The Sheriff's Wife at Bustarfell and the Elf-Rock in East-Iceland - an Icelandic Folklore

Close to the beautiful Bustarfell turf house in East-Iceland you will find an elf-rock called Álfkonusteinn or the Elf-rock. There is an interesting folklore related to that rock.  As you might already know then Iceland is not only populated by 330,000 Icelanders, but it has also got a large elf-population, often called the Hidden People.  We have several elf-rocks and stories related to them.  

To get to the Elf-rock at Bustarfell drive past Bustarfell turf house and through the land of the farmer.  This is the farmer's property so let's show utter respect here as to not disturb him and his family. You might have to open a couple of gates, remember to close them behind you.  They were open when I drove through the land.

Drive on a dirt track for ca 5 minutes until you reach a river and see a waterfall, Þuríðarfoss waterfall, up in the mountain.  Park the car by the river Þuríðará and hike up the river to the waterfall. The rock is a bit further on, on the right hand side. There is a 30-minutes hike up the mountain until you reach the elf-rock.  I took a different path from my husband and ended up having to jump between large tussocks for the main part of the hike, which was taxing.

The Sheriff's Wife at Bustarfell and the Elf-Rock in East-Iceland - an Icelandic Folklore
The folklore, written in Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Folklore of Jón Árnason, is called Sýslumannskonan á Bustarfelli or the Sheriff's Wife at Bustarfell Manor.  The name of the wife was Guðrún Marteinsdóttir and Björn was the name of her husband.  It goes like this, roughly translated by me into English:

"At Bustarfell in Vopnafjörður there once lived a sheriff, who was wealthy and came from an influential family. He was married and owned a big, opulent manor.

It was customary for the people at Bustarfell to go to sleep during winter time before the light was turned on in the bedroom (baðstofa) and the sheriff´s wife was in charge of for how long the people slept. She turned on the light herself and woke up the people.

Once the wife didn't wake up as usual and the domestics got up and turned on the light. The sheriff didn't want anybody to wake up his wife. He said that she were dreaming and that she should be allowed to enjoy her dream.

The Sheriff's Wife at Bustarfell and the Elf-Rock in East-Iceland - an Icelandic Folklore

The wife didn't wake up until well into the night and when she woke up she sighed anxiously. She said that she had dreamt that a man came to her bed and asked her to get up and go with him. So she did and he took her a bit far away from the turf house and up to a big rock, which was located on the Bustarfell estate and which was familiar to the woman.

The man walked three times clockwise around the rock and the woman watched the rock turn into a small, but ornate house. The man took the woman by the hand and took her into the house, where everything was beautifully decorated. There she saw a woman lying on the floor in labour.  There was also an old woman in the house, but nobody else was around.

The man broached his business to the wife of the sheriff and asked her to save his wife, who was lying on the floor and would die without the help of a human being (these people were elves). The sheriff's wife walked to the childbearing woman and said: "May the good Jesus help you."  After hearing these words the childbearing woman soon delivered her child which brought great joy to the people present.

The Sheriff's Wife at Bustarfell and the Elf-Rock in East-Iceland - an Icelandic Folklore
But the sheriff's wife noticed that after she uttered the name of Jesus, that the old woman started to sweep the kitchen thoroughly and she gathered that the old woman did not think that the house got any cleaner by the mentioning of the name of Jesus. Now the newborn child was washed and the sheriff's wife was put in charge of the washing of the child.

The childbearing woman gave her a jar with ointments, which the sheriff's wife was supposed to apply to the eyes of the newborn child while she washed it. This she did and gathered that these ointments were sanitary.

She thought of applying the ointment to her own eyes, but was too afraid to do so because of the other people in the house. But by tact she managed to put one fingertip into her right eye without being seen. Now the washing was done and the sheriff's wife prepared for her homeward journey. But as they parted the childbearing woman gave her a very valuable cloth. The cloth was a golden laced woven cloth.

The Sheriff's Wife at Bustarfell and the Elf-Rock in East-Iceland - an Icelandic Folklore
Now the man escorted the sheriff's wife out of the house and as they exited he walked three times anti-clockwise around the house and it turned back into a rock. The man escorted the woman back to the Bustarfell manor and left her there.

