Icelandic school set out to explain everything there is to know about elves, gnomes and hidden people

Reykjavik, Iceland, is home to the Elf School, an institution dedicated to exploring elves and hidden people. Its headmaster says Calgary is home to smallish elves and hidden people.

Headmaster Magnus Skarphedinsson says Calgary is home to smallish elves

Magnus Skarphedinsson is founder and headmaster of the Icelandic Elf School. He is also the leader of the Paranormal Foundation of Iceland. (

Apparently, Calgary is a smallish town — when it comes to elves.

That was the instant analysis delivered on Monday by Magnus Skarphedinsson, the headmaster of the Elf School. It's a Reykjavik think tank of sorts that is the go-to institution to learn about elves, hidden people, gnomes, dwarfs, fairies, trolls, mountain spirits and other mythical nature spirits and beings in Iceland and around the world.

Skarphedinsson spoke Monday to Paul Karchut on the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday, revealing an impressive array of elf data.

There are apparently 16 to 17 different kinds, which come in a variety of sizes, ranging from tiny (the three centimetre flower elf) to house elves (15 to 18 cm) to smallish (30 to 50 cm) all the way up to the largest: hidden people, who are human-sized, but — alas — exist in another dimension.

Skarphedinsson launched the Elf School about 30 years ago. It essentially consists of a pair of two-hour lectures by Skarphedinsson, who, somewhat ironically, admits to never having met an elf himself.

"I've never seen those but I've studied the history," he said.

He claims to have met with more than 900 Icelanders who have "seen and met and talked with elves and hidden people in Iceland or have had a long friendship with them," according to the Elf School website.

Throw in speaking with more than 500 foreigners from more than 40 countries around the world, and the fact that Skarphedinsson is also one of the leaders of the Paranormal Foundation of Iceland, and you have a think tank quite unlike any other.

"I'm convinced that witnesses are telling the truth. There's no doubt in my mind. None," he said.

Orlando Bloom potrays the elf Legolas in the Lord of the Rings films.

While elves sound as if they're prominent in Iceland, Skarphedinsson insists they can be found in just about every town and country, if you're willing to believe.

"Elves are everywhere," he said.

"You could describe the climate and the landscape and the soil and the temperature and everything and I could tell you … what sort of elves …would be living there."

So what kind of elves live in Calgary, a medium-sized prairie city located near the Rockies with high altitude, low winter temperatures and fertile soil that produces potatoes and corn, asked Karchut.

"They should be small elves 30 to 50 centimetres tall," Skarphedinsson said, adding that there should also be a few hidden people hiding out in other dimensions.

According to the book and DVD that comes with newer versions of the Elf on the Shelf, each night the elf flies back to the North Pole, where he or she reports to Santa. One academic suggests this teaches kids to accept surveillance. (CBC)

Elf backstory

According to, elves originated from German folklore. They were spirits who were diminutive versions of people — light and dark elves whose notable characteristics were mischief and volatility. 

"They were believed at various times and in various regions to cause diseases in humans and cattle, to sit upon the breast of a sleeper and give him bad dreams (the German word for nightmare is Alpdrücken, or "elf-pressure"), and to steal human children and substitute changelings (deformed or weak elf or fairy children)," according to the website.

Elves in pop culture

Despite their diminutive stature, elves have played an outsized role in pop culture, from the Lord of the Rings franchise to Will Ferrell's unforgettable Buddy the Elf in what is arguably the greatest Christmas film ever, Elf, to Elf on the Shelf, which spent a few holiday seasons flying off shelves everywhere, beginning in 2011.

So what is it about elves that has long fascinated humans?

"They are so nice and so helpful. They are all living in their area. They are more honest than humans," Skarphedinsson​ said.

And perhaps, at a time of year when everyone is looking for a reason to renew their faith in someone, or something: "They are so very, very nice."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email:


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