Yesterday's Myths & Mysteries

The Elf Situation: Rare Sightings and Unfortunate Events

Well, folks, Christmas is over and the year is winding down.

But, as much as you might like to think so, 2016 is not quite over, yet. We have one day left, and with it comes at least one more important holiday-related issue we need to discuss: the existence of elves.

What Are Elves?

Elves are a product of Germanic mythology, but since their inception they’ve become many things. Bakers, fictional bow-wielders, employees of Santa’s workshop.

Usually, they’re described as tiny people with pointy ears who live among nature, often inside rocks and boulders. They remain hidden to us human folk, except during those occasions when, for whatever reason, they make their existence known.

Iceland in particular has a storied history with these strange beings, and to this day many Icelanders actually believe they exist, even if only as some kind of mysterious, powerful force of nature, much like Iceland itself.

That said, elves haven’t always been portrayed in a positive or whimsical light.

According to Wikipedia (referencing the work of Alaric Hall), during the witch trials in Scotland between the 16th and 18th centuries, “confessions by people accused of witchcraft to encounters with elves were often interpreted by prosecutors as evidence of encounters with the Devil.” They were also viewed by some as incubi.

It wasn’t until recently, however, that elves took on a slightly different form. A form many believe is especially menacing.

Alleged Real Elf Encounters

Elf Play
Image: August Malmström (1866)/Wikimedia via Public Domain

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Elf Situation is complex, and it’s important to understand just what we’re dealing with, here. Many alleged cases of real elf sightings, encounters, and other odd situations have occurred throughout the years, most predominantly in Iceland.

The Hidden Folk and the Highway

In 2013, a complicated elf situation halted a highway project that would’ve seen roads built from the Álftanes peninsula to Garðabær, a suburb of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík.

As CBS News reported, many worried that the project would displace the local elf population, and disturb a nearby elf church, located within the lava rock Ófeigskirkja. That’s one of Iceland’s “holiest elf churches,” according to Elf Lady Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir.

Last I heard, after the Friends of Lava came to the elves’ rescue, the government compromised, agreeing to move the rock out of the road’s path before construction began the following year.

The 30-ton Boulder

A year earlier, in 2012, Iceland MP Árni Johnsen had a 30-ton boulder moved from Sandskeið on Hellisheiði to his home in Höfðaból. But this wasn’t just any old boulder. According to Iceland Review, within the boulder lived three generations of elves, with an old couple on the upper level, and a young couple with children on the lower.

Johnsen had discovered it in 2010 after miraculously surviving a car accident, believing that the family of elves inside the boulder had saved his life.

Malfunctioning Bulldozers

Jumping even farther back to 1996, we find the story of another bulldozing project in Iceland gone awry. They were trying to bulldoze a hill in Kópavogur, where they had hoped to create a new graveyard. However, according to The New York Times, their bulldozers continuously malfunctioned, as did local TV cameras pointed toward the hill.

The cameras mysteriously seemed to work fine everywhere else.

The construction crew, bewildered, eventually called for local elf communicators to lend a hand, and they successfully rallied the elves living within the hill to move on. At that point, the machinery and electronics began working again.

Into the Woods

Cruising the Internet, you might also find stories like that of Reddit user KMKP, who shared his own strange experience from Tennessee about two years ago.

He’d been spending time at a farm, and encountered not just electronic disturbances like those described above, but also believed there may have actually been elves wandering the farm at night. He claimed the woods surrounding the farm seemed to come alive during those times.

A Tiny Shimmering Elf

Finally,’s Paranormal Phenomena Expert Stephen Wagner once shared the tale of a woman named K.T., who lived in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. She’d been out walking through the woods when she came upon an area that looked strangely different. It was ethereal. “Shimmery,” she said.

Continuing on, she then found herself “face-to-face” with a tiny “elf-looking man,” with pointy ears and a pointy cap. When she became startled and yelled, the being seemingly vanished without a trace.

The Elf on the Shelf

Elf on the Shelf
Image: Mark Baylor/Flickr via CC by 2.0

Amid all these tales of real elves and folklore, we have something else to consider. That different form I was talking about. The recent Elf on the Shelf phenomenon, which has become something of a modern Christmas tradition in certain families.

If you don’t already know, the Elf on the Shelf is no mere mantelpiece. It’s not just a doll. Like Annabelle and Robert before it, this elf is said to be alive.

At least, alive from a child’s perspective.

They first appeared in a children’s story, also called Elf on the Shelf, in 2004. Written by Carol Aebersold and her daughter, Chanda Bell, it tells of how Santa Claus knows if children are naughty or nice throughout the year – by sending his elves to visit and keep an eye on them, especially during the holiday season.

The titular Elf on the Shelf – a stuffed doll – comes with the book, and each day, when the family isn’t looking, the elf hops off to the North Pole to inform Santa of what they’ve been up to. (In reality, parents are suggested to move the doll when the kids aren’t looking to make it seem as though the elf is alive.)

They act, or so the story goes, as Santa’s “scout elves.”

Children have an out, though, if they want it. While the elf receives its magic by being named and cared for, touching the elf at all will cause it to lose its magic, rendering its scouting abilities useless.

The Eye of Santa

The Elf on the Shelf is, at its core, meant to be a whimsical holiday activity for children. Something fun to do during Christmas.

Not everyone, however, is bemused by the existence of these elves or their stories. Some believe the Elf on the Shelf, while simply creepy on the surface, is actually a government tool used to condition children into accepting a surveillance state.

Of course, Santa Claus has always been watching. He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. This is nothing particularly new. But I suppose allowing one of his agents into your home is a touch too far for some people.


Rob Schwarz

Writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions.

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