Column: Ásatrúarfélagið threatened with vandalism over LGBTQ support

Eric O. Scott —  July 18, 2015 — 25 Comments

Ásatrúarfélagið, the Icelandic Ásatrú organization, has attracted widespread international attention since announcing plans to build a temple in downtown Reykajavík last February. Although much of that attention has been positive, it was reported earlier this week by the Icelandic news service Vísir that Ásatrúarfélagið had received hate mail and threats of vandalism from foreign Pagans. These threats have, in turn, forced Ásatrúarfélagið to consider the security of its temple and the relationship of its organization to the rest of the world.

asatruarfelagid logo

According to the alsherjargoði, or high priest, of Ásatrúarfélagið, Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, the society began to receive large amounts of hate-mail in February, just after a widely-circulated article about the temple was published in Iceland Magazine. Although the society has always attracted the occasional letter of this sort throughout its four-decade history, this surge of messages was unprecedented.

Even more troubling, however, are alleged plans by several Heathen groups in Germany and the United States to “re-consecrate” the Icelandic temple once it has been completed. “At least three groups have been talking about going to Iceland,” Hilmar told The Wild Hunt. “They say, ‘it’s our temple, it’s our heritage, and these Icelandic idiots are doing it all wrong.'”

These re-consecration ceremonies reportedly would involve scattering blood throughout the temple, which goes against Ásatrúarfélagið’s condemnation of animal sacrifice in their religious practice. The rituals, should they be attempted, would be intended to suggest the illegitimacy of Ásatrúarfélagið, while at the same time acknowledging the importance of the temple.

From Ásatrúarfélagið’s point of view, many of the recent attacks stem from a perception that the organization wants to dictate the rules of Ásatrú for everyone. “The thing is, because we have made a point of being the Icelandic Ásatrú society, we don’t do outreach,” says Hilmar. “We never really have never had any interest whatsoever in guiding anyone outside of Iceland in their beliefs. Everyone is free to do what they want on their own turf. We are working in Iceland to serve Icelandic needs.” Hilmar does not believe his duties involve being a Heathen missionary: “We are not looking for lost sheep from the house of Ingvar Ragnarsson.”

Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, alsherjargoði of Ásatrúarfélagið. From his Wikipedia page.

Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, alsherjargoði of Ásatrúarfélagið. [via Wikimedia]

In particular, there is a clash between Ásatrúarfélagið’s long-held support for same-sex marriages and some anti-LGBTQ Heathens. Ásatrúarfélagið advocated for the legal authority to perform same-sex marriages as early as 2003, years before Iceland passed its 2010 gender-neutral marriage law. Ásatrú weddings are increasingly popular among same-sex couples in Iceland today. Although Heathenry at large does not discriminate against homosexuality, there are some segments of the religion that consider homosexuality to be inherently dishonorable, and an extreme fringe that sees any support for LGBTQ issues as equivalent to “spiritual terrorism.” This fringe seems to be responsible for the majority of the messages being delivered to Ásatrúarfélagið since February.

Given these threats of vandalism, Ásatrúarfélagið now must consider how to handle foreign visitors to its temple. One idea being considered is to only allow visitors into the temple as part of guided tours. “When it was first suggested to me, I just laughed it off and said, ‘no, no, that won’t be necessary,'” said Hilmar. “To me, the idea of a religious building is that it should be open for worship. The last two or three months have really made me reconsider. We are used to people coming to us – in the summer time, there are more foreigners in our open house meetings in our office in Síðmúla than there are Icelanders. We’re used to those people being really polite and really nice and thanking us for the hospitality… So it’s a shock that we’re suddenly being put into this spot.”

After the publication of the article in Vísir, a number of Pagans have posted notices supporting Ásatrúarfélagið and calls for equality throughout Paganism. At the time of this writing, a Facebook event, “Ásatrúarfélagið – we are at your side!,” created by has attracted nearly 2000 supporters. There have also been petitions created by Pagan writer Yvonne Aburrow and open letters posted by Heathens United Against Racism and Kindred Irminsul, the Costa Rican kindred previously covered by The Wild Hunt. For the Kindred, Esteban Sevilla said:

All the way from Costa Rica, we stand with you and your right to marry LGBT couples. What you have done is admirable and an example to follow, you have stood against racism and homophobia, you believe anyone can practice Ásatrú regardless of their ethnicity or sexuality. To me this deserves an applause and I explicitly request others to send you support in your mission.

