Pagan Poetry

paganism iceland

“Ásatrú Society, how may I help you?”

This was neither the voice of a gruff metalhead nor the voice of a wizened mystic, interrupted in his esoteric ponderings by the phone. To be frank, I was surprised. 

Over the next few weeks, missed phone calls, travel, and unread emails all began to pile up, turning what I thought was a simple interview with Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, the allsherjagoði (chief priest) of the Ásatrú Society into something rather more involved. Perhaps this organisation was more shadowy than I thought. Was this the wariness of a hermetic society, or just a series of misunderstandings?

Finally, a call came through, and I was off to meet the chief priest of Icelandic paganism.

Previous slide
Next slide

THE PATH

My GPS led me to the graveyard by Öskjuhlíð, the hillside underneath Perlan. As I went to turn behind the graveyard, a gate barred the way. This was turning out to be more involved than I had anticipated.

“One of the first laws established in the Ásatrú Society was against proselytising,” Hilmar later told me. “The Ásatrú Society does not seek people out, does not convert, does not convince. The community consists only of those with the interest and desire to join.” Accepting the weight of my spiritual task, I parked my car and continued on foot past the gate. 

The temple first announced itself as a construction site ringed with wire fences, just metres from the familiar path I so often take with my wife, but never noticed. Pressing through the brush and trees, I stood above a circular area ringed with concrete, wooden pallets, and plastic caution tape. It occurred to me that I may even be trespassing. At every stage of this small journey, I encountered resistance somehow. In a kind of initiation, I push past it.

There was no Viking longhouse with smouldering peat hearth. Instead, I was confronted by a piece of modernist architecture, with stark concrete slabs arranged in geometrical forms. The temple is both primitive and futuristic, in the way that the Standing Stones of Stenness appear simultaneously as neolithic constructs and alien monoliths. 

“Rituals in Ásatrú are a celebration of life–we are more joyous than others.”

THE PRIEST

As I sip my coffee, waiting on Hilmar, I peruse the shelves of the Ásatrú Society’s library. Far from a single-minded interest in the Germanic and Wagnerian, the books here are cosmopolitan and academic, belonging perhaps to a 19th-century gentleman with an esoteric bent. Among the many titles I see are books on Coptic Christianity, Tibetan Buddhism, Jewish mysticism, Islamic feminism, and a smattering of New Age classics like Carlos Castaneda. “It’s my personal library,” Hilmar tells me when he arrives. “don’t read too much into it.”

Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson is the fourth allsherjagoði of the Ásatrú Society. Its founder, Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson, lived nearly all his life on his farm in Borgarfjörður, but Hilmar has had a rather more adventurous and international life, being part of the UK experimental industrial group Psychic TV for much of the 1980s. It was around bands like Psychic TV and adjacent acts Throbbing Gristle and Coil that the first wave of UK industrial music formed. In an irony of history, it was out of this scene, whose screeching and aggressively experimental style stood at odds with traditional notions of folk music, that the neofolk music scene emerged. Neofolk, with Hilmar at its periphery as well, took the dark and experimental attitude of first-wave industrial and married it to the countercultural spirituality of the ’60s. Since Hilmar’s time in the industrial and neofolk scenes, he has been active in Icelandic music as well, both as an independent artist and as a frequent collaborator with the likes of Björk, Sígur Rós, and others.

His musical career captures something important about the religious organisation he represents, a split between the native and foreign influences. On the one hand, it is undeniable that Ásatrú has a claim to be the original religion of the Icelanders. Rejecting the notion that the old gods ever went away, Hilmar tells me a story of how when Iceland gained its new constitution under Denmark in 1874, one of the first ways this was celebrated was a pagan ceremony in North Iceland. I imagine dark figures whooping around fires in forgotten heaths, but as I later witness, the way the modern Ásatrú Society celebrates is rather more reserved. Likewise, Icelandic students in Copenhagen, on the basis of a tentative connection between bjór and Þór, spontaneously rediscovered their pagan past in celebration. According to Hilmar, this tradition has always been alive, if maybe in hiding. But on the other hand, the Ásatrú Society arose just as much out of an international, countercultural background, beginning all the way back in the 19th century with German romantics like Herder, Wagner, and the brothers Grimm, and more recent influences in experimental music, theosophy, occultism, hippie culture, environmentalism, and so on. 

But the man I sit down to talk to, both a pioneering experimental musician and chief priest of Icelandic heathenry, is a soft-spoken figure, wearing what I assume is a homemade lopapeysa.

