Fantastic nature, almost untouched by human hand, and the standard of living is one of the highest in the world. How does Iceland do it? They say it's about the elves, who know the secret of the harmony of life
Around the world correspondent went in search of fabulous creatures and … found them!
Looming to the right and left of the car driven by my guide, Neil, are the Tolkien Mountains and undulating lava fields covered in olive moss. Here and there, powerful clouds of steam rise from hot springs. Sometimes lonely houses flash by: compact, with red roofs, they resemble the dwellings of fairy-tale characters.
– A variety of mythical creatures live in Iceland: fairies, ghosts, trolls, – as if reading my mind, says Neil. – If any rock reminds you of a troll, most likely, this is it – forever frozen in stone.
— What about the elves? Do you have them? – I ask, catching the irony in the voice of the guide.
– This is a delicate question. Better not joke. We must respect what we really do not know.
According to a 2007 survey conducted by scientists at the University of Iceland, 81% of Icelanders do not deny the existence of elves, and 5% of respondents “came into contact with them themselves.” The statistics have changed little since the first survey conducted in 1974 by psychology professor Erlendur Haraldsson: then 83% of Icelanders admitted the existence of elves.
Some officials are also among the “believers”. Here is how the mayor Gunnar Einarsson described the population of the city of Gardabair: “15,000 people, as well as huldufólk [‘hidden people’ -a kind of elves].”
For the first time alfar, that is, elves, were mentioned in the 13th century in the collection of Old Norse songs “Younger Edda”. Professor of Folklore Terry Gunnell, under whose leadership the 2007 survey was conducted, believes that stories about elves, the desire to coexist harmoniously with them, is, in fact, the realization that the earth, with all its “talking” glaciers, geysers and northern lights, is alive and that it must be respected.
Neil and I drive up to a small farm near the Eyjafjallajökull glacier. In 2010, a volcanic eruption, submerged under a glacier, paralyzed air traffic in Europe for several days. Since there are practically no trees in Iceland, the surreal horizon seems endless: all around us are mountains and fields. Due to the peculiarities of the landscape, almost 80% of the country's territory is uninhabited, and the population density is one of the lowest in the world. Living among this somewhat frightening splendor, you willy-nilly believe in the existence of fabulous neighbors.
The reverent attitude of Icelanders to nature is manifested in everything. Neil, for example, immediately asked me not to leave the paths, not to stomp on the moss, because “then it takes a whole year for it to grow at least one centimeter.” You hear similar parting words in Iceland at every turn.
Tales about elves teach Icelanders to protect nature from childhood. In hundreds of eco-schools, along with the regular curriculum, children receive information about the wise use of water and electricity, waste recycling, global warming and its consequences. It cannot do without elves.
On the initiative of Professor Gunnell, an electronic mythological map of Iceland was compiled, according to which there are hundreds of elf settlements in the country. These creatures live in lava fields, rocks, cities, near farms. That is, you can meet them almost everywhere.
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Everything is like people
— To see an elf, you need to be a medium, that is, to have a developed sixth sense. Without this, nothing will work out,” Magnus Skarphedinsson, founder and head of the School of Elves in Reykjavik, upsets me.
In an institution that has graduated about 10 thousand students in 32 years of its existence, you can take a one-day course in elf studies. In a small room filled with books and figurines of elves, students learn about their way of life, get acquainted with the origins of the tradition and stories of how modern Icelanders encountered various magical creatures. At the end of the school day, Magnus leads the students on an excursion to one of the “elven” places.
— There are 18 species of elves in Iceland – in particular, domestic, tree, flower, – as well as “hidden people”, that is, absolutely humanoid creatures, – says Magnus. – Like any Icelander in the past, they are engaged in farming and fishing. Historically, the principle of harmony has always acted between man and elf: they shared provisions, tools, and medicines with each other. Elves have saved a man's life thousands of times! In the settlements of these creatures there are churches, shops, doctors work.
My grandmother's sister told me how she went to visit them -right into the deaf rocks, into a parallel dimension. Many Icelanders have heard similar stories from relatives and friends. In total, I spoke with 900 local residents who “contacted” with the elves. “I’m not a drunkard, I’m not crazy and I’m not a liar, this actually happened to me,” they assured me, looking into my eyes. I myself have never seen an elf, but I have never been to Canada – this does not make it any less real. Respect for elves in Iceland is an unwritten law.
The interests of invisible creatures are taken into account when building residential complexes, parking stations, factories , dear. Thus, the Icelandic road and coastal administration repeatedly reviewed construction projects so that they would not have to blow up lava formations that interfered, in which, according to local residents, elves lived. In 2004, the aluminum company Alcoawas forced to hire an expert to testify that these creatures do not live at the site of the planned construction of the plant.
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Guardian of nature
Ragnhildur Jónsdouttir, or simply Ragga, is the most famous expert medium. I meet the tiny Hellisgerdi Park in the town of Hafnarfjörður near Reykjavik: lava hills covered with moss carpets, winding paths, well-groomed trees. Hellisgerdi is called the elven garden, because here is one of the largest elf settlements in all of Iceland.
In the past, Rugga led tours of the garden, telling visitors about the local invisible inhabitants, and also ran the park's gift shop. In 2011, together with her husband, she founded the Garden of the Elves company, which publishes “elven” books and holds thematic meetings.
– We did this at the request of the creatures themselves, – explains the medium. — They convinced me to become their ambassador, wanting to reconnect with the people, lost at some point.
Ragga feels and sees elves since childhood. According to her mother, she was not even two years old when she was already friends with little Pulda – one of the “hidden people”. A couple of years ago, together with her husband, Rugga moved to the countryside, and after her, Pulda and her family moved there, as well as many other creatures with whom Rugga has telepathic communication.
— I could just talk to them in Icelandic, but some people already think I'm strange, – smiles Ragga. – It was not enough for them to see how I say “to myself.”
Often, through the mediation of Ruggi, organizations and individuals try to obtain permission from the elves for a particular construction project. The medium claims that often invisible beings themselves turn for help …
– In the autumn of 2012, a whole delegation came to me, consisting of elves, “hidden people” and dwarfs. They were terribly upset about something and took me to the Gaulgahrein lava field. There stood the most beautiful elven church, that is, a large lava boulder, untouched by man. There was an incredible energy coming from the church and the whole area. Several hundred creatures chanted, “This area must not be destroyed!”
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The experiences of Ragga, elves and other visible and invisible inhabitants of the island are not groundless. Iceland is known as a country of clean energy and pristine landscapes – a kind of oasis on a planet suffering from the effects of industrialization. But for decades, processes have been taking place here that, according to environmentalists, can destroy the unique Icelandic nature.
With the aim of attracting foreign capital and development of the regional economy, the Icelandic government allowed international aluminum companies to build smelters on the country's territory, and for their service specialized power plants, due to which dams, tunnels and ;reservoirs. It destroys the country's ecosystem. The three aluminum smelters here consume over 70% of all electricity produced in Iceland. At such a rate of exploitation, natural resources do not have time to recover.
In response to what is happening, the inhabitants of the country organize various movements to protect the environment. The goal of the largest of them (the famous environmentalist singer Björk is among its ranks) is to achieve the status of a national park for the central region of the country.
This piece of virgin nature occupies 40% of the territory of Iceland. The status of a national park would make it inviolable. And in 2019, the American-Icelandic documentary The seer and the unseen (The seer and the unseen), which has been shown at many international film festivals. Rugga acts as a seer in it, and the “invisible” is not only elves, but also the threat of an ecological catastrophe.
– It is necessary to treat all living things stone or water as to a friend says the medium Do we really need all these goods that we use once and then throw away? We must protect nature. This applies to the inhabitants of the whole world, because we have a common home – the Earth. This is what the elves are trying to convey to humans.
— How to see one of them? — I ask.
—My friend elf Frodi wrote a whole book on this subject, published by our publishing house. Here is his advice: you need joy in your heart, your childish “I”, well, an elf who agrees to be seen … Try to retire with nature, close your eyes and discard all thoughts. Over time, you will learn to hear nature, and possibly elves.
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The black beach of Reynisfjara is one of the most unusual in the world. As if spellbound, I wander through the shiny black sand and pebbles (both are water-shattered lava), feeling the icy breath of the Atlantic Ocean. Behind me is a columnar basalt wall and an open, silvery cavern shell. Near the shore, the teeth of three huge boulders rise from the water. Locals say that these are the fingers of one of the trolls, who did not manage to reach the shore before sunrise and, like his brothers, turned into stone.
