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Iceland is a place filled with legends, mystical places and unique landscapes. The folk tales of Iceland are often warning fables to caution children about the dangers and unpredictability of nature and the landscape. Icelandic fairy tales are enchanting and curious without a clear “moral of the story� at the end; their purpose then, is perhaps simply to entertain or to give meaning to a custom, ritual or fact of life. Regardless, they are humorous, charming and cleverly written as they reveal cultural habits, norms and Nordic superstitions. Bukolla The Fisherman and the Mereman Tungustapi the Church of the Hidden People These folk tales along with many impressions of Iceland make this book a very special memory.

Calm Moment, Vík í Mýrdal

Ice travelling south, Jรถkulsรกrlรณn

Water crystal, Jรถkulsรกrlรณn

The Wanderers, Laugavegur

Weathertop, Laugavegur

Deep moss caldera, Keriรฐ

Hills of green, Eldhraun

Wild life, Möðrudalsöræfi

Goat bending, Möðrudalsöræfi

Silence, Laugavegur

Curious eyes, Polar Fox, Möðrudalur

Unloading, Geysir Strokkur, Haukadalur

Smoking valley, Laugavegur

Colours, Laugavegur

Sleeping Dragon, Laugavegur

BukkOlla Once on a time a peasant and his wife lived with their son in a little farmhouse. Their only livestock was a cow called Bukolla. The cow calved, and the peasant‘s wife herself sat up with it. As soon as the cow had recovered, the wife went back to the farmhouse. She came out again shortly afterwards to see how the cow was, but it had disappeared. Both the peasant and his wife started to hunt for the cow; they searched far and wide for a long time, but without success. They were very cross and ordered their son to go off and not to let them set eyes on him again till he came back with the cow. They fitted him out with new shoes and a store of provisions, and he set off without much idea of where to go. After walking for a long, long time, he sat down to eat, and said, “Bukolla, moo now if you are alive anywhere.” Then he heard Bukolla mooing far, far away. Again he walked for a long, long time, and again he sat down

to eat and said, “Bukolla, moo now if you are alive anywhere.” Then he heard Bukolla moo a little closer than before. Once more he walked for a long, long time, till he came to the top of a very high cliff. Once more he sat down to eat and said, “Bukolla, moo now if you are alive anywhere.” This time he heard the cow moo right underneath him. He climbed down the cliff till he came to a very big cave. He went inside the cave and there he found Bukolla tied to a beam. Untying her, he led her out behind him and set off for home. When he had gone some distance, he saw an enormous giantess coming after him, and a smaller one with her. The big giantess was taking such long strides that he could tell that she would catch up with him in no time. So he asked, “What are we to do now, Bukolla?” Bukolla answered, “Take a hair out of my tail and lay it on the ground.” He did so; then Bukolla said to the hair, “Moo, I now declare: turn into a river so great that nothing can cross it but a bird on the wing.” At once the hair turned into a vast river.


Over the hills, Laugavegur

When the giantess came to the river she said, “That’s not going to help you, my lad. Dash home, lass, and fetch my father’s big bull.“ The smaller giantess went off and came back with a huge bull, which promptly drank up the whole river. Then the peasant’s son again saw that the giantess would catch up with him directly, because she took such big strides. So again he asked, “What are we to do now, Bukolla?” “Take a hair out of my tail and lay it on the ground,” Bukolla replied. And when he had done so, Bukolla said to the hair, “Moo, I declare: turn into a blaze so fierce that none can get over it but a bird on the wing.” And at once the hair turned into a blaze of fire. When the giantess came to the fire she said, “That’s not going to help you, my lad. Go and fetch my father’s big bull, lass.” The smaller giantess again went off and came back with the bull, which put out the fire with all the water he had drunk out of the river. The peasant’s son now saw once more that the giantess would soon catch him up, because she took such long strides. So once more he asked,

Stone trolls, Laugavegur

“What are we to do now, Bukolla?” and once more Bukolla replied, “Take a hair out of my tail and lay it on the ground.” Then Bukolla said to the hair, “Moo, I say: turn into a mountain so big that no one can cross it but a bird on the wing.” The hair turned into a mountain so high that the peasant’s son could see nothing over it except clear sky. When the giantess came to the mountain, she said, “That’s not going to help you, my lad. Fetch my father’s big gimlet, my lass!” The smaller giantess went away and came back with the gimlet. The big giantess then bored a hole in the mountain, but once she was able to see through it she became too impatient. She squeezed herself into the hole, but it was too narrow, so that she stuck fast and finally turned to stone, and there she remains to this day. The peasant’s son reached home safely with Bukolla, and his parents were overjoyed.


