Plans to build a new road in Iceland were halted recently when campaigners warned that it would disturb elves living in its path.

Construction work had to be stopped until a solution could be found.

" It’s not every day in Iceland that we divert roads for elves. It’s just in this case we were warned that elves were living in some of the rocks in the path of the road – well, we have to respect that belief,"
explained Petur Matthiasson of the Icelandic Highways department.

"I do not believe in elves," stated Matthiasson, just to make his personal position clear, but it seems as though he is in the minority amongst his countrymen. Recent surveys indicate that up to eighty per cent of Icelandic population are open to the possibility that Huldufolk – or "the hidden people" – might actually exist.

"You can’t live in this landscape and not believe in a force greater than you," explains Professor of Folklore Adalheidur Gudmundsdottir at the university of Iceland. "Please don’t portray Icelanders as uneducated peasants who believe in fairies, but look around you and you’ll understand why the power of folklore here is so strong," she says.

The Icelandic Huldufolk are not the diminutive "little people" commonly associated with the term "elf", but are invisible beings who are the same size as us and look exactly like humans. They are considered to be peace-loving, but if their homes and habitats are destroyed then rumor has it that they will show their displeasure in no uncertain terms. Tales of inexplicable bulldozer breakdowns and accidents amongst road-workers abound, give the myths enough credence to be treated with some respect.

Iceland is steeped in elf-lore – there is even an elf school in the capital Reykyavik, where headmaster Magnus Skarphedinsson hands out diplomas in "Elf and Hidden People Studies" to graduates of the Icelandic Elfschool. Elf scholars learn about the thirteen different kinds of elves believed to inhabit the country of Iceland. According to Skarphedinsson, other elf types are humanoid but tiny, standing at around eight centimetres.

Similar large and invisible entities are part of legend in many cultures worldwide. They played a significant part in Scottish folklore, for example, with ninety-five per cent of Scots continuing to believe in fairies right up until the middle of the 19th century. Strong believers still exist today:

"There’s no question that they existed. They most definitely did," insists Sir Iain Noble, the owner of Hotel Eilean Iarmain on the Isle of Skye. "We have two fairy houses quite close by and we have records of conversations between fairies and people on the island."

The fairy houses have been excavated, and a fact-based explanation put forward:

"From 1000BC onwards, the Iron Age people were prevalent in Skye," said Martin Wildgoose, an archaeologist who assisted with the excavation. "They were probably much smaller than us, and they lived in turfed underground houses.

"The Vikings could easily have started the stories about the fairies. After all they were tall, blond-haired, and would have been quite startled by these small, dark strangers emerging from grassy knolls."
Wildgoose’s theory has been refuted by Glasgow University history lecturer, Dr Lizanne Henderson:

"I just don’t buy this original Iron Age man thing at all," she said. "The facts just don’t fit what we know of the oral tradition.
"Fairy folklore was world-wide. They filled a need to explain the unexplainable. It was easier to look for a rational explanation for things that happened, and back then fairies were the rational explanation.

"I had assumed that fairy belief was a dead tradition," continued Henderson. "People are reluctant to admit to it – because fairies have become the realm of children – but it is amazing how many people come up to me and confess that they still believe."

Your news editor had her own strange experience with "the hidden people" after visiting caves in France associated with a local folk tale similar to the "Elves and the Shoemaker". The next morning, our daughter awoke to find that all of her shoes had been re-laced overnight in such a bizarre and intricate fashion that it was extremely difficult to untie them! To this day, none of the family have been able to explain how this odd incident occurred.

Whitley and Anne Strieber also had a strange experience recently where Whitley’s alarm clock spoke to them – read about this in Anne’s latest Diary entry. Who knows – perhaps the clock is inhabited by a "little person"?

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