Hilmar has expressed his gratitude for the support. “It’s surprised me in a pleasant way,” he said, “because I’m used to nice people not being as vocal as the obnoxious ones.” The outpouring of support has dwarfed the amount of malicious messages, but the attention garnered by the negative statements has worn on the society, especially when they appear in public spaces like Ásatrúarfélagið’s Facebook page.

The temple announcement has attracted more attention than Ásatrúarfélagið was prepared to handle. Just having the staff available to mind the temple full-time may prove to be a challenge, regardless of any threats of vandalism. “Most of the people who work for the society are just doing it as voluntary work,” said Hilmar. “We’re being accused of doing this as a tourist trap. You’ll find that in some of the commentaries – that this is all just a clever ploy to sell things and charge admission, which was never the intention. I don’t know how, during weekdays, we could man the temple as it is. In a way, it’s caught us totally by surprise. The practical issues are totally unresolved.”

Ásatrúarfélagið currently employs only one part-time office clerk. Hilmar added, “If we only had to think about us, then everything would be in place, but now the whole picture seems to have changed.”

Members of Ásatrúarfélagið 2009 [Photo Credit: Lenka Kovářová]

Members of Ásatrúarfélagið 2009 [Photo Credit: Lenka Kovářová]

But in the era of the viral article, it is becoming less and less possible for any organization to only think of its own constituents. Due to its history, both modern and ancient, Iceland continues to have an outsized influence on Ásatrú, despite Ásatrúarfélagið’s insistence on its organization only being interested in the local community. Its temple project has drawn the eyes of many admiring supporters, but also vocal detractors, some of whom may be planning physical or metaphysical vandalism against Ásatrúarfélagið.

“When I lived in the center of Reykjavík, on the road of Freyjugata, people would be pissing in my gardens on the weekends,” Hilmar said. The weariness in his voice is impossible to mistake. “This feels a bit the same. I didn’t like people pissing in my garden, and I don’t like this.”

Eric O. Scott

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Eric O. Scott was raised by witches. He is a contributing editor at Killing the Buddha. He won the Moon Books prize for Best Pagan Fiction Writer Under 30 in 2012. His first book, The Lives of the Apostates, was published in 2013. He received his MFA in Fiction and Creative Nonfiction from the University of Missouri - Kansas City in 2010, and is currently a PHD student in Creative Nonfiction and Medieval Studies at the University of Missouri - Columbia. His middle name is not "Odin."
  • Space Marine Lysana

    One of the arrogances of American Pagans/Heathens is telling the natives how they’re Doing It Wrong(tm). I wish it’d stop already.

    • I agree with you, but let us not forget that it’s not just arrogant Americans, it is equally arrogant Germans as well. It just goes to show that religious extremism and bigotry is not limited to any single religion or nationality. I wish it would ALL stop.

    • Cody Miller

      The article specifically says that the letters are international, and the groups making plans are from GERMANY AND AMERICA. How you cherry picked “Only American heathens are being this ignorant” is beyond me.

  • Genexs

    In regards to the support he is receiving from so many Pagans, Hilmar said “It’s surprised me in a pleasant way…because I’m used to nice people not being as vocal as the obnoxious ones.”

    Truer words have never been spoken.

    • and thus we should speak up–as many have. I feel a deep need to put more positive than negative out to the universe, and speaking vocally for the good tha tis done is part of it.

  • Alwyn Chan

    Well I honestly hope that he remains safe and okay during this entire trying period.. honestly man…. we need to do something to get rid of all those extremists in our midst…

    • Bor1am

      As for Hitler, he was not Asatru, and he did not honor the gods of Asatru. He was using the symbols of Asatru for his own agenda. In reality he was a Roman Catholic who has never been excommunicated, and referred to his Nazism as a “Christian cause”. Any ignorant fool who is a Nazi wannabe and says he’s doing it in the name of the Asatru gods is a deceiver who is cursed to dwell in the coldest, darkest reaches of Niflheim.

  • What groups? I’m still having trouble figuring out if these emails they’re getting really are from actual organizations, or just a couple of internet cranks making waves. It would be helpful if they named names.

    • We did ask that question specifically. However, the Asatruarfelagid has decided not to publicly share the specific names of the organizations or people.

