The Republic of Costa Rica, nestled in Central America, is a small country home to approximately 4,300,000 people. According to the country’s tourism service, Costa Rica’s small landmass “shelters 5 percent of the existing biodiversity in the entire world.” As such it has become a prime tropical tourist destination for travelers wanting an exotic or natural vacation experience. Much of that may not surprise anyone. However, what is surprising is that Costa Rica is home to a burgeoning Heathen community.“I have always been interested in ancient cultures,” said Esteban Sevilla Quiros. “When I was little I was fascinated with Greek Mythology and many other ancient beliefs. But one day I found the Mjölnir in a Symbol Dictionary and started to investigate more about Norse Mythology. This led me to find the Asatru faith.”
Sevilla Quiros is the goði for Kindred Irminsul, the first organized Asatru group in Costa Rica. He shared with us his experience as a Heathen in Costa Rica. “Some of my friends already knew about [Asatru],” he explained. “One day someone in a sarcastic and challenging tone told us ‘If you guys are all asatruar why don’t you get organized…’This got me thinking and I immediately replied to the others ‘why not?'”
In September 2010, Sevilla Quiros and his friends officially formed Kindred Irminsul. Wanting help and community, they reached out beyond their borders to The Troth, who answered the call. The following spring, Idunna, the Troth’s official journal, featured an article about Kindred Irminsul. Then, as Sevilla Quiros recalled, “in October 2012 we had the visit [from] Victoria Clare, former Steerswoman of The Troth, she traveled to Costa Rica and helped us out in several subjects regarding Heathenry and held a Winter Night’s blot and a Seidr session for all of us.”
It wasn’t long after establishing itself that Kindred Irminsul was joined by new kindreds. Within a year, the country boasted a total of six Heathen groups. Unfortunately, due to differences in theological interpretations, the new kindreds generally kept to themselves.
At the same time, Kindred Irminsul began reaching out to Costa Rica’s Pagan organizations with the hope of developing public works and fostering a stronger community within the Catholic nation. Sevilla Quiros noted, “Costa Rica is a Catholic confessional state. Pagan or Heathen religions are not illegal, but people get scared and call the police on you if they see you practicing in public.”
According to recent statistics,”76.3 percent of Costa Ricans identify as Catholic.” An additional 15.7 percent practice other Christian religions. The remaining 8% of the population reported being atheist or practicing other montheistic religions. Sevilla Quiros said that most of his Kindred members came from a Catholic background but passed through Atheism before finding Asatru.In 2012, Kindred Irminsul and other small Pagan groups joined together to form the Alianza Pagana de Costa Rica. This alliance includes Asatruar, Roman Reconstructionists, Wiccans and Druids. In 2013, the newly formed alliance organized its first Pagan Pride Day. Sevilla Quiros added enthusiastically, “The PPD led us to re-establish our relationship with one of the kindreds we were with previously, the Volsungr Hearth. And recently, two former members and their Kindreds have [also] rejoined our projects for a greater good.” The birth of the alliance not only brought together Pagan and Heathen groups, but it also helped reunite a portion of the Costa Rican Heathen community.
Together these united Kindred have applied for legal recognition as a religious association, that will be called the Asociación Ásatrú Yggdrasil de Costa Rica. While Costa Rica is a Catholic country by constitutional law, it does allow for the practice of minority religions. With this special legal designation, Sevilla Quiros explained, “We can’t be kicked out for making rituals in public; we can get some privileges for our holidays, like getting days off or vacations for that specific date, acquire land and a building free of taxes, tax exempt donations.” If all goes as planned, the new Asatru association will have its papers by April.
Unfortunately, legal recognition will not automatically end religious discrimination for Heathen practitioners, who still remain an overwhelmingly small minority in Costa Rica. Sevilla Quiros lamented, “We still get discriminated [against] in our workplaces, public spaces and within our families, just like everywhere else, but we are not extremely harassed.”
The Kindred has also faced problems originating from within the Pagan and Heathen world. Because Asatru is so uncommon in Costa Rica, many people mistake it for a New Age practice or Wicca. Sevilla Quiros said that seekers often think “Heathenry is a witches’ religion centered on tarot and rune readings, magic crystals.” He added, “I guess this happens everywhere. It is something we have to work with every time someone new comes in.”In its work and public outreach, Kindred Irminsul always stresses it’s dedication to Norse traditions. For some people, this religion, based on a mythology and history originating in a land so distant and different from Costa Rica, may be a source of confusion. Even if it hasn’t, the cultural difference and regional distance has caused another, entirely different, problem.
In establishing themselves and reaching out to the greater Heathen world, they have run into bigotry. All of Kindred Irminsul’s members are native to Costa Rica. Sevilla Quiros said that its membership is “mostly a mix of Europeans and indigenous peoples, some are white, some are brown, it is a 50/50 ratio.” He added, “We received backlash from folkish and racist Heathens several times, especially at the beginning … We decided to continue anyway. That’s where the Troth helped us out. We still get some hateful comments on Facebook but that’s it.”
In a country and a land so rich in its own natural and native spirituality, it may seem odd to some that Sevilla Quiros and other Costa Ricans are not drawn to the spirit of their own land. Sevilla Quiros explained, “I was always curious about indigenous beliefs, such as the Bribri religion, it is an animistic religion but I didn’t really feel connected to it, though I am not sure if they would let me in into their tribes.” Instead, it was the Norse traditions that fed his spirit and that of others.
But Sevilla Quiros did say that their form of Heathenry does carry a flavor that comes from being Costa Rican. He explained, “As a Kindred we might have our unique things, but I think they are mostly about the Costa Rican culture itself, the “Tico” culture and our “Pura Vida” attitude.”
Together with the other members of the Pagan Alliance, Kindred Irminsul remains in the public eye with the aim of educating the local population and bringing change to religious laws. On Dec. 4, Costa Rican channel Canal Nueve interviewed the group on its national show Universos Desconocidos.
The producers have scheduled two more appearances for the Pagan Alliance, both of which will air in January.
Sevilla Quiros has also tried to maintain his own personal connection to the international community and to the Troth. As a small country with a tiny Heathen population, resources are limited so this has always been important to him. Unfortunately he has yet to have the funds or time to travel to any large international events. In the meantime, Sevilla Quiros does what he can to stay connected. Kindred Irminsul was one of the many Heathen groups that published a community support statement in response to Ferguson.
In addition, Sevilla Quiros has published a plea on Facebook to the international Heathen community. He asked that everyone help his community grow by publishing works in Spanish or allowing their works to be translated. On Dec. 9, he wrote, in part:
… I would like to kindly ask all the heathen writers to send your books and articles for translation, it will be good for your business and it will be good for us too, We will keep your work untouched and we will be well informed … Hispanic heathenry is growing way too fast, and you can’t think that they all will learn English just to buy your book. Let’s do it for the sake of knowledge, for the sake of heathenry around the world.
As is noted in this Facebook plea and is evident by the Kindred Irminsul’s story, the population of people practicing Heathenry, and even Paganism, is growing in Costa Rica, and other countries in the Americas. While each nation may add its own cultural flavor to its religious practice, the connection to a specific mythology and tradition, whether it be Norse or something else, can bring people together from around the globe who might otherwise never connect. Kindred Irminsul now joins that extended global Heathen world.
* * *
Correction: Kindred Irminsul has applied for legal recognition together with other local Asatru organizations. The original article suggested that they did so alone. That correction has been made in the body of the text above.