In Iceland, elves are a part of the national culture. Many of the country’s 230,000 citizens believe they actually exist.

This belief is what led a mob of 150 men and women to protest a NATO military base in Keflavik in 1982. They believed the military was disrespecting the elves and their jets were desecrating the holy ground of the hidden people.

NATO respected the protesters’ feelings and invited them to inspect their base. Satisfied no elves were being harmed, the group left in peace.

It may sound like fantasy, but in Iceland, elves are a fact of life.

According to a 2006 survey, 32 percent of Icelanders believe in the possibility of elves. Another 26 percent believe their existence is a cast iron certainty.

They’re considered a peaceful breed of small creatures who look a lot like humans.

University of Iceland professor, Valdimar Hafstein, advises to leave elves alone. Treat them with respect, do not upset their dwelling places and they’ll be quite harmless. Cross them at your peril.

Iceland is rife with tales of elves sabotaging construction projects. Why? Because they do not take kindly to having their rock houses and churches blown up with construction dynamite.

The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration has created a five-page document on elves.

It reads, “We value the heritage of our ancestors. Oral tradition might suggest supernatural beings inhabit a certain rock. The rock is then considered a cultural treasure. Our reaction to these concerns has varied. In some cases, we have delayed the construction project. This allows the elves to supposedly move on.”

In 2010, former Icelandic member of Parliament Árni Johnsen’s car went off a small cliff. He swears a group of elves living in a nearby rock saved his life. When a road was planned over the rock, he begged the developers to save it. They granted his wish and moved the 30-ton rock to a safe place.

It should be stressed that not everyone in Iceland believes in elves. One theory suggests Icelanders created the superstition, so they didn’t feel so alone in such a majestic, but unpredictable landscape.

Professor of Folklore, Adalheidur Gudmundsdottir, says, “You can’t live in this landscape and not believe in a force greater than you. Icelanders are not uneducated peasants who believe in fairies. But if you live here you’ll understand why the power of folklore is so strong.”


Vocabulary

mob

a large angry crowd

fact of life

something that must be accepted and can’t be changed

cast iron

describes something that can be believed

cross (someone)

go against someone

(do something) at your peril

a warning that doing something is dangerous

(not) take kindly to

not be happy or accepting of something


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