Iceland's pagans enjoy dramatic rise
Iceland has seen a dramatic increase in the followers of its indigenous pagan movement in recent years, making Odin worshippers the country's fastest-growing religion.
National Statistics Bureau figures show that followers of the Asatru Association still lag far behind the established Lutheran Church, which accounts for 237,938 or almost 70% of the population and has remained stable for decades. But the total of Icelanders who revere Odin, Thor and the Goddess Freyja has leapt 50% since 2014 to 3,583, with more than twice as many male as female faithful, Morgunbladid newspaper reports.
The High Chieftain of Asatru is composer Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson, who is better known abroad for his work with bands such as Sigur Ros. He says the surge in members is partly due to media coverage of Asatru's colourful religious ceremonies. "More people are seeing what we do, and they like it. We do not recruit members. We just encourage people to come along if they are interested. Our ceremonies are open to everyone," he told the paper.
Asatru has been almost entirely free of the racial politics that has dogged Norse neo-paganism elsewhere, and the movement works closely with other religions to promote civil rights and ecological awareness. The movement's latest initiative is the construction of a temple on the picturesque wooded hill of Oskjuhlid - conveniently near the capital Reykjavik. where more than a third of the population of Iceland lives.
Mr Hilmarsson says the country's first pagan temple in 1,000 years will be used to mark weddings, naming ceremonies, and funerals, and should accommodate 250 people at a time. Built on land donated by Reykjavik Council but funded by donations, it should be ready early in 2018. And there can be little doubt that Asaru's media-savvy High Chieftain will ensure that its dedication attracts plenty of coverage in Iceland and abroad.
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