Published June 11, 2004


Icelanders rarely go to church outside of weddings and funerals. For the last three decades, however, there has been something of a revival in the worship of the Old Norse gods. Iceland became Christian in the year 1000, and it wasn’t until 1973 that the old gods were once again granted official recognition. At the time, it was the only country where such recognition was granted, but Norway has since followed suit. The religion today numbers some 700 members.

The order has become intertwined with the Viking festival, held in Hafnafjörður every year at summer solstice, where worshippers and Viking aficionados gather together from all over the world. This year, the festival runs from the 16th to the 20th of June. Among the attractions is a virtual fight between Christian and heathen Vikings. Sparks fly as blades clash, shields are battered and men are bruised, and the Christians will, no doubt, be soundly beaten. The Viking ship Icelander accepts passengers for cruises, and this years special guests are a theatre group from Africa. The host of the event is, as always, the Viking Elvis himself, Steinn Ármann.

At six o’ clock on the final day, the pagans march, in full Viking regalia of course, towards the stone gate by the harbour and raise their flags, coincidentally at the seat of the first Lutheran church in Iceland. Thereafter, the Allsherjargoði, the head of the worshippers, consecrates the festival by lighting their symbol. The festival accommodates all sorts, from Englishmen primarily interested in the fighting styles, to more peaceful Swedes more interested in the storytelling aspect of Vikingdom, to American true believers who come here to worship the old Gods. But everyone is welcome to participate, and get some impression of what life was like here in Viking times. And the pagans are known to be generous with the beer.

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