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Thor in the ice

Icelanders will soon be able to worship at a new shrine to the Norse gods Thor, Odin and Frigg with construction already begun on the island's first major temple to its historical religion since the Vikings were storming Europe.

Worship of the Norse gods in Scandinavia was overtaken by Christianity a thousand years ago but a modern version has been gaining popularity in Iceland.

'I don't believe anyone believes in a one-eyed man who is riding about on a horse with eight feet,' says Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, high priest of Ásatrúarfélagið, an association that promotes faith in the Norse gods.

'We see the stories as poetic metaphors and a manifestation of the forces of nature and human psychology.'

According to Statistics Iceland, an independent government agency, membership in Ásatrúarfélagið has tripled in Iceland in the last decade to 2,400. These numbers may be small by British standards but Iceland's total population is just 330,000. The largest denomination is The Evangelical Lutheran Church and a 2012 Gallup poll found 57 percent of people living in Iceland considered themselves 'a religious person,' but only 10 per cent attended a worship service once a month.

The temple will be circular and will be dug four metres down into a hill overlooking Reykjavik, with a dome on top to let in the sunlight. Architect Magnus Jensson has incorporated the mathematical 'golden ratio' in his design, as well as the numbers nine and 432,000, which are sacred to the Ásatrúarfélagið rite and other pagan religions. Reykjavik City Council has donated the site, but Ásatrúarfélagið will raise the £645,000 building costs.

'The sun changes with the seasons so we are in a way having the sun paint the space for us,' Hilmarsson said.

The temple will host ceremonies such as weddings and funerals. The group will also conduct naming ceremonies for children and initiate teenagers, similar to other religious communities in Iceland.

Iceland's neo-pagans still celebrate the ancient sacrificial ritual of Blot with music, reading, eating and drinking, but nowadays leave out the slaughter of animals. Apparently it's simply 'too much trouble'.