Iceland’s Creeds (KH)

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katharinahauptmann02_dlAbout 90 percent of the population are members of Christian congregations, of which most (about 80 percent) are members of the Church of Iceland.

The overwhelming majority of Icelanders are therefore Lutheran.

Church attendance, however, is quite low. In fact, I don’t think any of my Icelandic friends go to church, except for weddings, funerals etc.

This is not surprising, as estimates indicate that 44 percent of the population never attend religious services on a regular basis.

Why then are so many Icelanders members of the Church if they are apparently not very church loving? My guess is simply convenience. Once an Icelandic baby is born, it automatically enters the same religious group as its mother. If one decides to leave that group at the legal age, one has to make some bureaucratic effort to do so.

As a whole, it is safe to say that Iceland is more or less religiously homogenous.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland or National Church (Þjóðkirkjan) is also the State Church as Iceland has no separation of church and state. In 2012, Iceland’s first female, Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir, was elected.

Although Roman Catholicism is the largest non-Lutheran faith in Iceland, it is only practiced by a small minority, by about 2.5 percent of the population. Most of the members of the Icelandic Roman Catholic Church are immigrants from Eastern Europe (mostly from Poland) and the Philippines.

Other religious communities such as the Independent Baptists, Pentecostals, Anglicans and Seventh-Day-Adventists have a very small presence in Iceland.

Even the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses have a few hundred members here as well as the Bahá’í Faith, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism.

I’d say there is a little bit of everything in Iceland when it comes to religion, even though there are only around 320,000 people.

But there is something unique to this little country, which is the Ásatrúarfélagið ('The Ásatrú Association'), a Neo-Pagan religion worshipping the old Norse gods called Æsir.

The Ásatrúarfélagið was founded in the 1970s and is not just a group of wild hippies as one might assume but a registered religious organization which can conduct legally binding ceremonies. As of October 2012, the organization has 2,093 registered members.

The priests called goðar perform all kinds of ceremonies such as namegivings, coming of age rituals, weddings and funerals. And Ásatrú weddings are en vogue these days!

The central ritual is the communal blót. This feast starts with a goði hallowing the ceremony with a certain formula. This is followed by the recital or chanting of verses from the  Poetic Edda. After that, a drinking horn is passed around and the participants drink to the Æsir, the wights and their ancestors and further libations are offered. This is usually followed by a communal feast accompanied by musical entertainment.

Now, that is the best kind of service I can imagine. That really sounds like fun to me and is certainly more appealing than sitting on a hard, uncomfortable pew listening to a boring sermon.

Personally, I find the worshipping of the old gods very exciting and it almost makes sense. I might even join one of their ceremonies—just for the fun of it.

Katharina Hauptmann - katha.hauptmann@gmail.com

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.