A shrine is being built in Iceland for the worship of Thor, Odin and all the other names of Norse paganism. It is under a religious organization called Ásatrúarfélagið– which is Icelandic for “the community that believes in the gods.” English-speakers commonly referred to them as the Ásatrú community. It is easier. A temple to the Norse gods has been absent in Iceland for centuries. It even has its own high priest or high chieftain who is a well-known musician and composer in Iceland. Long discarded rituals will now be observed once again in the solaces of a temple.
As of this writing the Ásatrú temple is under construction and is located between Reykjavik University and a cemetery. Currently it is not so easy to find and has no apparent parking lot. The construction site is tucked away in some woods close to the shoreline and there are at least two walking/biking trails that pass by it. At the moment most residents of Reykjavik (called Reykjavikingur) cannot show you where it is.
If you ask, “Where is the Ásatrúarfélagið temple?” you will witness the Icelandic pause as they try to grasp the magnitude of your mispronunciation. The list of possible things you tried to say must be sorted through. The Icelandic are patient people and want to help the wayfarer. They will try as best they can, but trust me, re-mispronouncing it does not help. As far as this temple is concerned there have been delays in construction. It has received considerable sums in foreign donations and eventually it will be built.
In the past few decades Iceland has had a rising trend in paganism. This shrine will be a worthy place to revive the old ceremonies. It would seem that Viking architecture with all the trimmings of roughhewn lumber and stone is required ambiance for that appropriate Nordic atmosphere. Let’s face it, worshiping Thor in an Ikea parking lot just breaks the mood. But there is something quite odd and contradictory about all this. These particular modern-day worshippers of Odin admit they do not believe in him, or any other god for that matter. In fact, they are atheists. Does this render the name of the group ironic or is it a lie? Perhaps they could choose a name more accurately:“the-community-that-does-not-really-believe-in-the-gods-but-will-build-a-temple-for-them-anyway.” Having no faith in the gods they will gladly keep the appearance as though they did – but to certain limits.
The old Norse rituals of the past were called blót, which is a word that simply means “sacrifice” (blót is where we get the English word “blood”). Horses and pigs were slaughtered in worship then blood was sprinkled on idols and all. This was done across large gatherings of worshippers. Also included in the blót were feasting and drinking. It should come as no surprise that modern day pagans gravitate to gorging and binging but are less than eager to embrace the messy job of slaughtering animals outright. They reject it altogether. So, let us put some things together: These people are building a temple to the Norse gods while neither believing in their existence nor wanting to serve them as recorded by the genuine worshipers of the past. That is like building a mosque while rejecting Mohammed and actual Islamic practices. What is the point? All you have done is build a prop.
That brings us to the question: Why a shrine? Do you need to set up a religion and build a temple to rouse up a rip-roaring party? That appears to be the real objective. If the Ásatrúarfélagið have admitted to an atheistic stand then their only conviction in building a temple is based on the prospect of profiting from it as a party house – a den of iniquity with an entrance fee. Well, you can certainly bank on iniquity. Anyone entertaining the weakness of others can make money from it. This temple is a place to invoke the worst in people and allow the godless to be godless. It is like Pleasure Island in Pinocchio, but with mutton.
There is always good money to be made in owning venues for carousing. Why not build a typical bar? It must be easier and cheaper. Well, there is something to be said about the growth of tourism based on the assurance of easy immoral amusement. Let’s face it: a tavern in Reykjavik is not as likely to become a travel destination for international guests as would a Norse temple attraction. The lure is already gaining ground. But there is another reason. Officially recognized religious organizations receive money from the Icelandic government. How much krona depends on the number of registered members a religious group has in Iceland. A temple dedicated to Odin is in reality a Viking themed ploy for easy money from both neo-pagan drunks and the government. You have to hand it to them: charging all visitors, foreign pilgrims and partiers while subsidies come from the Icelandic government is a brilliant business plan. While clever it is not exactly original.
It can be astonishing how quickly men will become opportunists taking control of a setting involving religion with the design and intent for money, prestige and power. Something happened in 1993 at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. An ordinary four-foot-tall concrete traffic barrier in the park suddenly became an idol. Yep, it was recognized as a standard image corresponding to Shiva, a Hindu god. The news of a Shiva shrine in the park spread and in little time worshippers came to the park with offerings for the traffic barrier. These admirers were not limited to Hindus. It appealed to Buddhists and New Agers. If these sacrificial gifts were limited to wreaths of flowers this could have been a manageable situation for park staff and police. But there was much more. Money, food, and the ritualistic pouring of milk over the barrier caused various problems. Soon rats and bugs came for the food and men came for the money, especially one man who appointed himself custodian of the shrine and gatherer of all contributions. He was a homeless man who lived in the park. He said he knew all along that Shiva lived in the barrier. This guy who lives in the park just happens to be a devoted believer, worshipper and expert on Shiva? I doubt he could have identified Shiva in a lineup with Smurfs and Blue Man Group. But he managed to become the impromptu high priest. You might imagine the competition for that top position was steady. He would not be able to keep it indefinitely. As for the milk it just smelled bad.
This newly identified idol attracted increasing crowds of devotees causing more problems for the park. When one man was asked why he thought this bullet-shaped traffic barrier was a god he replied, “If this is not Shiva then why is it accepting worship?” That would be a great question except I have a hunch all traffic barriers sit quietly when worshipped. That is the awkward thing about traffic barriers. They do not share their real feelings. It is not as though it could walk off, drive worshippers away or hold a press conference and emphatically deny being Shiva. An inanimate object is inanimate and is subject to whatever the animate world inflicts upon it. If we follow his logic, then anything that accedes to being worshipped should be worshipped. I know of several celebrities (and a few dictators) who gladly accept worship, in fact they crave it. Should they be deified? Other worshippers of the traffic barrier gave more deductive observations. They were certain the stone image had been growing since it was first venerated. There was a consensus among some that it had become taller. The park gardener, who knew it when, said it was exactly the same size as it always was.
