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Discovering Icelandic Folklore: Elves, Trolls, and More

Updated: Apr 16, 2023

Iceland's rich folklore is deeply intertwined with its stunning landscapes and unique culture. From elves and trolls to hidden people and magical creatures, Icelandic folklore is full of fascinating stories and intriguing characters. Let's delve into the mythical world of Icelandic legends and uncover the magic behind these captivating tales.

1. Huldufólk: The Hidden People The Huldufólk, or hidden people, are a prominent feature of Icelandic folklore. They are said to live in a parallel world, hidden from human sight in rocks and hills. Similar in appearance to humans but invisible to most, they are believed to lead lives similar to those of humans, with their own farms, churches, and social structures. Some Icelanders still hold a deep respect for the Huldufólk and are careful not to disturb their homes. Construction projects have been altered or even halted to avoid disturbing the rocks believed to be inhabited by these mysterious beings.

2. Elves: Iceland's Magical Inhabitants Elves, or álfar, are another key element of Icelandic folklore. Although similar to the Huldufólk, they are considered separate entities. Elves are often described as beautiful, ethereal beings with magical powers. They are associated with nature, and some legends claim that they can shape-shift into animals or plants. Icelandic elves are believed to live in their own world, but they can interact with humans, sometimes helping or hindering them depending on their actions. Stories of elves punishing those who harm nature or rewarding those who show kindness to animals are common in Icelandic folklore.

3. Trolls: The Giants of Icelandic Mythology Trolls are massive, fearsome creatures in Icelandic folklore, known for their immense strength and rocky appearance. According to legends, trolls are nocturnal beings that turn to stone when exposed to sunlight. Some of Iceland's unique rock formations are believed to be petrified trolls, caught in the daylight while causing havoc. Trolls are often depicted as dangerous and malevolent, but some stories also portray them as more gentle and misunderstood creatures. Despite their fearsome reputation, tales of humans outwitting trolls or befriending them can be found throughout Icelandic folklore.

4. The Yule Lads: Iceland's Mischievous Christmas Visitors The Yule Lads are 13 troll-like figures that visit Icelandic homes during the 13 days leading up to Christmas. Each Yule Lad has a unique personality and is known for a specific mischievous behavior, such as slamming doors, stealing food, or peeking through windows. Children in Iceland place their shoes on the windowsill, and each night, a different Yule Lad leaves a gift or a potato, depending on whether the child has been well-behaved or naughty. The Yule Lads' mother, Grýla, and the Yule Cat are also part of this Christmas folklore, adding an element of fear to the holiday season.

Conclusion Icelandic folklore is a captivating blend of enchanting tales and supernatural beings, reflecting the country's unique culture and awe-inspiring landscapes. From hidden people and elves to trolls and the Yule Lads, these mythical stories continue to be an integral part of Iceland's identity, capturing the imagination of locals and visitors alike.


1. How have Icelandic folklore and legends been preserved over time? Icelandic folklore and legends have been passed down through generations, primarily through oral storytelling traditions. In more recent years, these stories have been recorded in books and other media, ensuring their preservation and continued enjoyment.

2. Can I visit places in Iceland that are associated with folklore? Yes, many locations in Iceland have connections to folklore and legends. You can visit places like Dimmuborgir, believed to be the home of the Yule Lads, or the Elf Garden in Hafnarfjörður, where Huldufólk are said to reside. Guided tours focusing on Icelandic folklore are also available, providing an immersive experience into the world of myths and legends.

3. Are there any festivals or events that celebrate Icelandic folklore? Several festivals and events in Iceland celebrate its rich folklore and traditions. One such event is the Elf Walk in Hafnarfjörður, where participants can learn about elves and hidden people while exploring the town's beautiful surroundings. Other events, such as the annual Álfablot (Elf Feast) in Borgarfjörður Eystri, celebrate local folklore through storytelling, music, and art.

4. Can I find books on Icelandic folklore and mythology in English? Yes, there are many books available in English that explore Icelandic folklore, mythology, and traditional stories. Titles such as "The Little Book of Icelandic" by Alda Sigmundsdóttir and "Icelandic Folk and Fairy Tales" by Jón Árnason provide an introduction to the fascinating world of Icelandic legends and mythical beings.

5. How has Icelandic folklore influenced modern Icelandic culture? Icelandic folklore continues to play a significant role in modern Icelandic culture, shaping the country's identity and sense of history. Folklore-inspired art, literature, music, and films are prevalent in Iceland, and many people still hold a strong connection to the stories and beliefs of their ancestors. Some Icelanders even consult with folklore experts when making decisions about land use or construction projects, demonstrating the continued importance of these tales in contemporary society.

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