Pagan temple for the Asatru congregation in Reykjavik
Gudjon Thor Erlendsson, London
Copyright © Gudjon Thor Erlendsson & Jeffrey Paul Turko
Invited Competition in Reykjavik, Iceland
The brief for a Norse temple in Iceland is a unique project aspiration of the Asatru pagans. Going back to the essence of the Asatru world view the scheme aims to deliver a project that expresses and accommodated the ancient pagan religious ceremonies, while at the same time presenting a modern design.
Aims and Objectives
Nature and Landscape was and is a fundamental part of Norse pagan worship, so for any attempt at a proposal for a temple (Hof), it needs to be fully integrated with the landscape. At the same time the Hof needs to fulfil an outward symbolic role for the Asatru congregation.
There are 4 primary design concepts driving this project: The landscape, historical descriptions, Norse artistic symbolism and ritual use of spaces.
The proposal adopts and manipulates the slopes and undulation of the landscape to form the surfaces and levels of the building complex. The surrounding forest is taken both figuratively and literally into the temple through the use of in-between spaces, light filtration and planting. The spaces use the ideas of forest groves and landform to arrangement the spaces internally and externally. Orientation of the spaces and light sources follow the landscape, cardinal directions and celestial events.
For more than a millennia no known Norse temples have been built to the Norse gods, so it can be difficult to find sources for the exact use of spaces, it’s rituals, symbolism and accommodation of the old religion. When offered the opportunity to submit a proposal for the design of the new Hof the designer found it the most exciting design work we have taken on, as it has the potential to become a new building archetype for Norse temples.
“Níu man ek heima, níu íviðjur, mjötvið mæran, fyr mold neðan.”
One of the core principles of the Norse was the world tree, Yggdrasill. Due to the importance of the tree in paganism, the designer found that it should be a core design principle of the Hof. Going back into the Edda’s text on Yggdrasil, a model of the world paradigm was carefully constructed. This three dimensional model demonstrated some principles. The world is divided into three levels; below, middle and above (roots, trunk and crown). Through those levels there are 3 “branches”; Human (Hel, Midgardur, Asgardur), Nature/Elve (Svartalfheimar, Alfheimar, Vanaheimar) and Elemental/primordial (Niflheimar, Jotunheimar, Muspellsheimar). The form that this three dimensional model creates appears from above or below as “valknut” a symbol which meaning had been lost to a large extent.
This form becomes the basis of the Hof’s inner temple space with the “trunk” locating the three sacred pillars around the altar. The top extends upwards and forms the three towers of the temple as described by Adam of Bremen.
The “gold” chain that Adam describes as circulating the temple can be assumed to represent the Midgards Worm that circulates the world.
The basic organisation of the building functions derive from the same principle with the tree branches of the paradigm. The temple space for “human”, the stone circle for “nature” and the temple plaza for “primordial”.
There are three main open ritual spaces in the Norse temple site and more in the landscape around the complex. The first being the internal temple space with a central raised altar over which a smoke stack sits. The space is otherwise open without any permanent furniture. In the front of the entrance space is a small plaza used for elemental rituals and on the roof of the pagan temple dining hall is a planted area with a stone circle used for external / nature rituals. These refer to the three primary branches of the world tree (see below). Other ritual sites are around the site, including the Mymis pond and Yew tree on one corner of the building, forest glades and sea access.
The Hof is conceived as a complex rather than a single building, the area accommodates multiple functions that are adaptable to the variations of Asatru. The Temple space sits on the South side, the congregation hall and stone circle to the North with the Temple plaza to the West.
The temple space has a raised platform in the centre holding the altar. Curtains surround the space that can be opened or closed for flexibility of use. Loos seating allows for the variations in use. Window openings into the temple space are calculated for celestial events over the year.
The congregation hall can seat 250 people and serviced by a small café and souvenir shop.
The stone circle sits on the roof of the congregation hall and with a main access over a bridge that traverses around the temple plaza.
The Temple plaza is a hard landscaped surface with a movable fire pot in its centre. This space is used for
New Year’s bonfires and other primordial worship.
The numbers three and nine are significant in most of the descriptions, a point we got back to in the design development of the temple.
Three statues of gods are in the temple and worshiped; Odin, Freyr and Thor
Odin has Armour and is specifically worshiped for war
Freyr has Phallus and is specifically worshiped for marriage (fertility)
Thor has Hammer and is specifically worshiped for famine or starvation (nature)
Each god has its own priest/priests that sacrifice to the statue for worshipers.
Every nine years a common festival is held for all the gods.
Blood sacrifices are made in the tree grove, including 9 males of every species.
Nine day festival at the spring equinox
The structure of the temple is reinforced concrete frame with stone and wood cladding externally and internally. Doors and window frames are carved wood with Norse motives. All the gods, both major and minor are represented on the curtains that surround the Temple space.