The Guardian in the UK reports that an extensive road project has been shelved due to an environmental group’s concerns about elves. The matter will now be decided by the Supreme Court.
Issues about Huldufolk (Icelandic for “hidden folk”) have affected planning decisions before, and the road and coastal administration has come up with a stock media response for elf inquiries, which states in part that “issues have been settled by delaying the construction project at a certain point while the elves living there have supposedly moved on“.
While this might sound like an elaborate Christmas-themed satire, apparently, this is not a joke in Iceland. Beliefs in elves, and respect for the transcendent power of nature are deeply intertwined.
Terry Gunnell, a folklore professor at the University of Iceland, said he was not surprised by the wide acceptance of the possibility of elves.
“This is a land where your house can be destroyed by something you can’t see (earthquakes), where the wind can knock you off your feet, where the smell of sulphur from your taps tells you there is invisible fire not far below your feet, where the northern lights make the sky the biggest television screen in the world, and where hot springs and glaciers ‘talk’,” Gunnell said.
“In short, everyone is aware that the land is alive, and one can say that the stories of hidden people and the need to work carefully with them reflects an understanding that the land demands respect.”
What might this suggest about our own respect for the earth, especially as grounded in Anglican theology? How does it compare to our own government’s handling of the claims and concerns of our local native tribes, and their beliefs about the land we live on?