I keep hearing about Icelanders making decisions based around invisible elves. Do they really divert roads in order to avoid disturbing them?
Well… yes roads have been diverted in order to avoid disturbing the elves (and in order to preserve perhaps a beautiful hill or a rock that holds many folklore stories or legends).
I wouldn’t really say that means Icelanders believe in elves. Some people definitely do, but not all. I’m Icelandic and I don’t believe in elves, however I am all for diverting roads around natural beauties
Also, as an atheist, I think believing in invisible elves is just similar to believing in invisible gods and making decisions about your life according to that
A majority of Icelanders don´t believe in elves but some do. Some people also believe in god but i´m not sure whey that´s not being discussed too…
Yeah, I also think it’s like people don’t actually believe, but a lot of people like saying ‘I’m not saying they -don’t- exist’. It’s like a cultural thing, pretending to believe or at least not denying that they do.
In my opinion, Icelanders treat elves as the personification of nature and energy from nature:) In a country where the weather is difficult and most of the villages outside of Reykjavík are a small settlements, it’s probably good to believe that there is something more.
Well, elves are a pretty complex thing in Iceland
To start with, elves are not small and funny people with pointy hats, but actually beautiful and tall people, more like the Lord of the Rings elves. There are many stories of how they came to be, but in general, they seem to change culturally with time, once being seen as heathen, but in later stories, it’s actually quite common to see them portrayed as Christians. They are in constant touch with humans, and there is both intermarriage and common travelling between the words for work. Often, elves do request something else than money for their services, but sometimes all they ask for is human kindness (and in some stories, they actually came into existence because of the lack of human kindness and thus they seek it constantly, and reward it).
The faith is thus maybe not as silly when you know the cultural significance of it and the relation to everyday life. Of course, I’m not saying that the locals believe in elves (and most seem to embrace the cultural significance of not saying they do not exist as a status quo, regardless if they actually believe or not) but the constant interconnection between the hidden people as simply a group of individuals that stand under the same explanation as ‘People from a Distant Valley with slightly strange cultural things’.
There are multitudes of stories talking about human women assisting in delivery for hidden women and hidden women marrying human men, only to be forced to leave when their background is discovered. Elves are not portrayed as strange or ‘visibly different’, so in a way, we can say all they are is an allegory for individuals that come to an area and are unknown to the locals. Most Icelandic stories have a way of speaking about people who did not have a voice at some point in history, and one very interesting folkloristic theory addresses Icelandic ghost stories as allegories for the disabled and mentally challenged… - but that is another debate