Category Archives: Huldúfolk

Playing with the Elves in Iceland

A few official Icelandic elvish sites for you. Here’s Álfaborg in Borgisfjörður Estri. After driving across the entire country to get here, I realized, duh, that I had passed hundreds of elf cities to see this one. They were everywhere, which made sense. Every fjord was isolated.

A lovely place, though!

I spent a lot of time trying to see how it would look when the elves appeared and it came alive. Perhaps you can see it?

What I wanted to know was what was it that identified a place as an elf city, when other lumps of rocks weren’t? I know now that this notion of identification is essential, that spirit in rocks is a form of respect, an admission of an emotional connection, but back then I drove up the fjord to the next elf hill and climbed up it in the rain and fog and looked out at the rain and fog.

And looked at every stone, pushing myself by force of will into a consciousness that preceded any understanding of them as rock. I got there, too.

Still, elf hills are not uncommon. Here’s a common shape:

Note that it looks a lot like a turf house, with a chimney. Small versions are created by birds, who perch on top of hillocks, Icelanders will quickly point out these days, shit what they have to, and fertilize the grass, which makes a little cap for the hill. Well, maybe. Still, rocks at old turf house sites are not uncommon.

Nor are they on the elf hills in Borgisfjörður Estri. In the fog, of course.

Believe me, I was drenched with rain. On the east side of the hill, there is an old sheep fold and the ruins of a house field. If I had known enough at the time, I would have found the ruins of the old turf house that accompanied them… right on the elf hill. I didn’t know enough to look. I was caught in the fog. Perhaps that was fitting.

You can see some bird handiwork here.

And, frankly, the Álfaborg is mysterious… but why this one? “Is it the cleft?” I wondered. 

Well, I know now it has to do with familiarity. After awhile, you become the rock. It becomes home. You haunt it. And figures appear out of another dimension of your life. At the time, though, I looked around, trying to see what and elf would see, as a clue to what a human would see that caused them to see elves.

Beautiful, isn’t it!

I tracked over every trail over the mountain, reading each turn of stone as a story read in sequence, as I had learned to do with stone landforms in Indigenous country in Canada. I learned that it doesn’t help if you don’t know the underlying story. I mean, you know you are walking through a story, but what story?

Ah, that’s the thing. It has lots of characters, though.

I learned in time that every churchyard has such elf stones.

Even when they become golf courses.

And here at the old monastery at Skriðuklaustur, right behind the building, this mysterious wall, carved by lichens but most likely not entirely by lichens. I spent many, many hours, over 4 weeks, trying to read these marks in all kinds of different light. I learned a lot about lichens and their ability to make human forms!

And traffic circles in Reykjavik, even ones decorated with pipes, are there to protect elf stones more than they are there to route traffic. If you dodge traffic, and peer through the pipe you can see what someone else imagined the elves could see. It’s nice to be reaffirmed like this.

Still, it’s mysterious. Here’s an island in Lake Myvatn, famous for being an ogre… on which live elves! Now, that’s really mixing it up.

You can see her on the right in snowmobile season below. Oh, those humans!

Dwarf stones are an entirely different matter:

After awhile, it became clear to me that many elf stones were of a kind of lava that attracted complex lichens: the elfish shapes were a result more of the lichens than the stones.

Most fun to watch the cows feeding belly deep in grass in Borgisfjörður Estir, though. Half in this world and half out of it! Splendid cows. I always suspected that of them!

At Mosfellsbær, though, it’s pretty obvious that elfishness isn’t just a matter of smallish rocks and lichens. There’s a sense of the power of landscape that is much larger than that. The land is a body, obviously, although not a human one, and it has points of focus, or life, that are very intense.

Don’t bother to tell the horses at Eiðar, though, who live on another official elf hill.

It’s hard to tell if their mystery is from close living with elves or just from being the horses of the gods themselves, but they enjoy it if you ask. Here’s an elf hill from the southern Icelandic shore, close to the Dyrhólaey Bird Sanctuary.

The same shape shows up in the hraun at Buðir.

But don’t get hooked on that shape. Some of the most officially elvish land in the country is here in the Norðurdalur:

You don’t have to go so far. Right in front of the Hallgrimskirkja in downtown Reykjavik, right under Lief Erickson’s statue, the elves are living happily ever after. Wander around. They’re in every schoolyard in town.  But isn’t that right? Shouldn’t kids be playing with elves? Someone should tell the kid below.

Most elves go unnoticed. Millions of people walk right past this one …

… at Goðafoss. They’re off to see the falls. Very nice falls, but isn’t it rude to walk past without showing one’s respect?

