Iceland's first Pagan Temple in 1000 years and the rise of Norse Paganism

January 24, 2021 6 min read

Iceland's Asatru Temple

Iceland is  opening the first new Asatru temple in 1000 years. The opening of the Asatru temple marks a significant moment in the continuation of  Old Norse religion in contemporary times. The sect of  the Old Norse religion that is  responsible for  constructing the temple was started  in 1972. The sect is referred asÁsatrúarfélagið, orÆsir faith which is  modelled after the Norse Pantheon of gods known as  theÆsir.

Iceland was Christianized in the 1000CE when Christian missionaries travelled to the region. Before  the Christianization of Iceland, the official state religion was the Norse paganism. The Christianization of  Iceland made significant progress when Olaf Tryggvason converted to Christianity in 998 CE and later ascended to the Norwegian throne. The existence of rival religions threatened a civil war between Norway and  Denmark. The hostilities eventually degenerated into war between the two countries. The dispute was submitted for arbitration at the Allthing. The Allthing is a parliamentary building in  Iceland and  the world's oldest surviving parliament. In the proceedings, Thorgeir Thorkelsson, a law teacher proposed the formation of one  compulsory state religion. The motion was adopted and soon thereafter, Christianity became  the official state religion. All non-christians were supposed to be  converted to christianity after baptism.  Private practice of  old paganism was allowed  and laws relating to eating of  horse flesh and the exposure of infants were allowed to remain. Some of the long established customs in Old Norse religion were considered a taboo in Norse culture.

Thorgeir Thorkelsson who was a pagan priest converted to Christianity. He took all the Norse  idols and religious artefacts and threw them down a waterfall which would later be known as the Waterfall of the Gods. Once the Christian faith was firmly established in Iceland, all the Old Norse rituals were banned.


The old  Norse religion went into decline in Iceland as the church made efforts to wipe out  its existence.  Thanks to Snorri Sturluson, an Icelandic  scholar and parliamentarian, the Old Norse religion was preserved through his writings. He wrote the Prose Edda and the family sagas  which ensured that the old  Norse religion  was codified and Icelanders could read about it for centuries after he died. Snorri Sturluson is accredited to be the key figure behind the Norse Mythology as understood today.

Asatru Organization

In the late winter of 1972 four men; Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson who was  a traditional poet, Jörmundur Ingi Hansen who was a Jack of All Trades and a prominent person in the Hippie Movement, Dagur Þorleifsson  journalist and Þorsteinn Guðjónsson met at a cafe in Reykjavík and discussed the possibility of  forming a religion that was native to Iceland. The  driving belief was that there were  hidden forces in the land that needed icelanders to form a religion that was native  to their land. The ills of  the industrialized society  had corrupted the land and there was a need to move back to nature. The Asatru Organization was formed on the first day of the Summer in 1972.

Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson and Þorsteinn Guðjónsson in December 1972 visited the Minister of Justice and  Ecclesiastical Affairs to express interest in registering the organization. When the minister dismissed the matter as a joke, the town was struck by lightning rendering the minister’s home and the surrounding areas without power. Local newspapers reported  that Thor was angry with the minister and moved to strike the town with lightning. The officials argued that  the registration of the organization would be  legal because the constitution of  Iceland allowed it. The officials argued that the constitution did not bar the state from registering  a polythestic religion. The religion was eventually registered in may 1973.

Based on interviews, Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson explained  his faith as follows;

“My faith is based on a constant search but I don't search frantically. It's no use to rush out into space to search for some gods there, if they want to have anything to do with me, they will come. I have often become aware of them, but I don't rush after them or shout at them. I have gotten to know them a bit in myself and also in other people. Primarily it is the effects of the great force felt by everyone that make me religious. The most remarkable thing about faith is that it gives us growth, the possibility to grow and thrive. And humility cannot be neglected. Without it we cannot live to any useful degree, though of course it has its particular place. But a man who is completely without it is a madman.”

The organization decided to sell some of the organization’s properties and build a temple. The organization sent the building plans to Reykjavík city council and received approval.

The organization has been involved in activism that led to increase in membership. It is known for championing for environmental rights especially the reclamation of forests. It has fiercely fought for the separation of the church from the state.

Reasons behind the rise of Norse Paganism

Norse paganism is the fastest growing religion in Iceland. The growth of Norse paganism in Iceland could be attributed to a decline in membership to the national Church.  At the very beginning of the 21st century the national Church in Iceland had 89% of membership. The membership has reduced to 65% as of 2020. Norse paganism is making a comeback. The official figures from Iceland indicate that there are over 4000 members of Norse paganism. is Max the old Norse religion the fastest-growing religion in Iceland. Norse paganism was eliminated in Iceland over a thousand years ago. . . religion is making a comeback with a different style and it is abandoning its militaristic and often controversial practices. The believers of Norse paganism believe that they return to nature and adopt environmentally conscious ways of living. One of the primary reasons as a tree is making a comeback in Iceland is the emphasis on wisdom. Wisdom played a critical role in nurse and Viking mythology.  Wisdom is very important to certain followers because it emphasizes on the need to take into account what you can change and what you cannot change. Asatru followers are seated into classroom wisdom to navigate through turbulent life situations. The success of the old Norse religion can be attributed to the larger cultural and economic changes affecting contemporary life in the 21st century. Christianity on the other hand is seen as documented and resistant to change which has LED organism followers to plug into their religion. Icelanders initially left out began isn't because of its resistance Economic and cultural changes and the same thing is happening with Christianity according to pagans in Iceland. The religion promotes tolerance and individual Liberty  which has attracted followers. 

One of the key features of Norse paganism in Iceland karma is the celebratory feasts that take place throughout the year with emphasis on summer and winter solstice. The winter solstice is the most popular celebration with a particular emphasis on Yule.

It is important to understand that the original Icelanders were Farmers and fishermen. When the Vikings arrived in Iceland, they decided to stay and settle down and eventually establish a warrior class.  the Viking culture and traditions are predominantly Scandinavian but the advance of Christianity made the old Norse religion recede to Iceland. The Vikings escaped to Iceland because they were fearing religious persecution in Denmark and Norway from Christians. which is Iceland, is a suitable place where they could practice their religion without interference from Christians. 

 The construction of the Temple

for the construction of the Viking temple started in 2005 but the  actual construction began in 2015. The project was expected to be completed  earlier but the Icelandic financial crisis caused the completion to be delayed. The construction of the temple  began during the solar eclipse of March 20 2015. The actual construction began in 2017 due to technical challenges and the need to adopt an environmentally conscious way of building the temple.  the trees that were growing on the original site were uprooted and transferred to another location. The further delays we also experienced because of the size of the  dome. the officials stated that they wanted to adopt a financially responsible approach in building the temple and since it was not a financial or a profit-making organization they did not want to take a bank loan. Icelandic architects in charge of the projects wanted the building clock timeless. He did not want the building to look as though it was constructed during the Viking heads or Andy also did not want the building modern architecture.