The Elves of Iceland: "Hidden People" and "Nature Spirits"

What's interesting about the belief in Elves is that it comes from a country in Western society, not a third world country nor a primitive pre-industrial one. Many Icelanders really believe in "hidden people" such that it would be "political suicide" if a politician denied their existence. And what's more I doubt very much I could ever persuade these believers they are deluded. They would scoff at me and claim I'm an "enemy of the common good." They know they're right because of the stories told to them or because they had some kind of strange experience which they claim could only have come because they exist. Their children are brainwashed to believe in them in their homes. But I have no doubt at all that these Icelander believers are just like other people around the world, intelligent people. They just see the world through a different set of glasses using the lens they were brought up to believe.


Parallel:

Many Americans believe in a three-in-one-God along with hidden angels and evil spirits who exist in the land such that it would be "political suicide" if a politician denied their existence. And what's more I doubt very much I could ever persuade these believers they are deluded. They scoff at me and claim I'm an "enemy of the common good." They know they're right because of the stories told to them or because they had some kind of strange experience which they claim could only have come because they exist. Their children are brainwashed to believe in them in their homes. But I have no doubt at all that these American believers are just like other people around the world, intelligent people. They just see the world through a different set of glasses using the lens they were brought up to believe.
References:

Iceland Tourist Board.

Video of The Elves of Iceland.

The Icelandic Elf School...
...teaches students and visitors about the five different kinds of elves or hidden people that are believed to inhabit the country of Iceland. There are elves, light-fairies, hidden people, dwarfs, gnomes, and mountain spirits. Icelandic elves, for example, can have long, spindly legs, big ears, or crazy hair but they don’t wear pointed hats or shoes. Such garb is found on an Icelandic dwarf, perhaps, but he could just as well be wearing a long cloak or a beard. Hidden people are dressed like old-time, country folk, even though these same hidden people have been known to label us regular mortals as the "primitive" ones. In fact, there are so many variations that an entire flora has been described: 13 types of elves, 3 kinds of hidden people (including the Blue People), 4 varieties of gnomes, 2 forms of trolls, and 3 types of fairies. The school is located in Reykjavík, the country's largest city. The school is headed by Magnús Skarphéðinsson, brother of the leader of one of Iceland's largest political parties.

Today, 54% of Icelanders believe in elves and hidden people and a full 90% of the population "takes notice" of this shadow community, which is said to number anywhere from 7000 to 20,000 inhabitants. "Take notice" is no small matter, it turns out, as Magnus illustrates with a rock on the side of the road outside Reykjavik. Don’t dismiss the last part of my statement; "on the side of the road" is the essential part of this story, for the entire multi-lane highway was delayed while the Public Roads Administration gingerly moved this rock, said to be owned by dwarfs, out of the construction zone. There was even a time when the road works employed its own folklorist, to help deal with issues such as misplaced elves or soon-to-be-homeless hidden folk, who have been known to resort to sabotage.

It’s not difficult to imagine how a belief in a hidden life or fairy people could have developed here. This is a land of stark, virtually unexplainable contrasts where conditions have long been harsh and the need for diversion obvious. Iceland experienced an extended Dark Ages which kept the people in such dire straits that the average Icelander did not encounter the wheel until a mere 130 years ago.

This national history finds its way into the lore of the hidden world as well. The rumor among the hidden people, claims Magnus, is that when the Vikings came, they tried to kill and enslave the Irish peasants who were already living in Iceland. To escape, these Irish settlers fled into a hidden world, and there they have remained.
First posted 3/12/09

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