The only elven school in the world
The mysterious elves of Iceland and the only elven school in the world
Vast areas of uninhabited or sparsely populated panoramas and the open mindedness of Icelanders towards these beings have been the perfect environment and habitat to make the Little People proliferate
Iceland has always been a place permeated with magic, myth and a certain sense of otherworldly and unknown splendor. Here, overlooking the sprawling panoramas of lava fields and fjords, it sometimes seems quite natural that we think of spotting some magical creature , and this place does not seem to disappoint expectations. The tradition of the elves, called álfar , a type of huldufólk in Icelandic, which means “hidden people”, including fairies, dwarfs, mountain spirits, trolls and gnomes, goes deep and extends into the mists of time.
Elf mythology in Iceland has its roots in the 10th century, at a time when the Norwegian Vikings first settled on these rocky and remote shores, and humans and elves have long been believed to coexist peacefully for many. centuries, although there are several myths of epic battles between humans and elves, and it seems to have been a tumultuous relationship. The ‘Iceland is a country absolutely steeped in legends of elves and other supernatural beings, but for many of them in this cold northern nation is something more than myths and stories, and the strong link with the elven tradition and belief that elves are real remain vivid in Icelandic culture to the present day.
In Iceland it is not particularly rare for people to report sightings of real elves, and in a study it was estimated that about 62% of all Icelanders believe in their existence, while a substantial part of the other inhabitants have an open mind to this possibility. . The belief in what are called “elf stones” is also deeply rooted in culture and constitutes an extension of this belief. Elf stones are essentially rocks that are said to serve as homes for these supernatural creatures, and it is not uncommon to see them dotted in parks or in the courtyards of houses, where it is seen as a taboo to move or disturb them in any way. Some of them are transformed into elf altars, with candles placed around them and offerings made to creatures.
Building through an area where Elven Stones are present is a good way to attract the ire of Icelanders, and projects often face delays due to an annoying stone in the path of progress . In fact, there have been cases where the stones have been moved and rioted, and citizens have forced the current government to apologize to the elves. Moving stones is said to bring all kinds of misfortune and even death, in fact even people who don’t believe in elves usually leave them alone, just in case. In short, Iceland takes its elves very seriously, so much so that there are also expert scholars of Folklore and Elves such as: Magnús Skarphéðinsson.
The Icelandic elf school
A professional historian, Skarphéðinsson has studied elves for over 30 years, interviewing more than 900 Icelanders who claim to have had encounters with the creatures, even becoming friends with them or entering their homes, and is widely regarded as one of the leading experts on Icelandic elves and their traditions.
People come to me with their stories and swear to me that they are not drunk, they are not drugged and they are not pathological liars. I never thought about creating the Elf School. As more people asked about my job, I just started telling everyone to come on Friday and that’s how it all started.
He also directs the first full-fledged elf school in the world, or Álfaskólinn , which is a branch of Iceland’s paranormal foundation. Here the school, opened in 1991 in Reykjavík, Iceland, Skarphéðinsson lectures on Hidden Folk and keeps forums open for people who have had these experiences, all done in a very informal atmosphere where they drink coffee and eat cakes, pancakes and waffles in a cozy and rustic room between the various shelves full to the brim with books leather-bound and numerous costume jewelery, amulets and of course elf figurines and other elven-themed items. This may sound like just a small club for elf fans, but school actually means business, with a full curriculum, diplomas and certification programs, and there have been around 9,000 people who came through these doors to earn certificates and diplomas on the study of the elves and the public school also has books on the subject.
According to Skarphéðinsson, there are 13 different elf species that inhabit the wilds of Iceland, ranging from a few centimeters in height to a meter and something, some benign and friendly, while others are shy, lonely or even malicious.
This may raise some eyebrows, but Skarphéðinsson takes everything very seriously, and in fact does not think of himself as a folklorist, but rather of a neutral scientist who tries to investigate these mysteries, and treats the subject with reverence, intelligence and enthusiasm which in all respects is absolutely contagious. For him this is a very important area of study and is worthy of being viewed in a neutral and open way, of which he said:
We have no idea why these creatures are dragged back and forth between dimensions. The only thing I can do is collect all people’s experiences. The only source of information is to find all the possible witnesses and ask them in detail: what do they look like? What did they wear? What is their opinion on God and eternity? Why am I here? There are many things we still don’t know about elves and hidden people. What we know, we learned from people who have had decades of friendships with them and have been invited to their homes.
He also believes that Iceland is in a unique position to host elves , because the country’s non-traditional culture and background made the creatures feel confident that they would reveal themselves to humans. He says that these beings also live in other countries, but are more lonely there, and in his opinion in many ways the position of Iceland, large areas of uninhabited or sparsely populated panoramas and the open mindedness of people towards these beings have been l the perfect environment and habitat to make the Small People proliferate, explaining why they are more often seen and encountered here than in other areas. However, he also warns that even in Iceland changing attitudes and moving further and further away from belief in magic is slowly making creatures disappear. He explained about this phenomenon:
In other countries, with Western scientific arrogance and denial of anything that has not yet been proven, they claim that witnesses are subject to hallucinations. We (Iceland) would live in a totally different society if the Enlightenment hadn’t started in the 1700s. But the Enlightenment had a terrible price. He killed the faith. Faith is one of the glues that hold civilization together. Not only did the Enlightenment kill the faith, it also killed the myth. And psychic ability. Many people believe in elves in Iceland because we were isolated. The Enlightenment did not arrive in Iceland until 1941 when the American army invaded Iceland. Then we had the Enlightenment and started to brand the elves and all the small people as “unproven” so not true.
He explains to his students that, in a way, it is the modern world and its rigid ways of thinking that have destroyed real magic and the elves together with it. Not simply because the belief and myths have disappeared, but because our modern lives and the departure from these ideas have in a sense blinded us to these mysteries that revolve around us. A writer Anna Tsui, who actually went and graduated from the Elf School, does it quite well when she says in an article for better health:
The truth is that most people are so conditioned and regimented in their lives that they lose any connection with the major forces at work. Once we disconnect from magic, we disconnect from grace and the divine. As a result, similar to a flower cut from its roots, our spiritual life force weakens as we lose our connection with nature and the flow of life. We become distressed and blind to the complex ecosystem that surrounds us and supports us.
In essence, the modern world has pushed these creatures into hiding, according to Skarphéðinsson and his followers. Is this what’s going on here, and are these real supernatural beings being pushed off the border by the intrusive modern world? Or is it pure legend after all? Whatever you may think, Iceland still manages to gather many accounts of elves, gnomes and other “hidden peoples”, and traditions and at least belief remain strong here in this remote northern land. Is there anything in all this, or is it all pure myth and folklore? It seems that the best way to get to know him for sure is to pay a visit to Skarphéðinsson in his school and maybe decide when you have finished telling us about this wonderful magical world.
Interview with the locals: