How Elf Rights Activists Are Influencing Iceland’s Infrastructure

Concern for the “hidden people” is stalling construction projects around Iceland. After an 8-year battle, a sacred elf rock has been moved.

Moving a large rock out of the path of a construction site isn’t usually a newsworthy event. But the the relocation of a 50-ton boulder in the barren Gálgahraun lava field, north of Reykjavik, Iceland, was the dramatic culmination of an 8-year dispute between road builders and a staunch group of–wait for it–elf conservationists. Icelandic believers in the huldufólk, or “hidden people,” claim that the boulder, known as Ófeigskirkja, is a sacred elf chapel.


Over at The Guardian, Oliver Wainwright describes how concerns for these hidden folk stall progress on construction of infrastructure, and otherwise influence urban planning and the designs of roads, driveways, and houses around the country. The story, accompanied by Svala Ragnars‘ photographs of the various elf homes being saved from demolition, highlights the tension between centuries-old tradition and modern industrial and technological progress.

“[Elves] are a symbol for everything that was simple and straightforward in the good old days,” Jacqueline Simpson, a visiting professor at the University of Chichester’s Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy, told The Guardian. Literally protecting huldufólk territory is the conservationists’ way of symbolically protecting Icelandic heritage. Of course, it’s also a way of protecting the lives of the construction workers who will suffer elf retaliation for messing with their sites: “There are many stories of machines breaking down and workers becoming ill when they interfere with elf rocks,” said Bryndís Björgvinsdóttir, a writer and folklorist.

According to their stock response to journalist inquiries about the matter, the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration takes the efforts of elf conservationists in stride: “It cannot be denied that belief in the supernatural is occasionally the reason for local concerns and these opinions are taken into account just as anybody else’s would be.” In some instances, “Issues have been settled by delaying construction projects so that the elves can, at a certain point, move on.”

See the slideshow above for Svala Ragnar’s images of elf homes being saved from demolition.

Head to The Guardian for the full story.

About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.