The Hidden People (Elves) of Iceland

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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 2016, when road workers had to dig up an enchanted rock that was accidentally buried — 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

READ NEXT: 25 Photos That Prove That Iceland is Magical

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

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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47 Comments on “The Hidden People (Elves) of Iceland

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  1. I do believe in Icelandic elves ! long story — here goes I visited Iceland for the 2nd tme in 1975. I was with a British tour group. When traveling thru the Southern Eastern part of the Island, I noticed in my road book that mentioned an area with little cairns. If you came by for the first time, you were supposed to stop and build a little cairn, to appease the little folk. Our leader would not stop [we were late for tea – dumb reason} .

    The next day strange things happened. Our bus driver (Oscar) strained his know playing pickup soccer with the local people. I strained my back helping to bring out the cook stove. The boy with me couldn’t get to the bathroom in time . A nice sociable couple had a big disagreement. She made the bus stop and ran up a hill. Came back eventually.

    More forward to 2017 – – I ordered a nice coffee cup from Iceland., with a map and flag on it. It came 10 days late, the handle was broken in three places. Very well packed with sheep wool. My belief was that a Icelandic house elf hitch hikes along, got frustrated with the delay and broke the handle. I repaired the cup, the house elf is still here. and delights in hiding things from me -very mischief’s. Eventually it is there in plain site. I really don’t mind all this. I feel honored to have an Icelandic house elf in the house.

    End of story

    Interestingly enough in my country, Somalia, (all the way in East Africa) we have Jinn; the unseen. They are fiery in nature because they were created from the smokeless flame of fire and so many are warned not to mess around with them. They can take on any physical forms They live in a world parallel to ours.

      I love learning about things like this!

    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.

      Haha! Maybe THEY are really the elves. 😉

    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?

      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!

    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’.

      Interesting! I think a lot of cultures have similar legends.

    […] 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 […]

    […] 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 […]

    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.

    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.

      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.

    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.

      Thanks so much, Anne! I’m glad you enjoyed learning about this little slice of Iceland!

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