Reykjavik Excursions Blog
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The Hidden People of Iceland

They live in rocks

22/1/2018 Blog

A few decades after the Brothers Grimm had collected and released their collection of folktales and adventures, an Icelandic man, Jón Árnason, decided to do the same. He was, of course, not the only man in the world to follow in the Brothers Grimm's footsteps but he was the first in Iceland. He sent out a word all over Iceland that he wanted as many folktales as people remembered, and even though he found many of them almost not worthy of publishing (calling them wife tales), he released two volumes in 1862 and 1864. A century later they were reissued in six volumes, that also included that excluded tales. 


Ghost stories and stories about trolls have always been popular in Iceland, but the most popular are the stories about huldufólk or the hidden people. They are the Icelandic version of elves, but you should not be known to call the hidden people elves because they consider it as an insult. They live in rocks, or what appear to be rocks to us. Their houses are generally described being the size of palaces. They are usually rich and only came to the humans for help if their own medicine or magic have failed. Huldufólk looks just like us, but they are rich, powerful, beautiful and never lack anything. 

Stories about changelings are stories on how people dealt with disability in the olden days while stories on women getting pregnant by hidden men, dealt with adultery. There are also stories on how women were asked to join the hidden people in their world and help with a birth. Usually, the woman was given something expensive in return, and folklorists believe those stories deal with either women having affairs and getting expensive gifts from their lovers or thefts. Today, it seems like a rather easy way out of trouble to blame it on the hidden people. 

Do Icelanders really believe in elves?

You will be hard-pressed to find a nation with so many people openly accepting the existence of elves than the Icelandic one. 

There are not many that outwardly believe they exist, but about 48% of Icelanders think it is possible or probable they exist. Only about 10% flat out deny their existence while 8% believe they do exist. There are a few that say they have elves and hidden people living in their gardens and speak to them regularly. These numbers come from a 1975 survey on the belief of Icelanders. The survey was redone in 2006 and the numbers were just about the same. 

The revenge of the hidden people can be cruel if you cross them over. In recent decades there are multiple anecdotal tales of how they have deliberately sabotaged expensive road working equipment when workers have tried to blow up their habitat. 

In Álfhólsvegur (or Elf Hill Road) in Kópavogur, the road takes an unnecessary bend around a rocky slope. In the 1940s, road workers were told the road should go through the hill, but their diggers broke down one after the other. In the end, it was decided the road would go around the hill instead of through it. A few decades later, the municipality wanted to fix the road and make it straight like it was supposed to be in the beginning. However, when two drills broke down and into pieces, the workers refused to go near it again. 

These days, the rocks are usually moved after someone talks to the hidden people and strike up a deal with them. 

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