At Elf School, You Can Eat Pancakes and Learn About Iceland's 'Hidden People'

Typical elf houses near a traditional farm near Vik y Myrdal in Island during winter after a heavy blizzard

Good news: Elves are real, and they live in Iceland.

Apparently, these mysterious supernatural beings bear no resemblance to Santa’s helpers or Legolas from Lord of the Rings, but there are several types of elves, according to Icelandic lore.

According to Metro, Iceland’s Elf School, started by headmaster (and elf expert) Magnus Skarphedinsson, is dedicated to documenting elf encounters in the country, with a total of 1,400 stories and counting.

Skarphedinsson has spent 34 years studying elves and their impact on local life in Iceland. “I collect stories about paranormal experiences, ghosts, and spirits, and while I’ve never seen them myself, I’m convinced that elves and hidden people, or huldufólk, do exist,” Skarphedinsson told Metro.

Elves, also known as hidden people, can range in height and type, with over 15 different types documented by the Elf School, Metro reported. Skarphedinsson has interviewed over 900 Icelanders and over 500 people from other countries who claim to have had encounters, and people come from all over the world to attend sessions at the Elf School, which holds classes on Fridays that explore the world of elves including both contemporary and folk tales about them. 

Elves are particularly important to Icelandic culture. “Icelanders have a deep friendship with the elves and hidden people,” Skarphedinsson told Metro. “If somebody is lost in the wild, the hidden people would give them shelter. If people are starving, they will give them food. If they are sick, they will cure them. There are countless times the Icelandic people have been helped by the hidden people.”

While elves are not necessarily associated with Christmas in the country, Metro reported that children leave food out for them on Christmas Eve. New Year’s Eve is more associated with Icelandic elves, which are said to move their homes on the night every year.

Elves are also associated with the celebrations of Twelfth Night (Jan. 5, or the 12th day of Christmas) and the Icelandic festival of Þrettándinn (Feast of the Epiphany, Jan. 6), according to Metro.

Tourists who want to learn more about elves can attend the Elf School in Reykjavik on Friday afternoons. School sessions last between three and four hours and cost €56 ($68 USD), including tea and pancakes as a snack. At the moment, some COVID-19 restrictions apply, though the school is also available for private sessions.

For more information, visit the Elf School website.

Andrea Romano is a freelance writer in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @theandrearomano.

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