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Iceland: the Vikings return to their pagan gods

A farmer I met had just left the Lutheran Church and joined a neo-pagan community. “Unlike Christianity, people here live in harmony with nature”, he told me. “Here, man is still man and woman - woman”.

EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES AUTOR 273/Johannes_Reimer 20 DE MARZO DE 2024 11:28 h
A waterfall in Iceland. / Photo: [link]Jorge Fdez Salas[/link], Unsplash, CC0.

Christianity on the retreat in Iceland



In March, I traveled to Iceland and admired the partly untouched and rugged nature of this island with its many volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls and fascinating lava formations.



Just under 400,000 people live on Iceland, an independent republic since 1944. They are largely descendants of the Vikings, who settled here around the year 870 AD. Traditionally, the first settler was Ingólfur Arnarson, a staunch follower of the North Germanic religion [1].



According to the Íslendingabók, Irish monks, called papar, are said to have been in Iceland at the time of the Vikings’ arrival. If this is true, the monks quickly left the island or were expelled [2]. Among the first settlers, however, were also Christians, people who had come to terms with both religions, as well as declared irreligious people who were called “godless” (goðlauss) [3].



[destacate]While 96% of Iceland’s inhabitants were still members of the Lutheran Church in 1994, in 2023 it had fallen to 59%[/destacate]Iceland remained pagan until the end of the 10th century. It was only under political pressure from the baptised Norwegian king Olav I Tryggvason who ruled from 995 to 1000 AD) and the threat of a Christianisation by force, that the Viking parliament (the Althing) decided to introduce Christianity as the official religion on the island [4].


The Reformation in Iceland was also politically imposed under the Lutheran Danish King Christian III in the 1550s [5]. The Icelanders became members of the Lutheran Church – a religious institution under full protection of the state.



Today, more and more people are leaving the Lutheran state church. While 96% of Iceland’s inhabitants were still members in 1994, the figure was 67% in 2017 [6]. As of 2023, 59% of the population belonged to the state church and 5% to various Lutheran free churches, as well as Pentecostals (0.3%) and Baptists.



In global terms, Iceland already ranks 10th in the proportion of atheist population. Only 57% of Icelanders still describe themselves as religious and 31% as non-religious. As recently as 2005, 74% still said they were religious [7].



 



Neo-paganism on the rise



Icelanders are leaving their church, and many are turning their backs not only on Lutheranism, but on Christianity itself. 



More and more of them are turning to ancient Germanic paganism. Since 1972, the neo-pagan Asatro religion has been officially registered in the country as Ásatrúarfélagið. Asatro is a Danish-Swedish neologism consisting of asa, the genitive plural of Danish æser or Swedish äser “Ase”, and tro “faith”. The Nordic word tro is etymologically related, but not identical in meaning to the English word truth. The term asatro first appeared at the beginning of the 19th century in the writings of the Scandinavian national romantics. At the time, they coined a whole range of terms for the old religion of the Vikings such as Asalære, Asareligion, Asadyrkan, Asakult and Asatro [8]. 



Today, 1.5% of the population officially belong to it. But the appreciation of pagan cultures can be seen at every turn in Iceland.



[destacate]“Unlike Christianity, people here live in harmony with nature”, the farmer I met told me. “The gods to whom you bring honor are much closer to you than the God of the church”[/destacate]On my trip I met, among others, Christian, a successful Icelandic farmer who recently left the Lutheran state church and is no longer interested in the Christian faith. Christian criticises the state church’s decisions to accept homosexual practice and genderism in general. He is annoyed by the church’s very close ties to the state and its naïve and uncritical attitude towards socio-political developments. “It should actually be the moral conscience of the country, but instead it seems to be the exact opposite with its pedophile and homosexual scandals”, he says.



Christian has left the church and joined a neo-pagan community. “Unlike Christianity, people here live in harmony with nature”, he said. “Here, man is still man and woman - woman. And the gods you believe in and to whom you bring honor are much closer to you than the God of the church, who doesn’t even care about his church in any meaningful way”.



Christian’s words reveal a deep frustration with the Christian faith as it manifests itself to him in its ecclesiastical form. Certainly, in his words one can also hear a far-reaching absence of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God, and a longing for authenticity and closeness to nature. And this after years of membership of the church and an upbringing in a traditional Christian Protestant-Lutheran family.



According to Christian, many traditional Christians in Iceland feel the same way. In any case, the circle of his neo-pagan faith community is growing. “It gives me stability and identity again”, says the friendly Icelander. “Just as it did in the days of the early Vikings”.



Back then, the Christian rulers forced Christianity on them, but now they are voluntarily abandoning the faith of their fathers because it has little substance for them and turning to the ancient Asatro forces. For decades, these have been idealised in Scandinavia and their spiritual power praised. Of course, neither Christian nor his many like-minded companions have any idea what they are letting themselves in for when they run into the tentacles of occult forces [9].



 



Time to speak out



My experiences in Iceland once again make it abundantly clear how self-destructive the attitude of large sections of European Protestantism has become in matters of gender philosophy and the widespread acceptance of alternative sexual practices. I feel infinitely sorry for people like Christian.



It is high time that the true followers of Jesus let their voices be heard in these state churches. How can we accept that people turn their backs on the church and their faith out of sheer frustration without at least having heard of the Christian-biblical alternatives? After all, not all Christians are on the path of this church that has become essentially unchristian. For first it withheld biblical truth from its members or even hermeneutically twisted it into the opposite, and now it is forcing a philosophy of life of genderism on them that is not Christian in the slightest. How terrible.



Iceland is by no means an exception. The West as a whole is following these trends. And who else, if not the Evangelical Christians in the West, are responsible for finally showing people a path to freedom and a life of faith in Jesus Christ? Let us have the courage to do so.



Johannes Reimer, Professor of Missiology at the University of South Africa (UNSA) and was a member of the leadership team of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) for many years.





 



Notes



1. Jón R. Hjálmarsson: The History of Iceland. Reykjavík: Iceland Review 1994, 14.





2. Ibid, 10.





3. Jenny Jochens: Late and Peaceful: Iceland's Conversion Through Arbitration in 1000, in: Speculum 74,3 (1999), 639.





4. Hjálmarsson: The History of Iceland, 31-32.





5. Gunnar Karlsson: Iceland's 1100 Years. The history of a marginal society. London: Hurst, 130-133.





6. Hjálmarsson: The History of Iceland, 197.









9. On the dangers of modern occult movements, see, among other things, my book: Johannes Reimer: Die Gefangenen freisetzen. (Hammerbrücke: jOTA Publikationen GmbH 2022).




 

 


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