“People want to make sense of their existence, and they also don’t want their existence to be too sombre.”

ETERNAL RECURRENCE

“The biggest difference between us and the Christians,” Hilmar tells me, “is that the monotheistic religions are revealed religions. There is one God, there is one truth, and that truth is eternal and unchanging.” It may come as a surprise to those from monotheistic traditions, but paganism does not, for example, have one canonical text; there is no “Bible” of Norse heathenry. There are of course poems and literary sources that are important in reconstructing the belief system, but the idea that truth comes from one source, and can be contained in one definitive volume, is a rather modern idea, specific to monotheism. As Hilmar puts it, monotheistic faiths provide “one truth for many,” whereas Ásatrú offers “many truths for the individual.”

Another key difference in worldview is the notion of time. Monotheistic religions, like Christianity, have a progressive and linear notion of time, Hilmar says. The world was created at some point, humanity fell out of paradise, and we await the coming of another messianic moment: the end of history. Such theological ideas combined in recent times with Enlightenment rationality to create a worldview that things are always improving, and importantly, moving towards something. What was important for modern Christians and secular rationalists alike was the idea that history had an overarching narrative, whether it be comedic or tragic in nature.

“Such a notion of history would have been foreign to the heathen mind,” Hilmar says. The pre-Christian religions, not just Norse paganism, all share a notion of cyclical history: “It means that things are always moving in a cycle. We see that in the 24 hours of the day, we see it in the seasons of the year. We are born, we mature, we decline, and then we perish. And then it starts again. And you find this in the ideas of the afterlife and the world described in the cosmological poems like Völuspá.”

It is useful to compare the sense of the English word religion with the Icelandic word siður, which can be rendered alternatively as religion, custom, habit, or tradition. Religion, in the sense that those raised in a monotheistic or secular society would understand it, has something to do with the relationship between an individual and a creator god. But the word siður in Icelandic has less to do with the beliefs of an individual, and more to do with the accreted way of life of a community. Custom, after all, is inherently about other people. It is simply “what one does.” If you had asked an Icelandic settler whether they “believed” in Þór, I do not expect they would have understood the question.

PAGAN POETRY

But Ásatrú, a form of siður, and not religion, has a different relationship to historical and cultural identity than other belief systems. In reviving Ásatrú, its practitioners have needed to reconstruct aspects both of the worldview more generally, and also of the practical aspects of rituals and worship. 

The problem with the sagas, Iceland’s most prominent medieval literature, is that they depict events that occurred centuries before their writing. Though the general historicity of the sagas is (mostly) undisputed, the medieval mind had a rather flexible conception of truth, leaving many historical details to be desired. A further dimension is added to the question of the historical authenticity of the Icelandic sagas when the religious conversion is taken into account. Although The Poetic Edda is an invaluable source for pre-Christian mythology, it is, like all medieval Icelandic literature, a post-Christian text about a pre-Christian world. How does the Ásatrú Society grapple with these problems?

“This is a big argument,” Hilmar says. “Some scholars think there’s nothing of value in the sagas in regards to belief. But then you have people like Jón Hnefill Aðalsteinsson who had the opposite theory.” Hilmar here refers to his former professor and mentor, who was one of the first Icelanders to take folkloristics seriously as an academic discipline. “You have oral traditions stretching back for hundreds of years,” Hilmar explains. “In the Balkans, scholars found oral poems and epics that have been transmitted throughout generations practically unchanged. In some of these poems, the rhyme and metre are so complicated that the language doesn’t evolve at all, it stays frozen through centuries. We have gotten used to the idea that writing is the most trustworthy form of transmission, but that isn’t always the case.”

Some Icelandic sagas, for example, contain excerpts of skaldic poetry that can pre-date the written manuscript by centuries. We know this because of the systematic way in which language changes. Given the rigid, complex nature of skaldic poetry, individual words cannot change without breaking the structure of the poem. This allows both scholars and Ásatrú practitioners to identify some of the oldest passages in the sagas. 

“One of the things we had to learn in the beginning of Ásatrú was how to find which passages were the oldest ones in the sources,” Hilmar explains. “There are some passages that scream out that they were part of a ritual, like the opening of Sigrdrífumál,” a poem fragment found in the Codex Regius, by far the most important manuscript for Eddic material. The poem relates events found in the mythic Völsunga saga, describing the meeting of the hero Sigurður and the valkyrie Brynhildur. The poem, according to Hilmar, “has this wonderful blessing in the beginning which is quite obviously related to the cardinal directions. We see this in other cultures’ religious rituals, where they begin by blessing the things to our left, to our right, behind and in front of us, above and below us.”

