So here's a llittle fact about me: I 100% believe in fairies. To me, they are as much a part of this planet as any living creature. My interest in the fairy world is one of the reasons I have always felt so intrigued and drawn to Iceland, and feel an affinity with their respect of the 'hidden world'.
1598 map of Iceland made by Abraham Ortelius.
Iceland's elf folklore is as famous as the island's punishing natural beauty, and in a land literally made of ice and fire it's not hard to see why the power of folklore is so strong. Oral tales passed down the generations tell of Huldufolk (hidden people), who are a cross between álfar (elves) and nátturuvættir (nature spirits). These beings are human-sized and live an idealised life in clothes of centuries-old fashion. Elves are humanoid, funnier looking with spindly legs and are much easier to see. They are mostly harmless but can be mischievous and are extremely protective of the land they inhabit.
Journalists describing elf beliefs in Iceland can be condescending, diminishing the folklore to fairytale fluff, and elf believers to naive eccentrics. Articles somewhat mockingly throw around statistics that 40%/50%/60% of adult Icelanders believe in elves, while most probably don't outwardly believe they might not completely dismiss the existence of Huldufólk, and their respect for preserving the country's natural beauty goes hand in hand with respecting the beliefs of elf campaigners.
Roadworks and constructions have been famously been diverted or halted in Iceland. Just this year, work on a highway project on Alftanes peninsula, near Reykjavik was able to recommence only after a 12 foot jagged rock believed to be the legendary Ofeigskirkja (a church or chapel used by the Huldufolk) was moved with due dignity to an area of similar rock formations. The project was originally halted back in 2013 after elf advocates joined forces with environmentalists to claim the highway would disturb the place of both natural and spiritual importance.
The rock/ elf church (Ófeigskirkja) being moved in March 2015
Icelandic Huldufólk Houses
To me, Iceland's folklore is the glittering jewel in a majestic crown crafted from volcanic rock and molten lava. The stories are important in understanding the cultural memory and history of Iceland and I think no visit would be complete without hearing the stories of mythical creatures, trolls, elves and hidden people. As one writer put it in the Iceland Review "I’d rather be inclined to say that the belief in elves bears witness to our closeness to nature, our cultural heritage and our need to explain things we can’t understand."
So whether you believe or not, here are some ways to learn about Icelandic elf folklore if you are lucky enough to visit!
Álfaskólinn ~The Elfschool
A school in Reykavík that teaches students and visitors alike about the huldufólk, specifically the 13 kinds of elf that exist within Iceland.
"The Elfschool is open all year around in Reykjavik. It is 26 years old this year. What students in the Elfschool gain and learn is everything that is known about elves and hidden people, as well as gnomes, dwarfs, fairies, trolls, mountain spirits as well as other nature spirits and mythical beings in Iceland and in other countries. And also where these creatures live, what they look like, their ideas about humans, about them as well as all the other nature spirits that seems to live around us here in other dimensions - as the elves themselves claim that they live in.
The students in The Elfschool learn also about hundreds of Icelanders that have had personal contact with the elves themselves, and many of them have been invited into the homes of the elves and the hidden people in Iceland, and have often eaten food there and sometimes also slept there during one or more nights. – The argument that the elves and Hidden people of Iceland have saved hundreds of lives of Icelanders through the centuries is explored and explained to the students, as well as how this strange friendship between these two or many different worlds and dimensions can and does exists."
Hiking and knitting with the Elves
6-day knitting trek under the midnight sun in the fjords of East Iceland, Icelandic lace and plant-dying
"This enchanting tour takes us to the hidden treasure of the East of Iceland, mostly populated by elves. We will knit fairy like lace and hike in the untouched wilderness and colorful landscape of the unspoiled fjords and inlets. The “Trail of the deserted inlets” will take us between isolated coves and fjords over pinkish orange hills and green valleys, passing through mysterious and unearthly places with turquoise water and black sand beaches. The genuine little fishing village has the best access to puffins in Iceland and the locals count at least 172 stories about Elves that take place in the area. Combined with an Icelandic plant dyed workshop, it will be an unforgettable journey."
The Elf Garden
Guided walks around a beautiful lava park known for it's natural beauty and elf inhabitants with Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir
"The Elf Garden is a Center of Elves and Huldufolk, in Hellisgerði Park , a small beautiful lava park in Hafnarfjörður, an old harbor town,15 minutes drive from downtown Reykjavik in Iceland. It is a magical place, known for its beautiful lava rock formations and the nature beings living there, Elves, Huldufolk and Dwarves.
Seer and Artist Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir will take you on a magical journey through Hellisgerði Park, She will tell you about the elves, huldufolk and other magical beings, their dwellings and their desire to coexist peacefully with mankind. The 40- 60 minute easy walk through beautiful Hellisgerði Lava Park will give you a new exiting glimpse into the invisible world of elves and huldufolk. And you can ask Ragnhildur about all the things you want to know about the Elf World."