The Hidden People Of Iceland

Friday, March 27th, 2009

The Hidden People Of Iceland

According to an article in Vanity Fair magazine, discussed on CBC radio’s As It Happens this evening, when ALCOA dediced to build their aluminum smelter in Iceland, the agreements they signed included an interesting clause: before construction could go ahead, the company first had to show that their works would not disturb the homes of any Hidden People or elves who might live on the site.
It cost ALCOA an estimated $500 to hire an “elf senser” to walk around the building sight to determine if any of these creatures might be inconvenienced in some way.
It will come as a surprize, but this is “business as usual” in Iceland, where at least 53% of the population believe in the existance and presence of elves and “hidden people.” It is a normal practice to hire an ‘elf senser’ before any construction project begins. This has lead to everything from roads and parking lots, to stores and factories being re-sited.
Government agencies do this surveying as a matter of course.
Another company who conformed to this requirement was Ikea: they had to have their parking lot re-shaped when it was discovered that a family of elves live where one corner of the planned lot was to be located.
According to the scientist who administer something called “The Elf School,” Icelanders speak of the existance of different types of elves.
“Flower Elves” are small, approximately 8 cm/ 3 1/8” tall—about the size of the fairie Tinkerbelle, while the “Hidden People” have the same form and size as humans. Gandalf would have been one of the Hidden People.
Elves live among the rocks and in caves found in the nation, and some Icelanders claim that not only do they see these trans-dimensional beings, they have friends among them, and have even dined and had coffee* with them in their caves.
The director of the Elf School admits he has never seen any of these beings during his 30+ years of running this school. He seems to be the elven equivalent of an agnostic, but he did mention that over the years elves have come to the aid of distressed isolated farmers and others, saving their lives.
To disregard these customs can be troublesome. For one, it is possible that the hidden people can be upset by human activities which disrupt their homes, and take their revenge. There are some costs of doing business in the “everything for profit” manner which are too high.
Politically, it is sure suicide for a candidate to admit they don’t believe in elves.

Further along in the As It Happens broadcast, they interviewed a university instructor from Britain who explained a tradition like this survives in Ireland. There, the resident spirits are Fairies, and there are cases where road construction has been relocated after a piece of roadbuilding machinery has broken down unexplicably after disturbing a place where the fairies dwell, often a prominent rock or other landscape feature.

One potential benefit coming out of these survivals of ancient pagan beliefs is an underlying deep reverence for the land and environment, and respecting the places where the fairies dwell works to preserve the land and important features of the landscape in these places.
In the words of poet William Allingham:

“Up the airy mountain,
down the rushy glen,
we daren’t go a-hunting
for fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owl’s feather!”

The rest of this poem can be found here: be warned that it gets a little dark…

The above reminds me of one of Tolkein’s poems, the one about Tom Bombagil.

More of Allingham’s poetry can be read here:

The Elf School operates in the winter, and some of the students have come from outside of Iceland. I don’t have a link to it at this time. It’s interesting to hear of this and that it appearantly has been in existence for over 30 years.

It is likely that you can listen to tonight’s As It Happens show (Friday, March 27th, 2009 ) with this article as streaming audio or a podcast at:

A third option is to go to and follow the links under the Radio link to arrive at this program.
You may have to register to be able to listen, but it will be free.

*Which leads to a new line of speculation: how would one of these hidden people behave if they had way too many espressos…? 🙂

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