Iceland Mythology

Elves, Trolls and the Hidden People

Iceland is a country full of extraordinary natural phenomena. Active volcanoes, lava flows, hot, bubbling pools, spouting geysers… It is not surprising that sometimes, people just disappear, never to be seen again. Elves and trolls were often times handy scapegoats to explain strange disappearances or other unexplainable events.

Even today many Icelanders take spirit folk seriously. According to recent public opinion polls, about half of the population thinks it is possible or probable; ten percent call it certain – they share their island with otherworldly beings.

Just how common this belief is in daily life shows the fact that highway engineers occasionally have to reroute roads around suspected elf dwellings. Also, families planning to build a new house sometimes hire “elf spotters” to make sure the land doesn’t belong to an elf community or other spirit folk.

Nowadays, elves are believed to live under rocks and in the mountains and fields all around the island. Other spirit folk believed to inhabit Iceland include trolls, lovelings (living in hedgerows), gnomes and a unique species known as “huldufolk” or hidden people. These are the size of humans, very sociable and dressed in colorful costumes.

The trolls are said to be ugly and awkward beings living in the mountains and preying on unsuspecting hikers. Most of them are night trolls. They don’t come out during the day because they fear the sun, which would turn them to stone. All over Iceland, one can see weird stone formations that are believed to be trolls, which were caught by the sun’s rays.

Iceland’s 13 Yuletide Lads

There are many more Santas in Iceland than the single one that is known around the world. The Yuletide Lads are a whole army of 13. They live in the mountains and each day starting December 11, one comes to town until December 23.

However, these Santas bring more turmoil than merriment. Each one of them is named after the certain trick he likes to play when visiting the homes of people, such as Door Slammer, Sausage Snatcher, Candle Swiper, etc. Traditionally, children put a shoe in the window before they go to bed hoping that the Yuletide Lad of the day will leave a small present for them.

The Yuletide Lads’ mom is Gryla, a monster that eats boiled disobedient children. Their dad is the lazy Leppaluði. Legend has it that if you don’t get any new clothes as a Christmas present, you won’t be seen in public ever again, but eaten by a giant cat.