What is believed to be the world’s first modern-day pagan temple has been created in a 16th Century church in Newark.
It is the first heathen temple to be established in England for more than 1,000 years and will be used by the Odinist Fellowship, whose aim is to have one in every town.
Restoration work to the Grade II listed Bede House Lane Chapel, the second oldest church building in Newark, is complete.
Seven original paintings by four artists, including one from America, of the religion’s most important gods and goddesses hang on the walls.
The fellowship, set up in 1988, is registered as a religious charity. Its director, Mr Ralph Harrison, has lived in Newark for eight years.
“This is the first modern-day pagan temple in the world,” he said. “It is a very open religion and anyone can came along without any obligation,” he said.
What is Odinism?
Odinism dates back to pre-Christian times and involves the worship of Norse and Germanic gods and goddesses.
The chief god is Odin, also called Allfather, who is the god of war, wisdom and death.
His wife, Frigg, is goddess of marriage and fertility.
Thor is the god of thunder. His hammer is used as a symbol in Odinism.
Many of the days of the week originate from the names of gods — Tuesday is from Tiu/Tyr the original god of war later regarded as Odin’s son; Thursday is Thor’s day; and Friday is named after Frigg.
Odinism was primarily the religion of the Vikings who lived in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland, and who came to Britain.
In ancient times it involved the sacrifice of animals.
Mr Ralph Harrison, the director of the Odinist Fellowship, said the crux of their modern-day worship was the Cup of Remembrance — a drinking horn filled with mead that is offered to the gods as a sacrifice by pouring some of it into a sacred bowl containing soil. The horn is then passed around.
The worship is taken by a priest or priestess who can be any adult Odinist, male or female. They wear a simple white surplus with a black hood.
It takes the form of prayers, chants, songs and readings from the Poetic Edda, a collection of old Norse poems, and the Prose Edda, a manual of poetics that also contains mythological stories. A discussion normally follows.
Odinists gather for nine main festivals.
Four mark points in the cycle of the years — Yule (winter solstice); Easter, which is named after Ostara the goddess of spring (spring equinox); midsummer (summer solstice); and harvest festival (autumn equinox).
They also celebrate Lindisfarne Day (January 8); Hengest’s Day (May 1); Sigurd’s Day, which commemorates Sigurd the dragon slayer on whom the legend of St George is based (April 23); Odinist Maryrs’ Day (July 29); and Heroes’ Day or Einheriar (November 11).
“We do not knock on people’s doors or thrust it down their throats. A lot of people who want spiritual guidance but do not know where to turn and are not satisfied with the conventional religions are looking to Odinism as an alternative.”
Mr Harrison said they had been looking for a building suitable for their first temple for some time and felt the stone chapel, in Bede House Lane, Newark, which has room for 36 people, was ideal.
It was built in 1556 for use by those living in the alms houses around it. It stopped being used as a church many years ago and became a base for Newark and Sherwood Community and Voluntary Service (CVS).
When the CVS moved out it was empty for some time and was put up for auction by the district council, which owned it.
The fellowship paid £46,000 for the building and a further £15,000 for restoration work, carried out by Newark company Kirk and Bills.
The money came from donations to a temple fund and included £2,000 from the Society For The Protection Of Ancient Buildings.
The paintings are the only decoration in what is otherwise a simple room with an altar at one end.
Mr Harrison said there were 10,000 Odinists in Britain, of whom 2,000 belonged to the fellowship.
He said there were about 48 members in Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire.
They normally meet in house groups and also have outdoor ceremonies in places of spiritual or historical significance or on sites of natural beauty such as the White Horse stone near Aylesford; Grim’s Mound, a scheduled monument near Burgh on Bain; and Aysgarth Falls in the Yorkshire Dales.
Mr Harrison said there was a lot of ignorance and misconceptions about the religion.
“The emphasis is on nature,” he said. “We don’t believe in heaven and hell. Its roots are historic and it has nothing to with witchcraft.
“This is an alternative for people who are fed up with the more conventional religions.
“At a time when the church is in the headlines for being in decline and there is a spiritual vacuum, people are looking around for more viable and spiritual alternatives.
“When you look into it this is quite a modern approach and a practical and sensible religion.”
Mr Harrison said they were happy for people to view the building and planned to organise open days.