A Viking temple is to be constructed in Iceland to allow followers of the Ásatrúarfélagið movement to worship ancient Norse gods like Thor and Odin.
The Ásatrúarfélagið, an Icelandic group which promotes a form of modern paganism has been growing for some time and now boasts over 2,000 active members. This is especially impressive given that the population of Iceland is only a little over 300,000.
The temple itself is to be built into the side of a scenic hill overlooking the Icelandic capital of Reykjavík. However, despite the temple’s lofty situation, Ásatrúarfélagið adheres to a surprisingly grounded and practical set of teachings. This was most obviously demonstrated by high priest Himar Orn Himarsson comments to press where he stated
‘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’
The high priest’s comments are encouraging, particularly given the negative media coverage his faith received following it’s founding in the early 1970’s. Rumors circulated until the mid-1980’s, insinuating that the Ásatrúarfélagið supported the ritual sacrifice of animals. These allegations were dispelled by the religion’s founder Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson who, when asked if the movement performed ritual sacrifices, responded evenly with ‘No, for the simple reason that we can’t be bothered.’
The faith represents a clear means of tapping into Nordic heritage and culture but manages to stay politically active. The Ásatrúarfélagið is an official partner of various Icelandic forestry and conservation agencies and has actively campaigned for the right to marry gay couples in their neo-pagan ceremonies.
The presence of such socially liberal attitudes in a religion whose origins predate Christianity and whose ancient followers are best known for raiding coastal English towns, is incredibly refreshing,. The Ásatrúarfélagið faith purports to hold the principal of tolerance as one of its most important doctrines and to all intents and purposes the movement looks set to evolve into one of the most progressive and forward thinking religious bodies in Europe.