Neo-pagans are building a temple to practice the ancient Norse religion
In many ways, the old Norse beliefs of Scandinavia are strange and wonderful. The old pagan religion had gods and goddesses of music and fertility, nature deities, elves, dwarves, giants, magical weapons and modes of transportation, werewolves and other magical creatures. They had warrior heroes slaying huge serpents, and fantastically strange stories.
Now in Iceland a group of old-time believers is building a Norse temple to open in 2016 for the first time since Iceland converted to Christianity around 1000 A.D. Religious practices and beliefs of modern adherents of the Asatru religion differ greatly from Christianity. Both religions, however, expect an end time and expect their followers to act ethically.
The gods bind the wolf Fenrir, who, Norse beliefs say, will be free in the end times and will wreak great destruction. (George Wright painting/ Wikimedia Commons )
Some Asatruar also may differ from their ancestors in that some do not worship the old gods in the same way. “I don’t believe anyone believes in a one-eyed man who is riding about on a horse with eight feet,” Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, an Icelandic composer and musician, told Reuters. “We see the stories as poetic metaphors and a manifestation of the forces of nature and human psychology.” The one-eyed god he referred to is Odin, the ancient Allfather who hung on the World Tree for nine days and nights to gain all-knowledge and lost an eye during his ordeal.
The Norse God, Odin ( Wikimedia Commons )
Some Asatruar do have an active belief in the old gods. The Asatru Community, an American group, says in an article on its site explaining Asatru :
Asafolk view the gods in many different lights. There are those of us who [are] nearly atheists, believing the Gods and Goddesses to be manifestations of pure Nature, and preferring to trust in their own might and judgment entirely. For these folks, Asatru provides a context for their culture and its continuity. Others are literalists, believing the Eddas and Sagas to be divinely inspired, and believing the gods and goddesses to be literal physical entities. Most fall somewhere in the middle: finding our roots in the culture and our spiritual path on the road with the Shining Gods and Goddesses.
The web page Religionsfacts.com says instead of commandments, Asatruar have nine guiding principles: courage, truth, honor, fidelity, discipline, hospitality, industriousness, self-reliance and perseverance. Their most important holiday is the 12-day Yule, which begins December 21.
- The Sagas of the Icelanders shed light on the Golden Age
- The True Meaning of Paganism
- The Enigmatic Loki, a Trickster among Gods in Norse Mythology
- The long goodbye to Scandinavian Paganism and the Christianization of three realms
Sadly, medieval Christians tried to stamp out the Norse religion and all the gods and goddesses that they encountered in Europe and elsewhere. They succeeded only in disguising pagan gods from various pantheons in the Old World as saints and incorporating rites and stories from the old religions.
This iconoclasm happened in Iceland and the rest of Scandinavia too. Vikings settled Iceland in the 9 th century. They brought their old Norse stories and religion with them but converted to Christianity a couple of hundred years later by an act of lawmakers.
“While the polytheistic religion of the Vikings was driven underground, it was never totally extinguished thanks in large part to 13th-century Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturluson, who recorded the ancient Nordic mythology in the Prose Edda . Even among Christians, Nordic beliefs in elves, trolls and nature spirits were handed down from generation to generation,” says History.com in a recent article about the opening of temple.
A small group founded the Asatru Association in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1972, shortly after the sagas were widely circulated again. Asatruar have been following the old religion, performing ceremonies, including weddings and burials. In 1999 there were just 300 Asatru adherents in Iceland. Through 2014 the number had increased eightfold to 2,400 there. There are also Asatruar in other parts of Europe and in North America.
In Sweden, a priestess and a priest perform a ceremony during an annual Asatru thing (meeting). Under the tree are images of Norse gods Thor, Frigg, Freyr, Freya and Forseit with a ceremonial hammer, a drinking horn and an oath ring. Hanging on the birch tree, which is sacred to the goddess Frigg, hangs a birch trumpet. (Achird photo/ Wikimedia Commons )
From History.com’s description, it sounds like the new temple will be beautiful: “The oval-shaped shrine, designed by Asatru member Magnus Jenssen, will be built into a wooded hillside near Reykjavik’s domestic airport. The Iceland Review reports that the capital city donated the land for the temple, which will cost nearly $1 million to build. Following the tenets of the religion, the 4,000-square-foot temple will coexist in harmony with nature. The natural rock of the hillside will form one of the walls while light will pour in through a south-facing glass wall and a skylight atop the dome ceiling.”