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Thread: Pagan Clergy - Who Qualifies? An Asatru Perspective

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    Pagan Clergy - Who Qualifies? An Asatru Perspective

    Pagan Clergy - Who Qualifies? An Asatru Perspective

    Why A Priesthood?

    In some faiths, such as Catholicism, one may pray directly to deity, but it is helpful to go through an intermediary, such as the saints, or better yet, the priesthood. In some others, such as Wicca, one is both permitted and encouraged to pray directly to the divine, and as a result, the faith considers every skilled practitioner to be their own priest/priestess.

    Asatru (and its variants, sometimes going by Heathenism, Odinism, Theodism, Germanic/Teutonic Paganism, etc.) tends to pride itself on being direct and practical. Anyone may and should contact deity directly, and a priesthood is not necessary. Nonetheless, a priesthood exists. Why?

    What we do today is modeled on how things were done long ago, before our faith all but disappeared for a thousand years. Worship rituals for smaller occasions tended to be done as a family or household, and were led by the head of that household (way back when, that was generally the father of the family, though not always) . But for more important occasions or group events (say, a celebration involving a whole village) , this is where the gothi came in ("gothi" is an Old Norse word for priest, meaning "god-friend" - the female form is "gythia;" forgive me if I use only the one for the sake of brevity) .

    The gothi handled larger rites, represented the village or area at law-gatherings, and if there was a temple in the area, maintained it. It was not necessary to go through the gothi to reach the divine, but at the same time, the average person did not qualify as a gothi - that was a specific designation.

    Today, we don't have law-gatherings at which the people of an area must be represented, and in many cases even our biggest worship gatherings are not very large. Since anyone can lead a rite, what role is left for the gothar (that's the plural term) ?

    Gothar today tend to fall into the category of "experts." They are experts in the lore and literature, experts on the old ritual forms and their modern counterparts, are good with people and managing groups, and so on. While anyone can run a worship ritual, a gothi is more likely to have made it his or her business to do so, may have taken courses in public speaking or theatre and so on. Even if you don't bring in a gothi to perform the actual rite, they stand as excellent consulting resources to help you know how to run an effective ritual, perhaps provide you with some lore references, coaching and the like.

    Who Is Qualified?

    To a degree, we've already answered this question. Since modern gothar are expected to be experts in lore and rite, this is the first qualification - an excellent working knowledge of what has gone before, what has been written, and what is done today.

    People skills, an excellent speaking voice, personable disposition and general good-naturedness go a long way, too.

    But there is one more qualification generally given for gothar today, and it's an odd one, compared to many other faiths:

    You are a gothi if someone says you are.

    What this means is that you can call yourself a gothi all you like, but unless someone else is willing to consider you one, you're not one. The job is defined in the doing, not the naming.

    As many Asatruar are fond of saying, "You are a gothi if you say you are and no one laughs."

    Or as I like to put it, "Being a gothi is like any other leadership role - you're only a leader if someone is willing to follow you."

    This attitude is supported in the surviving lore. There is the story of Thorolf Mostarskeggr in Eyrbyggja Saga who, upon arriving in Iceland, dedicated land to Thor for his home and temple, built the temple (called a "hof") , and simply started doing the work of a gothi. The people already living in the area saw that he knew what he was doing, and accepted him as a gothi.

    Searching around the Internet, you might find some groups who offer to accredit people as gothar.

    Some groups making such accreditation offers simply maintain a contact list, and for a fee, you can get listed on it. They might not even make any attempt to vet that list, like asking gothar to prove themselves before being listed. This is an incomplete approach. It may help to put people in touch, which is a laudable goal given that Asatruar tend to be few and far between so far, but, to adapt our phrase above, this is akin to saying you're a gothi and not listening to see if anyone laughs.

    For other groups, accreditation means taking an extended course in lore and ritual forms and all sorts of esoteric knowledge to prepare you for the role, and then, if you pass, they proclaim you as such. But this only says that you have the knowledge their program expects a gothi to have. This is a good idea as a training program, but the declaration at the end is premature, as it satisfies one main qualification, but not the other. Picture it this way: A Catholic priest is a priest because of his schooling in seminary, whether he works with a congregation or in some other capacity in the church. On the other hand, a pastor is defined as a pastor because of his pastoral charge - that is, a congregation; without one, he is essentially just a man who knows the Bible very well.

    How Do I Become A Gothi?

    If you are Asatru and you wish to become a gothi, neither of these approaches is a bad one, just incomplete. A course of study such as those offered by accrediting groups can teach you what you need to know, but you can just as easily learn these things on your own.

    What you need is basically this:
    • An excellent working knowledge of the mythology and the surviving literature.
    • An excellent working knowledge of the old ritual forms and how they are being adapted today.
    • Some knowledge of the sociology, history, archeology and other disciplines' work on related topics, such as typical dress, social life, what it meant to "go a-Viking, " burial practices - whatever you can get your hands on.
    • Some knowledge of the modern history of Asatru, its different styles, groups and notable figures.
    • A good speaking voice, and comfort in using it.
    • Skill at organizing people, delegating responsibility and generally getting a group to work.
    • At least a passing knowledge of the runes - many Asatruar use them, and you should at least be generally familiar with them.
    • A bit of a head for poetry, or at least a good sense of rhythm. A little research into the forms and styles of Old Norse poetry may help, too.
    • A passion for reading and continual learning - this is, after all, "the religion with homework."
    • A desire to serve the people of the faith, not just a desire to be recognized by them. You're here to help the faithful pay honor to the gods, not to have the faithful pay honor to you.
    • A willingness to work - it's not always going to be easy.
    Asatru does have a priesthood, but it's not really like those of other faiths. Asatru gothar are the experts at leading rituals, but you don't have to be a gothi to lead a ritual. They are expected to be experts on the lore, but anyone else can be as well.

    Above all, as the saying goes, "You are a gothi if you say you are and no one laughs."

    Die Sonne scheint noch.

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    Great Post......A few responses

    Great List!! One of the first things you need is a room full of Books and the time to study them. You have to be free with your time.
    There are many occasions that are fun, Weddings & Namings.But.......the Gothi is Not the Central figure. The Bride and Groom, the Child being Named, the Parents.....Gothi after all is a Service position.
    There are occasions that are not fun.......Funerals, especially, for a child.
    Sometimes it is hard to hold back your own tears.
    At a recent Wedding, the Mother of the Groom became very confrontational,
    at the Rehearsal. She considered us and what we were doing as every kind of Evil. And how I had led him into paths that would condemn his soul forever. I remained calm but firm, in the face of her rude, loud harangue.
    I explained that we did not fear her God or her Hell. I explained that her Son was old enough to make his own choices (27 yrs. old).
    And that it was his Wedding........She quieted down.....
    The next day at the Wedding she was very apologetic.
    All went well. She told us "it was a beautiful Wedding, even though she did not approve".

    There are several Valid Approaches to the Aesir and Vanir. Each is sure theirs' is best.I work very well with those of all the Folkish persuasions. Not so much with the Universalists.

    Thanks for this Good Explanation.

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