July 1st, 2016
The Ultimate Guide to Icelandic Myths and Folklore
Whether you go to Iceland for is hot springs or its ice climbing, you can't ignore its wacky-but-endearing folklore.
Iceland has fascinated me since long before I first visited the country a few years ago, and has drawn me back on more than one occasion. Just simply being in the country inspires a sense of mystery and wonder. And every time I hear the Icelandic band Of Monsters and Men’s track called “Yellow Light,” I am immediately whisked back to the feeling of awe I got standing on the shore of a fjord, as I basked in the yellow light of the midnight sun.
But Iceland doesn’t just feel mysterious; it is mysterious. The country’s history is chock full of mythology and folklore. Icelandic people tell great stories of historical events or sagas, but in addition to those, tales of trolls, elves and mythical events litter this country’s rich history. This is a deeper dive into some of them, and you can decide for yourself whether they are true or not.
Situated just off the coast near the southern town of Vík are the volcanic sea stacks known as Reynisdrangar. According to the Icelandic legend, these stacks were formed when three mischievous trolls attempted to pull a ship ashore, but ended up getting caught by the light of dawn and became frozen in time.
Chances are, everyone has heard of elves, but have you ever seen one in real life? It is said that more than 50 percent of Icelandic people believe in elves, or huldufólk—which translates to “hidden people”—as they are called in Iceland. They are known as hidden people because they are usually never seen, but in Icelandic lore, elves are regularly depicted in various sizes, from tiny little creatures to human-sized beings.
Álfhól are little structures that resemble small houses or churches and can be found around Iceland. When I first came across them, I had no clue what to think, but after some research, I found that they were built for elves to live in.
In Northeastern Iceland, near the shallow Lake Mývatn, there is a rock formation known as Dimmuborgir, which translates to “dark cities.” It is said that these columns of volcanic rock are actually trolls who decided to have a party and invite other trolls from across the land. But they partied too long, and when the sun came up, they turned to stone.
The Sun Voyager
The Sun Voyager is a sculpture located by the harbor in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík. While many interpret this piece of art as being a Viking ship, it was not intended as such by the piece’s creator, Jón Gunnar Árnason, who was dying of leukemia when the Sun Voyager was constructed. Rather, the sculpture is a dreamboat, and an ode to the sun. It is also often said that, because the piece was constructed during a time when Árnason was consumed by the concept of death, the piece should be seen as a vessel that carries souls to the beyond.
Due in part to its magic and mystery, Iceland is continuously growing in popularity among tourists. Just remember: When you pack your bag and visit, be wary of all the magical creatures that enchant the landscape—and if you do happen to spot an elf or troll, be sure to snap a photo to share with the world.
Have you heard any other stories regarding Icelandic folklore or mythology? Have you ever snuck home a troll by hiding it in your suitcase? Share them in the comments below.
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