REYKJAVIK, Iceland (Christian Examiner) – The first major temple to the Norse gods since the Viking age is starting construction this month underground on a hill overlooking Reykjavik.
As far-fetched as it may sound, worship of a slew of Norse gods is to take place -- including worship of Odin, the ruler of the gods; his son Thor, god of thunder and battle; and Frigga, Odin's wife and goddess of marriage and motherhood.
While a 2012 Gallup poll found 57 percent of people living in Iceland considered themselves "a religious person," only about 10 percent found themselves in a worship service once a month.
Membership in Ásatrúarfélagið – an association that promoteS faith in Norse gods – however, has tripled in the last decade, to 2,400 members last year, out of a total population of about 320,000, according to Statistics Iceland.
This corresponds to a decline in the national church, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland, which lost more than 7,000 members – out of 245,456 – in 2009 and 2010. Roman Catholics, lumped in as part of the 18,662 "other and not specified" group of Iceland's religious members, also lost members.
Part of the loss of both Lutheran and Catholic members can be traced to sex abuse scandals investigated in and around 2010, according to an article in The Daily Best which also said Iceland has one of the world's "highest rates" of atheism and is indunated with anything from Pagan street names to surnames developed from Thor.
Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson a high priest of Ásatrúarfélagið, said in a recent article in The Guardian news publication in England the gods are based in literature, nature and psychology.
"We see the stories [of Norse gods] as poetic metaphors and a manifestation of the forces of nature and human psychology," Hilmarsson said.
Worship of Norse gods started to decline about 1,000 years ago, as Christianity gained ground when kings converted, after concluding that Christians were better at paying taxes, and when merchants refused to trade with pagans, according to an article in Quora.com.
The new Norse gods' temple in Reykjavik, to be dug about 13 feet underground, also is to be circular, with a dome on top to let in the sunlight.
Ceremonies are to take place in the temple, such as weddings, funerals, conferring names on children and initiating teens, similar to what is done in Christian houses of worship.
Children are automatically registered at birth into Iceland's National Church, and many are life-long members, according to an article in WowAir, an Icelandic Airlines publication.
"The most thought tends to go into it at the age of 13, when nearly everybody gets confirmed, largely because they get gifts from friends and family worth several different birthdays' worth of money in one single day," the article continued.
Largely, the hundreds of churches dotting the landscape are said to be historic reminders of a by-gone era to Icelanders.
"In fact, many non-religious members of the National Church remain inside the organization precisely because of the tax money their membership brings to maintaining said churches," the writer of the article claimed.
The new Norse gods' temple is to receive its share of national tax dollars.