“Hail Freyja, hail Njörður, hail Týr…”
A drinking horn was passed between those present, who took a sip of the holy ‘mead’ and poured some of it on the ground while giving their blessings, honoring the Norse gods and congratulating the young woman before us.
We were standing around a fire in a peaceful birch grove in West Iceland. The sun had made a rare appearance and it was unusually calm…almost warm.
The young woman, my cousin’s teenage daughter, had just sworn her oaths in silence while holding a holy ring. Earlier in the ceremony she had read out loud her favorite verses from the ancient wisdom of Völuspá (Prophecy of the Seeress), about the importance of friendship, optimism and maintaining a good reputation.
Calm and sincere, she looked absolutely ravishing in her dark green tunic and with braided hair. The high priestess performing the ceremony was also wearing a tunic, Viking jewelry and a skin hat. It was as if we had traveled one thousand years into the past.
Instead of Christian confirmation or a non-religious ceremony, my cousin’s daughter chose to undergo the heathen Ásatrú rites while being accepted into adulthood.
Ásatrúarfélagið, the Icelandic pagan society, was founded in 1972 to preserve Icelandic history and traditions by upholding the ancient Norse religion and its values, including tolerance, honesty, courage, respecting nature and cultural heritage, and taking responsibility for oneself and one’s actions.
Now the sixth largest religious group in Iceland and the largest which isn’t Christian, Ásatrúarfélagið has almost 2,700 members and has seen a steady increase in membership in recent years. They don’t believe in preaching, but everyone is welcome to take part in their ceremonies and learn more about the ancient Norse religion.
In addition to private ceremonies, baptisms, confirmations, weddings and funerals, the Ásatrú society celebrates the most important days of the old calendar, such as the summer and winter solstice, and the first day of summer and winter.
In 2006 I attended their autumn sacrifice ceremony in celebration of the first day of winter, resulting in this video.
Now Ásatrúarfélagið is building a pagan chapel in the forested Öskjuhlíð near landmark building Perlan in Reykjavík, which will be the first main temple of the Ásatrú religion in Iceland for 1,000 years. Ground was broken immediately following the solar eclipse on March 20 and construction has begun.
The 350-square-meter building, which will seat 250 people, will be constructed around the path of the sun and the sacred numbers of 9 and 432,000 are used in the design.
The design by architect Magnús Jensson, inspired by a Viking ship, looks promising. High chieftain Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson stated the temple will become one of the “iconic buildings” in Iceland’s capital.
I’m very much looking forward to the opening of the temple, which is expected to be completed in the summer of 2016. It will mark a milestone in Icelandic history, honoring our roots while becoming part of our multicultural future.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – eyglo(at)icelandreview.com