallen angels who were cast down by the Lord God out of heaven for their sinful pride. And some fell into the sea, and some on the dry land, and some fell deep down into hell, and the devil gives to these knowledge and power, and sends them on earth where they work much evil. But the fairies of the earth and the sea are mostly gentle and beautiful creatures, who will do no harm if they are let alone, and allowed to dance on the fairy raths in the moonlight to their own sweet music, undisturbed by the presence of mortals.

The Tylwyth Teg


The common or popular theory is in Wales the poetico-religious one. This is, in a word, the belief that the Tylwyth Teg are the souls of dead mortals not bad enough for hell nor good enough for heaven. They are doomed to live on earth, to dwell in secret places, until the resurrection day, when they will be admitted into paradise. Meantime they must be either incessantly toiling or incessantly playing, but their toil is fruitless and their pleasure unsatisfying.

A variation of this general belief holds these souls to be the souls of the ancient Druids, a fancy which is specially impressive, as indicating the duration of their penance, and reminds us of the Wandering Jew myth . It is confined mainly to the Coblynau, or dwellers in mines and caves.

Another variation considers the fairies bad spirits of still remoter origin -- the same in fact who were thrown over the battlements of heaven along with Satan, but did not fall into hell -- landed on the earth instead, where they are permitted to tarry till doomsday as above. A detail of this theory is in explanation of the rare appearance of fairies nowadays; they are refraining from mischief in view of the near approach of the judgment, with the hope of thus conciliating heaven.

The Origin of the Elves


When the fallen spirits were cast into hell, God gave them a deadline by which time all of them were to have arrived at this place. However, their number was so great that a thick crowd of them fell from heaven like snow. Like snowflakes, some of the spirits fell faster and arrived earlier; some fell slower and arrived later. In the instant of the deadline, some still falling between heaven and hell. These did not become devils, but rather elves, because they were left hanging on the earth.

Lower Elemental Spirits


In addition to the gods, heathens knew a whole row of lower demons which can be placed together under the names sprites and elves. They constitute a distinct spirit realm on earth, independent of the world of humans. They possess supernatural powers with which they harm and help humans. However, they shy away from humans, because physically they are not our equals. In Bohemia they tell about the origin of these demons as follows:

When God cast out the arrogant angels from heaven, they became the evil spirits that plague mankind day and night, tormenting us and inflicting us with harm. The ones who fell into hell and into caves and abysses became devils and death-maidens. However, those who fell onto the earth became goblins, imps, dwarfs, thumblings, alps, noon-and-evening-ghosts, and will-o'-the-wisps. Those who fell into the forests became the wood-spirits who live there: the hey-men, the wild-men, the forest-men, the wild-women, and the forest-women. Finally, those who fell into the water became water spirits: water-men, mermaids, and merwomen.

Eve's Unequal Children

(Folktales of Aarne-Thompson-UtherType 758)

The Genesis of the Hid-Folk


Once upon a time, God Almighty came to visit Adam and Eve. They received him with joy, and showed him everything they had in the house. They also brought their children to him, to show him, and these He found promising and full of hope.

Then He asked Eve whether she had no other children than these whom she now showed him.

She said "None."

But it so happened that she had not finished washing them all, and, being ashamed to let God see them dirty, had hidden the unwashed ones. This God knew well, and said therefore to her, "What man hides from God, God will hide from man."

These unwashed children became forthwith invisible, and took up their abode in mounds, and hills, and rocks. From these are the elves descended, but we men from those of Eve's children whom she had openly and frankly shown to God. And it is only by the will and desire of the elves themselves that men can ever see them.

The Origin of the Troll Folk


One day Eve was washing her children at a spring when our Lord suddenly came to her. She was startled and hid the children who were not yet washed.

Our Lord asked if all her children were present here.

She answered "Yes," wanting to avoid his anger if he saw that some had not yet been washed.

But then our Lord said that what she had hidden from him should henceforth also be hidden from mankind.

In that same hour the unclean children disappeared and were hidden in the mountains. From them have descended all the underground folk.

The Hidden People in Valdres


Eve, the wife of Adam, lived a long time and gave birth to many children, even after she should have had no more. She was ashamed for having so many in her old age.

One day Our Lord came walking by and approached Eve. He asked to see her children. She brought out a whole flock, but she missed a few, because she was ashamed of having so many, being so old.

Our Lord understood this, but he was offended, and said to Eve: "If you hide your children from me, then they will be hidden from you."

