You might have heard that everyone in Iceland believes in elves and the hidden people. It is not quite true, but many stay agnostic regarding their existence. It is deeply grained in our society to be respectful of nature and if something weird happens, like machinery breaking down when trying to move a large stone during road construction, it is better to just let the rock be and make a turn in the road.

There are many stories of elf churches and palaces in Iceland. Borgarfjörður Eystri in the East Fjords and Hafnafjörður in the capital area are famous for their elf population and sightings. You can even see an elf church in Þórsmörk.

Elf Church in Þórsmörk – Photo: Glaciers and Waterfalls

In Jón Árnason’s Folktales and Legends is a story about how the hidden people came to be. You can read it below.

Read other legends and fairytales:

The Genesis of the Hidden People

Once upon a time, God Almighty came to visit Adam and Eve. . They received him with joy and showed him everything they had in the house. They also brought their children to him to show him, and these He found promising and full of hope. Then He asked Eve whether she had no other children than these whom she now showed him. She said, “None.”

But it so happened that she had not finished washing them all and, being ashamed to let God see them dirty, had hidden the unwashed ones. This God knew well and said to her: “What man hides from God, God will hide from man”. These unwashed children became forthwith invisible. Then they took up their abode in mounds, hills, and rocks. From these are the elves descended, but we men from those of Eve’s children whom she had openly and frankly shown to God. And it is only by the will and desire of the elves themselves that men can ever see them.

A story of a traveler

A traveler once lost his way and knew not where to turn or what to do. At last, after wandering about for some time, he came to a hut he had never seen before. On his knocking at the door, an old woman opened it and invited him to come in, which he gladly did. Inside, the house seemed to be a clean and good one. The old woman led him to the warmest room, where two young and beautiful girls were sitting. Besides these, there was no one else in the house. He was well received and kindly treated and, having eaten a good supper, was shown to bed.

He asked whether one of the girls might stay with him as his companion for the night, and his request was granted.

And now wishing to kiss her, the traveler turned towards her and placed his hand upon her. However, his hand sank through her as if she had been of mist. Even though he could well see her lying beside him, he could grasp nothing but the air.

So, he asked what this all meant, and she said, “Be not astonished, for I am a spirit. When the devil, in times gone by, made war in heaven, he, with all his armies, was driven into outer darkness. Those who turned their eyes to look after him as he fell were also driven out of heaven. Those who were neither for nor against him were sent to the earth and commanded to dwell there in the rocks and mountains. These are called Elves and Hidden People.

They can live in company with none but their own race, and either do good or evil, which they will, but what they do, they do thoroughly. They have no bodies like you mortals. But they can take a human form and be seen by men when they wish. I am one of these fallen spirits, so you can never hope to embrace me.”

To this fate, the traveler yielded himself and handed us this story.

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