ELVES, TROLLS & GHOSTS, OH MY!
Icelanders’ belief in elves is well-documented. The Atlantic, BBC, the Guardian, and numerous travel blogs have published stories on construction workers who halt their work in progress. Elves, the workers claim, cause accidents if construction disturbs their otherworldly homesteads.
But **magical beings in Iceland** don’t stop there. There’s a whole host of **supernatural creatures** in the Icelandic mythic repertoire. In the olden days, cold winters and black nights were perfect breeding grounds for **all sorts of fantastical fables**. Some scholars believe they started as warnings or scary stories for children; others as explanations of Iceland’s often perilous topography. **Read on to learn more!**
Huldufólk or “Hidden People” are humanoid beings who live in large boulders. Some Icelanders agree that they are s**ynonymous with elves**; others, a completely different species. Certain magical areas, called** Álagablettur, are enchanted dwelling places for the Huldufólk.** They are invisible and rarely show themselves to humans; when they do appear, they have brown hair, nondescript green clothes, and are about the same size as humans. Apparently, they are also averse to Christian symbols and electricity–so if you’d rather not meet one, bring along a cross necklace!
Legends of trolls, gigantic monsters of nature, are plentiful in Iceland. **Trolls represent nature at its most powerful and raw**; greedy, terrifying, and huge, like mountains themselves, with fierce faces, if a bit unintelligent. They are **creatures of darkness**, and a touch of sunlight will transform them into stone instantly. Sea stacks off of Iceland’s coast are often linked to the bodies of trolls, caught in the sunlight and frozen in time. The Vík basalt rock formations are such frozen trolls. Another legend surrounds Dimmuborgir,** the lava field with towers of black lava near Lake Mývatn.** Local legends speak of a major troll revelry here; the trolls partied so much they fell into a drunken stupor and were caught with the sun came out. Now all that remains of the once-proud giants are black, crumbling towers.
GRÝLA & GRÓF
Some trolls are so famous they have names. **Gróf is a friendly female troll (or ogress)**, who once befriended a young girl Siggi. Another troll appearing in childhood tales is** Grýla, a fearsome and ancient ogress**. She gave birth to the thirteen Yule Lads who cause mischief around Christmastime every year. She has married three times, dispatching of two of her husbands because they bored her. Grýla has hooves for feet, thirteen tails, and–of course–an insatiable hunger for naughty children.
Several cryptids haunt the waters around Iceland. The **Lagarfljót monster** lives in the lake Lagarfljót beside the town of Egilsstaðir. In the West Fjords, an **evil troll** lives on the banks of a small lake. The legend goes that the troll appears as a white horse; but if you dare to ride the horse, you’ll be stuck to it and dragged underneath to a watery grave. The only way to tell it apart from a real horse is by its hooves, which are backward. There have been claims of sea monsters all around Iceland: **the Shore Lad, Sea Man, Shell Monster**. The **Lyngbakur is a whale troll** that devours fishermen. There’s even a museum in the West Fjords, **the Skrímslasetrið**, that delves into the cultural history and eyewitness accounts of Iceland’s sea monsters.
Icelandic folklore is packed with tales of ghosts: **undead beings** that haunt stables, rivers, houses, graveyards, hillsides–basically anywhere. They appear widespread in **sagas**(notably Glámr in Gretti’s Saga), as well as in modern lore. Ghost tales are stories of unrequited love affairs, children who died too young, heroes cloven in two. **Ghosts of drowned men** wear damp swimwear, young boys wear scarlet-red sweaters. A **móri** is a male ghost who wears a rusty shirt and a **skotta**, a female ghost whose hat is bent backward. Toddlers who were left out to die appear crying, singing to their living mothers, wrapped in swaddled blankets. Stop by the **Ghost Center, a museum in Stokkseyri** devoted to hauntings all over the island, to learn more.
There are many warlocks and witches in Icelandic folklore, but none so renowned as Sæmundur Sigfússon fróði. “Saemund the Learned” was a semi-legendary scholar, who lived in the 11th and 12th centuries. He studied the Dark Arts and spent his days tracking the Devil. One story relates how, when he graduated from the **Black School**, Saemund sewed a leg of lamb into his cloak. As he was about to leave, the Devil reached to grab him but snatched the leg instead. Saemund slipped away to safety.
TILBERI OR SNAKKUR
Tilberi, or Snakkur, are worm-like creatures,** born of witchcraft in order to steal milk**. The recipe to creature a Tilberi is complex and precise: a witch must steal a rib from a recently buried body early on Whitsunday. Pluck gray wool from the shoulders of a widow’s sheep, and then twist the gray wool around the bone. For the next three Sundays, **the witch will spit **sanctified wine on the bundle during communion. After each spit, the tilberi will shudder, until at last springing into life at the end of the third Sunday.** Then the witch sends the tilberi to suck milk from cows and ewes in secret**. The tilberi jumps on the udder and once full of milk will cry out “Full belly, Mommy” or “Churn lid off, Mommy.” The witch will then collect the tilberi and it **will vomit the milk into her butter churn**. The only way to kill a tilberi is to send it to the mountain to collect lambs’ droppings in three pastures. The tilberi will die because **evil creatures cannot tolerate the number three** (naturally).
YULE LADS & THE YULE CAT
The** Yule Lads** are thirteen mischievous trolls who cause trouble around Christmas. We’ve covered them extensively in a previous post, which you can read here. The Yule Cat is a humongous cat that lurks around the countryside with the Yule Lads. It will devour anyone who hasn’t received any new clothes on Christmas Eve. Popularized by the poet Jóhannes úr Kötlum in his poem “Jólakötturinn.” We’ve written a previous article all about the Yule Lads of Icelandic Be sure to check it out!
Free Roamer & Travel Writer Extraordinaire