Then Eve could no longer see these children. They became the haugafølk (hidden people) and the bergatrøll (mountain trolls). They do not want anyone to see them, although sometimes they are seen. People with foresight can see what they look like and what they are doing.

There is no great difference between them and us, because the same one created them. However, they are not Christians like we are.

The Origin of Fairies


The following is the account related in Wales of the origin of the fairies, and was told me by an individual from Anglesea:
In our Saviour's time there lived a woman whose fortune it was to be possessed of near a score of children, . . . and as she saw our blessed Lord approach her dwelling, being ashamed of being so prolific, and that he might not see them all, she concealed about half of them closely, and, after his departure, when she went in search of them, to her surprise she found they were gone.

They never afterwards could be discovered, for it was supposed that, as a punishment from heaven, for hiding what God had given her, she was deprived of them; and, it is said, these, her offspring, have generated the race of beings called fairies.

The Baby Farmer


Old Kaddy was a baby-farmer, and one day she went to the woods to gather sticks for her fire, and whilst she was gathering the sticks she found a piece of gold, and took it home; but she never told anyone she had found the money, for she always pretended to be very poor.

But though she was so poor, she used to dress two of her children in fine clothes; but the others, whom she did not like, she kept in the filthiest rags.

One day a man knocked at her door, and asked to see the children.

He sat down in her little room, and she went and brought the ragged little boy and girl, saying she was very poor, and couldn't afford to dress them better; for she had been careful to hide the well-dressed little boy and girl in a cockloft.

After the stranger had gone she went to the cockloft to look for her well-dressed favorites, but they had disappeared, and they were never seen afterwards, for they were turned into fairies.

A Curious Legend


A curious legend exists among the Sclavonic nations by which the existence of elves is accounted for. It is said that Adam had by his wife Eve, thirty sons and thirty daughters. God asked him, one day, the number of his children.

Adam was ashamed of having so many girls, so he answered, "Thirty sons and twenty-seven daughters."

But from the eye of God nothing can be concealed, and He took from anong Adam's daughters the three fairest, and He made them Willis or elves; they were good and holy, and therefore did not perish in the Deluge, but entered with Noah into the ark and were saved.

The Creation of the Undergound People


Once our lord Christ was wandering upon the earth. He came to a house where a woman lived who had five beautiful and five ugly children. When the lord stepped into her house she hid the five ugly children in the cellar. The lord invited the children to come to him, and when he saw the five beautiful children he asked the woman where her other children were.

The woman said: "I have no other children."

Then the lord blessed the five beautiful children and cursed the five ugly ones, saying: "That which is below shall remain below, and that which is above shall remain above."

When the woman returned to the cellar, the five children had disappeared. The underground people originated from them.

Eve's Unequal Children


When Adam and Eve were driven from paradise, they were forced to build a house for themselves on barren ground, and eat their bread by the sweat of their brow. Adam hoed the field, and Eve spun the wool. Every year Eve brought a child into the world, but the children were unlike each other. Some were good looking, and some ugly.

After a considerable time had gone by, God sent an angel to them to announce that he himself was coming to inspect their household. Eve, delighted that the Lord should be so gracious, cleaned her house diligently, decorated it with flowers, and spread rushes on the floor. Then she brought in her children, but only the good-looking ones. She washed and bathed them, combed their hair, put freshly laundered shirts on them, and cautioned them to be polite and well-behaved in the presence of the Lord. They were to bow down before him courteously, offer to shake hands, and to answer his questions modestly and intelligently.

The ugly children, however, were not to let themselves be seen. She hid one of them beneath the hay, another in the attic, the third in the straw, the fourth in the stove, the fifth in the cellar, the sixth under a tub, the seventh beneath the wine barrel, the eighth under an old pelt, the ninth and tenth beneath the cloth from which she made their clothes, and the eleventh and twelfth under the leather from which she cut their shoes.

She had just finished when someone knocked at the front door. Adam looked through a crack, and saw that it was the Lord. He opened the door reverently, and the Heavenly Father entered. There stood the good-looking children all in a row. They bowed before him, offered to shake hands, and knelt down.

The Lord began to bless them. He laid his hands on the first, saying, "You shall be a powerful king," did the same thing to the second, saying, "You a prince," to the third, "You a count," to the fourth, "You a knight," to the fifth, "You a nobleman," to the sixth, "You a burgher," to the seventh, "You a merchant," to the eighth, "You a scholar."

