Icelandlandic Trolls and Other Things

By: Stuart Cheese

In my capacity as the UK Director of Operations for One World Tours Limited, I would like to share some of the wonderful stories that I was told in Iceland recently. Just over half of the country's population believe in trolls, elves or hidden people and hopefully I have remembered enough to pass them on to you.

I had the good fortune to have a tour guide that was very well informed about the history of the mountain trolls and she spent the entire day pointing out where some of them were and the stories behind them. In times long ago these trolls would have brought terror into the hearts of the Icelandic people, however in modern times there appears to be only residual curiosity. It is believed that many of the ancient trolls have turned to stone and indeed when they were pointed out to me I must say that I could see the human- like forms after a while. Some of the huge, moss-covered, basalt rock columns that can be found all around the countryside looked amusingly like human faces or petrified trolls.
Iceland is geologically very young and many times I found myself thinking that I was witnessing how life must have been when the planet was just beginning to form. The continual reshaping by the ice and volcanic fire make the whole country stunningly beautiful and mysterious. The most wonderful thing about Iceland is that it is almost completely unspoilt and unpolluted so it is hardly surprising that it is believed that pagan spirits survive in this wonderful environment.

Like elves, trolls are a big part of the ancient heritage of the Scandinavian mythology and they are very often thought to be fearsome and cruel creatures. Some Icelanders believe though, that if you treat them as you wish to be treated yourself then they return favours for favours if however you are mean to them they will seek their revenge.

Trolls are nocturnal creatures and are supposed to be very sensitive to the sun and they turn to stone if caught by the rays of the Sun. One of the most dramatic and my personal favourite troll is Hvitserkur, a troll cow in fact which is forever drinking the sea water on the northwest coast. Also in the north we have Dimmuborgir, which my guide pointed out is a famous site with the tourists. The story is that some Trolls that were distracted by having so much fun enjoying a picnic, they forgot that in the summer the sun comes earlier unfortunately turning them into seven huge fortifications.

Gryla is Iceland?s most famous troll woman and it is believed that she is the mother of the 13 Icelandic Christmas lads. Gryla is apparently well known for stealing naughty children to put into her bubbling cauldron. These lads used to creep down from the hillside in the thirteen days running up to Christmas to wreck havoc on unsuspecting families, stealing things and generally making mischeif. I must admit that when I was told some of the names of these lads Curd Glutton, Peeping Tom, Bowl Licker and Door Slammer, I pointed out to my guide that they would be locked up in England for some of that behaviour. The lads are not as bad as they sound however, as they leave behind small gifts in children's shoes in the run up to Christmas.

My guide then told me about the Huldufolk (I looked up the spelling of this when I got home, it took me a few tries!) this means "hidden people" and it was explained to me that their origins concern Eve (I presume she meant Adam's Eve). Now it would appear that Eve had many children(???) and one day God announced he was about to pay her a visit. Eve wanted her children to look clean and presentable in His presence and scrubbed some of them. Some of the other children did not manage to get clean because God arrived much sooner than Eve had expected. In her haste she decided to hide these poor children instead of presenting them. The story continues that God was pleased with the children that he saw and asked Eve if she had any more. Of course Eve was dishonest about the existence of the others and thus cemented these hidden children's fate who were destined to remain hidden forever.
They can make themselves seen apparently and are generally benign, but they can make terrible things happen to people who have deliberately disturbed or destroyed their dwellings.

My guide told me the story of a large boulder outside of Reykjavik which was reported to be the home of some huldufolk. In 1999 building constructors had great difficulty in building the new connecting road to the tunnel under the Whale Fjord to the town of Akranes. The construction equipment repeatedly broke down when it approached the boulder, which was scheduled to be moved. Apparently this story was reported in the local newspaper at the time.

I think that if a taxi driver were to start talking to me about elves and trolls whilst driving me through the English countryside, I would have jumped from the moving vehicle. Yet somehow it seemed perfectly natural to hear about these creatures whilst being enveloped in the swirling mists and the sparsely populated areas of Iceland and I hope one day that you will experience it for yourself.

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