Icelandic Elf School

I love Bjork but she is a bit nuts. Maybe it’s not her fault but her Icelandic upbring. About 10 percent of Icelanders believe in the existence of a “huldufólk” or a hidden world of elves, dwarfs and spirits with magic powers.  Another 10 percent deny them, but the remaining 80 percent on the North Atlantic island nation either have no opinion or refuse to rule out their existence, a survey shows. They even have a school in Reykjavik that teaches Elf studies.

Whereas town planners are concerned about building on ancient historical site, Icelandic planners have similar consideration for suspected homes of gnomes and fairies.Couples who are planning a new house will sometimes hire “elf-spotters” to make sure the lot is free of spirit folk. 

Jon Jonsson, a folklorist who used to teach at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, admits he’s never seen elves himself, but has a grandmother who saw them personally and reported they actually look like normal people who live in hills and cliffs. That’ll be true then. My granny used to drool on about the weird folk in the village.

250px-elf_housesAnyway, here is photographic evidence of elf houses near Strandakirkja in south Iceland. Either this is the work of some demented doll’s house builder or the picture has been taken from very far away.

26 Comments

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26 responses to “Icelandic Elf School

  1. brucehood

    BTW thanks Arno for sending me this

  2. Probably because I’m Scandinavian, I do find this elf business quite charming. I’d like to believe in them too and probably would if I lived there! Finns also have a rich history regarding folklore — the Kalevala, their national epic for example. Actually, J.R.R. Tolkien based his language of the elves on Finnish. My ramblings for the morning.

  3. Arno

    And yep, those little houses are actually made for the elves to live in. Seems lots of the locals have these in their garden. Probably because the real elf houses look like small piles of stones, which look rather ugly, if not very Feng Shui-ish.

    …that sounds like something worth considering as a job: elf-spotter-Feng-Shui-indoor-architect. “Bringing Yin, Yang and your local gnomes together”

  4. poietes

    I love the idea of elves and dwarves living in the same reality as us. It’s a bit of whimsy in an otherwise ugly world.

    Seriously, citizens consulting about elves before building homes seems very similar to situating the new house on the proper part of the dragon as some Oriental cultures still adhere to: These practices are based in the belief of working in harmony with nature as opposed to against it. The more harmonious the conjunction, the better the joss or outcome.

    Superstition? Probably. But does it harm anyone? Doubtful.

  5. let’s build house for the trolls and leprechauns too

  6. Ram Venkatararam

    Hasn’t Iceland gone bankrupt?

    Maybe that school in Reykjavik should throw in an economics course or two…

  7. brucehood

    Hi Ram.. or sell a gnome or two into slavery

  8. Thalia

    In Danish folklore elves are man-sized and incredibly beautiful (both males & females). Great humans can evolve into elves after death if they’ve been terribly good. I think the elves in Lord of the Rings are based on this sort of idea, although oddly, in Danish mythology Gandalf was the last king of the elves. My grandmother used to tell me wonderful tales about them (she also tilts all the pictures on her walls slightly so that the evil spirits have nowhere to sit). And I agree that this kind of whimsy or metaphor is one the more beautiful aspects of human potential. On the other hand there are always two sides to these types of things. She also tells tales of how parents in Scandanavia who bore children with deformities believed that their baby had been swapped with that of a troll and so would beat the child mercilessly in the hope that the troll mother would take pity on it and return their original baby.

    • Rox

      “parents in Scandanavia who bore children with deformities believed that their baby had been swapped with that of a troll”
      Changelings. Not unknown in English, even in Shakespeare.

  9. brucehood

    Well Hello Stranger! Tilted pictures on the wall. Remarkably mine usually get that way from excessive spirits too.
    Thanks for the info re: gorgeous Danes

  10. Arno

    …damn, I hadn’t even noticed this article on elves before. Seems everyone’s writing about them these days.

    Cool stuff, T🙂 I was familiar with the tales about the changelings before, but it is interesting that you mention that the Danish believe that humans can ‘evolve’ into elves after death. It is in line with the little that we know about the origin of elves as being rooted in ancestor worship, and a few verses in the Edda, where Odin encounters dark elves while he spends time in the underworld.
    It is also fascinating to see how wide-spread the belief in invisible super-powered (ancestral spirit-like) humanoids is – the elves from Germanic culture are almost identical to the Celtic Sidhe, for example.

