Norse Gods Make Comeback in Iceland

AP Photo
AP Photo

Having lost the religious battle in Scandinavia to Christianity over 1,000 years ago, the Norse gods are making a comeback in Iceland.

In February, construction will commence of a temple honoring the Norse gods Thor, Odin, and Frigg. Ásatrúarfélagið, a group promulgating worship of the Norse gods and founded in 1972, has attracted 2,400 members in Iceland, according to Statistics Iceland, and they intend to build a circular temple 13 feet down into a hill overlooking the Icelandic capital Reykjavik. The temple will feature a dome capping it to gather sunlight.

Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, high priest of Ásatrúarfélagið, 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.”

Hilmarsson said of the dome, “The sun changes with the seasons so we are in a way having the sun paint the space for us.” The group intends to perform weddings and funerals at the temple, as well as welcoming teenagers to the group. Some rituals of the group include an ancient sacrificial ritual called Blot, which involves music, reading, eating, and drinking, but the group has decided to cancel slaughtering animals.

Hilmarsson is a well-known composer, having scored over 25 films, including the Oscar-nominated Children of Nature (1991) and Beowulf and Grendel (2005). In an interview in 2011, he said of the pagan worship he championed:

The influence of this seems to resonate with Icelanders. The poems never really went away, and they’ve been treasured ever since they were handed down orally and written down. I’m pretty certain that the people in the learned places of Oddi and Reykholt and [elsewhere] were reading Ovid and Roman mythology, and they realized, “My god, we have this thing here which is a living and vibrant thing, and this is what my great-grandfather believed in,” and stuff like that. I think it never really went away.

It was said – after the conversion in 1000 or 999 – that you could not worship the old gods except in secrecy. That was part of the truce. People carried on secret worship for at least two centuries. I don’t think it ever really went away. To illustrate that, I met this old man in the shop yesterday. He came up to me and shook my hand, and he told me that – when he was confirmed in the early 1920s – his grandmother came to him and gave him a book with the Eddic poems and said, “You should read that, because this is what we also believe.” She thought, “Christianity is okay, but you should not forget your roots.”