The Pagans of Iceland


Icelandic Pagans. Image from BBC World News. Click for source.


Recently I learned that a pagan temple is being built in Iceland for the first time in a thousand years. According to the BBC World News.

The temple will provide followers of Iceland’s old Norse religion with a place to hold their communal “blot” – or feasts – as well as marriages, name-giving ceremonies, funerals and rite of passage ceremonies for teenagers. Until now, ceremonies have mostly been conducted outdoors during the summer.

“At last, our long journey across the desert is at an end,” says Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson, a composer and high priest of Iceland’s neo-pagan Asatru movement.”

The news reminded me of my visit to the National Museum of Iceland a few years ago when I learned about the earliest settlement of Iceland by the Norse during the Viking Age (around 870 AD).


Skeleton of an Early Settler with Gravegoods

Just like the modern day “neo-pagans” who are building the new temple, the original settlers worshipped the Norse gods – Thor, Odin, Freyja, Loki and others.  An exhibit at the museum explained that an ancient writing, The Prose Edda of Snorri Snurlson, describes the settlers’ beliefs about death:  men who died in battle would join Odin in his great hall at Valhalla.  Men who died in bed joined the being,Hel, for eternity in Hel and  “no indication is given as to where women went after death”.

Both sexes did believe in a life after death though. They buried many gravegoods with decedents including entire boats and horses as well as implements they might need in the afterlife.


Drawing of settler buried with horse, shield, sword, spear, knife, lead weights and stones.

Iceland adopted Christianity circa 1000 AD and paganism was outlawed until 1972.  One of the most significant objects at the museum is this tiny bronze figure of a man that dates from around 1000.  Most believe he is Thor, holding his hammer but some argue that he is Jesus, holding a cross.  What do you think?


Image from the National Museum of Iceland. Click for source.

  • While you ponder enjoy a video by Skalmold, a Viking metal band from Iceland!

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