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Myths, legends, folk tales — I love them all, especially as they relate to new places I travel to. They are a great insight into a country’s traditional culture, and are always really fun to hear about.

I’ve learned about Maori legends in New Zealand, and Irish myths in Ireland…

But nothing quite compares to the folk tales of Iceland.

Vikings and Trolls

Vikings and trolls

Full of elves, trolls, and “hidden people,” the folk tales of Iceland are made all the more fascinating because a majority of the population of 300,000 actually believes in them.

Go on just about any tour in Iceland, and you’ll likely hear at least one story that involves elves or trolls.

Those fallen boulders in the middle of a field? Trolls.

The sea stacks off shore in the midst of crashing waves? More trolls.

Reynishverfi Beach, Iceland

"Trolls" at Reynishverfi Beach

Ignoring the fact that most of these things can be explained scientifically (after all, this is a land where earthquakes and erupting volcanoes abound), most of the folk stories are actually quite fascinating.

The troll stories all follow the same basic plot — night trolls (who can only be out in darkness) are too busy stalking prey to notice the sunrise (or simply stray too far from their caves to get back before sunrise), and are turned to stone in the first rays of daylight.

Lava Tube Cave, Iceland

Looks like a perfect troll cave to me.

These troll stories are plentiful — probably because there are a LOT of big rocks in Iceland. But it was actually the story of the “hidden people” or Huldufólk – sometimes also called elves, sometimes not, depending on who you ask — that really caught my interest.

The hidden people are either said to look like small children, or like tall, beautiful humans-that-aren’t-quite-humans. I couldn’t quite figure out why they are sometimes synonymous with elves and sometimes not — but I think the belief just depends on which Icelander you ask.

Iceland Elves

Elves

Either way, I was told the same story about the origin of the hidden people on more than one occasion, so that’s the one I’m going to share with you here.

The story dates back to the days of Adam and Eve. Yes, that Adam and Eve. In this version of the story, God would come visit Adam and Eve every once in a while to check up on them and their many children.

Before one particular visit, however, Eve wasn’t able to find enough time to tidy up all of her children — a couple of them were still dirty and unpresentable when God arrived. So Eve told the children to hide, figuring God wouldn’t notice their absence among so many other children.

But of course God did take notice, and asked Eve multiple times “Are these all your children, Eve?” She told him yes each time, but her lies did not fool God.

God got very angry with Eve and told her, “What you have hidden from me, I shall now keep hidden from you.

And so the hidden people were born. God gave them the ability to show themselves occasionally — but only to those who they chose. Which explains why many Icelanders tell stories of seeing elves and other hidden folk all over Iceland.

Iceland

To you and I, this may sound like just another folk tale. But in Iceland, dating back for centuries, people have believed in such mythical creatures very seriously.

There have been quite a few noticeable instances — even as recent as in 2011 — of construction projects being postponed for fear of building on land occupied by hidden people. An “expert” of some sort often has to be called in to parlay with the elves to ask their permission to build on the land. If this crucial step isn’t taken, “bad things” tend to happen in conjunction with the projects.

All over Iceland, you can see signs of these beliefs — from trinkets is shops to little houses in gardens meant for the elves to live in.

Reykjavik, Iceland

A souvenir shop in Reykjavik

I was told by one guide that at least 50% of Icelanders either believe in hidden people/elves, or at least believe in the possibility that they could exist.

And you know what?

In a place as wild and magical as Iceland, it’s quite easy to be convinced that trolls do live in the hills, and that you can find elves frolicking across the lava fields.

Iceland

——

What do you think about Iceland and its elves/hidden people?

