Nordic gods are making a comeback
Norway was a bit of a Johnny-come-lately to Christianity, which only reached the nation around 1,000 years ago.
But after it fell victim to one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated on humankind, Norwegian king Olaf I decided to impose the death cult on his Scandinavian neighbours.
According to Nordic lore, a mighty warrior missionary named Thangbrand was despatched to Iceland to spread the good news, which he enthusiastically did, along the way spearing dead a great many heathens. But he returned with his pious tail between his legs.
According to Wiki:
Thangbrand the priest came back from Iceland to King Olaf, and told the ill success of his journey; namely, that the Icelanders had made lampoons about him; and that some even sought to kill him, and there was little hope of that country ever being made Christian.
Although Icelanders never went a bundle on Jesus, the religion did eventually take root – albeit without much enthusiasm.
Michael Strmiska, of Orange County Community College, who is currently researching modern Paganism in Eastern Europe, Iceland, Scandinavia and the USA, explains:
From the time of Iceland’s formal adoption of Christianity as the official state religion in the year 1,000 CE, Iceland has never been a fanatically Christian country nor particularly orthodox in its Christianity.
A strong case can be made that the acceptance of Christianity was motivated more by economic and political considerations than authentic Christian fervor … Good political and economic relations with Christian Europe depended on at least a semblance of Christian conversion, and so this semblance was achieved.
Not since the collapse of the Viking age has anyone overtly worshipped at the altar of a Norse god in Iceland, which banned such displays of reverence with the rise of Christianity.
But, according to this report, the old Norse gods have once again “emerged from the clouds to claim a people once theirs”. For the first time in more than ten centuries, Icelanders soon will be able to worship Thor, Odin, Frigg and others at a new temple if they so desire.
The circular temple will be dug 13 feet deep into a hill and peer down upon Iceland’s capital. A dome above will allow sunlight to filter inside.
How enthusiastic are Icelanders – among the most atheistic people on the planet – about embracing the old gods?
While many take solace in the traditions of the Norse gods, they didn’t necessarily believe in them. “I believe in nothing,” one member told Strmiska. The academic wrote:
What he did not ‘believe’ in was the literal reality of the gods or other such beings, accepting them only as metaphors and guiding figures in cautionary tales.
Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson, a high priest of the Norse god church, Asatruarfelagio, added:
I don’t believe anyone believes in a one-eyed man [Odin] 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.
According to statistics kept by the Icelandic government, membership in the Asatru Association rocketed. Founded in 1972 by an Icelandic poet named Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson as a means to preserve ancient ways, the church had a membership below 100 in its first two decades. Today, nearly 2,400 are in its ranks.
While not a large number on an international scale, it is for Iceland, which has a population of around 320,000. The church claims to be the largest non-Christian church in Iceland.
Beinteinsson and friends assumed the name of “Asatru”, which means “belief or faith in the ancient gods,” said Strmiska.