Beware the wrath of the Fairies

No, this is not some sort of gay joke.

There is a construction project here in England that is being stalled by fairies who live under a rock. Read the story here.


This is incredible! I had read a NYT article about a problem with "elves" in Iceland, but I didn't know the Brits went in for such nonsense as well. See this article in the New York Times re: the elves: (sorry to take up so much blog space. Also, I have a blogging assignment for you which will be posted on my site later today.)

New York Times (NY)
Copyright (c) 2005 The New York Times. All rights reserved.

July 13, 2005

Section: A

Building in Iceland? Better Clear It With the Elves First


HAFNARFJORDUR, Iceland Do elves exist? Like many Icelanders, Hildur Hakonardottir considers the question to be more complicated than it appears.

"This is a very, very, very delicate question," Ms. Hakonardottir, a retired museum director, said. "If you ask people if they believe in elves, they will say yes and no. If they say yes, maybe they don't, and if they say no, maybe they do."

Hypothetically speaking, what does she think elves look like?

"Well, my next-door neighbor is an elf woman," she declared suddenly. "She lives in a cliff in a rock in my garden."

Despite having seen the elf only once in 15 years -- enough time to determine that she was "bigger than life and dressed like my grandmother, in a 1930's national costume" -- Ms. Hakonardottir, 67, has no doubt of her existence. "My daughter once asked me, 'How do you know where elves live?'" she said. "I told her you just know. It's just a feeling."

It is a feeling that many people in Iceland apparently share. Polls consistently show that the majority of the population either believes in elves -- generally described as humanlike creatures who are fiercely protective of their rocky homes -- or is not willing to rule out their existence. But while believing in elves is rooted in Iceland's culture, it remains a touchy subject.

"You have to watch out for the Nordic cliche," the Icelandic singer Bjork told The New Yorker magazine several years ago. "A friend of mine says that when record-company executives come to Iceland, they ask the bands if they believe in elves, and whoever says yes gets signed up."

Yet even Bjork cannot say no for sure. "We think nature is a lot stronger than man," she said in another interview, when the Elf Question came up. "A relationship with things spiritual has not gone away."

A belief not just in elves but also in the predictive power of dreams, in the potency of dead spirits and in other supernatural phenomena, is closely linked to Iceland's Celtic traditions and punishing, powerful landscape -- especially the harsh weather and the rocks that appear everywhere.

"If there was a large stone in the garden, and somebody said to an Icelander, 'That's an elf stone,' would they blow it up? They wouldn't," said Terry Gunnell, head of the folkloristic department at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik.

"It's not like they think there are little people living in there who come and dance outside," he added. "It's more a sense that there are other powers, other forces around them."

This town, a port on the outskirts of Reykjavik, prides itself on its unusually high elf population. Tourists are invited to tour the known elf locations, including a large rock whose reputation as an elf habitat meant that a nearby road was diverted some years ago so as not to disturb its unseen residents.

Elly Erlingsdottir, head of the town council's planning committee, said that made sense to her. Recently, she said, some elves borrowed her kitchen scissors, only to return them a week later to a place she had repeatedly searched. "My philosophy is, you don't have to see everything you believe in," she said, "because many of your greatest experiences happen with closed eyes."

Recently, the planning committee considered a resident's application to build a garage. "One member said, 'I hope it's O.K. with the elves,'" Ms. Erlingsdottir related. Should the council determine that it is, in fact, not O.K. -- usually this happens when a local mystic hears from the elf population, directly or through a vision -- the town would consider moving the project, or getting the mystic to ask the elves to move away, she said.

Such occurrences are not unusual. In nearby Kopavogur, a section of Elfhill Road was narrowed from two lanes to one in the 1970's, when repeated efforts to destroy a large rock that was believed to house elves were thwarted by equipment breakdowns. The rock is still there, jutting awkwardly into the road, but it is unclear whether the tenants are.

"With the artificial lampposts, there's too much light for them, and there's also too much noise," explained Gurdrun Bjarnadottir, who has lived across the street for some 30 years. "A lot of people believe they still live there, but I think they've moved."

In the same town in 1996, a bulldozer operator, Hjortur Hjartarson, ran into trouble as he tried to raze a suspected elf hill to make way for a graveyard.

After two different bulldozers repeatedly and inexplicably malfunctioned, and local television cameras failed when trained on the hill, though they worked elsewhere, the crew halted the project. "We're going to see whether we can't reach an understanding with the elves," Jon Ingi, the project supervisor, told Morgunbladid, a Reykjavik newspaper, at the time.

Local elf communicators were called in to arbitrate, and after a while, work resumed. "In my opinion, well, whatever it is, hidden people or elves, it has just accepted this and moved away from there," Mr. Hjartarson told Valdimar Hafstein, an academic researcher who in the late 1990's published "The Elves' Point of View," an article about elves and their effect on construction projects. "That's my opinion."

Although he found many similar cases, Mr. Hafstein has grown weary of the subject. For a while, the Icelandic tourist board cited him as a national elf expert. "I kind of feel that I've done my part," he said. He recently completed a doctoral thesis (on Unesco, not elves) for the University of California, Berkeley.

Although it is easy to find Icelanders who roll their eyes at elf conversations, it is not easy to find hardcore skeptics. But 73-year-old Arni Bjornsson is one.

"Today, it is almost a fashion to say that you believe in supernatural beings, but I take this with a pinch of salt," said Mr. Bjornsson, who worked for 25 years as the head of the ethnology department at the national museum.

But even he is not saying no, exactly. "If you were to ask me, 'Are you sure there are no supernatural beings?' I would say I don't believe there are," he said. "But I wouldn't rule it out."

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