Behind the falls, Seljalanesfoss

Water and stone, Svartifoss, Skaftafell National Park

Wild horses, somwhere along the way

The Fisherman and the mereman Once upon a time a fisherman and his wife lived in the city of Hofn, in Iceland, and every day the fisherman paddled out into the huge lagoon to fish. Some days he was lucky, some days not so fortunate, but every day as he rowed he repeated to himself, “Wealth flows to where there is gold already.” It was an old saying, and since he had no gold at all, he often felt a bit hopeless. However, he continued to hold fast to his dream of finding gold. One day he cast his line and immediately felt a mighty tug. He began to pull, and pull, and pull, and while he was a strong man, his line felt heavier than it ever had. He yanked with all his strength, and as he did, he was startled to see that he had not caught a fish. Rather, at the end of his line was a man‘s head and body with the tail of a fish – a merman! “Who are you?” the fisherman asked, amazed by the sight. He had heard tales of those known as the Marbendill, but he had never seen such

a creature. He had never actually believed they existed, but here was one right before his eyes. “I’m a merman from the bottom of the sea, and since you know experience is most truthful, from this day on you shall believe we do exist.” “But why did you get caught on my hook?” the fisherman asked. In all the stories he had heard about mermen, they avoided people. “You must have been careless.” “This is true,” said the merman. “Now let me go, will you? I was distracted, but as you know, I cannot live onshore. My family is down below.” The fisherman thought for a while. He had heard mermen brought fine gifts to human beings, and he was not about to let this one go without his gift. “I’d like a gift,” he said. The merman said nothing. He was thinking hard, too, for that’s what mermen do. He looked around, noticing the arctic fox running across the land, the reindeer on shore, the puffins nesting up above them in the cliffs. This was a lovely world, but not for him. He belonged under the sea.


Time to relax, Near Hvammstangi

Stone beach, Vík í Mýrdal

While he was thinking, the fisherman hauled him into the boat. “I think I’ll keep you a while and see what price I can fetch.” He tied the merman into his boat and rowed to shore. The moment he pulled to shore, the fisherman’s dog raced to meet them. He barked and leapt into the air, excited and happy. But the fisherman ignored his dog. He had no time now for petting and spoiling. He stepped around the dog, intent on figuring out what to do with his gift from the sea. The dog’s tail drooped and, looking downcast, he slunk away. The merman burst out laughing. The fisherman was busy mooring his boat, and so he said nothing. When the boat was steady, he lifted the merman into his arms. This was no easy task because the merman was large. So he flung him over his shoulder and began to walk uphill toward home. As he was climbing toward his cottage, he tripped on a mound of earth and grass and nearly fell. He turned and cursed, and as he did, the mer-

man again burst out laughing. Still, the fisherman paid little attention as he hurried to his cottage. When he arrived, his wife ran outside and greeted him, “My love, how I have missed you!” Again the merman burst out laughing. Now, puzzled, the fisherman turned and asked, “What is so funny? You are always laughing.” “I’ve laughed just three times,” the merman answered. “And what is it you‘re laughing at?” the fisherman asked. “I laugh when you behave like a fool. First you ignored the dog who loves you more than life itself. Only a fool ignores love. The second time I laughed because you cursed a mound of earth, but beneath that earth lies a pot of gold and only fool curses gold. The third time I laughed because your wife only pretends to love you and only a fool falls for pretense. Now, do not be a fool again. Be a good man and set me free.” The fisherman considered the merman‘s words. “Beyond your playful-


ness you may be serious,” he said. “But there are ways to prove your words. You are right about my dog. He does love me. Now, let us go see if there is gold under that mound.” Still carrying the merman, the fisherman walked back to the spot where he had tripped. He tied the merman to a tree and dug down deep. Sure enough, he found a pot of gold, just as the merman had promised. The fisherman nodded. “You have been true to your word, and so shall I be,” he said, and he rowed the merman back to the middle of the sea, letting him go just where he’d caught him. The merman dived into the water, but just before he vanished, he rose to the surface and said, “You have been good to me, so I shall reward you. Be happy, my friend! Don’t be a fool.”

