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Pagan temple to rise in Iceland, the first in over 1,000 years

Devotees of Ásatrúarfélagið, an Icelandic pagan religion, expect to raise U.S. $975,000 to construct a pyramid-like pagan temple near Reykjavik, Iceland's capital. A new pagan temple would be the first in over 1,000 years of Christian worship in the country.

But the plan to offer obeisance to traditional deities Thor, Odin and Frigg may be more metaphorical than metaphysical, a devotee said.

"I don't believe anyone believes in a one-eyed man who is riding about on a horse with eight feet," noted Icelandic composer Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, who identified himself as a high priest of Ásatrúarfélagið, an association that promotes faith in the Norse gods, to Reuters. "We see the stories as poetic metaphors and a manifestation of the forces of nature and human psychology."

Ásatrúarfélagið, or Asatru, has 2,382 members in Iceland, according to Statistics Iceland, the national statistical agency. That's just 1 percent compared with the 244,440 members of Iceland's Evangelical Lutheran Church, but nearly nine times the 268 members reported by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The BBC, translating and condensing a report in the Icelandic newspaper Morgunbladid, said the "building will take the form of a half-buried dome, aligned with the path of the Sun. Architect Magnus Jensson has incorporated the mathematical 'golden ratio' in his design, as well as the numbers nine and 432,000 — which are sacred to the Asatru rite and other pagan religions."

Reuters noted the renewal of interest in paganism turns the clock back a full millennium.

"Worship of the gods in Scandinavia gave way to Christianity around 1,000 years ago but a modern version of Norse paganism has been gaining popularity in Iceland," Reuters reported. However, while neopagans omit animal sacrifices, they "still celebrate the ancient sacrificial ritual of Blot with music, reading, eating and drinking."

The Asatru website, written in Icelandic but translated via Google, states the modern version of the pagan traditions was organized in 1972 and recognized by the Icelandic government in 1973. It says its faith is a "pagan rite based on tolerance, honesty, honor and respect for the ancient cultural heritage and nature. One principal function … is that each person is responsible for themselves and their actions."

Email: mkellner@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @Mark_Kellner