Over the past few months, dozens of environmentalists in Iceland have staged a high-profile protest against a road scheduled to cut through an area of volcanic rock on the Álftanes peninsula, not far from the capital of Reykjavik. It is only one of countless eco-protests in the world, but the campaign has made international news, because some of the protesters claim the proposed road would disturb the habitat of elves who live among the rocks.
Elves and fairies are closely related in folklore, and though elves specifically seem to have sprung from early Norse mythology, by the 1800s fairies and elves were widely considered to be simply different names for the same magical creatures. Polls find that over half of Iceland’s population believes in elves, or at least doesn’t rule out the possibility of their existence.
But why do so many Icelanders believe? The passed-down tales are just part of the picture. Iceland’s concept of the natural world takes on a mystical tone; pair that with environmentalism, the want to preserve this mystical world, and magical creatures almost make sense.
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