This past February, I shared a report that an Icelandic Heathen group, Ásatrúarfélagið, also known as the Ásatrú Society of Iceland, was building the first pagan temple in that country in 1000 years. The report was of interest to Humanistic Pagans, because the high priest of the group, Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson, had been criticized by both theists and atheists — including some Pagans — in the U.S. for his statement that the the gods are “poetic metaphors” and “manifestations of the forces of nature and human psychology,” a sentiment which resonates with many Humanistic Pagans. This was something of an embarrassment for some of the more dogmatic Polytheists in the U.S. Some further investigation revealed Ásatrúarfélagið is a non-dogmatic faith, and that the beliefs of its adherents may range from atheism to pantheism to a tepid sort of theism. It was clear though that the group’s high priest, Hilmarsson, wished to distance himself from what he called the “fundamentalist Ásatrúar” in the United States.
Distinguishing themselves from more conservative Heathen groups has been an ongoing concern for the Ásatrúarfélagið. In 2014, the group issued a statement, in English, rejecting racism and disavowing any association or affiliation with racist heathen organizations: “We particularly reject the use of Ásatrú as a justification for supremacy ideology, militarism and animal sacrifice.” According to Paul Fontaine, “Ásatrú is a polytheistic pagan faith which emphasises harmony with nature, living honourably, and treating others with respect.” The group’s statement went on to request that those visiting Ásatrúar not to assume that the group agrees with or endorses the visitors’ views on the form that Ásatrú should take in the modern world.
More recently, Hilmarsson has reported receiving hate mail from abroad from other Heathens who disapprove of the liberal beliefs and attitudes of the Icelandic group, particularly the group’s respect for gay rights and its fight to be allowed to marry same-sex couples. A recent report noted an increase in demand for both Pagan and humanist weddings in Iceland. Both Ásatrúarfélagið and the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association were instrumental in the legalization of same-sex marriage in Iceland. Hilmar reportedly heard of some foreign groups that intend to visit the Icelandic temple to consecrate it in their own fashion in order to “correct” the heterodoxy of the Icelandic heathens. Hilmarsson has responded that he believes his group’s attitudes are consonant with those of the rest of modern Icelandic society and that Ásatrúarfélagið is not interested in reviving the morality of Viking warriors from 2000 years ago.
Many Pagans have now expressed their support of the Icelandic society in comments to news reports, on a Change.org petition started by Yvonne Aburrow, and a Facebook group. I have signed the Change.org petition myself and on behalf of Humanistic Paganism.com. I believe it behooves us to support those, like Ásatrúarfélagið, who are working to show the world that religious humanists can be as serious about our religion as theists, and especially those that take stand for LGBT equality and inclusion.