In my first blog post about the huldufolk, I wrote about my recent research into the hidden people of Iceland and offered some thoughts about Icelandic belief in the otherworld. In this post, I’ll conclude the discussion with lore I gathered about the hidden people and offer some book and website suggestions.
The Huldufolk and Their Lore
Note that all of the lore I gathered came from the oral accounts of my informants, except where noted.
Trolls are the guardians of the great places; mountains, glaciers, and waterfalls. They may be helpful or harmful to humankind. I have a vague memory, not captured in my notes, of an informant telling me that trolls turn to stone during the day and back into living beings at night, which is why so many Icelandic mountains have the shape of giant faces and bodies. These are trolls, frozen in place until the sun goes down.
House Elves live in your house, help you, tease you, and borrow your things. Their lives mirror human lives, and they’ll travel with families when they move. You’ll know they’re around if things in your house go smoothly, and if you need help, just ask them. However, it’s important to be grateful for the help they offer and tell them so.
Flower Elves are tiny and exist everywhere among growing things. When you plant trees, these elves come to protect them. They nurture and encourage your plants to grow, but they might be poisoned if you introduce pesticides and other toxins into your garden. In the summertime, they generate the energy that protects living things, and in turn, these living things protect them in the wintertime.
Elf Women and Men are what most people think of when they hear the word “huldufolk.” These are the extra-dimensional people who have lived in Iceland since well before the Vikings colonized it and can see between the dimensions. My primary informant indicated that these people live like human beings but use simpler technologies, including sailboats. However, I’ve also heard them referred to as beautiful or shining people who dress in rich clothing. Their households are multi-generational.
Mermaids and Mermen live in the ocean and on the shore. Mermaids come to sing on the beach and heal those who listen to them. If you ask them a question, they’ll whisper the answer in your ear. They’re thankful when you’re careful about what you throw away, especially into the ocean. Both they and their mermen counterparts are protectors of the sea and the beings who live in the sea.
In what might be called the miscellaneous category, I learned there were elves who fled natural disasters to live in Iceland and elves who have families both in their dimension and in ours, effectively living dual lives. Of course, huldufolk lore goes well beyond what I’ve indicated here, and I’ll be doing further research using the resources listed below.
Book and Website Suggestions
These books are part of my advance reading list for a novel series I hope to have outlined by the end of summer. However, I haven’t read them yet, so I can’t actually recommend them. I can only suggest they might be interesting to you. They’re all collections of Icelandic folktales and legends suitable for non-academic audiences.
- A Traveller’s Guide to Icelandic Folk Tales by Jón R. Hjálmarsson (Author), Anna Yates (Translator)
- Icelandic Folktales & Legends by Jacqueline Simpson (Author), Magnus Magnusson (Foreword)
- The Guardians of Iceland and Other Icelandic Folk Tales by Heidi Herman
- The Little Book of the Hidden People: Twenty stories of elves from Icelandic folklore by Alda Sigmundsdottir
You might also enjoy this web site, which is based on academic research of Icelandic folklore.
Iceland’s landscape is varied and majestic, like nothing I’ve ever seen, and it captivated my imagination. The crests of certain mountains were like the circular towers of fortresses barely hidden by the veil between the worlds or the bodies of crouching trolls covered in rock. One glacier appeared to have the image of a smiling face drawn into it as if by a giant index finger. As a folklorist and storyteller, it was easy for me to envisage the ancient Icelanders seeing the same things I did and crafting stories about them. As a Heathen environmental activist, it was important to me that I revere the sacred presence of the place, however it chose to manifest itself. In one case, that meant taking a trash bag around a waterfall in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and picking up after disrespectful visitors. In another, it meant leaving apples beside a prominent stone on Grímsey Island. In yet another, it meant straight-up seidh work I’m not willing to write about here.
When I talk about my academic work to people outside the discipline, I tell them it isn’t my job to decide whether or not a thing is “real.” It’s my job to observe and record human belief. But I share many of the beliefs I observe and record, and I’ll gladly embellish them for the sake of a good tale. The combination necessitates good compartmentalization skills, and it makes for interesting investigations of folklore like that of the huldufolk. I hope you’ve enjoyed the results I’ve offered in this blog series, and I’d be delighted to hear your own huldufolk lore.