Project published in book form by “Bjartur Veröld” in Iceland November 2018.
In Iceland, the folklore around Elves is still affecting some aspects of modern life. Although most Icelanders would not openly admit to believing in the creatures, opinion polls indicate that people usually choose to "neither affirm nor deny” their existence. Icelandic elves, also known as hidden people, are not like the English term connotes. They are said to be usually invisible people, a bit different from humans who live alongside us, mostly in rocks and boulders or bigger stones in lava fields.
Many legends exist about humans interfering with elves homes and how they get punished for it – someone is taken ill or machines break down in most mysterious ways. Therefore, when roadwork and housing construction become problematic, it is often seen as a warning or retaliation against on-going construction on the "elfin property". Due to this, some construction managers would rather comply with the perceived wishes of the hidden beings than take any chances on further accidents happening. This might involve giving the elves time to relocate or abandon their homes or even change the construction plans altogether to accommodate them.
The Crossroads project seeks to document the locations where the belief in elves has changed the face of modern living. It tells the stories behind elfin monuments that remain in the urban landscape, many of which only existed as verbal legends. The project is not only intended to serve as an important documentation and visual evidence of the elfin folklore in Iceland, but also as a reminder of the many manifestations of nature in modern society.
Concepts of the supernatural reflect the culture to which they belong. The folklore around elves represent nature in the culture - and even nature in the city. The elves can be seen as nature spirits and they are a part of nature and by protecting and respecting nature - humans respect the elves. Their homes – rocks, hills, cliffs - must not be tampered with.
Narratives about insurrection of elves demonstrate supernatural sanction against development and even urbanization. They protect and enforce the old pastoral values and traditional rural culture. The clashes that are narrated in these stories or legends refer to oppositions that were relevant in their social and ideological settings in pre-industrial and rural society. Roads and construction in lava fields or “unspoiled” nature are the matrix of modernity. Road construction transgresses these boundaries and cross between nature and human settlements (the city), and bring the nature into the human’s domain.
Elves are usually described as beautiful beings, similar to humans but very sustainable in their way of living, a bit like Icelanders from two or three centuries back. This nostalgic idea of a nature-oriented elfin society existing today reflects how we see our own modern lifestyle today and even expresses doubts about how unsustainable we have become.
This folklore is therefore, never only about elves or the "others", but about humans or "us" and how we choose to live in a community, with and beside nature.
Álfhóll, Vesturberg Breiðholti. In the 70´s, plans to build a block of flats in the Breiðholt area where changed to spare an elf-hill on the location. The block was eventually built behind the hill, rather than levelling it.
Ófeigskirkja, Gálgahraun in Álftanes. - In 2014 work began on a controversial new road which crosses a lava field leading to the small town of Álftanes. Many nature conservation groups made protests, along with a few individuals who believed that elves were being disturbed. The development went ahead regardless. However, during the road’s construction, the local council discreetly agreed to save a rock, believed to be a ‘hidden people’ church, which goes by the name of Ófeigskirkja.
Merkurgata, Hafnarfjörður - In a street named Merkurgata in Hafnarfjörður, just outside Reykjavík, is an elf rock that extends far into the street, narrowing it rather dangerously for passing vehicles. It was spared during the development of the area.
Grásteinn, Álftanes - Grásteinn (Greystone) bears the marks of its attempted removal during roadworks in Álftanes last century. The story goes that when the workers began their attempts to break down the stone, a nearby farm named Eyvindarstaðir appeared to be engulfed by fire. When it was discovered that the farm was safe, people interpreted this vision as a supernatural warning and abandoned the removal of the stone.
Hjallabraut, Hafnarfirði - On the corner of Vesturbraut and Hjallabraut in Hafnarfjörður is a small house with a large rock sitting very closely in front of it. The older generation in the area say that it the rock believed to be the home of a “hidden lady” and her son. The house owner, says that the hidden lady might have helped her buying the house a few years ago and as a thank-you she leaves the lady a bit of cream by the rock every Christmas eve.
Tröllaskarð, Skagafjörður - Roadworks were disrupted by several accidents at Tröllaskarð in the north of Iceland in 1978, leading to attempts to negotiate with the elves with the help of a noted seer. Eventually, plans to detonate part of a rock-belt, where elves were believed to reside, were abandoned by the Icelandic Road Administration.
Tröllaskarð, Skagafjörður - The road through Tröllaskagi was raised and split to accommodate a high field of rocks, despite creating a dangerous blind spot at the top of the hill. The road administration came to this conclusion partly due to its belief that the elves would protect people passing along the road if the hill was left undisturbed.
Þórishólar by the Selfoss Hospital - In the year 1999 the general manager of the Selfoss Hospital in the south of Iceland called for the assistant of an “elf specialist” to find out whether the problematic building of a new hospital wing was agreeable by elves and nature. Many recounts of accidents and mishaps surrounded the building of the new wing and it was believed that a nearby elf-hill named “Þórishólar” might be the source of these problems. Some claims also surfaced that the notoriously troubled cooperation of the hospital staff had something to do with the close proximity to elves.
Hrísey -The owner of the property on the northern island of Hrísey abandoned his plans to move a large rock on his land when some of the heavy machinery broke. It has since been made into a feature on the property.
Huldumannssteinn, Reykjavík. - A rock in its undisturbed natural surroundings occupies a large section of a busy car park in an industrial area in the capital Reykjavík. It was spared during the development of the area in the 1970s as it was believed to be the habitat of a ‘hidden man’.
A dwarf stone in the eastern Iceland town of Seyðisfjörður. Many tales exist for this stone, but the most famous one tells how it sailed across the fjord to follow the town’s church when in moved to a new location in the 1800’s.
Álfhólsvegur (Elf-hill road) in Kópavogur. At Álfhóll, attempts to lay a road were abandoned in the 1930s when machinery and drills repeatedly broke down. The road was moved away from the hill, leaving it undisturbed. In the 1980s, plans re-emerged to level the hill and build over it but when the same issues resurfaced, workers refused to go near the hill with any sort of machinery. The hill was eventually officially protected from any further disruptions.
Fremstafell, Þigneyjarsveit - In the spring of 2012, the farmer at Fremstafell in the north of Iceland attempted to dig out a boulder with the help of a friend. When their digger broke down as soon as it hit the stone, the friend suggested levelling the ground around it, leaving the stone alone to avoid further incident. This man had heard many stories of elves interrupting work at his former workplace, the Icelandic Road Administration.
Þjóðkirkjan (the National Church) in Hafnarfjörður - In the garden of the National Church of Iceland in Hafnarfjörður is a small stone known as Dvergasteinn (Dwarfstone). It has always been believed that supernatural beings reside in this stone and so it remained undisturbed during the building of the church.
Dvergasteinn Árna Johnsen, Vestmannaeyjum
Hamarinn, Hafnarfjörður - Many stories exist about elves living in the “Hamar” cliff in the centre of Hafnarfjörður town and tales of singing resonating from the cliff are common amongst Hafnarfjörður’s older population. It is said to be a very supernatural location and a royal elfin residence.