Artist: Arthur Rackham (1867-1939)

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Huldufolk: The hidden people of Iceland

Francisco Diez Photography, Wikimedia Commons attribution license

Iceland is a magical place full of mystery and beauty. Though thought of as a land of ice, snow, and frost, Iceland is lush and green in the summer. Iceland is known for its volcanoes, geysers, clear clean streams, mountains, waterfalls, frozen rivers, glaciers, and the Aurora Borealis. It’s also famous for belief in the huldufólk, or hidden folk. In fact, Icelander’s common belief in the huldufólk has gotten Iceland into the U.S. news. In October of 2013, The Atlantic magazine featured an article titled “Why So Many Icelanders Still Believe in Invisible Elves” by Ryan Jacobs, and CNN even aired a story about Iceland’s Elf School. These are just a couple of examples in a long line of articles and TV news features about Iceland’s Huldufólk.

Huldufólk are elves, trolls, and other types of fairies that reside in Iceland. Unlike here in the U.S., many people in Iceland reportedly either believe in fairies or don’t deny their existence. Whenever a story about Iceland’s huldufólk comes out, it’s stated that polls of Icelanders find that anywhere from 54% to over 80% of the people do not deny that there may be fairies in Iceland. To be fair, though, the government of Iceland, and many Icelanders are embarrassed by their country’s reputation for belief in the Huldufolk. I tried to contact Iceland’s department of tourism, and the Icelandic embassy in the U.S. for comment but got no reply.

Still, it’s not unheard of for government bodies to delay building projects in order for huldufólk experts to make certain that there are no fairies living in a site where construction is planned. The article in The Atlantic talked about a recent case where a new road project outside Reykjavík was delayed, in part, because of concerns that the area is inhabited by elves. There are reports of accidents happening when people try to move rocks or boulders inhabited by the huldufólk. Heavy machinery breaks, even illness befalls those involved.

The most familiar huldufólk are elves, who are said to look just like humans. The elves are said to range in height from 1 to 9 feet tall, and dress in old fashioned clothing. It’s said that people who are clairvoyant can see and communicate with elves. Many people report encounters with elves. Some say that they have been approached for help in delivering babies for elven women. A few people even claim to have had romantic encounters with elves.

In 2006, the feature documentary “Huldufólk 102” was released and got the world talking about Iceland and the fairies. The film by writer/director Nisha Inalsingh was an official selection at eight major film festivals including Raindance, Athens, Toronto, and Australia. Please click here to view the trailer.

Visitors to Iceland can take “Hidden World Walks” that are conducted by tour operators that are authorized by the Icelandic Tourism Board. While in Iceland visitors can also attend Elf School. For over twenty years the Elf School has been teaching students all about fairies such as elves, mountain spirits, trolls, gnomes, dwarves, and more.

For more about Iceland’s folklore read “Icelandic Folktales & Legends” by Jacqueline Simpson.

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