Another source that has proved especially interesting to scholars, and useful to the Ásatrú Society, is Eyrbyggja saga, an Icelandic saga concerning the settlement of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Where many of the Icelandic sagas prove scarce on details of the pre-Christian religion, Eyrbyggja saga gives the only account of the construction of a pagan temple, though it still leaves much to the imagination. According to the saga, one of Iceland’s settlers brings with him the dirt from underneath the altar of his temple. He deconstructs his temple to Þór plank by plank and brings it with him to Iceland. Features of the temple mentioned in the saga include an altar of sorts and an iron ring, traditionally the symbol of the power of the goði, both a chieftain and priest. 

These days, the Ásatrú Society are also in the midst of building their temple. The temple, complete with a community area for reading groups and arts and crafts circles, is still very much a construction site. Originally granted a plot of land by the City of Reykjavík in 2008, the banking collapse in Iceland hurt the society’s finances. Construction finally began in 2015, but technical problems and other delays have left the temple incomplete to this day. 

Aspects of sacred geometry and the golden ratio can be seen, and other special numbers have also been integrated into the design, such as 9 and 432,000, a number derived from the 540 doors of Valhalla and 800 einherjar (fallen warriors) mentioned in the poem Grímnismál. This number, Hilmar mentions, is also sacred in the Hindu tradition. Instead of shipping their timber from Norway, this time, the Ásatrú Society is using local Icelandic material. It is only in the last few years, the first time in Icelandic history since the deforestation that accompanied settlement, that trees suitable for construction grow in Iceland, with timber now being sourced from Hallormstaður in East Iceland.

NEW WAYS

Some rituals are totally absent from the saga material, such as coming-of-age ceremonies. “We did have to improvise some things,” Hilmar tells me. “But we know there had to be one. We do it in a very historical context. The children go through Hávamál (“The Sayings of the High One,” an Eddic poem and a central text for Ásatrú) and learn about the ethics it contains. But there’s no commitment, no expectation that they make this the rest of their life.” Funnily, he tells me that in the early days of the Ásatrú Society that there were no funerals. The community was still young and new enough that it was only after the passing of Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson, the first allsherjagoði, that the Ásatrú Society had to devise their funeral rites.

Ásatrú ceremonies are humble affairs. “A wedding, for example, is a simple thing,” the goði explains. “The idea is that the couple, as individuals, are marrying themselves. My role, the role of the priest, is to sanctify time and space.” There is no set liturgy within the Ásatrú Society, and Hilmar tells me that Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson would compose each ceremony from scratch, just like a poem, incorporating the occasion, individuals, and landscape.

While rooted in history, with more than a whiff of historical reenactment, the modern-day goðar aren’t afraid to admit that in some cases, they’re making it up as they go along. The changes aren’t considered a threat, but an integral part of the experience.

 

LIVING TRADITION

Despite the changing forms of Ásatrú, when they consult the sources, they are nevertheless interested in the oldest sources. Presumably this is because they perceive them as more authentic. So how does the Ásatrú Society balance their more historical approach, with, for lack of a better term, making it up as they go? 

“Oh, but it does change, and it always has,” Hilmar tells me. “We know through archaeology and history that the practice has always changed, the location has always changed. A poem like Völuspá could not have been written in Denmark; it’s flat, there are no mountains or volcanoes.”

Hilmar is referencing one of the most important mythic poems, Völuspá (The Prophecy of the Seeress), preserved in Eddukvæði. It deals with the beginning and end of the world and tells of fimbulvetur, the terrible winter that precedes ragnarök, the end of the world cycle in Norse mythology. The poem describes clouds blotting out the sun, which scholars have widely interpreted as an influence from the Icelandic environment: a volcano. In fact, Hilmar says, many of the most essential features of what we call Norse mythology were likely absent before the settlement of Iceland. What we take as the canonical version, in other words, would have appeared as an innovation to, say, an 8th-century Dane.

For Hilmar, keeping Ásatrú alive is not a matter of mindlessly reiterating the past. Just as Icelandic settlers adapted a cosmology and ethical system to their new environment, so too must modern heathens find ways of preserving the essence of this tradition, while letting its forms evolve.

