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A Crash Course in Iceland’s Otherworldly Aspects

To Believe or Not Believe, That Is the Question

Many foreigners go through varying degrees of euphoria when coming face to face with the powerful effects of the otherworldly nature that hits them when they first arrive in Iceland. There is an intangible energy that seems to pervade the landscape but is hard to explain if you have never experienced it for yourself. How much you are aware of this energy seems to depend on your spiritual sensitivity to these sorts of things or lack thereof.

The waterfall Háifoss is situated near the volcano Hekla in the south of Iceland. The river Fossá, a tributary of Þjórsá, drops here from a height of 122 m. This is the second highest waterfall of the island.

The waterfall Háifoss is situated near the volcano Hekla in the south of Iceland. The river Fossá, a tributary of Þjórsá, drops here from a height of 122 m. This is the second highest waterfall of the island.

Culture Shock!
A related phenomenon is that rather disconcerting dilemma of elves, trolls, fairies and nature spirits et al. that get lumped under the umbrella term ‘huldufólk’ or hidden people. It will be just a matter of time before that age-old, yet persistent debate about the existence of these ‘hidden people’ pops up in conversation. Even on a short visit to the country, it is hard to ignore, seeing how almost every tour guide touches on the subject one way or another. And with every second rock or boulder being the likely habitation of elves (possibly with an agenda if you do not respect their property), coupled with the widespread belief in them among Icelanders, it makes for a very interesting debate.

Borðeyri Village, Hrútafjörður, Westfjords, Iceland

Borðeyri Village, Hrútafjörður, Westfjords, Iceland

For or Against?
However hidden these beings may be to the vast majority of us, there are some who claim to have seen them and accounts of these encounters are scattered throughout Iceland’s written history as far back as the Sagas. And what do we make of the thousands of testimonials gathered over time, even recently, of elf sightings?
On the other hand, there is also a vociferous minority who are firmly in denial about these beings and some prominent Icelanders, such as Iceland’s current President, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, vehemently deny their existence. His argument is that these beings are just figments of the imagination of lonely farmers who needed company during the long dark winters of this northerly latitude. Maybe he just has to keep to this ‘official’ position so he doesn’t appear foolish when meeting heads of state of other countries.
Over the years, polls have shown that while only a small portion of the population believe without doubt in the existence of elves, the overwhelming majority are not prepared to discount them entirely either.
Could it be that Iceland’s remote location could well be just the type of place that these ‘hidden people’ prefer? Out of sight, out of mind, and they can get on with their existence without too much disturbance from inquisitive humans?

Breiðamerkurjökull is part of the big Glacier Vatnajkull

Breiðamerkurjökull is part of the big Glacier Vatnajökull

Why Do You Travel?
Which brings us to the question of why are you travelling in the first place. Is it not to learn from other cultures, to try to understand how others think and live?
Personally I think it is much more fun to be in the ‘uncommitted to a firm opinion’. A little culture shock is good for you. I say keep an open mind because Iceland is sure to surprise you in more ways than one. -EMV