Myths and Legends of Iceland
Iceland is a country of striking and sometimes supernatural beauty - which is matched by its rich and extensive folklore. Here's what you need to know about the Icelandic superstitions.
Iceland is a country of striking and sometimes supernatural beauty; which is only matched by its rich and extensive folklore. Reuters reports that 10% of Icelanders believe in supernatural beings, 10% do not, and the remaining 80% either have no strong feelings—or refuse to deny their existence entirely. Belief in huldufólk, hidden people or elves, is fairly common—in fact, when major projects (like construction or roadwork) run into delays, it is sometimes suspected that the workers are angering local elves. The only way to surpass the issue is to hire a medium!
When traveling on a small ship to Iceland, you have a unique opportunity to visit various sites that are home to thousands of years of mythology and folklore—you may even see elves and trolls for yourself! Learning about the country's folklore is a unique way to experience Icelandic culture, and certainly not a common experience. For the discriminating and perhaps the quirky traveler, making a trip around Iceland based on its myths and legends may be the best way to explore the country.
Here are a few otherworldly sites to look for while you're in Iceland:
Wherever you are in Iceland—whether in a populated city or the middle of supernatural-seeming wilderness—you’re likely to come across álfhól, small wooden houses that are constructed for the benefit of elves, who are said to live in them. These elf homes range from simple to quite elaborate, and counting how many you can spot is an amusing pastime.
Special Times for the Huldufólk
Certain holidays seem to bring the huldufólk out of hiding in Iceland. If you are visiting the country during Christmas, Twelfth Night, New Year’s Eve, or Midsummer, expect to hear stories of elves holding parties and bonfires. You’ll also learn that the locals clean their houses and leave food out for the elves; a tradition you may wish to participate in from on board your small ship.
The Trolls of Vík
According to local legend, if you decide to visit the beautiful black sand beach in Vík, you will certainly encounter trolls. One of the world’s most enchanting beaches, it’s worth a visit with or without supernatural! Located just off shore are several basalt rock formations known as Reynisdrangar. Legend says these rocks are really trolls, who were caught in the sunlight as they tried to drag ships ashore and were forever turned to stone.
Monsters, known in Icelandic as skrimsli, may live in the sea, according to many. Reuters spoke to Thorvaldur Fridriksson, a scholar of sea monsters, who keeps an open mind about this possibility.
"Some of these monsters are dangerous," he said. "People are reluctant to tell about them because others will laugh. But about 70 percent of Earth is sea and who knows what the sea hides?"
While skrimsli are unlikely to be a threat to your cruise travel in Iceland, you may wonder at night in particularly eerie waters.
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A couple tips for the Iceland bound traveler:
The Elf School
If you're interested in learning more about Icelandic folklore, the Elf School in Reykjavik may be a vital stop for you while you're in the area. The school offers very brief courses on folklore, elves, fairies, trolls, dwarves, and more. There are 13 types of elves, and the Elf School has a full curriculum of study devoted to them, complete with textbooks—you’ll even receive a diploma.
Bring a Book
If you find yourself intrigued by the idea of seeing sites of folkloric importance while you're in Iceland, you might consider picking up a copy of "The Traveller's Guide to Icelandic Folktales" by Jón R. Hjálmarsson.
The book functions as a guided tour, inviting you to explore certain areas of the country associated with myths as old as the Eddas and as new as the 19th century. Whether you choose to use it in that way or simply to luxuriate in your cabin and read about the wonderful world of Icelandic folklore, the book may well be an essential item to pack on your next cruise to Iceland.
No matter what time of year, or which region you visit, a trip to Iceland is sure to be magical. Join us!