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Source: Ancient Origins
 

"When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. You shall be blameless before the Lord your God.” Deuteronomy 18:9-14

     
   

Recent events in Iceland have highlighted the fact that there has been a resurgence of paganism across Europe.

About 1000 years ago, paganism was practically stamped out in Iceland, while Christianity was ushered in. But Nordic neopaganism, under the name of Ásatrúarfélagið (sometimes called Asatru), has now become the fastest growing belief system in the country. And after years in the making, the believers of this faith are on the brink of worshipping in their first temple.

Business Insider Nordic reports the statistics on just how fast Ásatrúarfélagið has grown, “From 570 members in 2002, the ‘association of the faith of the Æsir’ – Ásatrúarfélagið – now numbers 3900 Icelanders, making it the largest non-Christian religion in the country.”

The Ásatrúarfélagið’s first temple, built to honor Odin and Thor, is expected to be ready by the end of 2018. The temple was originally set to be built in 2016, but technical problems have delayed construction work. It is designed by Icelandic architect and Ásatrúarfélagið member Magnús Jensson and will be in Reykjavik.

Jensson has designed the temple with a focus on the close relationship between the earth, sky, and sun. The plan for the building, which has a capacity of up to 250 people, includes a rock wall from the hillside, a south-facing glass wall, and a domed ceiling with a skylight.

Business Insider Nordic believes that the temple, Hof Ásatrúarfélagsins, will not be the only Ásatrúarfélagið temple in Iceland for very long. The city of Reykjavik donated the land for the temple’s construction and it seems other regions have also expressed an interest in having similar temples built in their backyards as well.

Over the past two centuries, Europe has become increasingly secular. Scholars in fact no longer talk of the Christian West when they speak of Modern Europe and North America, but of the Secular West. There is however evidence of a spiritual revival stirring on the continent where God is supposedly dead.

Old traditions pre-dating the appearance of the Jewish carpenter turned Messiah are beginning to re-emerge. Since the 19th century, there has been an increasing interest in ancient pre-Christian European religions such as ancient Greek, Germanic, Celtic, and Slavic paganism. This stems from an increasing interest in spirituality in Europe, specifically a spirituality in touch with European heritage and ethnic roots in a similar manner to indigenous religions of Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians.

Ancient and Modern Combine

Among modern Pagans, there are two approaches to reviving pagan practices. One is eclecticism or syncretism, in which elements of historical ethnic religions such as the ancient Norse religion are combined with modern movements such as Wicca, Theosophy or other New Age philosophies. This is largely based on romantic views of these ancient religions which emerged in the 19th century which may or may not be historically accurate.

In Iceland, the Norse gods are making a particularly strong comeback and Nordic paganism is now Iceland’s fastest growing religion. In fact, they will soon complete the first temple to Thor and Odin to exist in Iceland in over 1000 years. “I don’t believe anyone believes in a one-eyed man who is riding about on a horse with eight feet,” High priest Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson told the Guardia n. “We see the stories as poetic metaphors and a manifestation of the forces of nature and human psychology.”

Denmark too completed a pagan temple dedicated to Odin for the first time in a millennium in 2016.

Reconstructing the Past

The other approach is polytheistic reconstructionism which is an attempt to make an historically accurate reconstruction of these ancient religions based on historical sources, archaeological data, and perhaps ethnographic comparison. Reconstructionists avoid embellishing ancient pagan religions with modern movements and ideologies.

Germanic Paganism

One of the largest movements currently which can be either syncretic or reconstructionist is the revival of Germanic Paganism or “Heathenry.” Modern Germanic Pagans or Heathens, as they prefer to call themselves, worship the old Germanic gods, especially Thor and Odin as well as Germanic nature spirits such as Elves and Trolls. Germanic Heathens appear to have three different approaches to proselytizing and practicing their religion. Some Heathens emphasize simply the worship of the Germanic gods and believe that anyone regardless of their national, ethnic, or racial background can worship the Gods. These are the universalists.

There are other Heathens, however, who believe that Germanic cultural and spiritual values also need to be adopted in order to be true worshipers of the Germanic gods. Most of the latter group of Heathens also believe that worship of the Germanic gods is not limited to any particular ethnic or racial background simply that those individuals interested in worshiping them should learn something about and agree with some aspects of the culture from which they originated. Germanic Paganism is after all technically an ethnic religion. There are some Heathens however who call themselves Folkists or Folkish Heathens who believe that only those who are of White Northern European descent have any right to worship the Gods. These are the ones that tend to promote White supremacism and other explicitly racist agendas. Other Heathens, as a result, try to distance themselves from the Folkists, even those who would otherwise agree that Heathens who worship the Germanic gods should adopt Germanic values.

Slavic Paganism

Slavic Paganism or Heathenry is also enjoying a resurgence in Eastern Europe in countries with large Slavic populations. A movement known as Rodnovery or “Native Faith” is made up of communities which claim to continue the ancient Slavic religion which was mostly replaced by Eastern Orthodox Christianity. This movement is especially strong in Poland despite the nation’s dominant Catholic identity. Many Rodnovery are self-described reconstructionists but others claim direct continuity with the ancient traditions claiming that their families continued the old religion in secret or in cloaked form alongside Christianity.

Revival of the Greek Gods

In Greece, a couple of organizations have emerged promoting a revival of the ancient Greek religion under the name “Hellenism.” The Hellenists also call themselves Dodekatheists or believers in twelve gods, namely the Olympian deities. Religious practices in Hellenism include public worship at temples or in outdoor open spaces of the major Greek gods, Zeus, Apollo, Artemis, Hera, Athena, Ares, Aphrodite, Demeter, Hephaestus, Hermes, Hestia, Dionysus, Hades and Poseidon among others. There is also a large household worship component centered on domestic Greek deities such as Hestia, goddess of the hearth. Most Hellenists are politically inactive but some of them desire to create a national and ethnic identity for Greece not rooted in Eastern Orthodoxy. Some Hellenists have been vocally hostile towards the Greek Orthodox Church but many simply want to practice their religion amicably alongside Greek Christians.

The Return of Celtic Paganism

In addition to the revival of Greek, Germanic, and Slavic forms of paganism, there is also an attempt to revive Celtic paganism. There are both reconstructionist Modern Celtic Pagans and syncretic Modern Celtic Pagans who also incorporate Wicca and other traditions into their religion. Modern Celtic Pagans use the Lunar calendar of the ancient Celts and celebrate the solstices and equinoxes as well as the cross-quarter days, days that are half-way between one of the solstices and one of the equinoxes, as religious festivals. These festivals include the well-known festivals of Samhain and Imbolc. There does not appear to have been any attempt to connect Contemporary Celtic Paganism to a political agenda or nationalist movement unlike the other forms of Contemporary Paganism.

The Past Meets the Future

Religions tend to shape civilizations. When Europe became Christian and the Middle East and North Africa became Muslim, two different civilizations were formed which were quite different because of the religious traditions on which they were based. Europe most likely won’t become pagan again, but it is interesting to think of what sort of civilization would be birthed from the revival of one of these ancient religious traditions. What would a modern Pagan Greece look like culturally and politically, for example? One thing is for certain, it would go in a rather different direction than either a Christian or Secularist Greece.


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