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The Myths And Legends Of Iceland

Iceland Panorama

Of all the destinations which we offer expeditions to, Iceland is perhaps the most diverse. It’s home to a wide range of natural wonders, has areas of both intense and sporadic populations and is one of few places on earth where the fiery breath of a volcano exists alongside the icy touch of a waterfall or glacier.

And whilst all of this is incredibly interesting and provides many great reasons to visit this fascinating island, the most intriguing side to Iceland is one which is not mentioned above. A nostalgic and brilliantly creative side that is rich in folklore, myth and legend. A side which may not be all that believable at times but that helps to conjure up emotive images and place a mysterious vail over what is already a mystical place.

These tales and stories have been told for decades and are often mentioned in various forms of literature either written in Iceland or by Icelandic writers. They help to bring the whole country to life and, I think you’ll agree, are extremely imaginative.

Huldufólk –

Asbyrgi Canyon

The meaning of the term Huldufolk stems from the relationship between the term ‘Huldu’ and secrecy. Therefore the name given to this elvish population literally means hidden or secret folk.

Elves of this kind are thought to live all over Iceland, particularly in the narrow gaps between the jagged landscapes, in various cavernous rock formations and within the lava fields of the north. There is even a belief amongst many Icelanders that you should never throw stones as they may hit the Huldufolk and anger them.

You may think that these creatures are part of a pleasant story born in a place far away from this world. However, there have been many situations in which the hidden people have had a dramatic impact on real life. Construction work and planned highway routes have been halted and changed in the past as the locals caused uproar at the thought that the Huldufolk would be dislodged from their homes. Many Icelanders have even created little wooden huts in their gardens in an attempt to provide extra lodgings for this secret race, and some have even manufactured tiny churches to try and convert them to Christianity.

Far from being something which is only found in cut off, rural areas of the country, a belief in the Huldufolk can be found right across Iceland. And whilst it is still the minority who will openly admit to their faith in the existence of these elves; many, many more are cautious in completely ruling out their presence. After all, displeasing the elves could lead to them causing dramatic landslides or cursing a famer’s crop.

The Three Trolls Of Grimsey –

Troll

Grimsey is an island off the coast of Drangnes in the north-west part of Iceland and shouldn’t be confused with an outpost of the same name which can be found 25 miles off the northern coast of the country. Whilst it may just seem like a speck of land in Hunafloi Bay, Icelandic folklore has an interesting tale as for how it became separated from the mainland.

The story dictates that three trolls were determined to sever the beautiful West Fjords from the rest of mainland Iceland. They began to dig a trench that would cut off the north-west section of the country but got so engrossed with what they were up to that they neglected to keep track of the time. Trolls can never see the light of day otherwise they will be turned to stone (something which fans of J R R Tolkien’s works may be aware of) so as the first rays of dawn breached the horizon the two trolls digging in the west started to flee but were soon halted by their seizing limbs.

The third troll, digging further north, tried to escape by returning to the rocky peninsula on which she had left her ox. Upon realising that she was not going to make it, she threw her spade into the ocean and thus the tiny island of Grimsey became detached from the mainland. Locals say that a nearby rock formation known as Kerling is actually the third troll in stone form and that you can even make out her face if you look hard enough.

The Bakkakarlinn –

The Bakkakarlinn is a human-like creature that is said to roam the northern coast of Iceland. This far from friendly figure is thought to snatch children away if they get too close to the edge of the tall cliffs in this part of the country; a story that is said to have been fabricated to teach kids to respect the dangerous and striking coastline.

Sleipnir's Footprint –

Sleipnir and Odin

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Norse mythology, Sleipnir is the horse ridden by Odin who was the king of the gods and father of Thor. Sleipnir was described as the best of horses; something that was perhaps helped by the fact that he had eight legs.

Asbyrgi canyon, found within Vatnajökull National Park, is also referred to as Sleipnir’s Footprint due to the thought that its horseshoe structure was created when the creature briefly set foot on Earth. Incidentally, this canyon is also said to be the capital city of the Huldufolk.

Many of these myths, legends and folktales were created to teach Icelandic people to respect and become one with nature. Nature is something that is everywhere in this breath-taking country and it is clear to see that the people of Iceland are very proud of its unique landscape. If you would like to embark on an exciting Iceland expedition to see some of these amazing sights for yourself; just give a member of the Fred.\ team a call or fill in a contact form on the website.