Often, when couples contact pagan priest Haukur Bragason to get him to officiate their wedding they start nervously tiptoeing around the fact that they’re not pagan.
“That’s ok,” Haukur usually responds. “Me neither.”
Though the answer is a joke meant to calm nervous brides and grooms to be, there is some truth to it. Like most other members of Iceland’s Pagan Association – and unlike most monotheistic believers – Haukur doesn’t adhere to strict sets of rules or believe in the Norse gods as tangible beings. Icelandic paganism, he explains, is about upholding tradition and a certain way of life, more spiritual than religious.
“When people tell me about their respect for nature, how much they hike and enjoy being outdoors, their love of animals I say: Yes! This is what paganism is about.”
Anybody, wherever they are from, can identify with the core values of heathenism which are honesty along with respect for all life and the awe of nature.
The old Norse religion, Ásatrú, was brought to Iceland by the first settlers and remained widely practiced until Icelanders formally became a Christian nation in the year 1000. Ásatrú was revived in 1972 with the founding of the Pagan Association and was once again recognized by the state in 1973. Since then it has grown leaps and bounds and is now the sixth largest religious association in the country with over 4000 members who don’t follow any dogma or scripture but instead, familiarize themselves with mythical stories recorded by 13th-century scholar, Snorri Sturluson.
“Science didn’t have answers yet so people made up stories,” Haukur says. “They enjoyed envisioning giant wolves chasing the sun and the moon and Þór (e. Thor) drinking the ocean from the horn of Útgarða-Loki so the sea would swell.”
Pagans respect their origin and honor their forefathers and Iceland’s history through their practice, he says. Anybody, wherever they are from, can identify with the core values of heathenism which are honesty along with respect for all life and the awe of nature.
Create your own adventure
Anyone can get married by the pagan association’s priests, be they Icelandic or foreigners, straight or gay, pagan or something entirely different. What’s more, even though this depends somewhat on the priest, pagan ceremonies can be highly personalized and include as many or few ritual elements as the couple prefers.
“I prefer to work with people so that they can design their own ceremonies,” Haukur says.
Usually, Haukur starts by sanctifying the site and the hour and then gives a short speech. He´ll usually have chosen a verse from old Norse poems such as Hávamál or Snorri’s Edda that he tries to connect to the couple and the occasion. Then, the couple exchanges oaths that they have prepared beforehand, in their own language. As they say their oaths Haukur and the couple hold on to the oath ring – a metal hoop the size of a cake dish – according to an old tradition that just so happens to be very photogenic.
“People shouldn’t think of pagan wedding’s as some sort of Lord of the Rings LARP, people should just be themselves.”
At that point, it’s usually time for the couple to place a ring on each other’s finger. Haukur declares them to be married and then a big drinking horn makes its way between the guests, if there are any, giving each one the chance to say a few words before drinking to the happy couple.
Sometimes, Haukur is asked to wear a ceremonial gown but on most occasions, he shows up in a suit.
“This isn’t a reenactment, it’s an evolving tradition as relevant today as it was during the time of the first settlers.” he says. He’s happy to dress up for themed weddings but such attire isn’t necessarily the norm. “People shouldn’t think of pagan wedding’s as some sort of Lord of the Rings LARP, people should just be themselves.”
Nothing is sacred
Haukur has had a number of different languages spoken during his ceremonies including all the Nordic languages, German, French, Dutch, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, Romanian, Spanish and even Hebrew – in a ceremony that included a few Jewish customs.
He’s also had some memorable experiences with adventurous couples: once someone fell into a river and on another occasion, a hike to the site of the ceremony proved too difficult for a wedding guest.
While pagan ceremonies are usually performed in proximity with nature Haukur recommends having a plan B. When it comes to the where, when and how, he says, nothing is so sacred it can’t be changed. People come from all over to get married in Iceland with varying ideas for their dream weddings. If those ideas don’t correspond with the weather conditions, there’s always some solution in sight.
“After marrying over 200 couples, one has a few good stories up one’s sleeve,” Haukur says with a laugh. “But no matter how simple or extravagant the wedding is, it’s always fun to be a part of people’s day”