      • I do appreciate you asking, but I do think it makes a big difference whether these emails are coming from some two-man “kindred” in the middle of Idaho, or an international organization like the Odinic Rite. I could certainly believe it of the former, but would be astonished if it were the latter. Unfortunately, by leaving it this vague, some people are going to convince themselves that the Asatru Alliance or something of the sort did this as an official policy.

        • Deborah Bender

          The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks US religious and racist hate groups of all sorts. The SPLC’s most recent annual report listed only a handful of heathen/Odinist/Asatru related hate groups and did not cite that faction as being on the rise in the US. If the groups that are giving the Icelanders trouble are American and are being tracked by the SPLC, the SPLC might be able to provide the Icelandic fellowship with some information on how large and active those groups are, where their headquarters are located, etc. That kind of information might be useful for assessing the threats and planning protective measures.

          • Damiana

            I was thinking along the same lines re SPLC.

            There is an increase in Neo-Nazi power in Scandinavia. Perhaps the Icelandic Heathens can find support and information sharing among Scandinavian Pagans.

    • Shane Viljár Ward

      The groups spreading hate are a couple of notable one…Odinia International (part of Holy nation of Odin), and certain parts of the AFA, I am sure there are others too. But I have seen the comments posted, and it was a disgusting show of behaviour

      • Can you expand on what you mean by “certain parts of the AFA”?

        Does that mean individuals who happen to be members of the AFA? Because either the AFA as an organization would take a stance on something, or it would not. It doesn’t have individual autonomous “parts” that can do things independently.

  • I reblogged another article about this same topic a few days ago, and wondered whether or not any new developments would be brought to the surface once TWH got a hold of it. My opinion remains unchanged: the hate and fear mongering against the LGBT community is, in my opinion, more of a political expression than a religious one; and does not represent the Heathen system of beliefs itself.

  • Harry Underwood

    So they’re going to pay a lot of money to fly to Reykjavik just to spread blood on a building? WTF Priorities?

  • Northern_Light_27

    Dear not-Icelandic Heathens– not your Yard, not your business. Not your temple, either. The Félagið understands this, why don’t you? This goes for both the idiots who want to desecrate their temple and the idiots who think Iceland and this temple is some kind of spiritual Mecca. That’s not how this religion works. If you want to be someone’s lost sheep, to ignore your close ancestors and care more about those separated by thousands of miles and thousands of years, think it’s somehow “more pure” if it’s not local, think that Heathens in another country owe you anything at all, let alone to practice the way you think they should, your worldview might be rooted in a different religion entirely: just a thought.

    • Alyxander M Folmer

      I admit, I would LOVE to visit this temple. However, not because I view it as some kind of Mecca; rather because I view it as a fantastic accomplishment. I don’t believe in a holy land, but I do believe in celebrating important work and supporting good organizations. 🙂

  • ChristopherBlackwell

    The groups doing the threatening are pathetic losers not worthy of being called of Heathens.

  • Wolfsbane

    Unfortunately there’s a long history of bigotry among people claiming to be Asatruar against gays, the transgendered and people into BDSM that have included actual death threats.
    I’ve never met folk more deserving of an appointment with a rope, just like their forefathers at Nuremberg.

  • I signed the petition on, and left a supportive comment as well.

  • Alyxander M Folmer

    Can I just take a moment to express how much I absolutely ADORE Ásatrúarfélagið. These guys are just fantastic!

  • Once again, it becomes very clear that Asatrú, as practised in the Nordic countries, including Iceland, isn’t always the same as what goes by the same name in the US of A. Indeed, most Asatruar the World over wholeheartedly agree with Asatrúfelagid, even if we might have a problem here, in relation to some other groups right here, or elsewhere in the World.

  • Govannon Thunorwulf

    People will always find reasons to hate and unfortunately Pagans are not immune to these types of actions.

  • Michael Strmiska

    I am saddened but not surprised to hear that there are some Heathens or Ásatrú followers in USA and elsewhere who are opposed to LGBT rights. In America at least,
    Ásatrú has tended to attract people of conservative political views, and some who go further with hard-right, New Right or Neo-Nazi inclinations, expressing greater or lesser degrees of hostility toward non-white and LBGT people. It is therefore all the more important for more liberal and open-minded people in Ásatrú to speak out against these ugly attitudes and fight for Ásatrú to be a modern, inclusive religious movement open to all people of all races, ethnic origins, and gender and sexual orientations. The Ásatrú fellowship in Iceland is a model organization for being open, democratic and inclusive.