Facts About Icelandic Ásatrú, the Ancient Religion of the Vikings

It was abandoned in favor of Christianity in the year 1000

While Ásatrú was the religion of the vast majority of the settlers of Iceland, some had been converted to Christianity while travelling in Europe. During the first centuries of Icelandic history Christianity made further inroads, and by the end of the 10th century it was clear Ásatrú was on the retreat.

It was re-recognized in 1973

Ásatrú was only re-recognized as a religion by the state in 1973. A group of people who were either practitioners of the ancient religion or its students had been meeting for some time. This group, led by Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson who later became the first high-priest of the association, decided to establish a formal congregation and request recognition from the state. This meeting was held on the First Day of Summer, a unique Icelandic holiday which marks the end of winter and beginning of summer. At the time the number of members was just 12.

It is Iceland’s fastest growing religion

According to figures from Statistics Iceland 3,583 people belonged to Ásatrúarfélagið on January 1 2017, up from 1,040 members 10 years ago. The membership has grown by 244% since 2007, making paganism the fastest growing religion in Iceland over the past decade.

No proselytizing or missionary work

This growth has come in spite of the fact that unlike other religious organizations Ásatrúarfélagið has never engaged in any form of missionary work or proselytizing.

One high priest, 10 Goðar in Iceland (Goðar = Congregation)

The organization of Ásatrúarfélagið is based on the historic organization of Ásatrú during the Viking age. Priests in Ásatrú are called Goði, with each Goði responsible for a congregation “goðorð”. While the goðorð were associated with certain geographic areas during the Viking age, people were free to choose their Goði.

All the ceremonies of Ásatrúarfélagið are open to the general public

The weekly meetings of Ásatrúarfélagið are open to the public, as are all its official ceremonies, the blót. Ásatrúarfélagið has four main blót each year: Jólablót (Yule-blót) at winter solstice in honor of the goddess Freyja, Sigurblót (Victory-blót) held on Sumardagurinn Fyrsti in the spring in honor of the god Freyr, Þingblót (Þing/assembly-blót) on Summer solstice held in honor of the laws, the Þing and human society, and Veturnáttablót (Winter-nights-blót) held on the first day of winter. Veturnáttablót is in honor of Óðinn, the god of the gods.

First pagan temple since 1000 was opened in 2018

Ásatrúarfélagið moveed into a new temple just outside downtown Reykjavík. The temple was the first heathen central temple built in the Nordic countries for more than a thousand years.

There is no prescribed dogma or scripture

Ásatrú has no prescribed dogma or scripture. However, You are however encouraged to read the Poetic and Prose Eddas written by the 13th-century chieftain and scholar, Snorri Sturluson. No one actually prays to the gods and how you might ask their intercession is entirely up to you. The gods are imperfect and not divine.

It is a religion of peace and tolerance

Ásatrú, as it has been practiced in Iceland, is a religion of nature and life, stressing the harmony of the natural world and the search for harmony in the life of individuals. It’s openness and philosophical character has led some to compare it to Unitarian Universalism.

It rejects militarism and the glorification of heroism, battles and blood

Many neo-pagan groups in Europe and the US who consider themselves observers of the religion of the Vikings, practice a religion which glorifies battles, militarism, masculine heroism and in some cases chauvinism, violence, intolerance and racism. Unfortunately some white-power groups and members of Aryan Nation gangs practice these forms of paganism. Ásatrúarfélagið rejects this as a misreading of Ásatrú.

Ásatrúarfélagið has received hate mail from reactionary heathens abroad

Ásatrúarfélagið has cut all ties with foreign associations of pagans after receiving harassment and hate mail from people who are angry with emphasis the association has placed upon equality and respect for human rights, especially LGBTQ rights.

Anyone can practice the religion, But only Icelandic residents can join Ásatrúarfélagið

Only Icelandic citizens or people who have a domicile in Iceland can become members of the Ásatrúarfélag, but anyone can practice Ásatrú, regardless of their nationality or residence. It costs nothing to join and is open to all, irrespective of race, cultural background, gender or sexual orientation.

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