Back for Thor: How Iceland is Reconnecting With its Pagan Past
Esther Addley’s story “Back for Thor: how Iceland is reconnecting with its pagan past”, The Guardian, 6 February 2015 (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/06/back-for-thor-iceland-reconnectinbg-pagan-past) covers the reemergence of paganism in Iceland, specifically focusing on a group that goes by the name of the Asatru Association. The Asatru Association is a polytheistic religion with a range of gods and goddesses. The Icelandic state formally recognizes the Asatru as a religious entity; this gives the high priest Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson the authority to name children, perform marriages and bury the dead. The Asatrus base their religion off of the 13th century Icelandic Eddas, which are texts that record the mythology of earlier times. Hilmarsson explains the religious group’s practices are not based on praying to Norse gods or worshiping them, and they do not believe in the literal truth of their texts. Their rituals and gatherings however, are based on creatively reimagining how pre-Christian Norse people related to their deities. Hilmarsson believes the religion is a viable way of life, and has meaning and a context. Other members state people in the group are very unpretentious, which is refreshing, and that the religion gives them an interest in something that is real and authentic in a world that is quite artificial. Membership to the Asatru Association has increased sixfold within the past twelve years ever since Hillmarsson has taken over leadership. The group now has about 3,000 members, where more than half of the members are in their twenties. An interest in Norse myths was revived in the late 19th century and again in the 1960-70’s, when the Edda manuscripts returned to Iceland from Denmark. However, there is uncertainty for why neo-paganism attracts more of Iceland’s younger generations. A professor of theology and ethics at the University of Iceland speculates the growth of paganism in Iceland could be explained by the country’s complicated relationship with religion. Boasdottir states the Lutheran church continues to remain rich and powerful because of the country’s religious taxation policy. Each Icelandic citizen must pay religious taxes on state recognized religions. However, since the country’s financial crisis in 2008, services such as healthcare are declining for Icelandic citizens, yet the Lutheran church is still getting millions. Furthermore, 90% of fourteen year olds still undergo confirmation in the state Lutheran church. Boasdottir believes people are becoming fed up with the unfairness of the system, and therefore want to go back to their roots, or heathenism.
It is apparent the Lutheran church has a monopoly over state religions in Iceland. The fact they are receiving millions of dollars while other public services are on the decline is an issue that must be addressed. Iceland does not have a separation of the church and state, which raises the question of how much a church should have power in a governmental system. The Asatru Association has received a share of religious taxes, and saved enough money for over a decade to start the construction of a church, or Hof: a wooden-clad temple. This will facilitate the weekly gathering of members to study, and for their five main feasts of the year. Boasdottir, the professor of theology and ethics, states that the people of Iceland respect new alternatives of religion. Therefore, I believe the religious taxation policy evidently can be beneficial to alternative and smaller religions, such as Asatru: a pagan sect. However, the fact the citizens of Iceland are getting fed up with the current system, as their public services are declining, means the government needs to take into consideration the separation of the church and state; or take alternative measures to ensure the fair distribution of monetary resources to different religious sects and basic public services, thus decreasing the financial power of the Lutheran church.
You can read more details about the Asatru Assocation, such as their Norse gods in this BBC article: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-31437973. Unfortunately, the Asatru Association’s official website is written in the Icelandic language!