Many cultures have their own unique superstitions, passed down through the generations. In Iceland, for instance, some people believe in invisible elves, called huldufolk (or "hidden people"). It’s said that their capricious whims can cause misfortune to humans, so it’s best not to anger them. But according to AFP, that’s exactly what one team of highway workers accidentally did in Siglufjörður, Iceland last August, when they buried a supposedly sacred elfin rock while cleaning road debris from a landslide.
Workers cleared the route of mud and soil, and piled it on top of the “enchanted” rock. Afterwards, the Iceland Monitor reports, calamity ensued during subsequent cleanup efforts: The road flooded, a construction worker was injured, equipment stopped working, and a journalist covering the disastrous series of events fell into a mud pool.
Locals blamed the misfortune on the elves—but the saga ended only recently, when a letter drafted by Siglufjörður’s town council (along with conservation laws protecting supernaturally significant sites as national artifacts) convinced the Iceland Road Administration to dig up the magical rock and clean it with a pressure washer.
As AFP points out, this isn’t the first time that officials have altered construction plans due to elves. In the 1970s, for instance, Icelandic workers experienced a series of freak accidents while building a national highway connecting the country’s northeast with the capital city of Reykjavik. These snafus were blamed on the vengeful mythical creatures, who reportedly didn’t want their home—a large boulder—removed from the route.
And in 2015, The Guardian reports, a group of “elf conservationists” and road builders finally settled an eight-year dispute over a reportedly enchanted boulder, known as Ófeigskirkja, that sat in the Gálgahraun lava field north of Reykjavik. The rock was eventually relocated—but by then, one elf believer told The Guardian, its invisible inhabitants had made peace with the change.
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