Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Elf awareness

I should know better, by now.  I shouldn't describe someone's woo-woo belief, and then exaggerate it for humorous effect, and say something to the effect of, "well, at least no one believes this."  It always seems to backfire, somehow.

You may recall that in yesterday's post, we had the story of Arní Johnson, an Icelandic member of parliament who became convinced that he had been saved from dying in an automobile accident by a family of elves living in a rock.  To express his gratitude, he had the rock moved to his front yard, and an "elf expert," Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir, said that was fine as long as the rock was placed in grass (the elves wanted some sheep, apparently) and that it was moved in such a way that the elves were "comfortable" during the journey.

And hoping for a laugh, I quipped, "How do you become an elf expert?  Do Icelandic universities offer a major in elfology?"

Well.  Like I said before, such comments often come back to bite me on the ass.  To wit: today in Iceland Review Online we have a response to Arní Johnson's actions in moving the elves' house, from a guy named Magnús Skarphéðinsson, saying that Johnson was acting foolishly in moving the elves, and in fact may have jeopardized his health in so doing.  And who is Magnús Skarphéðinsson, you may ask?

He is principal of the "Icelandic Elf School."  (Read about it here.)

Skarphéðinsson says that there are thirteen kinds of elves in Iceland, and that they aren't the same thing as the hidden folk; the hidden folk "are just the same size and look exactly like human beings, the only difference is that they are invisible to most of us. Elves, on the other hand, aren’t entirely human, they’re humanoid, starting at around eight centimeters."  His school offers certificate-earning programs on the subject of elves, but also "delves into the study of dwarves, gnomes, and trolls."  Because heaven knows we don't want to be ignorant about trolls, or we might get eaten by one while carelessly trip-trapping across a bridge.

Skarphéðinsson also says that there are gay and lesbian elves.  I'm probably indulging in unfounded speculation, here, but I bet that most of them are refugees from North Carolina.

I should mention at this point that Skarphéðinsson also offers courses in "auras and past-life regression."

Okay.  My first question was, is Skarphéðinsson kidding?  Or what?  There's part of all of this that sounds like he's pulling our leg a little.  But according to the article I read on Skarphéðinsson and his school, supposedly 54% of Icelanders believe in elves and the rest, and in fact public works projects are frequently altered, put on hold, or scrapped entirely if the proposed work looks like it's going to piss off the "invisible folk."  Construction of a big stretch of the Ring Road -- Iceland's main highway -- had to be halted temporarily while workers moved a big rock that supposedly housed a family of dwarves.

And honestly, who am I to criticize?  It's kind of a charming tradition, really.  Given the number of Icelanders who claim to have had encounters with the "shadow people," maybe there's something more to it than I realize.  I have a friend, also a writer, who swears she had some inexplicable experiences in a house that was reputed to be occupied by fairies -- and fictionalized the whole thing into a wonderful novel, called Away With the Fairies (which you can buy here).  The author, Vivienne Tuffnell, is in other respects a thoroughgoing skeptic, so maybe there's more to this legend than I'm seeing.

In fact, I can say with some certainty that if I ever return to Iceland, I will definitely take a class at the Icelandic Elf School.  It would be a proud day for me to hang up a certificate above my desk saying that I had successfully completed a course of study in elfology.  And I have, finally, learned my lesson, namely never to suggest that a particular belief is so silly that no one could ever consider it.

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