Icelanders and Their Culturally Inherited Belief in Elves

Roughly half of Icelanders believe in the existence of elves. So strong is their belief that it halts construction and road projects, among other things. See here. These beliefs are culturally inherited ones. Christian, why do you think yours are not!

HT exapologist

17 comments:

Mark Plus said...

This brings to mind Hugo Dyson's famous complaint about his colleague J.R.R. Tolkien's obsession with elves.

I find it interesting that elf belief in Iceland has practical "moral" consequences. Icelanders apparently go out of their way to avoid violating elves' imputed property rights through their building activities. Why, if elves don't exist, Icelanders could build whatever they want, wherever they want, without facing accountability from elves for their actions!

CharlesP said...

I now have to wonder which is the stranger Icelandic phenomenon. Bjork, Magnus Scheving, or the Elves.

exapologist said...

What perhaps heightens the shocking nature of their belief in elves is that Iceland is a very high-tech culture. By 1999, over 82% of the population had access to a computer, and had 1,007 mobile phones per 1,000 residents by 2006. Iceland also has a 100% literacy rate, and produces an enormous number of citizens with PHds.

sylvia said...

As with most of the stuff on this site, there's always the other side of the story that goes missing. Here are some interesting facts about Iceland and elves from a survey done in 2007:

"Only 3 percent of Icelanders lay claim to personal encounters, but 8 percent believe in them outright and 54 percent won't deny their existence, reveals a poll conducted in 2007 by Terry Gunnell, head of folkloristics at the University of Iceland. "Rather than believe," he explains, "they don't disbelieve." (source)

Only 13 percent of participants in the study said it is impossible that elves exist, 19 percent found it unlikely, 37 percent said elves possibly exist, 17 percent found their existence likely and eight percent definite. Five percent did not have an opinion on the existence of elves...About 1,000 people participated in the questionnaires. (source)

Terry Gunnell also says "It's not like they think there are little people living in there who come and dance outside," he added. "It's more a sense that there are other powers, other forces around them." (source)

The Iceland Tourist Board however states that more than ten percent of the Icelandic population believes in elves, including singer-songwriter Björk. Another ten percent denies their existence while the remaining 80 percent are in doubt. (source)

So no, not "half of Icelanders believe in the existence of elves". Only 8% do.

Next time, please present ALL of the information instead of just the bits that appeal to your world view. Don't be scared to let the reader decide for themselves.

I found this little gem to be particularly insightful:

"Very few people believe that they have all the answers at their fingertips, nor would they claim to have the mystery of life sorted out once and for all. The few of us who do know everything (in their own estimation) can answer the question about the existence of elves with a straight yes or no; but the rest of us have to admit that there may be more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Elves are the embodiment of this uncertainty. We have, in other words, more questions than answers, and this question is among them." (source)

exapologist said...

Sylvia,

Sorry, but when construction projects are delayed or diverted in Iceland because of the worry of disturbing the "hidden people", we're talking widespread deeply-held belief.

sylvia said...

""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," Ingolfsson says. "We can't just say you're crazy." (source)

Makes sense.

What are the numbers showing how many construction projects were delayed or diverted because of elves?

Gandolf said...

Sylvia from your same source "Most people probably don't think elves exist -- but not in Iceland. The (majority of the population) on this remote North Atlantic island either believes in elves or at least refuses to rule out their existence."

"we have to listen to everyone," Ingolfsson says. "We can't just say you're crazy."

Is maybe meaning the (few) who really realize just how stupid this belief really is, cant simply just tell (everyone) they dont know what they are talking about.

I guess Ingolfsson needs to find a way to find proof of the non existence of elves.Kinda like trying to find proof for the non existence of Gods.

A need to try to disprove a default theory is not so easy.Maybe its even a harder task with elf beliefs,as far as i know they didnt write bibles that later in time can be seen to be wrong.

exapologist said...

I'm seconding Gandolf.

Also, one of your quotes doesn't support your claim the way you think it does, viz.:

Only 13 percent of participants in the study said it is impossible that elves exist, 19 percent found it unlikely, 37 percent said elves possibly exist, 17 percent found their existence likely and eight percent definite. Five percent did not have an opinion on the existence of elves...About 1,000 people participated in the questionnaires.

