Have you ever heard the term “Huldufólk”? In Icelandic, it roughly translates to “hidden people”. Huldu relates to secrecy or things that are hidden and fólk are people. While you may not be familiar with this term, you most definitely heard another word for Huldufólk: elves. One of the questions we get most frequently from disbelieving tourists is if Icelanders really believe in elves. In short, yes. We’ll get into the specifics in a bit but the answer is a bit more nuanced. Let’s dig a little deeper into the story of Iceland’s elves and exactly what percentage of the population believes in their existence.
The origin of elves in Iceland dates back centuries. They have always been a part of Icelandic folklore and we Icelanders cherish our tales and stories. Our connection to the natural environment has let our imaginations run wild and like many cultures throughout history, we come up with our own interpretations to explain the world around us. Ancient Greeks believed lightning was caused by Zeus throwing his thunderbolts and Germans have wizards in the Black Forest and singing nymphs called Lorelei along the Rhine, so are elves really that far off the mark?
Stories of elves have been passed down orally for generations. The mythical creatures live in hidden dwellings and they often served as fables or warnings to children so that they did not end up as cautionary tales. Like everything our parents told us, we believe these stories for a long time. The warnings were a way to protect children from wandering too far, as many times the hidden people lived in dangerous places like lava fields or places with sharp rocks and crevices. It also taught us to respect the raw power of nature. And in a country filled with harsh elements such as glaciers, volcanoes and earthquakes, it’s no wonder these myths have sprung up.
While you’ll be hard-pressed to find an Icelander who will tell you “Yes, I believe in elves! I saw one last week at Hellisgerdi Park!” the polls tell a different story. Hellisgerdi Park, by the way, is rumored to be the home of one of Iceland’s largest elf colonies. When Icelanders were asked if they believed in the existence of elves with a simple yes or no, many said no. But when given the option of “definitely”, “probably” or “possibly”, pollsters received far more yes answers than no. According to a 1998 survey, around 54.4% of those surveyed said they believed in at least the possibility that elves existed.
So what do you think? Is it possible that elves really do exist in Iceland? Or is half the country just off its rocker? Would you be interested in taking an elf-hunting excursion? Not real hunting of course, only elf-spotting. We are very peaceful in Iceland and respect all creatures, even ones that may or may not exist. But you never know. As many Icelanders say, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so who are we to say elves don't exist?
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