Crouching troll, hidden dragon
For as long as Iceland has been inhabited (by humans) it has been inhabited by stories and sincere belief in the existence of beings outside of the everyday sphere of existence lived in by humans, sheep, ravens and cod. And who are we to say that these amazing creatures weren’t here before us, and indeed still linger on? Precisely…
Since they are mentioned in the headline, let’s get one thing straight: people in Iceland do not believe in dragons. They became extinct long ago. Most of the trolls are either dead or turned to stone these days too – why else do you think Iceland is so mountainous? Many mountains are the remains of giant trolls caught out in the morning sun. It’s tough to be a troll in the land of the midnight sun.
A belief in ghosts is widespread in most countries and Iceland is no exception. Here it seems most houses are haunted by someone or other and there’s a good chance the homeowner knows the spirit by name and enjoys their presence – or at the very least has a mother or grandmother who has chatted with him/her/it. Maybe it’s the lack of huge wealth in Iceland’s past, the scarcity of murders and the harshness of life overall that conspire to make Icelandic ghosts from yesteryear less scary and feared than their foreign counterparts. Who knows?
Elves and hidden people are one and the same thing, or they are two completely different things, depending on who you talk to. Apparently the consensus is slowly moving in favour of them being distinct species. This shift in perception in modern times seems to coincide with an increase in overall belief in the mystical, graceful, peaceful rock-dwelling folk.
A survey conducted nearly a hundred years ago found that only 10% of Icelanders believed in supernatural beings. But we no longer live in an age of certainty and modern attitudes to most things are increasingly rational and nuanced. Surveys from the 21st Century certainly do show that more people are certain hidden people do not exist than are certain they do. But a large majority of respondents are in the middle: either believing the existence of elves et al. to be fairly likely, possible, or fairly unlikely.
When you live in mystical, beautiful, sparsely-populated Iceland how sure is it actually possible to be that there are no elves in the garden? Some dark winter mornings, it seems positively likely!
So what gives them away? The obvious traits of a hidden person are their grace, speed, magical powers and ability to disappear quickly. But you can also spot them by their 18th Century dress, their propensity to often wear green, and perhaps by their pointy ears. That guy in green at the bar in downtown Reykjavík is probably just a hipster though, because elves generally steer well clear of towns. He’d probably be thrilled if you asked him though…