The Asatru Association (Ásatrúarfelagið) in Iceland is a religious entity that prescribes to the ancient belief system followed by the Norse people. They believe in the Norse pantheon and are well versed in the Norse folklore, Eddas, and sagas. Their religion is re-creative with the goal of maintaining the ancient traditions, beliefs and ways of the Norse. According to Iceland’s history, Iceland was first settled around 874 a.d. (possibly as early as 870 a.d.) by a Norwegian family who followed the old Norse traditions, beliefs, and ways. Within 60 years, Iceland was settled primarily by Norwegian, Irish, and Scottish origin people. The Irish and Scottish were of the slave class brought by their Norse masters who were fleeing from the King of Norway, Haraldur Harfagri also known as Harald the First of Norway, who had labeled them as “malcontents of Norway”. This is one of the reasons why The Asatru Association is dedicated to preserving Iceland’s Norse root heritage. They do not want to see the ways, beliefs, and traditions of their ancestors become extinct.
The Asatru Association first began in early 1972 as a small group of people getting together and discussing the Norse spiritual belief system in a cafe, Reykjavik in Iceland. During the early years of this organization, 4 men became The Asatru Association’s leaders. These four men were from different backgrounds; one a farmer, another a “jack of all trades”, the third a journalist, and the fourth was a leader of a group devoted to the theories of Helgi Pjeturss (1872 – 1949) who was an Icelandic geologist and philosopher that wrote essays about astrobiology. The Asatru Association became an actual organization the summer of 1972 in a meeting at the Hotel Borg, and Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson, the farmer of the 4 men mentioned above, was recognized by the now larger group as the first Allsherjargothi (head spiritual leader) of the Ásatrúarfelagið. In December 1972, Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson (the first Allsherjargothi) and Þorsteinn Guðjónsson (one of the four men who was this organization’s first leaders and the one devoted to the theories of Helgi Pjeturss) visited Iceland’s Minister of Justice and Ecclesiastical Affairs. These two men were determined to get The Asatru Association recognized and registered as an official religious organization (receive legal church status). This was not an easy task, for at first, the Minister of Justice and Ecclesiastical Affairs did not take them seriously. Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson and Þorsteinn Guðjónsson were forced to fill out extra paperwork to show their dedication toward registering their association as a viable religious entity. The newspaper, Visir, picked up on the request to register of the Ásatrúarfelagið and began publishing articles about this which prompted the Bishop of Iceland’s recommendation to the Office of Justice and Ecclesiastical Affairs against The Asatru Association receiving registration as a church. The Bishop’s stand was that Iceland Law only recognized monotheistic religions. This ensued a great debate within the Icelandic government that had to take The Asatru Association’s application seriously since it had been properly registered with the appropriate documents and added paperwork under the direction of the Minister of Justice and Ecclesiastical Affairs. The Asatru Association reminded the Icelandic government of Iceland’s Norse roots, pointing out that the ways of the old Norse deities was the religion followed of Iceland’s original settlers. This debate lasted about 5 months with each church having its say, ending on May 1973 with a governmental decision in favor of the Ásatrúarfelagið; primarily due to the fact that Iceland has a Republic with a parliamentary government where the “Althingi and President jointly exercise the legislative power” (per the Constitution of the Republic of Iceland), and the branch known as the “Althingi” has the same Norse roots as the belief system prescribed by The Asatru Association. The Icelandic government further pointed out that Iceland was not Christianized until the 11th century; two centuries after the original Norse settlers and the “Althingi” branch of government were established.
Even though the Icelandic government decided in favor of The Asatru Association, giving more freedom of religion than previously, this does not mean they have freedom of religion equal to that bestowed upon Americans in the United States. What the Icelandic government’s decision really meant for its citizens, was that it is legal to be a member or participate in any recognized church by The Republic of Iceland. In other words, the two legal religious choices after May 1973 for a citizen of Iceland was being a Christian or a follower of the ancient Norse belief through The Asatru Association. In 1975, the “Althingi” branch of Iceland’s government changed the law making it more difficult for new religious organizations to gain church status. In spite of this, other pagan religions have been recognized by the Iceland government since 2000 to present.
The Asatru Association is a completely separate organization from anything labeled Asatru elsewhere. It has nothing to do with the Asatru Alliance, the Asatru Folk Assembly, or any other Asatru group outside of Iceland. Members are required to be a legal resident of Iceland (this is law for all churches in Iceland) and at least 16 years of age. Their services are spoken in Norse and Icelandic. The Asatru Association has a chat board on the Internet where some of the discussions are in English and they are willing through this medium to speak with those outside of Iceland who are like-minded. If you are a visitor of Iceland and wish to visit this particular church, they have a reception for visitors on Saturdays. Their address, phone number, email address, and fax number are listed on the official Ásatrúarfelagið website. The Asatru Association has grown much in membership since its establishment (May 1973) as a recognized religion in Iceland. The last membership count was completed in 2009 with a tally of 1,395; an increase of membership well above 29% since 1973.
Presently, in Iceland, Church and State are still not separate. The churches receive money from a mandatory “Church tax” that the taxpayers of Iceland pay for the recognized religion of their choice. Upon this tax’s collection, the Iceland government bestows the taxed money to the churches. The Asatru Association, primarily sides with the Liberal Party platform, and has occasionally taken stances on political issues in opposition of abortion and the liberalization of narcotics, but in favor of gay marriage, religious freedom, the separation of Church and State, and protection of the environment. The Ásatrúarfelagið in 2000 helped the Buddhist Association of Iceland become recognized as a religious organization, and continues these types of efforts in encouragement for freedom of religion in Iceland. It further has established good relations with the Lutheran church, assists with community service type of things, thereby proving people of different religious backgrounds can make a positive impact upon society when working together in common causes. Proof that people of diverse religious backgrounds can get along with one another. In comparison to the freedoms given to the citizens of the United States, Iceland has a long way to go, however, Iceland is ahead of many Christian-based nations by their legal allowance of some non-Christian spiritual paths being recognized as churches. Even though Immigration Laws are very strict, all are welcome to vacation in Iceland.
The official website of the Ásatrúarfelagið: http://www.asatru.is/
Ásatrúarfelagið, Wikipedia website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%81satr%C3%BAarf%C3%A9lagi%C3%B0#Politics_and_activism
Helgi Pjeturss, Wikipedia website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helgi_Pjeturss
Iceland “Church Tax”, Wikipedia website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_tax#Iceland
History of Iceland, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Iceland
Constitution of the Republic of Iceland, official government website: http://www.government.is/constitution