 

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44 Responses to The Hidden People (Elves) of Iceland

  1. Curt says:

    I don’t know what’s in the hills, but I’m pretty sure I met at least one troll at a bus stop in Reykjavik.
    Curt recently posted..Maison Carrée in Nîmes

  2. I just learned something reading this! from the title I thought there might be a race of actual elves ;)
    Leslie (Downtown Traveler) recently posted..PHOTOS: Montreal street art explained! A local artist reveals the meaning behind 8 colorful murals

  3. Andrea says:

    I love this – was waiting for this post. One of the main reasons Iceland has been on my radar was the fact that so many people believe in elves. I figure anyone who does can’t be half bad, right? =) There is talk about trolls here in Norway but I haven’t had a chance to learn much about them yet…
    Andrea recently posted..Travel Often Means No Pets…

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I wouldn’t be surprised if Norway had some similar troll legends to Iceland, since their histories are so similar. You’ll have to share some troll stories of your own soon!

  4. EurotripTips says:

    What an interesting tale! I love how it came to be, and that most people actually believe in it. It’s too bad Irish don’t believe in leprechauns, too!
    EurotripTips recently posted..Yes… There Are Volcanoes in France!

  5. Bridgett says:

    I am not really buying that story about elves and hidden people. Like with other countries, Iceland has their own mythical creatures; the difference is that they take theirs very seriously.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      There are plenty of Icelanders who don’t buy it, either — but I think it’s cool that some of them do!

  6. Sabrina says:

    How fun! I think the whole Adam and Eve story came probably way later than the belief in trolls and elves – like many religious events were determined to happen on big pagan holidays to make conversion easier. Either way, I love the idea that there are “hidden people” in the woods and in the sea :)
    Sabrina recently posted..Popular Drinks in Germany

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Yes, you’re probably right about the story coming after the belief. But I still think it’s cool and interesting!

  7. Living in California where things don’t get built because of tortoises, I find the hidden people wreaking havoc very normal! I love folklore and found this very interesting. I want one of those troll/elf dolls!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I didn’t know that about California! Interesting!

      And I made sure to bring a troll magnet home to keep on my fridge. ;)

  8. That last pic is AMAZING! I swear when I was there I saw an elf! I even have a pic!!!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Andi’s Pick: Pousada Maravilha

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I have an even better rainbow pic from that day that I’m saving for another post! ;)

      And you saw an elf?!? AWESOME!!

  9. Andrea says:

    I love learning folk stories/myths! Thanks for sharing, and how interesting that their society is still so affected by their myths. Have you read “The Power of Myth” by Joesph Campbell? It’s a good read if you are interested in myths across cultures.
    Andrea recently posted..Korea is Crowded.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I feel like folk stories like these are so fascinating, since they reflect so much about a culture. Glad to see so many others enjoy them too!

  10. Ayngelina says:

    Love it, I don’t know a lot of folklore from that end of the world but it is fascinating.
    Ayngelina recently posted..The Pineapple Express

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Isn’t it, though? I’m curious now as to how folklore in Scandinavia (especially Norway) is similar.

  11. Arti says:

    Oh! I absolutely love these folk tales. They help you connect to the place and you get into the culture of the place.
    We too have so many tales here in India!
    Loved the pics, especially the second one.
    Have a nice day Amanda:)
    Arti recently posted..Dwarkadheesh Temple in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I’d love to hear some India folk tales sometime! Like you said, stories like these really help you get to know a culture better.

  12. Juliann says:

    Great post! Thanks for all the history behind the legend. It’s fascinating.
    Juliann recently posted..Scrambling for Easter Egg Roll Tickets

  13. The Nordic countries usually have this kind of stories in their folklore, elves, trolls, gnomes and stuff like that. Iceland is incredible, but a bit to wild, wet and cold for my taste. And believe me, I love that kind of weather and surroundings but Iceland haves a bit to much of this qualities.
    Cristian Balau recently posted..Four Limbed Staff Pose

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Yes, Iceland certainly isn’t a place you travel to if you’re looking for a sunny summer holiday! But I still found it very beautiful!

  14. Ryan McCoy says:

    Compared to the beliefs manly will shout out here in the US during this year’s elections, elves ain’t so bad!
    Ryan McCoy recently posted..The Grand Canyon Is Trying To Kill You

  15. Suzy says:

    I didn’t know Iceland was so into elves. Very funny! I know when I visited a distant cousin in Ireland, he wholeheartedly believed in the “ferries”, what we call leprechauns.
    Suzy recently posted..Egészségedre! Adventures in Hungarian Wine Tasting in Budapest

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I didn’t really know either until I got there! It’s was pretty fascinating, though. You don’t often hear about beliefs like this (or like the ones they have in Ireland) in America…

  16. This is a fascinating post, thanks for sharing the stories! I like to think that such things have a place in the world, and certainly believe that there are unexplainable mysteries.

