Today’s column comes to us from our international columnist Lyonel Perabo. Lyonel holds an M.A. in Old Norse Religion from the University of Iceland and resides in the cold, Arctic city of Tromsø in Northern-Norway (69° north), where he works in the tourism industry, principally as a tour-guide, as well as a writer. His personal research focuses on local history from northern Fenno-Scandinavia, the Viking Age, and circumpolar religions, among others.
The Wild Hunt’s weekend section is always open for submissions, Please send queries to email@example.com. I doubt any reader of The Wild Hunt has heard about Knut Arlid Hareide and the political party he helms. Why would anyone need to, indeed, unless they happened to be a fellow compatriot of his? Yet, Hareide is, in some ways, quite important.
One of my most vivid school memories comes from a history lesson I had when I was about seven or eight. From very early on, history had been my favorite subject. The books were always filled to the brim with colorful pictures, and the fact that the topic encompasses just about everything that ever took place regarding mankind drew my attention. That day at school, we were supposed to learn about the Renaissance and the 16th century. As I opened my book, my eyes met with a picture of a crowd laying waste to a church, breaking windows and tearing down statues.
There is no denying that the north has always played an important role in the worldview of Europe and the Western world in general. From the Romantics that sung the praise of the wild, Nordic nature at the turn of the 19th century to the current popular entertainment craze spawned by media franchises such as Frozen, Vikings and the like, the north is as relevant as it has ever been. This influence is even more noticeable in regards to the world of contemporary Paganism. Not only has Heathenism experienced a noticeable revival and growth in the past couple decades, but Nordic deities, practices and iconography are routinely found within more eclectic movements as well. However, all things considered, the Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Finland and the Faroe Islands) are all relatively small and somewhat isolated.
While I may live in a relatively tiny city by most standards, my Norwegian hometown of Tromsø, with just over 70,000 inhabitants, still has all the characteristics of a much larger metropolis, including a unique architectural heritage. While some of the town’s most famed constructions are old wooden wharfs and shoddy fishermen’s cabins, the one building that is maybe the most closely associated with the image of the city is, as it is often the case with other cities in Europe, its church: the Arctic Cathedral. Designed and built in 1965 by the Norwegian architect Jon Inge Hovig, the church, which is in fact not a cathedral but a “mere” parish church, was thought of from the start as a symbolic focal point for the town. Located across the bridge leading to the mainland, the church, which can be seen from any point in the city center, attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year who come to gaze at its inspired architecture or attend one of the numerous concerts organized daily in its main hall. The Arctic Cathedral is, by all means, a beautiful building.
The time is a few minutes past midnight, on the night between the seventeenth and the eighteenth of August; the place, Svinøya, an outlying island close to the town of Svolvær, the unofficial capital and most populous locale of the Arctic archipelago of Lofoten in northern Norway. I am standing by a bench on the tip of a breakwater, facing the city’s waterfront. Next to me is my colleague Heinrich, a South African who, by a succession of unlikely events has ended up, like me, working in the tourism industry of this Scandinavian nation. Tomorrow isn’t just a normal day at work, it is the season’s last cruise ship and our employer sent us from our home of Tromsø all the way down to Lofoten; an eight hour car ride through some of the most stunning vistas there are which I have done too many time to count, but not enough not to be amazed — every single time — by the wild majesty of its landscape. The ride was in and of itself uneventful, and we got into town early, ate well (codfish pizzas, a local specialty) and looked forward to the next day’s tour.