Against the backdrop of an alien landscape, hundreds of tourists in bright jackets, sharply out of the ascetic palette of Reynisfjara, endless photo shoots, hubbub in different languages of the world. “Are we, the guests, annoying the elves?” & nbsp; – I think. According to Raggi, not at all, because, unlike the “big industry”, we come to Iceland to enjoy nature, and not for profit.
Icelanders, visible and invisible, treat visitors with respect: it was tourism that saved the country from the consequences of the 2008 financial crisis, gradually becoming Iceland's main source of income. The Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010 also played a significant role in this process: in response to the event threatening local tourism, a large-scale advertising campaign was carried out, glorifying the unique nature of Iceland, including volcanoes. As a result, the number of tourists began to grow rapidly and in 2018 reached 2.3 million people, exceeding the population of the island by more than six times.
The ability to adapt to circumstances is a hallmark of the Icelanders. It is no coincidence that the unofficial motto of the nation is the expression Þetta reddast (“tetta reddut”), which can be translated as “everything will work out, don't worry.” Car broke down? Þetta reddast. Has there been a volcanic eruption? Þetta reddast.
The unpredictable, harsh nature of the country taught the Icelanders to accept the fact that not everything is controlled by a person, and therefore one must be able to “let go of the situation” and continue to enjoy life. The elves set an example for the local population in this respect as well. According to Ruggie, they have a great sense of humor. And yet, instead of fighting or arguing, the elves sing.
Peacefulness is a nationwide trait inherent in both visible and invisible inhabitants of the island. No wonder Iceland is recognized as the safest country in the world. Despite being a member of NATO, the state does not have a permanent armed forces and a ministry of defense.
Leaving Reynisfjara beach towards the town of Vik, lost among the mossy mountains and crowned with a white-bodied church with a red roof, I hear one of the guides asking tourists not to take away pieces of lava as a souvenir: “If everyone takes a pebble, what will be left of the beach?” For some reason, I take out a tiny pebble from my jacket pocket, picked up on the first day of my stay in Iceland, and return it to the bosom of nature. Or did the elves suggest it?..
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The moment of truth
The City of the Elves, another large settlement of invisible beings, is a three-hour drive from Reykjavik. Located on the shores of Lake Vikurflood in the Icelandic “steppe” framed by mountains, it is a collection of lava boulders.
“As a child, I used to disappear here for days on end, playing with Anna, the local elf girl,” says Lilya Hardardouttir. Together with her family, she runs the Laki hotel, which is located on the other side of the lake. – The girl was very beautiful, with white hair, at the same time similar and not like a person. We played hide and seek, picked flowers. We had a lot of fun! Then her family moved – I had a hard time parting with my girlfriend.
– Do you continue to communicate with the elves?
– As an adult, I did not get in touch with them. Although sometimes, when I, standing on the shore, close my eyes and listen to the wind, it seems to me that I feel something.
— Maybe I should try?..
– Ask the elves for permission to enter the city. Do not make noise, do not step on the moss and grass. Remember that respect for everything and everything is the main principle of invisible beings. If a stone seems especially beautiful to you, sit near it and wait. Perhaps you will see someone's shadow…
I sit down near a lava block, from the top of which dry grass hangs like strands of blond hair. A pink-orange sunset spills across the sky. This time I don't even try to see the elves: now I know for sure that I have not only seen them, but also talked to them. Ragga, Lilja, Magnus, others… Elves are the Icelanders themselves, with their deeds, attitude towards the world and towards each other. People who found elves in themselves.
Area 102,775 km² (106th in the world)
Population 376,000 people, excluding huldufólk (172nd place)
Population density 3.5 people/km²
ATTRACTIONSthe black beach of Reynisfjara; Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls; elven garden Hellisgerdi.
TRADITIONAL DISHES hardfiskur—dried fish; slatur – sausage from sheep's entrails; volcanic bread – rye bread baked in the ground next to a hot spring.
TRADITIONAL DRINKS brennywine – distillate made from potatoes and caraway seeds.
SOUVENIRS woolen items , lava stone crafts, plush puffin birds, plastic “Viking horns”.
DISTANCE from Moscow to Reykjavik ~ 3300 km (from 5 hours in flight excluding transfers)< br>TIME is 3 hours behind Moscow
CURRENCY Icelandic krone (100 ISK ~ 0.67 USD)
Photo: SIME/LEGION-MEDIA (X10), GETTY IMAGES, HEMIS/LEGION-MEDIA (X2)
< p>Material published in Vokrug Sveta No. 11, November 2019, partially updated in November 2022