Wild Friday: Iceland’s Elves Acting Up!

Iceland has been forced to bow to pressure from elves and uncover a supposedly enchanted elfin rock after highway workers accidentally buried it — infuriating the mythical creatures, reports said Tuesday.

The angry elves were suspected of causing a series of mishaps after the rock was covered over when workers cleared away the debris from a landslide, the Morgunbladid daily reported.

Iceland is no stranger to bending to the will of its elfin population.

Construction sites have previously been moved so as not to disturb the creatures and fishermen have refused to go to sea because of their warnings: in Iceland, elves are part of every day life.

Sveinn Zophoniasson, who works for the Bass road construction company, told the paper that his woes began in August 2015 in Siglufjordur, close to the site of the so-called “elfin lady stone” that was covered with earth following efforts to clear a mudslide from a highway.


After the landslide was cleared, the road was subsequently flooded and a colleague of Zophoniasson who came to clear the route was injured. Then industrial machinery began to fail and a journalist who came to cover the growing chaos fell into a mud pool and had to be pulled to safety.

“Nobody even thought of the rock,” even though the area is regarded as a sacred place in local folklore, said Zophoniasson.

The decision was made that the Iceland Road Administration would unearth the rock — an artifact according to a 2012 law to protect Iceland’s elfin heritage — and it was subsequently cleaned with a pressure washer last week.


Elves are described by the hundreds of people who claim to have seen them as simple, normally peaceful creatures that look like humans — but smaller.

In 1971 elves reportedly disrupted construction of a national highway from Reykjavik to the northeast. The project suffered repeated unusual technical difficulties because, it was claimed, elves did not want the large boulder that served as their home to be moved to make way for the new road.

Since the beginning of time, elves have been the stuff of legend in Iceland, but locals here will earnestly tell you that elves appear regularly to those who know how to see them. Here in Iceland, these creatures are a part of everyday life. But do they really exist?

Anthropologist Magnus Skarphedinsson has spent decades collecting witness accounts, and he’s convinced the answer is yes.

He now passes on his knowledge to curious crowds as the headmaster of Reykjavik’s Elf School.

“There is no doubt that they exist!” exclaims the stout 60-year-old as he addresses his “students”, for the most part tourists fascinated by Icelanders’ belief in elves.

What exactly is an elf? A well-intentioned being, smaller than a person, who lives outdoors and normally does not talk. They are not to be confused with Iceland’s “hidden people”, who resemble humans and almost all of whom speak Icelandic.

Skarphedinsson relays two witness accounts.  The first tells of a fisherman who was able to see elves who would also go out to sea to fish.  One morning in February 1921, he noticed they were not heading out to sea and he tried to convince the other fishermen not to go out either. But the boss would not let them stay on shore.

That day, there was an unusually violent storm in the North Atlantic but the fishermen, who had heeded his warning and stayed closed to shore, all returned home safe and sound.

Seven years later, in June 1928, the elves again did not put out to sea which was confusing because there had never been a fierce storm at sea at that time of year. Forced to head out, they sailed waters that were calm but caught very few fish.  “The elves knew it,” the anthropologist claims.

Another “witness” is a woman in her eighties, who in 2002 ran into a young teen who claimed to know her. Asking him where they had met, he gave her an address where she had lived 53 years ago where her daughter claimed she had played with an invisible boy. “He had aged fives times slower than a human being,” says Skarphedinsson.

Surveys suggest about half of Icelanders believe in elves.  “Most people say they heard (about them) from their grandparents when they were children,” says Michael Herdon, a 29-year-old American tourist attending Elf School.


It may prompt sniggers, but respect for the elves’ habitat is a consideration every time a construction project is started in Iceland’s magnificent countryside, which is covered with lava fields and barren, windswept lowlands.

Back in 1971, Skarphedinsson recalls how elves disrupted construction of the national highway because they didn’t want a big boulder that served as their home to be moved to make way for the new road.  “They made an agreement in the end that the elves would leave the stone for a week, and they would move the stone 15 metres (yards). This is probably the only country in the world whose government officially talked with elves,” Skarphedinsson says.

Iceland is not the only country that is home to elves, he says. It’s just that Icelanders are more receptive to accounts of their existence. “The real reason is that the Enlightenment came very late to Iceland. In other countries, with western scientific arrogance, the denial of everything that they have not discovered themselves, they say that witnesses are subject to hallucinations.”