With a colorful and historic heritage extending back to 74 AD when a powerful Norse chieftain, Ingolfur Arnarson, landed on its shores and established a permanent foothold that grew and grew, the Republic of Iceland is a small, island country in the North Atlantic Ocean with a population of only a little more than 300,000.
With a landscape dominated by huge glaciers, imposing mountains, the largest waterfall in Europe, still-active volcanoes, cold, flowing rivers, and powerful geysers, it’s an undeniably atmospheric country.
Maybe not surprisingly, then, Iceland is bustling with tales of strange and bizarre creatures, and particularly so in and around the capital of Reykjavik. Top of the list are, without doubt, the land’s legendary hulte volk, or Hidden People.
Originally believed to have been ancient gods who held sway over issues relative to fertility and nature, the elves of Reykjavik are a curious bunch that - via folklore and legend, have become inextricably tied to other elemental entities like fairies and goblins - can be as helpful and friendly as they can be malevolent, and display distinct traits of both teacher and tormentor.
Preferring to spend their time in wells, forests and springs, and not always diminutive in size – as most people might assume, given how elves have for so long been portrayed in folklore - they have an uneasy relationship with the people of the land.
They are a highly unpredictable bunch, too: while they will not hesitate to wreak unrelenting supernatural havoc if they feel they have been disrespected, they often display both incredible generosity and playfulness if the mood, and the person, takes them.
Snorri Sturluson, an Icelandic historian who lived from 1179 to 1241, was deeply familiar with such creatures and maintained there were several categories, including the Dokkalfar – or Dark Elves – and Light Elves, known as the Ljosalfar.
Sturluson said of them that the Light Elves were more radiant than the sun, whereas the Dark Elves were darker than night. And that the former are said to live in a tranquil locale and the latter in dark, underground dwellings, makes for the perfect analogy to Christian Heaven and Hell.
Interestingly, many of the stories of Icelandic elves emanate from Hafnarfjordur, a small town just south of Reykjavik that is believed to be a place saturated by mystical energies and portals to other realms, or dimensions, of existence; further emphasizing the legend that these strange life-forms inhabit Heaven and Hell-style worlds.
To demonstrate the sheer extent to which the people of Reykjavik, even today, fully believe in the existence of such creatures, studies undertaken by the University of Iceland’s Faculty of Social Sciences in 2006 and 2007 revealed that whole swathes of the population were very open-minded on the matter of their undeniably widespread elf legends.
When a poll was taken in 2009, it showed that while around fifty percent of the populace felt that such creatures might exist, more than ten percent were absolutely sure of their reality.
Even Iceland’s Road Authority has, on far more than several occasions, been forced to modify, or outright alter, its plans to build new roads and highways in areas of magical renown and said to be inhabited by elves, for fear of incurring the malevolent wrath of the creatures.
In other words, for the people of Iceland, the strange creatures of that ancient land are not just the stuff of fantasy, myth and folklore. No: they are all too amazingly real.
Nick Redfern’s new book, Monster Files, will be published on May 22.