Iceland Stops Work on a New Highway That Would Destroy Elf Habitats

A lawsuit that halted a new highway in Iceland was filed on behalf of elves. The road construction project is now being delayed until Iceland's Supreme Court rules on a case from Friends of Lava, a group concerned about destruction to elf and wildlife habitats. Their ideas may not be as bizarre as it first appears.

The proposed highway would cut through the natural lava fields south of Reykjavik, disrupting grass, birds, and... elves. Of especial concern? An elf church in the area. "This elf church is connected by light energy to other churches, other places," Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir, a self-proclaimed Icelandic elf seer, told The Atlantic. "So, if one of them is destroyed, it's, uh, well, it's not a good thing."

Elf opposition to construction projects in Iceland is nothing new, in fact. Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration gets so many queries from curious press that they have a standard reply, a version of which you can read here, detailing several more instances where equipment failure is believed by some to be the work of displeased elves. For example, the worker who removed a large rock supposedly inhabited by elves then accidentally destroyed a water pipe running to a fish farm, killing 90,000 smolts (young salmon). That's elf revenge for you.

A 2007 survey found that 62 percent of the 1,000 Icelandic respondents thought it was at least possible that elves exist. To be sure, that still leaves plenty of people who don't. The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration's official elf memo says rumors around the large rock connected to the fish farm incident could also have been a veiled form of protest. "These stories had apparently been made up at the time of the construction project, probably by someone who was opposed to the work or just out of a sense of mischief," it reads.

That's what so interesting about this new elf versus highway saga. Perhaps people who want the highway built are eager to paint the opposition as kooks. Or, perhaps, invoking the elves is an alternative way of expressing a familiar idea: This land is worth saving. Over at The Atlantic, Ryan Jacobs spoke to Árni Björnsson, the former director of the ethnological department of the National Museum of Iceland:

Björnsson speculated that the stories are used to express "a sort of primitive environmentalism." In a way, they represent a special connection with the natural landscape that is otherwise difficult to articulate. Haukur Ingi Jónasson, a professor in project management at Reykjavík University who wrote about elves during his graduate studies in theology and psychoanalysis at the Union Theological Seminary in New York, says Iceland's many mountains, hills, and rivers are loaded with significance for the people who live near them. "[Elves are] kind of a ritualistic attempt to protect something meaningful, respect something of importance, and acknowledge something of worth," he said. In other words, the elves honor a balance of power that has always leaned clearly in the direction of nature and the whimsy of its erupting volcanoes, shifting glaciers, and quivering ground. "We are kind of always at the disposal of something that is not us," he said. "It's it. It's nature. It's out there. I cannot control it, it's it that I have to comply with."

Environmentalists can appeal to science to make the pitch for why a certain construction project should not be allowed to pollute the habitats of millions of fish or flood the trees where thousands of birds nest. But what moves us, ultimately, is imagining what it's like to face the mystery and immensity of nature. And that's where supernatural bleeds into the natural. [AP - The Atlantic - The New York Times]

Photo via of lava rocks in Iceland via Robertas Mickevicius/Shutterstock