December 23, 2013
Icelandic Elves Hinder Highway Construction
I’ve always been a fan of elves. I’ve been reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series several times over, and I’ve long-since become an avid fan of playing members of the illustrious elven halls in Dungeons and Dragons. Their ephemeral grace and sublime magic have always drawn me to them, but never in anything more than fantasy. In Iceland, things are a bit different. They take their elves seriously there. A 2007 study conducted by the University of Iceland included a survey as to local beliefs about elves, and around 62 percent stated that they thought it was at least possible that elves existed, and they’ve been part of Icelandic lore for as long as many of the locals can remember. Between cautionary tales and whimsical parables, the Huldufolk (“hidden folk”) have always been a part of the local culture. Of paramount interest is one particular group of Icelanders, who have taken it much farther than most.
They call themselves Hraunavinir, or Friends of the Lava, and they have petitioned the Icelandic Road and Coastal Commision to halt the construction of a road between the president’s current home on the tip of the Alftanes peninsula and Gardaber, one of Reykjavik’s suburbs. While some of their concerns are environmental, they are equally worried that such a construction project will disturb the Huldufolk … or as we know them, elves. The Friends of Lava take the civil liberties of their elven friends extremely seriously, to the point where hundreds of them have shown up to stand in the way of construction equipment. In fact, it’s become so common that the Icelandic government has developed stock responses to public protests regarding the disruption of elven lands. More often than not, it would seem these responses involve delaying their projects a short while so they can claim that the would-be disturbed elven folk have since moved on.
Ragnhildur Jonsdottir is not so easily dissuaded, claiming that she can communicate with the elves through telepathy, functioning as their “seer.” In this particular case, the proposed road passes right through ground believed to be sacred the hidden people, and Jonsdottir believes it would be catastrophic for “both the elf world and for us humans” if this road were to be constructed.
To be fair, most Icelanders have what you might call a passive belief in the fair folk. Many of them still cherish a strong connection with nature, and even in the capital city of Reykjavik, nature flourishes. The traditions of fairies and elves, to many, are simply one way of respecting the land. To them, the land is more than just an assortment of trees, grass, rocks, and water. It’s a living, breathing thing, an entity to be admired, not used. Folklore professor Terry Gunnell says that the cultural acceptance of elves and the stories revolving around them are indicative of the care Icelanders take with their natural habitat.
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