Tag Archives: Þingvellir

Elves, Elvis and Huldufólk of Iceland

Huldufólk Iceland

“This is a land where the wind can knock you off your feet, where the smell of sulphur from your taps tells you there is invisible fire not far below your feet….Everyone is aware that the land is alive, and one can say that the stories of hidden people and the need to work carefully with them reflects an understanding that the land demands respect”.

Terry Gunnell,  Folklore Professor at the University of Iceland

Elf Houses 1

Sightings of Elves are like sightings of Elvis – frequently reported but never confirmed!

elvis-elf

In a land of fire and ice, a wild and magical place, where the fog-shrouded lava fields offer a spooky landscape it is possible that anything out of the ordinary is possible and stories abound about the “hidden folk”.

Hidden people are special In Iceland and it is said often appear in the dreams of Icelanders but if you ask me that could just be the result of too much home-brew.

They are usually described as wearing nineteenth century Icelandic clothing, and are often portrayed as traditionally wearing green.  One of Iceland’s most famous people, the singer Björk was asked one time in an interview on US TV if people in her country believed in Elves; she explained. “We do….It’s sort of a relationship with nature, like with the rocks. (The elves) all live in the rocks, so you have to. It’s all about respect, you know.”

yule-ladsiceland-elves-warning

We stopped now and then to photograph the real people houses and I reminded everyone to be careful where they walked in case they stepped on one of these tiny alternative inhabitants because Icelanders prefer big people to be careful and even frown upon the throwing of stones in case you inadvertently hit one of these small invisible folk.

These are the thousands of elves who make their homes in Iceland’s wilderness and coexist alongside the 320,000 or so Icelandic humans.  Iceland is not alone in this and Scandinavian folklore in general is full of elves, trolls and other mythological characters. Most people in Norway, Denmark and Sweden haven’t taken them seriously for several years now but elves are no joke to many in Iceland and in a survey conducted by the University of Iceland in 2007 it found that sixty-two percent of the respondents thought it was at least possible that they exist.

icelanders believe in elves

Even previous President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson seemed taken in by this and explained the existence of Huldufólk tales by saying: “Icelanders are few in number, so in the old times we doubled our population with tales of elves and fairies.”

Huldufólk are believed to live close to humans and are often blamed when things go missing rather like the plot of the 1952 book ‘The Borrowers’ by the English author Mary Norton.

“…Borrower’s don’t steal.”
“Except from human beings,” said the boy.
Arrietty burst out laughing; she laughed so much that she had to hide her face …. “Oh dear,” she gasped with tears in her eyes, “you are funny!” She stared upward at his puzzled face. “Human beans are for Borrowers – like bread’s for butter!” 

To illustrate how seriously Icelanders take the issue of elves in 1982 a delegation of Icelanders went to the NATO base in Keflavík to look for “elves who might be endangered by American Phantom jets” and in 2004, Alcoa (the World’s third largest producer of aluminium) had to have a government expert certify that their chosen building site was free of archaeological sites, including ones related to Huldufólk folklore, before they could build an aluminium smelter in Iceland.

Huldufólk House Iceland

More recently Elf protectors have joined forces with environmentalists to urge the Icelandic Road and Coastal Commission and local authorities to abandon a highway project because it might disturb them and their homes. The proposed highway would offer a direct route from the Alftanes peninsula where we had been earlier this morning to the capital Reykjavik but the project has been halted until the Supreme Court of Iceland rules on the case.  The activists cite a cultural and environmental impact – including the plight of the elves – as a reason for regularly gathering hundreds of people to block workers from bulldozing the area.

elf-house

And it’s not the first time issues about the Huldufolk have affected planning decisions. They occur so often that the road and coastal administration has come up with a stock media response for elf inquiries, which states that “issues have been settled by delaying the construction project at a certain point while the elves living there have supposedly moved on.”  

Huldufólk Iceland

Apparently there have been quite a few noticeable instances of construction projects being postponed for fear of building on land occupied by hidden people and a medium is often called in to negotiate with the elves to ask their permission to build.

As we drove the final few kilometres I kept a careful eye out for any signs of the elves but of course this was pointless because you can’t see them unless they feel like showing themselves to you so all I could imagine was – where they watching us as we approached the spiritual heartland of Iceland at Þingvellir?

Iceland Reykjavik Huldufolk

Elf Houses

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Ephemeral – The Weather in Iceland

Iceland Car Hire Volcano Damage Insurance

In the United Kingdom we generally refer to our weather as ‘changeable’  but having visited Iceland I would have to say that it is ‘reliable’.  In Iceland the weather changes by the minute – sunshine, rain, sunshine, rain.  You certainly can never be sure in Iceland!

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Minimalist

Elf Houses

As we drove towards Þingvellir we crossed a ghostly, mystical landscape of mountain passes with peaks lost in the clouds and windswept valleys with remote coloured houses of the hardy residents and maybe also the tiny hidden homes of the secretive Huldufólk, the “hidden folk” of Icelandic folklore because Icelandic gardens often feature tiny wooden álfhól or elf houses for hidden people to live in.

