Huldufolk, or hidden people, are elves in Icelandic and Faroese folklore. They are supernatural beings that live in nature. They look and behave similarly to humans, but live in a parallel world. They can make themselves visible at will.
In Faroese folk tales, hidden people are said to be “large in build, their clothes are all grey, and their hair black. Their dwellings are in mounds (See the picture above), and they are also called Elves.”
And, of course, they are real!
During road construction in Kópavogur in 1971, a bulldozer broke down. The driver placed the blame on elves living in a large rock. Despite locals not having been aware of any elves living in the rock, newspapers ran with the story, thus starting the myth that Icelandic road construction was often impeded by elves.
In 1982, 150 Icelanders went to the NATO base in Keflavík to look for “elves who might be endangered by American Phantom jets and AWACS reconnaissance planes.” In 2004, Alcoa had to have a government expert certify that their chosen building site was free of archaeological sites, including ones related to huldufolk folklore, before they could build an aluminium smelter in Iceland. In 2011, elves/huldufolk were believed by some to be responsible for an incident in Bolungarvík where rocks rained down on residential streets. In 2013, proposed road construction from the Álftanes peninsula to the Reykjavík suburb of Garðabær, was stopped because elf supporters and environmental groups protested, stating that the road would destroy the habitat of elves and local cultural beliefs. Rumour has it that the Elves participated in this rally but because they could make themselves invisible, no-one saw them, but some say they did hear them.
The Christianization of Iceland in the 11th century brought with it new religious concepts. According to one Christian folk tale, the origins of the hidden people can be traced to Adam and Eve. Eve hid her dirty, unwashed children from God, and lied about their existence. God then declared: “What man hides from God, God will hide from man.” In other words God gave them invisibility, should they choose to use it. Other Christian folktales claim that hidden people originate from Lilith, who was banished from the Garden of Eden for disobeying Adam, or are fallen angels condemned to live between heaven and hell.
There are four Icelandic holidays considered to have a special connection with the hidden people: New Year’s Eve, Thirteenth Night (January 6), Midsummer Night and Christmas night. Elf bonfires (álfabrennur) are a common part of the holiday festivities on Twelfth Night (January 6). There are many Icelandic folktales about elves and hidden people invading Icelandic farmhouses during Christmas and holding wild parties. It is customary in Iceland to clean the house before Christmas, and to leave food for the Huldufolk on Christmas. On New Year’s Eve, it is believed that the elves move to new locations, and Icelanders leave candles to help them find their way. On Midsummer Night, folklore states that if you sit at a crossroads, elves will attempt to seduce you with food and gifts; there are grave consequences for being seduced by their offers, but great rewards for resisting. Food and gifts sounds like a better option to me.
The Icelandic Elf School in Reykjavík organizes five-hour-long educational excursions for visitors. Hafnarfjörður offers a “Hidden Worlds tour”, a guided walk of about 90 minutes. It includes a stroll through Hellisgerdi Park, where the paths wind through a lava field planted with tall trees and potted bonsai trees in summer, and said to be peopled with the town’s largest elf colony. Stokkseyri has the Icelandic Wonders museum, where “Museum guests will walk into a world of the Icelandic elves and hidden people and get a glimpse of their life.”
Sounds like a definite Bucket List trip to me.