With those words he disappeared, moments later seven gray sea cows rose out of the water and swam to shore landing near the fisherman’s cottage. The fisherman ran after them, and as he did, one of them stopped and turned while the rest galloped away. That sea cow turned so tame, it was as if she had always lived on land, and she gave so much milk, the fisherman became the wealthiest man in the village; that cow was the mother of the gray cows that live there to this day. As for the fisherman’s wife, nobody knows what happened to her. Still, if anyone ever catches a merman, it would be wise to pay close attention and to listen for the merman’s laugh.


Dried fish, Djúpavík

Memories in a fishtank, Djupavik

Sleeping machine, Djúpavík

Tungustapi The Church of the Hidden People In Sælingsdalur valley there is a hill called Tungustapi, also called Álfakirkjan or the Church of the Hidden People, and some believe it to be the Cathedral of the Hidden People.

king a lot of noise, but Sveinn didn’t play with them. He was a loner and spent a lot of time by Tungustapi or in the church. And there were talks amongst people that he could talk to the Hidden People.

“Álfur”is the Icelandic word for Elves or Hidden People. There are many places here in Iceland named after the Hidden People and a wide belief amongst Icelanders that we share Iceland with these people. Many psychics have seen them and there are endless folk-tales of encounters with the Hidden People.

He scolded his brother and the children for making such a noise on the hill, but his brother mocked him and told him that he was not worried about disturbing the Hidden People. Sveinn told him that he would regret doing this and that he would have to pay for his actions. Every New Year’s Eve he would wander off and disappear.

The following folk-tale from Eyrbyggja Saga tells the story of two brothers at Tungustapi. Their names are not mentioned, but we nick-name them Sveinn and Arnór:

One night his brother, Arnór, went to Tungustapi to look for him. Then all of a sudden Tungustapi opened up and it looked like a church inside with a lot of lights shining and beautiful singing. Sveinn was inside and a lot of men in livery surrounded him. It looked like Sveinn was being ordained. Arnór called for his brother to come out and that his life depended on it.

Sveinn and Arnór lived with their family at the farm Sælingsdalstunga. Their father was a very wealthy farmer. In winter time the boys living on the farm would slide on sleighs on Tungustapi hill in the snow ma-


Lonesome houses, Laugavegur

Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík

Sveinn stood up to go to his brother, but the pastor of the Hidden People ordered for the door to be closed and for Arnór to be punished for disturbing their peace. He then told Sveinn that the next time he would see him in livery Sveinn would die, seeing that he wanted to leave the service and go to his brother. The Hidden People then chased Arnór on horses and rode him down and almost killed him. The farmer on Laugar found Arnór in the morning, while he was on his way to matin, and Arnór told him what happened and then died. Since then the slides have been called Banabrekkur or Death-slides.

to do so and made one condition, that nobody would open the churchdoor during the mass. But while Sveinn was singing the mass a storm blew the door open and he saw directly into Tungustapi, from which a lot of light was shining through an open door. Sveinn collapsed and died and his father died just moments later. Sveinn had looked straight into the eyes of the bishop of the Hidden People, who was singing mass at Tungustapi. The doors of the old Icelandic churches usually pointed to the west, but the doors of the churches of the Hidden People are pointed in the opposite direction.

His brother Sveinn never recovered from this tragedy and never went back to Tungustapi or even looked in that direction. He became a monk at the Helgafell monastery. He sang such beautiful mass that nobody had heard a more beautifully sung mass. His father was getting old and asked Sveinn to sing mass for him in church on Easter Sunday and that he wanted to die in the mass as his time had come. Sveinn was reluctant

The church was moved after this happened so that the farmhouse is now between the church and The Church of the Hidden People. This was done so that such a tragedy would never repeat itself.


Lost? Route 1

I don't own any rights to the stories: Bukolla The Fisherman and the Mereman Tungustapi the Church of the Hidden People The originals can be found here: All images Š Stephanie Seiler 2018

My name is Stephanie Seiler and I am an Austrain grafik designer, illustrator and photographer. These pictures were taken during an internship in Iceland mostly while walking Laugavegur and during a roadtrip around the island. I tried to capture the atmosphere of the moment while letting the motive speak for itself. April –August 2013 Thanks for this amazing time together.  

Photobook Iceland  


Photobook Iceland