The city of San Francisco decided the traffic barrier had to go. It was causing too many complications for the park. The city did not want it. Clashes began between worshippers, park staff and the increasing draw on the local ne’er-do-wells. Add to that the tricky policy of separation of church and state to consider and things get politically prickly. The city gave the traffic barrier to a local artist who graciously granted visitation rights to one and all. And, of course, a cover charge is collected. As for the homeless man, he lost his spot as priest of the deified traffic barrier since he had nowhere to put it.
So, returning back to Iceland we must ask the question, what is the attraction to Norse paganism? It has little to do with anything Nordic and everything to do with the special lure of paganism to a godless society looking for lifeless empty. Perhaps people want to be anchored to something seemingly greater than themselves which authorizes them to do what they wanted to do in the first place. It is an ancient pattern woven through the ages. It is known as idolatry. This is a wicked, slick material with spiritual embroidery glistening with style. It is known as idolatry controlled by a set group ready for the take. A devil in pompous vestments offers something to unabashed decadence that decadence cannot supply on its own: a seemingly dirt-free pretext. That devil will get paid for his service. What appears to be shallow wickedness suddenly has a reason backing it. Licentiousness may need no excuse, but it will certainly accept one. Somehow the aura of otherworldly powers will convince us this is not just self-indulgence. A quick religious pretext supplies permission and purpose to whatever wickedness we wish. It offers a spiritual backdrop to make depravity look…less depraved. Sure, its debauchery, but it is purposeful debauchery. This is hedonism devout and fervent. An element of performed piety might make it irreproachable. This very thing can be witnessed in typical renaissance art. An artist paints unmistakable porn in fresco. What is it? It is clearly larger-than-life pornography rendered on the ceiling. You cannot exactly hide that. What now? The solution is simple. A Biblical name is in order. A naked woman in the painting suddenly becomes Mary. A naked man is simply named Abraham or Adam. E voilà! All is fine. The whole thing is promptly transformed into Biblical appreciation and education. The nude theme is now only a trivial consideration to the important bit: the spiritual intent of the work. It is that easy. Atheism is pathetic in cases like this. Naming the painting “Australopithecus” or “Missing Link” or “Darwin” misses the boat.
Atheists of this generation easily shift into neo-paganism just as the ancient atheists drifted into paganism in their day (described well in Romans chapter 1).It is a growing trend. When atheism is prevalent in a large population it will never lead to the lifting of mankind but to the dark ages of polytheism and earth religions. The reasons are simple: man cannot live without a god of some sort. We are spiritual beings. We will worship something. If man desires unchained degeneracy, it is helpful to have a god who permits it. Atheism (in its uncompromised form) does not really offer that. Sure, it permits a life of godlessness and allows for anything, but it also leads directly into the dark void of nihilism – life is a dismal, meaningless abyss. There is nothing quite like a generous helping of personal worthlessness to brighten your day. Believing life is empty and pointless just drops the wet blanket on everything and dampers the party vibe. It is here that paganism outperforms atheism like a NOS-fed superbike let loose on the Salt Flats. First,(like atheism) paganism is utterly profane. That is imperative. A large dose of rebellion demands an act of brazen, high-handed, fire eating blasphemy. Second, it is the hot spring for the voluptuary. Sensuality has its expectations and atheism just falls flat here. Nothing can quite match paganism’ spirited symposiums around the bonfire. Third, paganism manages to offer an appealing solution to those pesky questions from reality in which atheists prefer to forget. In the vacuum of atheism there seems to be one surefire way to suppress those badgering thoughts – intoxication. These are the riddles of the enigmatic nature of being which are unanswerable. Evolution removed everything beyond the natural and yet, nature is helpless to explain itself by itself. Under atheism this is a self-generated universe where everything is understood by physical properties only, but those same physical properties cannot bring nature about. Things that should not exist somehow existing anyway. Things that simply should not be, simply are. Eventually the outstanding paradox comes into contact with the mind and does not let go: the natural world existing by its own power is unnatural. What can one do?
Old-time idolatry does the trick every time. It ist he preferred means of justifying the inexcusable while also explaining the inexplicable. Bad behavior cannot be so bad since it is done in worship to the gods who celebrate such conduct anyway. It is expected. With paganism the spiritual side of man has a better means of being explained, even though it is wrong. Here is the big distinction: atheism denies the supernatural, while paganism embraces it. There is a side of man that is unnerving. That part is mysterious, conflicted, ever present, and still cannot be understood by evolution. There are too many holes in atheism for it to decipher the perplexities of the human soul. Something as simple as the feeling of guilt aggravated Nietzsche to no end – guilt should not exist and yet it persists. He too relied on the bottle for a temporary cure. The dualism of man (body and spirit) leaves atheism helpless. There are too many demands left unresolved with the human mind, self-destructive action and conscience. The atheist is a human soul flatly denying the existence of the human soul and finds he is at odds with himself. In this respect atheists are very similar to Christian Science and Mary Baker Eddie who call all reality in question. They all vocalize one thing while their actions reveal the opposite. The atheist argues his point, but his soul does not follow through. Thus, enters the old champion: paganism. It denies God while offering a solution to the vast mysteries of humanity and the universe. It wins over atheism every time; and man wanders further into darkness. That makes them easy pickings for a scoundrel dressed in a robe. He will gladly lead them to fleece them.
“Because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” (Romans 1:21-23).