The sheriff's wife now took the cloth from under her head and showed it as a proof of her story. Nobody had seen such an object and it is said that this cloth is still used as an antependium at the church to which Bustarfell belongs. (The cloth is now preserved at Safnahúsið - the Culture House in Reykjavík - RHR).

The Sheriff's Wife at Bustarfell and the Elf-Rock in East-Iceland - an Icelandic Folklore

The photo above is courtesy of Bustarfell, showing one of the items on sale at the museum café, with images from the golden laced woven cloth.  Indeed it is beautiful. I had taken a photo of it while visiting the museum café, but it didn't come out right.

The original elf-cloth is on display at the Culture House in Reykjavík.  It is large, but difficult to photograph as it is behind glass. The photo only shows one small part of this exquisite elf-cloth.  Isn't it pretty?!

The Sheriff's Wife at Bustarfell and the Elf-Rock in East-Iceland - an Icelandic Folklore

Now on with the story...

The sheriff's wife felt a change to her right eye, to which she had applied the ointments; now she saw everything that happened, both of this world and what is not of this world.

Close to Bustarfell there are big boulders. Now the sheriff's wife saw that things were not what they seemed, and that these were all farms, houses and big villages. Everywhere around were myriads of people, who looked like normal people, they mowed the grass and raked the hey and worked the land and meadows. They owned cattle, sheep and horses, which all grazed together. Also the people, they worked on what they liked to do. And nobody saw them but she.

She noticed that these people were much more skilful and weather-wise than other people. They would often put the hey out to dry when there was no drought and sometimes they would not put the hey out to dry when there was drought. She noticed that there would always be a drought when they put the hey out to dry, but rain if they didn't put the hey out to dry.  And many more things like that.

The Sheriff's Wife at Bustarfell and the Elf-Rock in East-Iceland - an Icelandic Folklore
One day the sheriff's wife went to town. And when she visited the variety store she saw that the same woman, who bore the child in the rock, standing behind the store counter. She had her arms full of the rarest things found at the store. The sheriff's wife was aware that nobody but she saw this woman. She walked to the counter and said in a very friendly voice: "And here we meet again."

The elf-lady turned towards her in an angry manner and spat in her right eye, without uttering a word. Never again did the sheriff's wife see the elf-lady and she lost all the ability to see the other world, which she had seen after she put the ointment in her right eye."

(Translated into English from Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Folklore of Jón Árnason).

The Sheriff's Wife at Bustarfell and the Elf-Rock in East-Iceland - an Icelandic FolkloreThere are many more elf-rocks, dwarf-rocks and stories of supernatural beings in Iceland. Apart from the breathtaking nature in Iceland, seeking out these rocks where elves supposedly live, make travelling around Iceland even more interesting.  I seek out elf-locations on my travels in Iceland and have written several blogs on the elves (Hidden People) in Iceland.

Remember to always be respectful when visiting these elf-locations, as the elves don't like shouting and racket around and on their rocks.  Ask them for permission to visit their area and thank them when you leave.  Respect is the key-word here - as we would show as well if we were visiting the home of human beings. The elves will revenge disrespect and there are many accounts on the revenge of the elves

In September 2016 New York Times added a link to my article in an article they were writing about elves.  I think it is an honour to be mentioned in the New York Times even though their article was about the elf rock in Siglufjörður in North Iceland and my article is about the elf rock in Bustarfell in East Iceland ;)  Either way the visits to my article rose immensely on the day the news article was published - and in the following week :)

The Sheriff's Wife at Bustarfell and the Elf-Rock in East-Iceland - an Icelandic Folklore

Bustarfell is located at 65° 35,101'N, 15° 9,524'W. To visit Bustarfell you can rent a car in Reykjavík and drive to the East-Fjords.

The Sheriff's Wife at Bustarfell and the Elf-Rock in East-Iceland - an Icelandic Folklore

Also check out these interesting tours in East-Iceland: The deserted fjords of East-Iceland,  The Ring-road and the East fjords - 11 Day Self Drive Tour,  4 day Winter Tour in East-Iceland,  East-Iceland Horse Riding Adventure,  East-Iceland Multi Adventure and all the wonderful tours of Travel East-Iceland.

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