June 24- “It’s kind of an elf date.They are playing and dancing and singing all night long.”- Ragnhildur Jonsdottir, in conversation with Marianne Bjornmyr
If you grew up reading Andrew Lang books like I did, you’d understand my fascination with fairy tales. As a child with an over-active imagination I believed in fairies, elves, goblins, sprites, every fairy creature. It seemed so normal to me that they existed. If you’d seen me convincing my sisters to help me look for fairies you might have laughed, but I was earnest. I never did find any traces of fairy folk and I soon grew out of that belief. Hearing stories about the Icelandic belief in elves intrigued me, and it was one of the reasons Iceland had always appealed to me as a holiday destination. Apparently a considerable percentage of the population believed in Huldufólk , i.e. “hidden folk.” Judging from its landscape Iceland it does seem like the perfect place to have elves. Maybe the word ethereal is over-used but in the case of Iceland it’s very appropriate.
While visiting southern Iceland’s waterfalls and glaciers with my tour group I had the following conversation with my tour guide:
Halla (tourguide): Where are you staying?
Halla: Hafnarfjörður! There are lots of elves there!
Hafnarfjörður is a beautiful port town right next to Reykjavik that has an elf garden that I unfortunately did not visit. Most of the locals I chatted with in this town had a couple of elf stories to share with me, though I’m not sure whether it’s because they were just humouring me as I was a tourist.
While on our way back to Reykjavik, Halla directed our gaze to a large rock that was lying some metres from the highway. Soon I was to hear my first elf story:
The highway was supposed to have been built where that rock lay, Halla said. Do you know why it wasn’t built there? Elves!
We learned that the elves wreaked havoc on all construction attempts. Tractors broke down, people got injured. The rock couldn’t be budged or destroyed. Its reluctance to move defied science.There were so many coincidences, too many to believe that supernatural forces were not involved in making sure that highway would not be built at that very location. Finally, the government decided to invite an elf oracle to figure out what was going on.
I ended up finding confirmation of Halla’s story in a photobook I read at Reykjavik’s Museum of Photography, entitled “In Shadows/Echoes”. The elf oracle Ragnhildur Jonsdottir recounted a conversation she had with the elves:
“Okay, this is our home, it’s a whole community where you are planning to build this road. But if you agree to move the road over there, in a totally different place, then you are not damaging our village, then we will take care and make sure, as well as we can, that no one gets hurt driving this road.”
Jonsdottir says the elves are older than humans, and as they are always smiling they don’t have any worry lines. They have very little to worry about because they aren’t greedy like us humans, apparently. There are many different species of elves, and they are very similar to humans but smaller. They even have a royal family. Pulta, one of the oracle’s elf friends, is from that family.
Another elf story I heard took place in Reykjavik where an elf oracle was consulted before a large rock was moved. It was discovered that the rock was indeed an elf stone. The elves were amiable and agreed to move on two conditions: 1- A week was given to them so they could pack their things, and 2- they were housed in a locale that had a good view of Reykjavik.
On my last full day in Iceland I spend the day in Reykjavik and went looking for that rock. It was hard to find and even the people working at the tourist office only had a vague idea of where it was. But finally I found it, on a hill, very close to the Canadian Embassy. It was in a little park and someone had planted flowers around it.
Even if you don’t believe in supernatural forces, I believe one of the morals of the elf stories is to pay close attention to signs that the world might be giving you, and not assume you are above nature. In all the elf stories I heard the elves were always willing to compromise; they only became angry (understandably) if their communities were being destroyed. Being careful, observant, and learning to read what the signs are telling you seems to be important if we want to live safely and peacefully.