Icelandic Elf School (Reykjavík, Iceland)

Icelandic Elf School (Reykjavík, Iceland)

When Icelandic member of parliament Árni Johnsen escaped unharmed from a car crash in 2010, he knew whom to credit for his survival: elves. After rolling five times, the politician’s SUV came to rest beside a 30-ton boulder. Johnsen, believing that multiple generations of elves called that boulder home, concluded that they used their magic to save him. When roadwork later required the removal of the boulder, he claimed it for himself, transporting it to his home to ensure the elves would continue to watch over him.

Johnsen’s beliefs are not unusual. According to Icelandic folklore, thousands of elves, fairies, dwarves, and gnomes—collectively known as “hidden people”—live in rocks and trees throughout the country. It is no wonder, then, that the world’s only elf school is located in Reykjavík.

Historian Magnús Skarphéðinsson, who has spent decades documenting people’s encounters with elves, established the school in 1991. Classes focus on the distinguishing characteristics of Iceland’s 13 varieties of hidden people. The school also offers five-hour classes for travelers, which include a tour of Reykjavík’s elf habitats. Students receive a diploma in “hidden people research.”

Skarphéðinsson has never seen an elf. His knowledge of their appearance and behavior comes from the hundreds of testimonies he has collected from people who claim to have made contact with hidden people.

Though Skarphéðinsson has devoted 30 years to the subject and considers himself the foremost authority on elves, he maintains a sense of humor about it all. At the end of class, he serves homemade coffee and pancakes and tells stories about the people who come up to him to say, “I swear I’m not on drugs, but I saw the strangest thing . . .”

Source: Atlas Obscura

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