Hilmar goes so far as to say there are some who feel too strongly the need to practice the original form of the religion. People are drawn to everything that’s old, and the archaic often presents itself as somehow more real than the modern, he says. Many may feel, for instance, that the runic alphabet known as the “Elder Futhark” is somehow more authentic than that which is known as the “Younger Futhark.” But the fact is that very few runic inscriptions from Elder Futhark survive, and when we think of the Age of the Vikings, these inscriptions are all in Younger Futhark and its regional dialects.

It is much the same with Ásatrú, and Hilmar points especially to some North American Ásatrú practitioners as taking the wrong stance towards the relationship between tradition and evolution. “These people,” he says, “they want to hit you over the head with the Eddas. They quote the poetry like scripture.”

These people, those who want to worship a frozen past, are also generally those on the political fringes. Hilmar does not have much to say about them except that “they run around and speak pidgin Icelandic. This idea, that it has to be in your bloodstream, that it’s ethnic or genetic, it’s ridiculous.”

ÁSATRÚ AT A GLANCE

Völuspá, or the Prophecy of the Seeress, is an eddic poem in which a seeress narrates to the god Óðinn the beginning and end of the world. 

XXX

The name Ásatrú might simply be rendered as “belief in the gods,” a combination of trú, (faith), and ás, (god). Many may recognise the plural form of this word, Æsir, the dominant clan of gods in Norse mythology.

XXX

The Ásatrú Society also benefits from Iceland’s church tax, with increasing numbers of citizens preferring their contribution go to the Ásatrú Society than the Church of Iceland.

XXX

Norse paganism, or Ásatrú, is one of the fastest-growing religious groups in Iceland.

XXX

Hávamál, or Sayings of the High One, is another eddic poem. It can be described as wisdom literature, with Óðinn giving advice on such topics as friendship, being a good host, love, and drinking in moderation.

XXX

Eddukvæði, or the Poetic Edda, is a body mythological poems best preserved in the manuscript known as Codex Regius.

The Ásatrú Society was founded in 1972 by Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson, a farmer and master 

of the traditional poetic form of rímur.

XXX

Ásatrú is a legally recognized religion in Iceland, meaning that it can perform legal ceremonies, such as weddings and funerals.

New Data Indicates Waning Church Membership

religion in iceland

The National Registry of Iceland has released new data on religious affiliation in Iceland, with membership in the National Church below 60% for the first time ever.

The National Church remains the largest congregation by far, with some 228,000 Icelanders registered. However, the church has lost around 900 congregants since December of last year, corresponding to a larger trend in which the church has lost around 5% of its membership in the last three years.

The next-largest congregation is the Catholic Church, with some 14,000 registered individuals. Other major denominations include the Free Churches of Reykjavík and Hafnafjörður, which are both Protestant congregations not affiliated with the National Church.

There are currently some 60 registered religious and philosophical societies in Iceland. Notably, the Jewish community in Iceland was registered for the first time last year, a part of the broader shift in demographics and religiosity in Iceland.

The report also records a new record for individuals not affiliated with any religious organization, 7.8%, representing 29,000 Icelanders.

The Ásatrúarfélag, the association for Norse paganism, has also experienced growth in the last few years. It is now the fifth-largest religious organization in Iceland, with around 5,500 members.

 

 

Shifts in Religious Associations and Affiliation in Iceland

religion in iceland

A few changes have occurred to the religious associations listed in the National Registry of Iceland over the past year, Fréttablaðið reports. The Jewish Community of Iceland was registered for the first time, with 38 members currently listed. The Islamic Cultural Centre of Iceland was taken off the registry of religious groups (another Islamic association, the Félag Múslima á Íslandi, remains on the registry). The National Church of Iceland is still the largest religious association in the country by membership, though it has been steadily losing members in recent years.

A total of 53 religious and life stance associations are currently listed in the National Register. Currently, 229,623 individuals are registered in the national church, which has higher affiliation than any other religious association in the country. Its registered members, however, decreased by 94 between December 1, 2020 and October 1 of this year.  The second most populous religious association in the country is the Catholic Church, with just over 14,700 registered members, followed by the Free Church in Reykjavík with about 10,000 members.

Read More: What it Takes to Belong

The two religious groups that saw the biggest spikes in membership during the same period were the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association (Siðmennt), which grew by 334 members, and Ásatrúarfélagið (a pagan religious organization).

