At the future site of the Ásatrú temple, people gathered to observe the Solar Eclipse, which took place at 9:38 am on Friday, March 20. At 10:38 am, Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, head of the Ásatrú association, broke ground to commence the construction of the new temple.
“The last time there was a solar eclipse was 61 years ago,” said Hilmar. “I thought it was an opportune moment today. There’s also the equinox later today, so it’s the perfect occasion.”
News of the “Viking” temple’s construction spread across the world in February. This is the first pagan temple being built in Iceland for over a 1000 years.
“The temple has been planned for 40 years, but the real resurgence of interest started in 2000,” said Hilmar. “That’s when we saw an upward curve of enrolment. I think it has to do with the rituals we are doing. We are doing more marriages, more name-givings, and, unfortunately, more funerals. It means people are being exposed to it. When people attend our ceremonies, about 90% of those people are not part of the society, but they see what we are doing has substance and dignity and beauty. That’s what draws people to us.”
The solar eclipse ceremony was simple, but alluring. Longhaired men and fur-wrapped women sang hymn-like songs to the beat of soft drums. Hilmar spilled beer from his drinking horn, while horns honked in unison to announce the coming of the eclipse.
“This is a fantastic moment in the Ásatrú,” said Gunnar Viking Olafsson, jarl of the Einherjar Vikings of Reykjavík. “After a thousand years, we are now going to see the temple being built. Seeing the darkness and then seeing the light–as soon as the high light comes at the highest, we put the shovel in the ground.”
Gunnar was dressed in full viking attire: helmet, fur, and boots. However, the modern solar eclipse glasses clashed with his ancient garments. He’s an Icelander who grew up in America, but moved back to Iceland when he turned 20. Einherjar Vikings means “army of one,” and Oðin means “the one.” They are Oðin’s army. The group’s mission is “to show tribute to the Vikings and other warriors alike so they may never be forgotten.”
“People say this is a christian country. Yes, it is, but I think deep in the heart of the people we are really heathens,” said Gunnar. “It calls back to the beginning. If we are so christian in this country, wouldn’t we be seeing our vessels and our buildings being called christian names? We have the names of Oðin and Þór and Baldúr. Our helicoptors, Our equipment, they all have the god’s names. It connects to that time.”
Learn more about Ásatrú at asatru.is.
The Einherjar Vikings of Reykjavík can be reached at their Facebook page. They are always looking for new members.
*Correction: The piece originally said, “This is the first pagan temple being built in over a 1000 years.” It’s the first in Iceland.