Neopagans in Iceland Will Build the First Temple to Thor and Odin in 1000 Years
About 1000 years ago, paganism was practically stamped out in Iceland, while Christianity was ushered in. But Nordic neopaganism, under the name of Ásatrúarfélagið (sometimes called Asatru), has now become the fastest growing belief system in the country. And after years in the making, the believers of this faith are on the brink of worshipping in their first temple.
Business Insider Nordic reports the statistics on just how fast Ásatrúarfélagið has grown, “From 570 members in 2002, the ‘association of the faith of the Æsir’ – Ásatrúarfélagið – now numbers 3900 Icelanders, making it the largest non-Christian religion in the country.”
Contemporary Icelandic pagans, members of Ásatrúarfélagið, assembling at Þingvellir for Þingblót (Thing blót) in the summer of 2009. (Lenka Kovářová/CC BY SA 3.0)
The Ásatrúarfélagið’s first temple, built to honor Odin and Thor, is expected to be ready by the end of 2018. The temple was originally set to be built in 2016, but technical problems have delayed construction work. It is designed by Icelandic architect and Ásatrúarfélagið member Magnús Jensson and will be in Reykjavik.
Jensson has designed the temple with a focus on the close relationship between the earth, sky, and sun. The plan for the building, which has a capacity of up to 250 people, includes a rock wall from the hillside, a south-facing glass wall, and a domed ceiling with a skylight.
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Although there are certainly aspects of the Pagan beliefs of the past in the neopagan belief system, there is also a modern take on some key elements in Ásatrúarfélagið, as High priest Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson told the Guardian:
“I don’t believe anyone believes in a one-eyed man who is riding about on a horse with eight feet. We see the stories as poetic metaphors and a manifestation of the forces of nature and human psychology.”
That one-eyed man with the eight-footed horse is Odin – the ancient god who hung from the World Tree Yggdrasil for nine days and nights, providing him with an endless supply of knowledge, but costing him an eye.
The one-eyed Odin with his ravens Hugin and Munin and his weapons. An illustration from an 18th-century Icelandic manuscript. (Public Domain)
While Odin and other gods and goddesses are included in Ásatrúarfélagið, there is also the ability for believers to take their own stance on the ancient gods. The Asatru Community, an American group, explains:
“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.”
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This individuality is one of two main elements which seem to have drawn in new worshippers in Iceland; the second being the emphasis on traditional Icelandic values (such as environmentalism, honesty, and tolerance). In fact, Asatruar are said to have nine guiding principles: courage, truth, honor, fidelity, discipline, hospitality, industriousness, self-reliance, and perseverance.
Sigurblót (Sacrifice for Victory) on the First Day of Summer 2009. Icelandic neopagans, members of Ásatrúarfélagið, are about to conduct a religious ceremony. The location is the land of Ásatrúarfélagið in Öskjuhlíð, Reykjavík. (Haukurth/CC BY SA 3.0)
Business Insider Nordic believes that the temple, Hof Ásatrúarfélagsins, will not be the only Ásatrúarfélagið temple in Iceland for very long. The city of Reykjavik donated the land for the temple’s construction and it seems other regions have also expressed an interest in having similar temples built in their backyards as well.
Top Image: Digital model of the neopagan Ásatrúarfélagið temple in Iceland. Source: Magnús Jensson