So even if we go with the low-ball numbers in the source you cite here, 17% find their existence likely -- in other words, they think it's more probable than not -- and another 8% are certain that elves exist. That's a full quarter of Iceland's population -- i.e., 1 in every 4 people --who think it's more probable than not that elves exist, according to just this source. And when you add the 37% who seriously feel they can't rule it out that elves exist (a category of a level of credence that the study you quote distinguishes from both thinking elves are impossible and from thinking the existence of elves are unlikely), we get at total of 62% of Iceland's population who think there's a real sporting chance that elves exist. Sorry, but this quote doesn't help your case in undermining widespread credulity about elves in Iceland.

sylvia said...

Where do you see me trying to undermine widespread credulity about elves in Iceland? I'm presenting facts from third-party sources. You see where I've done this, I presume? Great. So, I trust you can also see the point of my comments - that it's not enough to say "roughly half of Icelanders believe in the existence of elves" without disclosing that 8% actually believe in the existence of elves. I'm arguing the presentation of the data, not what it means for Christianity (seeing as I don't care about the latter).

exapologist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
exapologist said...

So, I trust you can also see the point of my comments - that it's not enough to say "roughly half of Icelanders believe in the existence of elves" without disclosing that 8% actually believe in the existence of elves.

Yes, and again, what I'm saying is that you're flat-out wrong: the polling statistics you cite do not support your claim. In other words, you've misconstrued what the poll actually says. The poll says that 8% believe outright that elves exist, but you re-worded it as saying that 8% believe. In doing so, you've conflated outright belief with belief simpliciter. This makes it sound as though (i) you don't know what 'outright' means, (ii) you don't know that 'outright' is used as a modifier of the verb 'believe', and that (iii) you don't know that belief comes in degrees. Once you appreciate this, you'll see that the polls don't support your claim.

Sindri said...

I am from Iceland. I am an Atheist, and a former pentecostal Christian.

I know of examples where people have avoided cutting the grass of certain hills, in order not to disturb the elves. I know Pentecostals that think elves are demons.

I know a person that works for a certain town. (She is the mother of a friend of mine). She was told to moan a certain lawn in the town, but refused, since she didn't want to anger the elves that supposedly lived there. (refused out of fear)

Icelandic Atheists regularly debate with people that believe in elves. Some of the "elve-believers" are well educated and smart people. They believe that they have caught elves on films, etc. (not unlike UFO pictures)

ismellarat said...

I was just listening to this podcast the other day, from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, with Hope Knutsson, who emigrated from the US 30 years ago, in search of some humanistic ideal (scroll down):

http://ffrf.org/radio/podcast/archives/2007.php

Everything's just wonderful there, they agree, the whole country's teeming with "free thinkers", the joke is that an Icelander only attends church 4 times in a lifetime, and 2 of those times they get carried in, etc.

So this is what happens to you guys, after you deconvert - you start believing in elves, eh? ;-)

sylvia said...

exapologist - so 8% of Icelanders believe outright that elves exist. The other 92% don't believe outright that elves exist. As Terry says, "Rather than believe, they don't disbelieve."

exapologist said...

I'll give you this much, Sylvia, your refusal to understand is impressive. ;-)

Outright belief is full belief, i.e., certitude. But belief comes in degrees, depending on the strength of one's conviction and one's disposition to act on it. It's not as though we only have three doxastic states: certitude, suspension of judgement and complete disbelief.

I have certitude that the sun will rise tomorrow. I belief slightly more tentatively that my cat will come home to eat today. I belief a bit more tentatively that it'll rain tomorrow when the weatherperson says there's an 80% chance of rain tomorrow, and even more tentatively when he says there's a 65-70% chance.

So again, the poll doesn't support your claim that only 8% of Icelanders believe in elves.

ahswan said...

"These beliefs are culturally inherited ones. Christian, why do you think yours are not!"

John, it's because of the evidence.

exapologist said...

Thanks, Sindri. That's fascinating that elf-believers debate atheists about it.

Best,

EA