Elf Advocates, Environmentalists Rally Against Icelandic Highway Project

Photo: emilybean/Flickr.

While industrious elfin creatures hailing from the North Pole begin to enjoy a little well-deserved R&R; after yet another grueling season under the employ of a certain white-bearded tyrant and his wife, the work of Iceland’s beloved Huldufolk (hidden folk) — and Icelanders concerned with the welfare of folkloric creatures such as elves, trolls, and fairies — has really just begun.

As recently reported by the Associated Press, a collective of Icelandic environmentalists called Friends of Lava has managed to delay the construction of a new highway construction project spanning from the Álftanes peninsula, where President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson has a home, to the suburbs of Reykjavik. The Icelandic Road and Coastal Commission-headed project would cut through a swath of government-protected wilderness including the ancient, ecologically sensitive Gálgahraun lava fields which are home to a variety of plant life and birds — and, according to Icelandic lore, a decent number of elf habitats. In fact, the area in question is believed to be the site of a sacred elf church.

"It will be a terrible loss and damaging both for the elf world and for us humans,” explains TV host and former Miss Iceland Friends of Lava protester Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir to the AP. It should be pointed out that Jónsdóttir, who explains to The Atlantic that the elf church in question is a "very important" one, isn't your run-of-the-mill environmentalist who also happens to believe in elves: She also telepathically communicates with rock-dwelling Huldufolk. In her role as de facto elf advocate, Jónsdóttir explains the potentially devastating outcome of messing with elfin houses of worship: “This elf church is connected by light energy to other churches, other places. So, if one of them is destroyed, it’s, uh, well, it’s not a good thing."

Although it’s come under fire from Icelandic journalists for allegedly being sensationalist and factually inaccurate, the Associated Press story does point out that the sensitive issue of elf displacement is secondary to environmental concerns in this particular case of highway-halting that’s currently being ruled on by the Supreme Court of Iceland.

Although many of the Friends of Lava are motivated primarily by environmental concerns, they see the elf issue as part of a wider concern for the history and culture of a very unique landscape. Andri Snaer Magnason, a well-known environmentalist, said his major concern was that the road would cut the lava field in two, among other things, destroying nesting sites.
‘Some feel that the elf thing is a bit annoying,’ said Magnason, adding that personally he was not sure they existed. However, he added, ‘I got married in a church with a god just as invisible as the elves, so what might seem irrational is actually quite common' with Icelanders.

A 2007 study conducted by the University of Iceland found that 62 percent of 1,000 Icelanders polled believe the existence of Huldufolk to be “at least possible.” Caterwauling national treasure, Bjork, has also spoke openly about the topic of elves to the media on numerous ocassions.The Grammy-nominated singer told Stephen Colbert when asked if fellow Icelanders truly believed in supernatural wee people that peacefully reside in the country's craggy terrain: “We do. It's sort of a relationship with nature, like with the rocks. (The elves) all live in the rocks, so you have to. It's all about respect, you know."
Adds Jónsdóttir, the highway-protesting elf-talker: “If this was just one crazy lady talking about invisible friends, it's really easy to laugh about that. But to have people through hundreds of years talking about the same things, it’s beyond one or two crazy ladies. It is part of the nation.” She adds: “[T]hey’re ...protectors of nature, like we humans should be. We have just forgotten."

On the topic of the protection of nature, this isn’t the first time that elfin concerns have halted highway and other infrastructure projects across the isolated, volcanically active Nordic nation famed for its geothermal spas and jaw-dropping landscapes: "They occur so often that the road and coastal administration has come up with a stock media response for elf inquiries, which states that issues have been settled by delaying the construction project at a certain point while the elves living there have supposedly moved on," explains the AP.

And there’s the devastating fact that this highway project and other elf habitat-threatening projects to come could potentially ruin Christmas for Icelandic children as they aren’t just visited by Santa Claus but by the Yule Lads ... a motley gang of 13 mischievous elves (okay, technically they’re the "precocious" offspring of a fearsome mountain-dwelling troll queen named Grýla) that descend on rural Icelandic homes on the 13 days leading up to Christmas to leave sweets — or rotting potatoes, depending if you've been naughty or nice — in shoes and partake in some devious, truly questionable behavior including pilfering sausages (Bjúgnakrækir the Sausage Swipper), slamming doors (Hurðaskellir the Door-Slammer), violating tableware (Askasleikir the Bowl-Licker), and voyeurism (Gluggagægir the Window-Peeper).

Seriously, imagine having to tell your young children that they won’t be visited by Ketkrókur, the terrifying hook-handed meat-stealer, next year because his home has been paved over to make way for a highway. Sad stuff.

Via [AP], [The Verge], [The Atlantic]

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