Iceland Rebuilds Norse Religion of The Old: Massive Temple Under Construction

Iceland Rebuilds Norse Religion of The Old: Massive Temple Under Construction

The devotion to Norse mythology and the worship of the gods of the old seems to have phased out a long time ago. However, there is a rebirth of the religion in modern-day Iceland. 

The old days of Norse religion and Vikings 

From the 790s to 1066 when Norman conquered England, the Viking age lasted in Iceland. They seemed to terrorize other kingdoms and were the very symbol of their culture. Eventually, this age of the Vikings ended. 

This could be attributed to the advent of Christianity over there. They didn’t achieve this by defeating the Vikings in war, rather they succeeded in making them behave in a manner that would conform to the new state of their homeland. They also abolished the slave trade which was a huge deal for the Vikings. This continued until eventually the Vikings were no longer seen as the force they were before. [1]

The Old Norse religion and the worship of the Norse gods 

Norse religion was practiced by the pre-Christian Scandinavians during the Viking era. Otherwise known as Germanic paganism, Germanic religion, or Norse mythology, it was the religion of Iceland until 1000 AD when Thorgeir Thorkelsson, a pagan law speaker, changed the religion by law and led to the Christianization of Iceland. 

The origin of this Old religion is prehistoric and little is known about it. The majority of what is known today is from descriptions by Latin writers like Julius Caesar, as well as descriptions by the early Christian missionaries. 

Back then, the region was polytheistic, characterized by belief in more than one god. There several main gods, as well as other minor gods and supernatural beings. Each had different levels of importance. 

As for their depiction of the afterlife, there was no unified concept. While some believe that the fallen warriors will leave with Odin in Valhalla till the end of the world, or more appropriately put: Ragnarok, others believe there was no such thing as an afterlife. 

The ancient Norse religion came with animal sacrifices after which the meat would be eaten and toasts made to the gods. [2]

The Norse gods 

The Norse gods are divided amongst two main clans: Æsir and Vanir. Æsir (the gods of the tribe) represent kingship and are the ‘main gods’. 

They include Odin, Frigg, Thor, Loki, Balder, Hel, Heimdall, and Tyr. The gods of fertility make up the second clan: Vanir and include Njord, Freyr, and Freja. 

A little about the Norse gods

  • Odin, often regarded as the Alfadir (Allfather) of the gods, was the greatest of the Norse gods. In what is a true paradox, Odin was the god of war, as well as the god of poetry and magic. 
  • Thor was Odin’s son and the god of thunderstorms and healing. He wielded a hammer known as Mjöllnir and was the protector of humanity. 
  • Balder was also Odin’s son. He was the god of the summer sun and radiance. He radiated bright light and was known as a being of beauty.
  • Loki, this trickster god, could shape-shift into different animal forms. He was mischievous and his actions led to the death of Balder. [3]
  • Frigg was Odin’s wife and a symbol of beauty, love, and fertility. 
  • Freja was a sensual and passionate goddess. She was Freyr’s sister and shared in his good qualities. 
  • Freyr was the god of fertility and a highly respected god of the Vanir clan. 
  • Heimdall was also Odin’s son. He had the whitest skin of all gods and was regarded as the ‘shiniest god’. He protected Asgard from enemy attack. 
  • Hel was the goddess and ruler of the Norse underworld: Helheim. [4]

Return to the old ways 

Very soon, Icelanders can worship the Norse gods again in a temple. Currently, the temple is being constructed for that purpose. The association known as Asatruarfelagid has grown massively in the last decade and had a membership level of 4,473 in 2018 as opposed to the 1,275 2009. They originally became an official religion 973 years after Iceland officially became a Christian nation. [5]

There’s no particular doctrine associated with the Ásatrú association. According to Hilmarsson, “It’s about being honest, upright and tolerant. Respect for nature is also important. You have to make sure you live in harmony with nature.” 

They are also environmentalists and have always been. Thus, they often campaign against hydroelectric dams and even set up a reforestation scheme. They try to keep out of politics but sometimes they get involved in it. For instance, the Ásatrú campaign for same-sex marriage.

The Ásatrú Temple

This ‘Temple’ as it is called will be the first pagan temple in Iceland for the past 1000 years. It will be an extraordinary architectural piece and perhaps the most incredible building in Reykjavik: Iceland’s capital city. It will serve numerous purposes including hosting weddings and funerals, initiation of teenagers, as well as the naming of children. 

Other ceremonies that will take place at the Temple include rituals known as blóts. There’s the Þorrablót and Vættablót that happens in January and December. There is also the Sigurblót, Þingblót, Haustblót, and Jólablót which take place in April, June, October, and December respectively. [6]

Location of the Temple 

The Ásatrú Temple or ‘hall’ will be built on the Öskjuhlīd Hill. The site which is regarded as sacred is breathtaking. It is surrounded by forests and has a view of the sea. A three-rock formation near it is said to be about the life and powers of Odin, thus the reason the area is sacred. 

Design 

The massive temple was designed by architect Magnus Jensson. The top dome is astronomically aligned, thus, the temple will be a monument to the cosmos. As for the interior, it will house the statues of the gods. At the entrance is a tribute to the first high priest, Allsherjargodi, Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson. [7]

The temple will be built in the form of a dome 13ft down a hill overlooking the capital city. The top of the dome will let sunlight in to light it up. 

According to Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson, the high priest, “The sun changes with the seasons so we are in a way having the sun paint the space for us.” 

The temple has great symbolism for Iceland. Recall that the Asatru set up a reforestation scheme; aside from planting millions of trees for nature, they also intend to produce timber from it. The roof of the new Temple will be made from the timber. 

“It will be the first building made from Icelandic timber. It’s only in the last few years that we’ve had trees big enough to produce timber in Iceland,” said Hilmarsson.

The new Ásatrú temple and the religion will be a return to the old but with certain changes put in to make it more tailored to recent times. For instance, the slaughter of animals has been left in the past where it belongs. 

Irrespective of the past and the possibility of them clashing with Christianity, the religion, their  ‘doctrine’ — however unclear — and the magnificent temple are all incredible and worthy of exploration. Also, this religion is sure to reflect Iceland’s elaborate spiritual history. 

References

  1. Vikings and Norse Gods in Iceland.Guide to Iceland. Katrín Sif Einarsdottir. Accessed February 18, 2020.
  2. Norse Religion.” Religion Facts. Editor. Accessed February 18, 2020.
  3. From Thor to Odin: a guide to the Norse gods.” The Guardian. Marcus Sedgwick. February 4, 2015.
  4. A Guide to Norse Gods and Goddesses.” Centre of Excellence. Admin. October 29.
  5. Iceland is officially worshiping Norse Gods again. Big Think. Orion Jones. February 4, 2015.
  6. How Iceland recreated a Viking-age religion.” BBC. Gavin Haines. June 3, 2019.
  7. Ásatrú Temple – Iceland’s first pagan temple in 1,000 years is underway in ReykjavíkAtlas Obscura. Admin. Accessed February 18, 2020.
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