I have been familiar with the word ‘eldritch’ for decades, as a result of seeing it appear in the incomparable works of the horror fantasy writer H.P. Lovecraft. Knowing Lovecraft’s fondness for what most people today would consider to be exotic language, or exotic English, I had always assumed that ‘eldritch’ was an archaic form of the word ‘old’ or perhaps ‘elder’, because to my partially-trained eye, the words seemed to be related, and also because this meaning always made sense in the context in which it appeared.
Earlier this evening, however, a conversation with my daughter prompted me to look up the word ‘eldritch’ in my battered copy of The Concise Oxford Dictionary and I was astonished by what I saw. Firstly, I was told that the word was Scottish and that it meant either weird or hideous, not old or elder, so I found it hard to believe that I’d been attributing the wrong meaning to it for so long. What really made me sit up and take notice, however, was the rest of the entry for ‘eldritch’, which reads [16th c,: perhaps f.OE elfrice (unrecorded) ‘fairy realm’ ]
I do not claim to be an expert on the way dictionaries are compiled, so I admit that I do not know how the word elfrice can be shown while at the same time being said to be unrecorded, because such a thing seems to me to be a contradiction in terms. That aside, I have long had far more than a passing interest in the subject of fairies, especially in the Caer Sidhe, so I know from personal experience with my investigations into various words associated with Stonehenge and Silbury Hill that an awareness and study of both eldritch and elfrice will inevitably open some gaping portal for me that I never previously suspected existed.
“I am writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I shall be no more.”