Iceland Mag

6 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag

Lifestyle

From the editor: May the Gods be with you

By Jón Kaldal

  • From Lake Mývatn in North Iceland Respect for nature is a big part of Ásatrú. Its followers are a part of the earth and not its master. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

Editor’s note: The new issue of Iceland Magazine's print issue is out and ready to pick up if you are in Iceland or read in a digital format. Here is my column from the new issue.

Is religion the source of most of the evil in the world? With recent deadly attacks in Europe and escalating conflicts in the Middle East traced back to faith, it might seem so.

The human species, however, has never lacked things to kill or die for. Football and parking spaces are among the reasons that show up on that list. And, on a much larger scale, we find the atheist regimes from the last century. Mao, Pol Pot, Stalin and more, all unleashed devastating violence on their own people and their neighbours.

Logic can be dismissed in various ways.

Violence is deeply rooted in human psychology, and religion is often used to mobilize a group in the pursuit of power, profit, and prestige. 

Jón Kaldal.jpg

Jón Kaldal Photo/Ernir Eyjólfsson

With so many religious leaders cooking up alibis for the misogyny and intolerance in their faiths, it is refreshing to come upon the views of the wise men and women speaking on behalf of the old Norse pagan Ásatrú in Iceland. Its source is the religion practiced by the early settlers of Iceland and across the Nordic region before the year 1000.

Ásatrú (which means the religion of the old gods) has a range of gods and goddesses. It’s a religion without founder or written doctrine, which practices gender equality and is open to all. It focuses on the here-and-now, and each person is responsible for himself/herself and her own fate.

Respect for nature is a big part of Ásatrú. Its followers “are a part of the earth and not its master,” says former high priest, Jónína K. Berg. When Europe’s largest dam was built in Iceland’s central highlands to generate electricity for an aluminum smelter, Ásatrúarfélagið—the Ásatrú society—was the only religious group to protest and ask that the environment be spared.

Now, more than forty years after the Icelandic Ásatrúarfélagið was founded in 1972, it will finally get its own temple. It will be the first central pagan temple built in the Nordic region for more than 1000 years. Construction will begin in March at Öskjuhlíð hill, close to Reykjavík’s centre, and will be finished next year if everything goes as planned.

Without a doubt, the temple will instantly become one of the capital’s most visited destinations. Visitors will get in touch with a religion that embraces tolerance and individual liberty.

Can you ask for anything more?

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