Icelandic Suspension of Disbelief

Huldufólk, literally meaning “hidden people,” are a group of elusive elves found in much of Icelandic folklore. Most Icelanders believe that they exist.

Huldufólk are said to live in an invisible dimension in houses built in the cracks of rocks, caves, and in the sides of cliffs. They can make themselves visible to humans, particularly on certain days of the year.

According to a 2007 study by Terry Gunnell, head of folkloristics at the University of Iceland, an estimated 62% of the nation believe that the existence of elves is more than a fairy tale. However, he clarifies that “rather than believe, they don't disbelieve."

Indeed, there seems to be a national tongue-in-cheek vibe that acknowledges that the existence or otherwise of huldufólk is less important than the cultural imperative to preserve that “maybe” sense of mystery.

Icelandic academic Anna Heiða Pálsdóttir claims that in a landscape filled with earthquakes, avalanches, and volcanoes, "it is no wonder that the native people have assigned some secret life to the landscape. There had to be some unseen powers behind such unpredictability, such cruelty.”

For Icelanders, these beliefs have manifested in a culture that stresses a deep respect for their environment and the importance of protecting it; and maybe that’s what underpins the cultural obsession with the mythology.

The widespread “belief” that elves and huldufólk live within the rocks and mountainsides of Iceland can complicate things for non-Icelandic organisations trying to set up shop. Sometimes, new construction will be halted by concerned Icelanders who wish to protect the habitats of elves and huldufólk. In 2004 Alcoa, in its application to build an aluminium smelter, were required to get official certification that their chosen site was free of huldufólk archaeological evidence before the work could begin. And in 2013, proposed road construction from the Alftanes peninsula to Reykjavik, was stopped because elf supporters and environmental groups protested (there’s that nexus again), declaring that the road would destroy the habitat of elves and local cultural beliefs.

The elves can be mischievous. There are many folktales about huldufólk invading farmhouses and holding wild parties at Christmas. Nonetheless it is the custom to clean the house and leave food for the huldufólk before Christmas. On New Years Eve the elves move to new locations so the Icelanders light candles to help them find their way. And beware; if you sit at a crossroads on Midsummer’s Night, huldufólk will attempt to seduce you with gifts. If you resist there are great rewards, but succumbing will lead to misfortune.


Wikipedia Reference: Huldufólk | (Text) CC BY-SA


1. Elf houses in the Skógar folk museum village. Photo credit: Natalia Panina, Flickr CC
2. Hildur, the Queen of the Elves. An engraving showing a man jumping after a woman (an elf) into a precipice
3. Huldufólk Documentary on Vimeo. Click HERE.
4. Huldufólk Houses
5. Elf houses outside Steðji brewery. Photo credit: Jennifer Boyer, Flickr CC
6. Elvish Road Sign

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As made famous in Wil Ferral’s latest offering spoofing Eurovision!
We had a fabulous tiny door installer in the last couple of years in Launceston, so i fully expect the huldufolk refugees have found an agreeable home.

Vicki Dewsbury

If a story is well invented, then truth is not such an absolute value.

Rosalind Thieme

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