The largest decrease was in the Zuist Association, which decreased by 225 members, perhaps unsurprisingly, as the church was set to dissolve in 2019 following disputes with authorities. The organisation with the smallest membership was Vitund (Awareness), with three members. As of October 1, 2021, 4.6% of Iceland’s population was registered outside of any religious organisation, or more than 29,000 people.

What it Takes to Belong

There is no synagogue in Iceland. Jewish individuals who wish to get married in Iceland do so at a nondenominational chapel. Those who pass away are honoured at the nondenominational Fossvogur Cemetery. In 2018, 250 Jews were living in Iceland; by the time this article is published, that number will likely be around 300. Famous […]

This content is only visible under subscription. Subscribe here or log in.

Continue reading

Membership in National Church of Iceland Gradually Declining

New data published by Registers Iceland shows that registered membership in the National Church of Iceland continues to decline, albeit slowly. Meanwhile, the pagan Ásatrú Fellowship and the Ethical Humanist Association have both been quietly gaining members.

As of September 1, there were 229,714 people registered as members of Iceland’s National (Lutheran) Church. This is a decline of three members since December 1. And while this is not a dramatic decrease in membership, it does appear to be part of a consistent pattern. From December 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021, the church lost 75 members from its registry.

The Catholic Church has the second-highest membership, or 14,709 members. Fríkirkjan, the independent Lutheran Church of Iceland, which operates apart from the national church, comes in third with 10,040 members. The Ásatrú Fellowship and the Ethical Humanist Association had the greatest jump in membership—279 new members. (Statistics Iceland shows a total of 5,118 members of Ásatrú and 4,084 members of the Ethical Humanist Association as of January 1, 2021, but the current National Registers round-up offered no more specific, recent data regarding total membership in either organization.)

As of September 1, there were 28,926 people (7.7% of the population) registered as not being part of any religious organization. There were additionally 58,514 people listed as ‘Other and Not Specified,’ or 15.7% of the nation.

 

Iceland Officially Recognises Jewish Community as Religious Organisation

Iceland’s Jewish community reached a historic milestone last month when Judaism was officially registered as a religion in the country. Though Jewish people have been living in Iceland since the late 1800s, the group had not been registered as an official religious community until this year. Iceland’s only Rabbi, Avi Feldman, says although the recognition comes with some practical benefits, it doesn’t necessarily change much for the community, which has been active for decades.

“On the one hand, there is no change, because Jewish life has been active here for a long time,” Rabbi Feldman told Iceland Review. “I can speak for the past few years since we’ve come here, there’s been all sorts of wonderful things happening. The community was here, it just wasn’t registered and it’s more of a formal thing. But at the same time people feel, and I feel very strongly, that it’s also a historic step and something that is a wonderful accomplishment.”

Formal recognition of a religious group comes with some practical benefits in Iceland. “First of all, there are the life cycle events starting with baby namings, bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, and funerals: all of these things can now be done within the community and recognised,” Rabbi Feldman explains. In Iceland, all taxpayers can participate in a religious tax and choose which religious organisation their funds are directed to. “So now there’s the option that they can direct these funds to the Jewish community.”

The registration should also make it easier for the Jewish community to eventually acquire a plot of land. “In the future we would love to see some type of Jewish community centre that could house all sorts of things. It could house a synagogue, some type of Jewish museum for people to learn about Jewish life and values and history so there’s all kinds of possibilities.”

Aim to Build a Welcoming Community

According to the Rabbi, the community’s ultimate goal is not to have as many registered members as possible, rather to create a welcoming environment for Jews and others. “To us, the most important thing is not people registering and having a certain membership. Our belief is that anyone who is Jewish is part of the Jewish community, everyone has a place here. We have people of different backgrounds, different levels of observance, different customs: we try to give all of these people the feeling that the community is a place for them and they are welcome there.”

The Rabbi acknowledges that not all Jewish people in Iceland would necessarily want to become registered members either. “Jewish people might understandably think twice about actually registering with the community – they may want privacy. We’ve had a difficult history, even recent history in the last century. We don’t put any pressure on anyone to register themselves, so I don’t think the number of registered people will ever reflect the actual size of the community, and that’s OK.”

When he moved to Iceland with his family a few years ago, Rabbi Feldman expected to find fewer than 100 Jewish people living in the country. “But actually every single week, sometimes every single day, we’re meeting people. People are reaching out, friends bring friends, we’re constantly meeting new people who we didn’t know about before who are living in Iceland. So I would say that just after living here for a few years, we know a few hundred Jews, and I don’t think we know everyone, so it could be double or triple that number.”