  17. SámiGirl says:

    In Alaska we call them “little people” and especially the Yup’ik are nervous about them. To us, though, they are distant relatives or ancestors that you should not take carelessly. Hidden ones are real. I am not afraid of them but I do not deliberately annoy them, either. They are not ghosts, but they inhabit this space mostly unseen by us.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I had no idea Alaskans believed in similar beings. Cool to learn!

    • Distant relatives/ancestors, yes. In the beginning we had a symbiotic relationship with the Elven folk, for they are indeed our ancestors in spirit. Their world mirrors ours, only it is more pristine. All indigenous peoples had belief in the “Fair Folk, Little People, Alfar, Sidhe, etc.” It is only modern society, with their disconnection from nature and mistrust of their innate 6th sense, that have forgotten how to “see.” And yes, I agree with SamiGirl, you should not fear them, but you should also not annoy them! They are not happy with humans, for it is humans that are destroying their home; earth. How would you feel?
      Don’t discount anything you think is myth, for “History became legend, legend became myth.” There is some truth in everything.

  18. Theophilus says:

    Elves, trolls, fairies, pixies, dryads, satyrs, sea monsters/loch ness monsters, (Leviathon) mermaids, big feet, mothmen, slender men, etc. are ALL spirits of the Nephilim hybrids (the hybrid offspring of the half human half fallen angels or giants) that God destroyed during the flood. They are most definately real, I have seen them numerous times in photographs and once in a shadow passing on my bedroom wall at night in the shape of a small being with a tall cone shaped hat. You have to develop your eyesight to see them because they are semi transparent in photos most of the time. You also have to zoom in because they are usually tiny or smaller than your eyes are used to. They are doomed to roam the earth until God destroys them along with all the fallen angels and wicked men who rule the earth (and worship the fallen angels) when He creates a new heaven and earth.

  19. [...] wonders like geysers and waterfalls in the Golden Circle and on the South Shore, learning about elves and trolls, eating some weird food, riding adorable Icelandic horses, and relaxing at the Blue Lagoon. It [...]

  20. [...] Icelanders (more than 50%, I was told) believe in the existence of fantastical beings such as elves and trolls. There are many amusing stories and legends about these creatures (which I’ll tell you all [...]

  21. Ismail N says:

    It’s interesting that you should mention about construction projects being postponed due to ‘hidden people’ – I heard similar stories here in Malaysia. But the hidden people here are known as ‘Jin’ or ‘Djinn’.
    Ismail N recently posted..Is Nuffnang Good e-Nuff ? Or Does AdSense Makes More Sense?

  22. Paula says:

    I first head about the elves in Iceland a couple years ago when I read a news article saying the Icelandic government halted a road project there for fear of disrupting the elves and I thought it was a joke. But since I was so intrigued, I did some research and found that many do believe in them. I guess it’s like Transylvania……some do believe in “vampires” in some respect and some think it’s a ploy for tourism. Regardless, I love folklore and it’s harmless so why not add to the charm of an already beautiful land?

    • Amanda says:

      Yes, some people in Iceland really DO take elves and trolls very seriously. It’s one of the things I love about the country – there’s certainly no lack of imagination!

  23. Robert says:

    Well, I don’t know about Icelandic elves as I didn’t see any while I was there, but to anyone who plans on going to Iceland, get ready to feel like a troll. The Icelandic people are, in my opinion, the most beautiful people on the planet. So many people I met looked like they had just walked out of a fashion shoot. I told this to a friend when I got back and he said a woman who had traveled the world said this about visiting Iceland; ‘if you ever want to develop and inferiority complex, go to Iceland!’ I concur. They are not-from-concentrate. Beautiful, beautiful people.

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