The Elves...

Magazine The Elves...

Stories about elves have been part of Icelandic culture since the beginning, and they’re still present in our modern life. Some people have literal belief in their existence, while others view them as an abstract form of respect for our heritage and our natural environment. Either way, most of us agree that elves are not to be trifled with!

The Huldufólk (Hidden People) are more like the elves present in epic fantasy tales, rather than small gnome-like creatures. In Icelandic folklore, elves are human-sized, and often dress in traditional Icelandic clothing. In most ways, they look much like people, but they’re far more powerful. Elves are intimately tied to nature, and can wreak havoc on people who don’t show proper respect. Crossing an elf means trouble, whereas gaining their blessing can reap large rewards. However, doing what an elf asks is not always the smartest of ideas. Our stories tell of people who went mad -- or worse -- after encounters with elves.

From a historical standpoint, Icelandic elves share similarities with the Norse folklore that existed prior to the settlement of Iceland, as well as with the Celtic folklore familiar to the Irish slaves brought to Iceland during the Viking era. Though these two traditions undoubtedly became a shared foundation for elf stories, they are also inextricably tied to our landscape. Icelandic elves are said to live in the ground, beneath mounds of dirt or rock, or sometimes in caves. As recently as 2013, construction projects have been altered in order to avoid rock formations that have been said to house elves. More often than not, even Icelanders who don’t believe in elves think it’s better to err on the side of caution.

If you’d like to learn more about elves and Icelandic folklore during your stay in Iceland, many museums feature exhibitions on our legends. Some walking tours focus on folklore, and just about any bookstore will carry foreign language translations of our stories. Of course, if you’re traveling in the countryside, it doesn’t hurt to ask a local if they know anything about elves. Chances are, someone will be all too happy to tell you about the Hidden People that live nearby.

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