Thus he bestowed his richest blessings upon them all.

When Eve saw that the Lord was so mild and gracious, she thought, "I will bring forth my ugly children as well. Perhaps he will bestow his blessings on them too." So she ran and fetched them from the hay, the straw, the stove, and wherever else they were hidden away. In they came, the whole coarse, dirty, scabby, sooty lot of them.

The Lord smiled, looked at them all, and said, "I will bless these as well."

He laid his hands on the first and said to him, "You shall be a peasant," to the second, "You a fisherman," to the third, "You a smith," to the fourth, "You a tanner," to the fifth, "You a weaver," to the sixth, "You a shoemaker," to the seventh, "You a tailor," to the eighth, "You a potter," to the ninth, "You a teamster," to the tenth, "You a sailor," to the eleventh, "You a messenger," to the twelfth, "You a household servant, all the days of your life."

When Eve had heard all this she said, "Lord, how unequally you divide your blessings. All of them are my children, whom I have brought into the world. You should favor them all equally."

But God replied, "Eve, you do not understand. It is right and necessary that the entire world should be served by your children. If they were all princes and lords, who would plant grain, thresh it, grind and bake it? Who would forge iron, weave cloth, build houses, plant crops, dig ditches, and cut out and sew clothing? Each shall stay in his own place, so that one shall support the other, and all shall be fed like the parts of a body."

Then Eve answered, "Oh, Lord, forgive me, I spoke too quickly to you. Let your divine will be done with my children as well."

Eve's Children

Austria / Italy

Eve, the mother of our race had become quite old when our dear Lord asked her how many children she had. Not knowing the exact number, she stated a number that was several thousand too few. As a consequence the uncounted ones were all transformed into monkeys. Thus, monkeys are nothing other than banished humans.

The Offspring of Lilith, Adam's First Wife

The Origin of the Tusser


There was a farm in the eastern highlands where the people often were visited by the tusser. One tusse in particular often borrowed something from a man. The pastor heard about this and went up to the farm to see what was happening.

"Yes," said the man. "And if you will wait here for an hour you'll be able to see the tusse. He borrowed a pot of beer from me, and he'll return it here when the clock strikes."

The pastor sat down, and when the clock struck, the tusse appeared. Seeing the stranger, he was afraid to speak. He set the pot on the table, bowed to the man, and wanted to leave immediately. The pastor ran to the door and blocked his way out.

He spoke to the tusse, telling him about the New Testament and the little Christ Child. He explained the texts to him. He wanted to convert him, for he thought that he might be a devil. The tusse again tried to run away, but the pastor held the door shut and continued to explain the scriptures.

The tusse said nothing to this, but finally he did answer: "I am not learned enough to talk with you. But if you will wait here for a little while, I'll fetch my brother. He is a pastor just like you."

He promised that his brother would come, but the pastor was afraid that the tusse would only escape.

"You can let him go," said the man. If he has promised that his brother will come, his brother will come. He never lies."

The pastor let him go, then sat down and waited for a while. Then the tusse pastor came, with his robe and white collar, and with a Bible in his hand.

"Do you know the Book of Creation?" asked the tusse.

Yes, he knew it.

"It says there that in the beginning God created man and woman. Do you know that?"

Yes, he knew that as well.

"But in the second chapter iy says that God created a woman from Adam's rib. Do you know that?"

Yes, he knew that.

"Then Adam said, 'This time it is bone from my bone and flesh from my flesh.' Why did he say this time? Do you know why?"

This pastor did not know.

Then the tusse said: "The woman created by God in the beginning was Adam's equal. She did not want to be subservient to him, for she thought that her creation had been just as good as Adam's. God saw that it was not good for man and woman to be equal, so he banished her and her offspring to live inside the mountains and hills. Being without sin, they are invisible and can only be seen if they themselves want to be seen. -- But in the second chapter God took a rib from Adam's side and created a woman from it. Then Adam said this time, because this time a woman had been created from a man. Their offspring are with sin, and therefore they need the New Testament. The tusse folk need only the Old Testament.

The pastor had nothing to say against the tusse. He never again returned to his pulpit.

The Bible does not give us the name of Adam's first wife. She was called Lilli, or perhaps Lillo. It really does not make a difference.

This story was told to me by Sveinung Hass-Sta. Sveinung came from the east. I was old enough to go to the mill with him, and he told me this story on the way.

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Revised November 6, 2022.