Read the full story…

More Little People in Iceland

Little People Elves Iceland

As we drove towards Þingvellir we crossed a ghostly, mystical landscape of mountain passes.  Peaks lost in the clouds and windswept valleys with remote coloured houses of the hardy residents and maybe also the tiny hidden homes of the secretive Huldufólk, the “hidden folk” of Icelandic folklore because Icelandic gardens often feature tiny wooden álfhól or elf houses for hidden people to live in.

Read the full story…

Elf Houses 2

Iceland, Parliaments and Tectonic Plates

Iceland Norsemen Þingvellir

“The Þingvellir National Park is a haven of peace.  Drunkenness is inappropriate here and disturbs other visitors.  The National Park reserves the right to expel inebriated visitors.”                                                                                 Þingvellir National Park visitor guide

As we approached the National Park, one of only two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Iceland, the road clung like velcro to the side of the picturesque lake Þingvallavatn, the largest freshwater lake in the country, that looked mean and moody under the heavy grey skies and whilst we would have preferred blue sky and sunshine this greyness seemed strangely appropriate to the location as we stopped at a lay-by and disposed of our empty beer cans.

(Only joking).

It was mid afternoon when we arrived at Þingvellir and although the sun was poking through now and again the light was beginning to fade on the site of the historic Icelandic National Assembly.  This was called the Althing and was an open-air assembly that represented the whole of Iceland that was established in the year 930 and continued to meet for eight hundred and fifty years or so after that.  Over two weeks every year, the Assembly met at this site and set laws, handed down punishments to law breakers, dealt with nagging wives and bad husbands and settled neighbour disputes.

It continues to have deep historical and symbolic associations for Icelanders and the site includes what are said to be the remains of the Althing itself – fragments of around fifty meeting rooms built from turf and stone.  There is Icelandic pride in the association of the Althing to the tradition of medieval Germanic/Norse governance, known through the twelfth century Icelandic sagas and resurrected and reinforced during the fight for independence in the nineteenth century.

Interestingly the Parliament of the Isle of Man, which claims to be the oldest continuous Parliament in the World is called the Tynwald which is a word that originates from the Old Norse Þingvǫllr.

This history and the powerful natural setting of the assembly grounds has given the site iconic status as a national shrine and on 17th June 1944 thousands of Icelanders flocked to this place for the historic foundation of the modern independent republic of Iceland.

Iceland Landscape

We walked past great fissures in the landscape where the land is literally tearing itself apart in a sort of messy divorce settlement.  The famous Almannagjá is the biggest of them and is evidence that here the tectonic plates of Europe and America meet and are in continual conflict with each other as they are drifting slowly apart at a rate of 3mm per year, which may not sound a lot but in geological terms is almost as fast as Usain Bolt!  The relationship between the plates is fractious, they rub together, they pull apart and they allow the molten centre of the planet to come rushing to the surface.  Iceland averages a major volcano eruption every five years.

There were few visitors and the site had an eerie beauty, ringed by black mountains with deep lava chasms, delicately balancing rocks looked set to topple over at any moment if anyone should so much as whisper, cold satanic lakes with deep secrets, sharp cobalt rocks and impatient waterfalls with exploding water cascading down the graphite walls and shattering into a thousand droplets of fine mist as it collided with the next stage of the river bed and continued its surging journey.

The National Park was founded in 1930, twenty-one years before the first UK National Park (the Peak District in Derbyshire), to protect the remains of the parliament site and was later expanded to protect natural phenomena in the surrounding area. It was the first national park in Iceland and was decreed “a protected national shrine for all Icelanders, the perpetual property of the Icelandic nation under the preservation of parliament, never to be sold or mortgaged”.

After we had walked along the ridge and to the waterfalls we returned to the car and debated the route home.  The shortest route was by another gravel road but even though we were appropriately insured we didn’t really have the stomach for that again so we choose the longer tarmac route which took us about an hour to get back to Reykjavik.

It was still relatively early when we returned to the hotel and with the sun now making a belated afternoon appearance Mike and I went back onto the streets and walked for a while through the residential areas of the city before making our way back to the cathedral and the Leif Ericson statue and then through the city where we found a bar with ‘happy hour’ prices followed by a stroll to the seafront and the Sólfar Suncraft statue and then back to the hotel where Kim and Margaret were ready already for evening meal.

We didn’t have a great deal of debate about this and all quickly agreed to go back to ‘Harry’s Bar’ but there was a problem when we arrived because there were no available tables because all of the people that had pinched our rooms at the Best Western Hotel next door had been recommended the place for their evening meal.  So we booked a table for a little later and walked back to the ‘happy hour’ pub which was a bit further away than we actually remembered and then we had to rush our drinks to be sure of getting back in time for our table.

