Icelandic Elves. “Hidden people among us”, says Icelanders

elves and hidden people
Scene from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

“She’s an educated woman, a scientist at that and here she is telling me that she believes in Elves“, joked the gentle man conducting the interview. “Oh, I do”, she replied laughing. “And a family of Elves live in this rock?”, she continued, pointing to the boulder behind them.

This was my first time hearing of the existence of Elves in Iceland. And it was during my research for this piece when I learnt that survey conducted have revealed that more than half of its people believe in, or at least entertain the possibility of the existence of, the álfar or huldufólk – the hidden people. A long-standing tradition that’s been around for hundreds of years and embedded in Icelanders’ mindset. The little people themselves are magnificent creatures that bear a resemblance to human, sources claimed.

Elf houses near Strandakirkja in south Iceland by Christian Bickel
Elf houses near Strandakirkja in south Iceland. Photo by Christian Bickel.

“Jacqueline Simpson, a visiting professor at the University of Chichester’s Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales, and Fantasy in England, said references to the word alfar, or elf, first appeared in the Icelandic record in Viking-era poems that date back to around 1000 AD.” — The Atlantic.

This generation has been introduced to Elves (Middle-earth) thanks to the wildly popular film series ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ based on the novels by J.R.R. Tolkien.

People who have given account of seeing Elves reiterated that they wore costume from hundreds of years back. And that they are gentle souls who if left alone mind their own business. They, however do get exasperated if their rock homes, churches, and fields are interfered with. Thus, building projects in Iceland are often planned around, diverted or canceled altogether to prevent disturbing elf colonies. Per local tradition too, one should not indiscriminately throw stones as these could end up hitting an elf.

Elves are said to be little environmentalists. The landscape where they reside are dominated by rocks formed, in part, by volcanic activity (fire), wind and water. And they like for things to remain just the way they are. There have been several incidents where construction workers have had mishaps on sites, machinery ceased to work for no obvious reason, and other unexplainable occurrences have been said to be the work of these creatures of the land.

Icelanders are in league with their dwarf counterparts thank you very much. The landscape, town and country, are dotted with tiny houses built for the Elves. And when they wandered off into the night, candles are placed out by the residents to help them find their way back home.


by Tiffany Huggins