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After Mudslides and Flooding in Iceland, Elves Are Suspects

New York Times "What in the World" ~ By Katie Rogers ~ Date: September 27, 2016
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When Siglufjordur, a small mountain town in northern Iceland, was hit by a series of storms last summer, construction workers clearing a roadway soon found themselves dodging mudslides and contending with a flooded river.


A crew member was injured, then a bulldozer broke down. A TV reporter, who arrived to survey the damage, sank in a mud pit and had to be rescued. Claring the debris stretched into a 10-day ordeal and became a spectacle.


The culprit, locals knew, had been heavy rainfall. Or elves.


It turns out that construction workers had unwittingly dumped dirt on a rock that is special enough to have its own name in Icelandic folklore: Alfkonusteinn. The rock even has a back story that involves a human, a fairy and an enchanted elf cloth.


Icelandic elves, also called hidden people or alfar, are not tiny, pointy-eared creatures, Alda Sigmundsdottir, a journalist and the author of "The Little Book of the Hidden People: Twenty Stories of Elves From Icelandic Folklore," said in an email. They are thought to be regal and humanlike, and a good way to think of them, Ms. Sigmundsdottir said, is as "the Icelanders" version of karma." Elves have been blamed for wreaking havoc on construction projects across Iceland for decades.


When asked for comment, Viktor A. Ingolfsson, a spokesman for the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, sent a four-page statement from the commission detailing its official stance on elves.


"It cannot be denied that belief in the supernatural is occasionally the reason for local concerns" around construction and development, the statement read. If a certain location is thought to be cursed or inhabited by elves, "then this must be considered a cultural treasure."


Ms. Sigmundsdottir said that much of the lore around elves has to do with explaining tough living conditions. "Modern scholars believe that this was one way the Icelanders tried to control their destinies in a land and climate that was incredibly harsh and unforgiving," she said.


What happened in Siglufjordur is most likely "a remnant of the ancient belief that the homes of the hidden people were sacred," Ms. Sigmundsdottir said. Elf lore is not a part of everyday life, she said, and sometimes the international news media has a field day with stories of the so-called elf lobby, often to the dismay of locals.


Still, the road administration finally unearthed the elf rock in late August, according to Morgunbladid, an Icelandic newspaper. Mr. Ingolfsson said in an email that locals had asked to have the rock cleaned to honor folklore.


For good measure - and perhaps for good luck - crews powerwashed the stone.