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Iceland’s ‘hidden people’

Generally when people imagine elves, it’s as diminutive creatures that live with Santa Claus in the North Pole and work as his helpers. Christmas elves are often depicted as green or red-clad with pointy ears and hats. Santa’s elves are often said to make the toys in Santa’s workshop and take care of his reindeer, among other tasks. However, in Iceland their belief in elves and other “hidden folk” is far more real.

Elf houses near Strandakirkja

In fact, 26% of Icelanders believe elves definitely exist. Not only that, but a further 80% think there’s a chance they might exist – incredible!

Icelanders believe that Elves live within boulders, large rock formations, mountains and fields all around the island. If a boulder is known as an elf home, it is considered disrespectful to climb on it or disturb it in any way. Bad luck could befall someone who disturbs the elves.

Elves are said to live amongst these boulders

Building projects in Iceland are sometimes altered to prevent damaging the rocks where they are believed to live. Over the past few months, dozens of environmentalists and elf advocates in Iceland have joined together to urge the Icelandic Road and Coastal Commission and local authorities to abandon a highway project because it might disturb the creatures.

The activists are particularly concerned about an elf church that sits on the potential site. For now, the project has been halted until the Supreme Court of Iceland rules on a case brought by a group known as Friends of Lava.

This road in Kópavogur has been narrowed so it doesn't disturb an elf's home

So where did this all begin? One tale of their origins dates back to the days of Adam and Eve. Yes, that Adam and Eve. In this version of the story Eve had many children, and when God announced he was about to pay a visit to her, she wasn’t able to find enough time to tidy up all of her children.

So rather than present her dirty, unwashed children to God, she hid them and lied about their existence. As a result God declared, “What man hides from God, God will hide from man.” And so the hidden people were born. God gave them the ability to show themselves occasionally but only to those who they chose. Which explains why many Icelanders tell stories of seeing elves and other hidden folk all over Iceland.

If you go looking for the Hildefolk, don’t forget your travel insurance.