Rabbi Feldman speaks positively about his experience living in Iceland. “Iceland is a wonderful place, we’ve had excellent experiences here, people are so nice and we feel so welcome and accepted. The registration is a continuation of that effort of making it clear that every community has a place.”

The Jewish Center of Iceland will hold a Holocaust Memorial today in collaboration with the Polish, German, and US Embassies in Iceland at this link.

Take Me to Church

It’s a cold Sunday morning as I make my way up Skólavörðustígur towards the mighty Hallgrímskirkja church, a white, tapered structure that towers gracefully over downtown Reykjavík like a huge upside-down icicle. Very few people are out and about, and from the looks of it, most of them are tourists. None of them, however, look like they’re on their way to mass.

This content is only visible under subscription. Subscribe here or log in.

Continue reading

Icelandic Zuist Church to Dissolve

Zuist Church Iceland

 

Ágúst Arnar Ágústsson, manager of the Icelandic Zuist Church, says once the state’s court case against the organisation is closed, he will dissolve the organisation, and distribute its ISK 50 million ($407,000/€365,000) in assets among the group’s members and charity organisations. Ágúst told mbl.is that he is tired of the organisation’s battles with legal authorities. In court proceedings earlier this month, the Treasury Solicitor stated there is little to suggest the Zuist Church is an active religious organisation and not simply a money-making scheme.

The Zuist Church of Iceland

The Zuist Church of Iceland was established in 2010. In 2013, it was officially recognised as a religious association by the Icelandic government. The organisation was minimally active until 2015, when it was taken over by a new leadership, which promised that the tax funds received by the church would be distributed among its members in a form of protest against nationally mandated tax on religious membership. A spike in membership followed, reaching around 3,000 at its height. In 2017, the original founders of the organisation, Ágúst Arnar among them, were restored to power. They decided to maintain the practice of refunding church members.

Court case

In November, the District Court of Reykjavík rejected the Zuist Church’s claims the State should pay the organisation penalty interest or damages. The Church’s representatives believed the state had violated the organisation by withholding tax funding in 2016 and 2017. The funds were withheld due to doubts the organisation was indeed functioning as a religious group.

“Kickstarter brothers”

Ágúst and his brother Einar became known as the Kickstarter brothers for several projects they promoted and funded on the platform, including a wind turbine which a New Zealand engineer described as violating some of the laws of physics. Einar was charged and convicted of fraud following an investigation by authorities, receiving a prison sentence of 3.5 years.

Parliament Lifts Sunday Bingo Ban

A bill lifting the legal ban on public gatherings and gambling on religious holidays was passed by Alþingi on Tuesday, RÚV reports.

Per a law that went into effect in 1997, it was technically illegal for Icelanders to engage in any form of gambling – such as bingo or the lottery – or to hold dances or private parties in restaurants or other public venues on Sundays, as well as on traditionally Christian public holidays such as Good Friday, Easter, and Christmas. This law was not, however, enforced and had long been protested by organizations such as Vantrú, an atheist organisation that has hosted a well-publicised Good Friday Bingo event every year for over a decade.

The bill was introduced by Independence Party MP and former Attorney General Sigríður Á. Andersen in February. It was approved with 44 votes in its favour on Tuesday and had support on both sides of the political spectrum, although this was not true among Centre Party MPs, all of whom voted against it.

In addition to overturning prohibitions on various entertainments on religious holidays, the new bill also overturns previous legal articles which prohibited “hotel operations and related services, the operation of pharmacies, gas stations, car garages, shops at airports and duty free, flower shops, kiosks, video rentals, as well as grocers with a retail space of less than 600 square metres (6,458 sq ft) where at least two thirds of the sales turnover is from foodstuffs, beverages, and tobacco.”

The“bingo ban” law made exemptions allowing art exhibitions, film screenings, and theatre performances to go on during religious holidays, but only after 3.00pm. (This limitation has also now been lifted.)

“With this, the last impediments to providing and enjoying services on the National Church’s specified religious holidays have been eliminated,” wrote Sigríður in a post on her Facebook page. She reiterated, however, that “…the bill was not intended to decrease the significance of religious holidays. The days in question are part of our Christian heritage and as such, they should of course be commemorated as they arise. However, everyone must get to do this in their own way.”