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Huldufolk: the elusive Hidden People of Iceland

5 min read

The belief in the Hidden People is taken very seriously in certain countries, including Iceland.
Not far from Reykjavik, there is a small harbor town called Hafnarfjöròur that is said to be the home of the Huldufolk or the Secret Folk.
These creatures are a race of Hidden People who have magical powers and, according to popular belief, protect the island.

The Huldofolk have been part of Iceland for as long as anyone can remember.
They look and behave similarly to humans, but live in a parallel world, and they can make themselves visible at will.
As story goes, as the years passed, the Huldufolk spent less and less time with their other brothers and sisters, and less time in the garden that had been their home, and they eventually made their home among the rocks of the field and the cliffs by the sea.
Thus they became protective of the land and did not allow humans to harm it.
They did not like rocks to be moved, or the moss to be disturbed, nor did they like anyone to come too close to their homes.
Some Icelandic folk tales caution against throwing stones, as it may hit the hidden people.
Sometimes, they even would go visit the humans to see if they would be welcomed.
The Huldufolk became generous with gifts and rewards for hospitality, but misfortune often fell on those who were selfish or inhospitable.
Their ability to remain invisible made it easy for them to confuse humans and bring misfortune or bad luck. If a human angered or offended one of them, the human often misplaced tools, lost supplies, had holes mysteriously appear in their shoes or all their fish become rotten.
Still today, any time some Icelanders meets a stranger, they make sure to always be polite and courteous, sharing food and lodging freely, especially if the stranger is unusually beautiful, as you can never be sure if it’s one of the Huldufolk!

The Christianization of Iceland in the 11th century brought with it new religious concepts.
According to one Christian folk tale, the origins of the hidden people can be traced to Adam and Eve: Eve hid her dirty, unwashed children from God, and lied about their existence.
God then declared: “What man hides from God, God will hide from man.”
Other Christian folktales claim that hidden people originate from Lilith, or are fallen angels condemned to live between heaven and hell.

There are four Icelandic holidays considered to have a special connection with hidden people: New Year’s Eve, Thirteenth Night (January 6), Midsummer Night and Christmas night.
Elf bonfires, locally known as álfabrennur, are a common part of the holiday festivities on January 6.
There are many Icelandic folktales about elves and hidden people invading Icelandic farmhouses during Christmas and holding wild parties.
It is customary in Iceland to clean the house before Christmas, and to leave food for the huldufólk on Christmas.
On Midsummer Night, on the other hand, folklore states that if you sit at a crossroads, elves will attempt to seduce you with food and gifts. There are grave consequences for being seduced by their offers, but great rewards for resisting.

Interestingly, the belief in the Huldafolk is so strong in Iceland that special precautions are taken when new roads and buildings are constructed, making certain the dwellings of the Hidden People are not disturbed.
Experts, in fact, stated various accidents result from people who dared to disturb the Huldafolk.
Not by chance, in 1970, the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration had intended to blow up a series of rocks referred to locally as the Troll’s Pass, but was convinced not to do so.
The road remains uneven to this day, but apparently there had been zero traffic accidents on it, as the grateful elves protect those who drive near their home.
During road construction in Kópavogur in 1971, a bulldozer broke down, and the driver placed the blame on elves living in a large rock.
Despite locals not having been aware of any elves living in the rock, newspapers ran with the story, thus starting the myth that Icelandic road construction was often impeded by elves.
Similarly, in 2010 a man named Árni Johnsen was in a car accident in southwest Iceland, but remained miraculously uninjured. He believes he was saved by a family of elves known to dwell in a nearby boulder and actually had that thirty-ton boulder relocated to his home, after having consulted with the elves to make sure they would like to move to a place that had more fields and fewer cars.
In 2013, proposed road construction from the Álftanes peninsula to the Reykjavík suburb of Garðabær, was stopped because elf supporters and environmental groups protested, stating that the road would destroy the habitat of elves and local cultural beliefs.

According to a study in 2007 by the University of Iceland, about 62% of the population in Iceland are convinced the Hidden People are much more than a fairy tale.
In Reykjavik, there is even an Elfschool where students learn about everything that is known about elves and hidden people, as well as gnomes, dwarfs, fairies, trolls, mountain spirits as well as other nature spirits and mythical beings in Iceland and in other countries.
Students are also taught where these creatures live, what they look like, their ideas about humans, about them as well as all the other nature spirits that seems to live around us here in other dimensions.
Such studies offer a unique opportunity to learn about these elusive little creatures, and students are given the chance to meet people who encountered the Huldufolk and learn from their experiences.

According to the representatives of the school, “the elves and Hidden people of Iceland have saved hundreds of lives of Icelanders through the centuries is explored and explained to the students, as well as how this strange friendship between these two or many different worlds and dimensions can and does exists.”

In any case, learning more about the enigmatic little creatures that have captured the hearts of the Icelanders for generations is very interesting for anyone interested in mythology, fairy tales, or popular folklore.

Images from web – Google Research