Elves in the Icelandic myth
Huldufólk is a term used for elves in the Icelandic myth. Huldufólk is a combination of two words which are “Huldu and “folk”. Huldu is an expression used to describe something meant to be kept as a secret while folk is a general term for a group of individuals or persons. Hence, Huldufólk is elves that exist in the Icelandic mythology. Several edifices designs are modified to ensure they did not tamper with the rocks believed to be the abode of these elves.
The Icelandic people shares a mutual belief that forbids throwing of stones as it may hit the Huldufólk. The Gardens in Iceland are constructed to have petite wooden álfhól which acts as houses for these elves. It is on record that some Icelanders have developed churches to ensure these elves are converted to Christianity. Iceland’s former head of state in his words, as a firm believer in the Huldufolk, made this statement; “Icelanders are few, so in the old times we doubled our population with tales of elves and fairies.”
The HulduFolks are known to form a significant part of the folktale in the Faroe Islands. In the Faroese folk myths, the Huldufólk are perceived to be broad, with appearances in grey attires and black hair. According to beliefs, they reside in hills, and they are also referred to as Elves. They are known to detest churches, electricity and appearance of crosses.
Huldufolk obtained its roots as a replacing word of alfar in the 19th-century folktale. Jon Arnason realised that the name is similar and found the name, alfar is a derogatory expression. In the words of Konrad Von Mauree, he argued that the name, Huldufolk was coined as a neutral term to ensure alfar are not called their actual names.
There is an iota of truth in this hypothesis as the name elves, and Alfar has been viewed as two separate types of supernatural beings in Iceland. Katrin Sontag discovered that some individuals find it difficult to distinguish the differences between the elves and hidden people while only a few does. According to the survey conducted by Erlendur Haraldsson in 2006, 54% of the respondents cannot differentiate between elves and hidden persons, 20% of the respondents confirmed that they could identify the differences while 26% concluded that they are not sure if they can differentiate.
In his writing, Gunnell said in this quote: “different beliefs could have lived side by side in multicultural settlement Iceland before they gradually blended into the latter-day Icelandic álfar and huldufólk.” He also believed that Alfar and Huldufolk arose from the same need.
The colonists from Norse had the alfar while the slaves from Ireland had the elves who lived in high places who are also referred to as the Good people. As time goes by, these two became separate beings, but in the real essence; they are two different types of the myth that have the same meaning.
One folktale even claimed that the hidden people have their roots in the history of Adam and Eve. According to the folktale, Eve concealed her sordid and dirty kids from God. She even went to the extent of lying to God about their reality. It was recorded that God later made a proclamation that “What man hides from God, God will hide from man.” In the archives of some folklores, Huldufolk was said to have hailed from Lilith or classified as fallen angels who had been fated to live between heaven and hell.
Ancestors of elves and hidden people can be uncovered in the works of Snorri Sturluson and available in Skaldic verse. Elves were also given credence in Eddaic poems, and there is a strong connection between them and fruitfulness.
Endorsed disapproval of dancing may have started in Iceland as far back as the 12th century, and its link with dancing with elves can be traced to the 15th century. A fairy tale even stated that the elves had an alliance with ordinary people to engage in a revenge mission against a Sheriff who was said to have placed a ban on dance parties.Guðmundsdóttir even closed his words with a remarkable quote: these legends “show that Icelanders missed dancing”.
Books from mainland Europe reached the citizens of Iceland in the 13th, and 14th centuries, there is a strong feeling that it played a crucial role in influencing folktales about elves.
More than 1600 foundations for the hidden folks became so significant that we can trace the myths, beliefs and folktales about them. Árni Björnsson even confirmed in his words that the trust in hidden people was increased during the 17th and 18th centuries when Iceland was passing through a difficult phase in their national life.
Iceland still has four special days believed to have a link with the hidden people. These days are New Year’s Eve, Twelfth Night, Midsummer Night and Christmas Night. The tradition of Elf bonfires is observed as part of the rites of the Twelfth Night which is often held on 6th of January every year.
Various Icelandic folklores have spoken about the hidden people and elves attacking Icelandic farmhouses during the Christmas parties. It has remained a norm in Iceland for every household to put their houses in order before Christmas and reserve food for the Huldufolk on Christmas day.
There is a general belief that elves relocate to new places on New Year’s Eve; Icelanders are meant to lit candles to help the elves find their way. On Midsummer Night, folktales even postulated that if you sit down at a junction, these hidden persons will try to tempt you with precious gifts and food items. However, accepting these gifts have adverse outcomes while you will be rewarded if you pass the temptation test.