  11. I suppose it makes a lot of sense that most of us are more inclined toward these humanoid creatures. If indeed there existed forms of life very similar to us, then it’s easy for human beings to understand why they would have to hide to survive. As poietes said, I think we see ourselves as quite a brutish species with a lot of ugliness left in our wake. It’s nice to think that we are simply *allowed* to be ‘dominant’ while some wiser, more beautiful race is actually looking after things.

    I have to admit that when a distant relative was talking about fairies helping her out in her garden, she likened it more to how talking to plants/flowers tends to help them grow. Seeing as I kiss and cuddle my flora and fauna all the time, I found ‘talking’ to them quite rational in comparison.

    I once saw an absolutely miniature, perfectly formed Japanese girl in Costa coffee a few years back, sitting all alone. She had wings and buckle shoes on…pretty sure she was a fairy.

  12. I’m going to get me a job as one of the elf-spotters. Seems like a win-win situation – if you can see them, you’ve cracked the supernatural, if you can’t, your clients can build their house.
    I am struggling to stop myself making a non-hilarious ‘elf and safety’ gag here.

  13. Wyrd

    You say 10% of Icelanders believe in a hidden world of elves. Well, compared to all the people in the U.S. that believe in The Rapture, that seems downright sane.

    I guess what I mean to say is–of course I think believing in a hidden world of elves is nuts, but it seems, to me, much *less* nuts than believing that one day god is going to *poof* a bunch of people off to heaven.
    Furry cows moo and decompress.

  14. brucehood

    Welcome Wyrd Yes… of course we can’t mock the Icelanders.. they have Bjork. I think the thing about the US is that they are so susceptible to power of groups and thus extremism but no less made that the rest of the world.

  15. Webistrator

    FWIW, an in-depth introduction to the Icelandic “hidden people”, a discussion of elves and related beliefs can be read in the English version of Jon Arnason’s compilation of tales (Vol 2 — there is/was a prior Vol. 1) at:

    http://books.google.com/ebooks?id=JsYdAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&output=reader

    Arnason pulled together many of the hundreds of Icelandic folk tales, etc., in the 19th century, but did no translation. But G. Powell and E. Magnusson did so in the 1860’s. The introductory essay covers much of the lore, and the stories are always a fun read.

  16. Webistrator

    … and for future reference, Icelandic/Nordic tongues call the “hidden people” the huldre/hulduvolk, where huldre/huldu/huldra means “hidden” in various nordic languages. A wikipedia search on Huldu/hulduvolk brings up a quick read:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hulduf%C3%B3lk

    — but a warning: the pursuit of this stuff can lead to an immersion that one can only with difficulty extricate one’s self from!

    Next thing you know you’re into viking lore, tales and history which stem from the era — 900 -1200 a.d. and though a bit embellished, for the largest part have been/are being proven to be historically correct.

    Webbie

  17. Find some some info about beings like elves in an answer in this link

    https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-amazing-facts-about-Indian-mythology

    • Rox

      Well, what can we say ? The ancient Hindus mention flying chariot, so of course they actually had flying chariots. The ancient Jews had them too, at least for Elijah. The ancient Greeks had one for Apollo. It’s all very convincing.

      • Yea it is true. But it was kind of funny to see the modern nerds with sun glasses, laser equipment, suits and all that ran out of temple vault B.🙂 Heard of temple vault B ?

      • I have a few friends who work in fields where they come across weird things and from the stories they tell unofficially ofcourse, I keep an open mind anyway, we never know what is out there unless we ourselves go out there and find it, cannot trust the gov.🙂

      • It is not the flying chariot answer. 4 or 5 th answer mentions the dwarves elfs and other tales.

  18. Rox

    Sorry, it was the flying chariots that caught my eye. Now you seem to be referring me to prehistoric nuclear explosions and stone age cloning. I suppose we are already familiar with what must be nuclear calamities destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, and future ones predicted in Revelation. As for cloning, presumably if Jesus is the same as God, he was cloned, and in a sense we are all cloned, being made in God’s image. Obviously.

    It really isn’t surprising if mythologies are peopled with mythical beings, and if some of them can be identified with dwarfs and elves. You can do the same with classical ones, like fauns and nymphs and dryads and things. In fact, wherever they went, it was standard Roman practice to identify the local deities with their own. One of the most familiar examples of this in Britain is the dedication of the bath at Bath to Sulis-Minerva.

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