Iceland Mag

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Iceland Mag

Culture

Ásatrú, the Old Norse pagan religion is the fastest growing religion in Iceland

By Staff

  • Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson The High Priest of the Pagan Association Ásatrúarfélagið leading a pagan feast, blót. Photo/Stefán

The old Nose paganism is doing great in Iceland. According to figures from Statistics Iceland 3,583 people belonged to Ásatrúarfélagið, the pagan association, on January 1. The membership has grown by 244% since 2007, making paganism the fastest growing religion in Iceland over the past decade.

Pagans making a comeback after a millennium
The figures show that the share of Pagans in Iceland now tops 1% of the population for the first time for nearly a millennium. In the year 1000 Christianity was adopted as the national religion of Iceland by the Viking age commonwealth parliament, Althingi at Þingvellir. While it was still permissible to observe the old religion in private, the old pagan ways quickly receded in the face of Christianity. Now, 1000 years later the old Norse paganism Ásatrú is making a comeback.

Read more: Heathens against hate: Exclusive interview with the high priest of the Icelandic Pagan Association

On January 1 Ásatrúarfélagið had 3,583 members, up from 1,040 members one decade ago. At the same time as pagans have seen their numbers swell, the State Lutheran Church has seen its membership decline from 252,411 to 236,481, a drop of 6.3%. In 2007 82% of Icelanders belonged to the State Lutheran Church, but only 69.9% on January 1 2017.

While most of those who have left the State Lutheran Church have either joined other Christian churches or registered as not belonging to any particular religious denomination, Ásatrú has been growing rapidly. This despite the fact that the pagan association engages in no proselytizing or recruiting of new members.

No missionary work
Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, the high priest of Ásatrúarfélagið, told the local newspaper Morgunblaðið that he believes the reason is simply that more and more people are learning about what the association does and seeing their ceremonies.

"We hold more ceremonies each year, and I think more people are seeing first hand what it is that we do, and people like it. We don't engage in any kind of missionary work, but we do encourage people to come and join us if they are interested." Hilmar adds that all of their feasts are open to the general public.

Construction of new temple begins this spring
Ásatrúarfélagið has been working on a new temple in the southern slope of Öskjuhlíðin hill just outside downtown Reykjavík for two years, or since March 2015 when a ceremony was held to consecrate the ground where the temple will rise. Last year a ceremony was held to thank Mother Nature for the timber for the temple.

The actual construction work on the first stage of the temple a 400 square meter (4,300 sq ft) dome which will house 250 people, is scheduled to begin later this year. The temple is expected to be opened to the public in March 2018.

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