The Icelanders and The Huldufolk

The Icelanders and the Huldufolk

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Folklore- ‘the traditional beliefs, customs and stories of a community passed through the generations through word of mouth


I first heard about this when on a free walking tour of Reykjavik and it just sounded so cute! We had walked to see a large boulder in the middle of town where we were told the story of the Huldufolk which translates to ‘hidden people’. Still clear as mud? Well let me explain further!

In Icelandic folklore, the Huldufolk are similar to elves. They are invisible apart from a few people who are able to see them and communicate with them called Seers. But despite it sounding little more than a sweet story parents tell their kids and a slightly sceptical job role, they have a surprising amount of influence in the day to day lives of Icelanders.

Over 50% of Iceland’s population are said to believe, or at least do not deny the existence of the Huldufolk and many will admit to having a friend of a friend who has encountered them in some way. The elves make their homes in rocks and it is NOT ok to just make them up and move. Whole building projects have been amended so not to interfere with their homes and those lucky few who can communicate with the elves have been used in negotiations to help keep the peace. Sometimes this has resulted in some of the Huldufolk requesting certain buildings of theirs being relocated safely. You can read a news article about this here.

The Huldufolk House Reykjavik
When a rock is more than just a rock – The Huldufolk House in Reykjavik

If something goes wrong or missing in Iceland, these little hidden people will get blamed for it. If machines break down, it will be because you’ve pissed an elf off for invading their space or not consulting things with them if it’s on their land.

It appears that the Huldufolk are there to help keep the equilibrium in Iceland, which I think is a great thing! If you go to Iceland you will notice how chilled out and friendly it is. Crime is so low that the police have an Instagram which mostly consists of them doing stuff like getting cats out of trees. Could this be an effect of the Huldufolk? Who knows!

People today still tell stories of Huldufolk as part of holiday celebrations such as Christmas and new year and it’s customary to leave treats out for them. What’s even cuter is some people build little wooden house for the Huldufolk to live in!


There are a few stories that suggest where the Huldufolk come from and they have a strong Christian aspect to them.

The most common story goes that God announced to Eve that he was going to visit so Eve decided to wash her children beforehand. However, when god arrived, some of the children were still dirty so Eve hid them from god and they subsequently remained hidden, therefore they became Huldufolk.

As I studied anthropology at university, I love hearing about folklore that have been passed down from generation to generation. Folklore are a way of sharing and passing on cultural beliefs and traditions and I love that it’s still so prominent in Iceland today. 

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