Basic Icelandic Folklore

The Icelandic Myth

There is a long tradition in Iceland of respecting nature and the elements. The Viking age settlers of Iceland came to the rugged island in the hopes of creating for themselves a better life, what they faced was a continuous struggle against the awesome powers of Mother Nature. Their reaction was to personify these forces, to give the elements human-like characteristics which could be “reasoned” with. Or at least communicated with on some level.

The Viking settlers proceeded to project the folk traditions and lore of the old country onto the landscape of the new one. Most of these settlers, men women and children, came from the Nordic countries, but there were also many from the British Isles and Ireland. The result was a mixed folklore under both Nordic and Celtic influence with stories and imagery drawn from a collision of Christian and Pagan beliefs.

The mountains became alive with Icelandic Trolls who guarded their territory and challenged any who wished to cross it. These gargantuan creatures of all shapes and sizes rose from the landscape itself. They could appear as tall as a house, able to eat a horse in one go, but a passing traveler may also meet one that is only slightly larger than an average human being. Today these trolls are best known for their roles as the 13 Icelandic Santas. (One Santa Clause is just not enough)

The coastline was guarded by all manner of mythical beings, commonly referred to as the “Landvættir” these “land-protectors” have stood guard against hostile invasions to this day. On the Icelandic coins, the parliament building and official suit of arms for Iceland you will find representations of the four guardians of Iceland, Eagle, Giant, Dragon and Bull.

But the most famous of all Icelandic legends and myths are the ones about the Icelandic Elves or Elfs. These are the hidden people of the Icelandic landscape, they live in large rocks and huge boulders, their cities are the ragged outcrop of rocks on a mountain, their churches (yes they are Christian) are the high rising cliffs that rise out of a lone hill in the distance. They can help humans in distress or trick them into their homes, never to be seen again.