And we shouldn’t get too fixated on rocks. Here on the island of Viðey in Reykjavik Harbour, a Catholic shrine has been erected on top of a famous elf hill, which consists of grass and fog, and some holes you could turn an ankle in. Women wandered out there, it is said, and went mad. I suspect that Maria knows otherwise.

In short, elves are everywhere where the world makes you lose your way and then gives it back again in its own forms. This is called madness in civilized society. It is hardly that.

Schoolyard in Reykjavik

 

Of Elves and Sheep in Iceland

 

Ever wondered if there are elves who herd sheep? No point asking the elves. They’re not talking.

Elves at Home in Helissandur

Should we ask the sheep? This guy’s at Hraunhafnartangi.

Does he look like elves are moving him from field to field? No. No point asking the trolls, who do herd sheep. Their languages are too slow.

And horses, that appear mysteriously wherever you stop, and, surely, are hanging around with elves, being out there day and night and all, and elfishly mysterious, should we ask them?

Maybe not. The horses at Eiðar below are grazing on an elf city, of all things, and what are they doing? Sneaking grass from the ditch.

I mean, the elves are definitely herding grass and purslane, such as at ValÞjofsstaðir below.

And the moss that covers the lava fields radiates elfishness.

But the elves? Such as this bunch at ? Are they herding sheep?

Oh. Yeah. They are.

But, of course, the question is, really, do they heard living sheep? That humans have to romp after to collect? Well, kind of. Even the trolls, such as this dark and light pair at Klausturhamrar, send sheep on their way to left and right.

And the elf city at Álfaborg…

… leads sheep, and people both, in quite specific ways.

Do sheep see elves and take commands from them, though? Why not. Humans do.

It’s just that these commands are not the same as walking across the grass to pasture. Elves aren’t safe like that.  They lead you out of your own mind.

They can keep you on the path or lead you off it, such as at Fagurhóll, in the images above and below.

What do the sheep follow?

We might as well call it elves.

 

Trolls and Troll Sheep in Iceland

A trained eye will see trolls In Iceland by looking past the rock. A world of appearances is a world of doors. The country is a folktale. That is not a metaphor.

Some trolls, such as the one at Kirkjubærjarklaustur below, are less retiring, but look more closely. More trolls appear the longer you look.

Here too, to the east, along the South Coast.

And farther to the east. Here you can clearly see the bones from a previous troll meal, that have been tossed below them. Folklore holds that when the sun comes up, trolls are turned into stone. No, that’s not it. They are still there, behind the appearances, which is to say, in the darkness, behind the light.

And yes, trolls keep troll sheep, such as the one below at Dimmuborgir.

The one below at Skriðuklaustur may not appear to do so at first …

… but do turn around. Ah, there they are.

Here’s one at Litlafoss, carrying a sheep on its back.

Are these really “trolls” and “troll sheep”? Well, are the meanings of these words really “things”? We live in a world of appearances, and use language to navigate between them, but the appearances are separate from the language.

To date, there is no other language for these appearances, such as here at Stekkalækur:

And calling this view of the troll environment at Litlafoss geology doesn’t help much, except to produce awe, which is to say, to drive you away, when you might need to learn how to get close.

Truth is, volcanic rock breaks in patterns that matches the patterning of the human mind. This is our environment. The alternative would be to call the appearances an error, which is just too tidy and elitist.

Behaviour like that is enough to make you imagine cartoon trolls …

… above a waterfall full of real ones.

Fossatún

That is a betrayal of the appearances. It makes the world safe. It isn’t.

Stekkalækur

If not honoured, trolls prey on us.

1,000 Icelandic Boys Having Boyish Fun

It could easily be more, but think of it: a glacial erratic perched at the top of one of the major canyons in the country, in the middle of productive farmland in the most fertile fjord in the East? 

Stekkalækur

Any boy within miles, for 1,000 years, was going to mess around by this thing. A boy takes his measure by giants. The worn stone around the monolith shows that people still do, and ravens. They are drawn to it as well and keep the rocks squeaky clean. I watched one clean up here for a half hour. And sheep. Perhaps you can see the sheep trails skittering past?  That’s how I got here, by following sheep. Those other boys the same way, perhaps. We all have our guides.

The Love Story of Gulfoss, the Golden Falls

The manly trolls of Gulfoss…

 

… and the worms (um, gold collecting dragons, you know the type) of Gulfoss…

…  the Golden Falls …

… look across to the female trolls across the gorge, which are riding a worm…

.. and if the worm has the head of a ram, well, this is Iceland, after all.

And the flag … this flag:

… flies between them.

So now you know, too.