We needn’t really have worried because the place was beginning to empty as people made their way to waiting coaches to go off on a search for the northern lights and the tables were not refilling at the same rate as they were being vacated so we had a nice second leisurely meal and even though there was a mix up over the orders and the final bill we resolved to come back a third time tomorrow evening.

Þingvellir National Park Iceland

Iceland, Folklore and the Hidden People

Elf Houses 1

“This is a land where the wind can knock you off your feet, where the smell of sulphur from your taps tells you there is invisible fire not far below your feet….Everyone is aware that the land is alive, and one can say that the stories of hidden people and the need to work carefully with them reflects an understanding that the land demands respect”.                                                          Terry Gunnell, a folklore professor at the University of Iceland

As we drove towards Þingvellir we crossed a ghostly, mystical landscape of mountain passes with peaks lost in the clouds and windswept valleys with remote coloured houses of the hardy residents and maybe also the tiny hidden homes of the secretive Huldufólk, the “hidden folk” of Icelandic folklore because Icelandic gardens often feature tiny wooden álfhól or elf houses for hidden people to live in.

In a land of fire and ice, a wild and magical place, where the fog-shrouded lava fields offer a spooky landscape it is possible that anything out of the ordinary is possible and stories abound about the “hidden folk”.

Hidden people are special here and it is said often appear in the dreams of Icelanders but if you ask me that could just be the result of too much home-brew. They are usually described as wearing nineteenth century Icelandic clothing, and are often portrayed as traditionally wearing green.  One of Iceland’s most famous people, the singer Björk was asked in an interview on US TV if people in her country believed in elves; she explained. “We do….It’s sort of a relationship with nature, like with the rocks. (The elves) all live in the rocks, so you have to. It’s all about respect, you know.”

iceland-elves-warning

We stopped now and then to photograph the real people houses and I reminded everyone to be careful where they walked in case they stepped on one of these tiny alternative inhabitants because Icelanders prefer big people to be careful and even frown upon the throwing of stones in case you inadvertently hit one of these small invisible people.

These are the thousands of elves who make their homes in Iceland’s wilderness and coexist alongside the 320,000 or so Icelandic people.  Iceland is not alone in this and Scandinavian folklore in general is full of elves, trolls and other mythological characters. Most people in Norway, Denmark and Sweden haven’t taken them seriously for several years but elves are no joke to many in Iceland and in a survey conducted by the University of Iceland in 2007 it found that sixty-two percent of the respondents thought it was at least possible that they exist.

icelanders believe in elves

Even President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson seems taken in by this and has explained the existence of Huldufólk tales by saying: “Icelanders are few in number, so in the old times we doubled our population with tales of elves and fairies.”

Huldufólk are believed to live close to humans and are often blamed when things go missing rather like the plot of the 1952 book ‘The Borrowers’ by the English author Mary Norton.

“…Borrower’s don’t steal.”
“Except from human beings,” said the boy.
Arrietty burst out laughing; she laughed so much that she had to hide her face …. “Oh dear,” she gasped with tears in her eyes, “you are funny!” She stared upward at his puzzled face. “Human beans are for Borrowers – like bread’s for butter!” 

To illustrate how seriously Icelanders take the issue of elves in 1982 a delegation of Icelanders went to the NATO base in Keflavík to look for “elves who might be endangered by American Phantom jets” and in 2004, Alcoa (the World’s third largest producer of aluminium) had to have a government expert certify that their chosen building site was free of archaeological sites, including ones related to Huldufólk folklore, before they could build an aluminium smelter in Iceland.

More recently Elf protectors have joined forces with environmentalists to urge the Icelandic Road and Coastal Commission and local authorities to abandon a highway project because it might disturb them and their homes. The proposed highway would offer a direct route from the Alftanes peninsula where we had been earlier this morning to the capital Reykjavik but the project has been halted until the Supreme Court of Iceland rules on the case.  The activists cite a cultural and environmental impact – including the plight of the elves – as a reason for regularly gathering hundreds of people to block workers from bulldozing the area.

elf-house

And it’s not the first time issues about the Huldufolk have affected planning decisions. They occur so often that the road and coastal administration has come up with a stock media response for elf inquiries, which states that “issues have been settled by delaying the construction project at a certain point while the elves living there have supposedly moved on.”  Apparently there have been quite a few noticeable instances of construction projects being postponed for fear of building on land occupied by hidden people and a medium is often called in to negotiate with the elves to ask their permission to build.

As we drove the final few kilometres I kept a careful eye out for any signs of the elves but of course this was pointless because you can’t see them unless they feel like showing themselves to you so all I could imagine was – where they watching us as we approached the spiritual heartland of Iceland at Þingvellir?

Elf Houses

Iceland – Gullfoss Falls and Þingvellir National Park

The landscape was more mountainous now with deep black fissures and verdant green moss and litchen, which was a sure sign that the air was clean and free of industrial pollutants.  The black granite mountains were capped with generous amounts of snow and below the frost line the ice was dripping down the side like gloss paint dribbling messily down the side of a pot.

Read the full story…