Friday, 1 June 2007

Is hearing believing? Listen in to the wild tales of Iceland's resident gnomes, dwarves, elves and hidden people

Do you believe in elves? If you're like me you're probably a bit skeptical ... But believe it or not opinion polls consistently show that the majority of people in Iceland either believes in elves - or at least refuses to rule out their existence. So, meet the elves - I suggest the obvious place to start our tour is in Hafnarfjördur, a small town just South of Reykjavik - I'm told it's Iceland's capital of elves.

Iceland's Elves by Aventures

Sigubjörg Karlsdottir, or Sippa as she's called, is a small chubby woman with sparkling blue eyes, wearing a bright red hat and looking somewhat elf-like herself. Twice a week, she takes tourists on an elf tour of Hafnarfjördur. This small port town is believed to lie at the cross roads of several mystical energy lines and has therefore the highest density of elves and hidden people in Iceland.

"Different creatures have different appearances," Sippa says. "Hidden people, or hülte volk as we call them, are like humans: tall and handsome. Elves are a little stranger looking with big ears and long skinny legs."

Hidden creatures can put a spell on you

A big rock just up the hill from the town's old center is the first stop of Sippa's tour. The rock sits right in the middle of the front yard of a house. Sippa says a man once wanted to build a house on this very spot and he asked the builders to get rid of the rock. But they simply couldn't move it and an old man from the neighborhood told the builders: 'You have a problem because the elf that lives here does not want to move.' So the owner decided to build his house behind the rock.

Sippa says these hidden creatures are for the most part good-natured. But they can also get very upset and put a spell on you.

Elves and hidden people are a serious business in Iceland, says Terry Gunnell, the head of the folkloristic department at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik. Though he hasn't seen any himself, he sounds fairly convinced of their existence: "Hidden people look like us and they live like us, they are just more powerful."

Gunnell who's British, but has lived in Iceland since 1979 says that this historically rich mythology of elves contrasts sharply with the difficulties Icelanders have faced in the past: volcanoes erupted all over the island, the country was surrounded by pack ice, crops and animals died. Icelanders live in a world where invisible forces around them shape their lives. So, Icelanders needed something to dream of and look forward to.

Elves are a part of road construction planning

History and mythology is one thing. However, elves are very much part of everyday life in modern Iceland, too.

Building roads around the homes of elves is nothing unusual in Iceland, according to Victor Ingolfsson, the spokesperson for Iceland's Road Authority. He personally doesn't believe in elves -- but he says, elves are taken into serious consideration when it comes to road construction.

"We consider this talk about elves and hidden people as a kind of public relations issue," Ingolfsson says. The authority has repeatedly had to deal with people having trouble with certain road plans, thinking that elves or hidden people lived at the sites. "Because Iceland is such a small community, we have to listen to everyone, we can't just say you're crazy."

"Everyone can see elves"

Someone who has always listened to people's sighting of elves is Magnus Skarphedinsson, an historian and headmaster of the Icelandic elf school "Álfaskólinn" in Reykjavik. The school has been around for 14 years and attracts both foreign and Icelandic students.

Skarphedinsson's main job is to collect stories of elf sightings and other hidden creatures. He has descriptions of all sorts of different types of elves, trolls, gnomes, fairies and dwarfs.

"But nearly 70 percent of our stories are about hidden people, because they are most seen here," Skarphedinsson says. Though he's probably the only person on the planet who knows so much about this phenomenon, Skarphedinsson admits there is so much more to be discovered. Unfortunately for him, despite devoting his life to elves, he himself has never seen an elf or hidden person.

Someone who has is 40-year-old Icelander Jenny. In fact, she says she sees them quite often when she walks in the forest near her home. "Usually what I see are elf children playing, they may not be so careful," Jenny says. "When they realize that I see them, they say 'whoops, she can see us' and they disappear."

But is seeing elves just a question of luck -- or a power only given to a few? Apparently not, says Hermundur Rosenkranz, a numerologist and psychic: "Everyone can see elves, you just have to be neutral and listen, control your mind, don't think, just feel, be patient and try."

According to Rosenkranz, everyone in the world has his or her own house elf. So either there's a little bit of Iceland all over the world or we all have an elfish side to us.


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