Buddy the Elf, what’s your favorite color?
Surveys in Iceland have found that 54% of the population believes in elves. Sometimes, that makes things complicated: Icelandic road crews have to avoid disturbing large rocks that may have “hidden people” living inside them. Government-sponsored highway projects can spark sizable protests.
So maybe it’s not surprising that Iceland has an entire school devoted to studying elves, of which there are apparently 13 different varieties living in the frosty island nation. The Álfaskólin, as the elf school is called, teaches students everything about elves, including where they live and “the way they perceive humans,” in one four-hour course (which is taught in English and costs $57).
After the course is over, the school offers a private walking tour to “one of the main elf places in Reykjavik” where there are sometimes sightings of huldufolk, or “the hidden people,” as they’re called.
The school is the brainchild of an ethnologist and elf historian named Magnus Skarphedinsson, who’s spent 38 years researching “hidden people and nature spirits,” according to the Álfaskólin’s official website. Skarphedinsson claims to have met more than 800 Icelanders who have “met and talked with elves…or have had a long friendship with them.”
The school also teaches about dwarves, fairies, trolls, mountain spirits and other mythical creatures.
Elves, apparently, are not to be feared. Quite the opposite, in fact: Many Icelanders believe elves are actually looking out for them. According to the Iceland Review, parliamentarian Árni Johnsen credited elves for helping him escape unscathed from a 2010 car accident where his SUV flipped off the highway and came to rest near a large boulder.
A few years later, when the government was going to demolish the 30-ton boulder in order to widen the highway, Johnsen arranged to have it moved next to his house instead. The politician even hired an elf specialist to inspect the boulder, who found that three generations of elves inhabited its inner sanctum, including “an elderly couple [that] lives on the upper floor” and “a young couple with three children on the lower floor.”
Belief in elves in Iceland is nothing to be laughed at. Elf ideology in the country is so widespread, so well-established, that there must be something to it.
“If this was just one crazy lady talking about invisible friends, it’s really easy to laugh about that,” Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir, who’s been active in preserving elf habitats in Iceland, told The Atlantic magazine in 2013. “But to have people through hundreds of years talking about the same things, it’s beyond one or two crazy ladies. It is part of the nation.”