Do you believe in magic?
As someone who, at 27 years old, is still anxiously awaiting her Hogwarts letter, I love the idea of magic. I love to visit cities and places that look like they belong in a fairytale, and am always on the search for local myths and legends. Which is part of why I was so excited to visit Iceland a couple of years ago.
I’ll be honest, the stunning waterfalls, northern lights, and Blue Lagoon definitely added to the draw, but one of the reasons I wanted to visit Iceland so badly was because of the folklore; to get the stories of trolls, faeries, and most interestingly, Icelandic elves.
While some people might say that Santa calls Iceland home, I’m not talking about Christmas elves. Iceland elves are more commonly known as Huldufólk, which means hidden people. Huldufólk are said to live in small houses, often in the rocks, and mostly stay away from humans. Although, some humans claim do to be lucky enough to have had an encounter with them.
There are a couple of stories telling of the origins of the Huldufólk. In what might be the most well known version they were the children of Adam and Eve in the Gardens of Eden. One day God came to visit and meet them while Eve was bathing them. However she hadn’t finished and, embarrassed by the dirty state of those she hadn’t washed yet, she hid them. God found out and declared that since they were hidden from him, they should also be hidden from man. Another popular version describes the Huldufólk as beings who neither supported or opposed Lucifer and his fallen angles, and as such were cast to earth to live among the rocks.
Unlike in many other cultures around the world, the belief in these supernatural creatures has not disappeared over time. Some Icelandic citizens truly believe in the Huldufólk and as such take precautions when building and travelling to avoid harming them or their villages. Even those that won’t openly admit to believing in the hidden people, will take care around certain places ‘just in case’.
Icelanders who believe in the Huldufólk may pay homage to them by building small homes for them, either in their gardens or out in the countryside. While the homes are no doubt appreciated, most of the hidden people are believed the live in large rocks. Therefore it is disrespectful to climb, or move them, which has come up as a problem more than once for construction purposes across the country.
Only a couple years ago, the building of a highway through the Icelandic countryside caused quite a few problems as the proposed road was supposed to go straight through a large rock that was believed to serve as the Huldufólk’s church. An eight year battle between supporters acting on behalf of the huldufólk finally ended when the huldufólk agreed to move the church and transfer the energies. The project took years, but was worth avoiding the wrath of the hidden folk who have a tendency to wreck havoc, destroy, bring bad luck, and bring illness when angry.
The belief in the Icelandic elves and other folklore is not just a huge part of Icelandic culture, but has also become a huge draw in the tourism sector as well. Visitors from around the world come to see the beauty of the land of ice and fire; to see the waterfalls, caves, volcanoes, and geysers, but also to learn about the Huldufólk and other folklore as well. For those especially interested in the subject, you can take specific folklore themed tours. However if you are more of a do-it-yourself type you can easily plan a road trip to visit some of Iceland’s most mythological destinations. Here are three can’t miss spots:
Best known as Iceland’s most beautiful black sand beach, Reynisfjara is also known for tall rock structures called the Reynisdrangar stacks. According to legend, these rock stacks were once trolls, who got caught in the sun trying to drag a ship to shore. Being trolls, they couldn’t stand the sunlight and were turned to stone on the beach where they still remain today.
Just a few kilometres outside Reykjavik, Harnarfjordur is nicknamed ‘Elf Central’. This city is said to have the biggest population of elves, trolls, and other beings categorized as the hidden folk. Be sure to stop by the base of the cliff Hamarinn (it is said that the royal family of Iceland’s elves live here) and Hellisgerði Park.
Dverghamrar, or the Dwarf Rocks, is an otherworldly landscape featuring basalt rock formations thought to have been created during the ice age. It is believed that these oddly shaped cliffs serve as the homes to both Iceland’s elves and dwarf populations.
Want more? Interested travellers should also check out this interactive map which marks both places named in Iceland’s elf legends, but also tracks human and Huldufólk encounters. It is in Icelandic though, so be ready to use Google translate.
Good luck spotting Iceland’s elves!