Index | About | Mission | Vor Vegr | Resources | Contacts | Book Store | What's New |



The role of the Godhar!

I think that some attention needs to be paid to the role of the Godhar. Whilst in some respects it is 'up to the group' how they will approach this role there is, in fact, quite a bit of guidance as to how this roll was understood in the heathen period.  This is especially true in terms of the Icelandic sources, which give a fairly clear indication as to the roles and functions of the Godhar.  Despite the depth of the Icelandic sources we must acknowledge that the word itself is fairly old and there are even a few Runic inscriptions, the oldest of which is 5th century, which use the word or cognatic words to describe a traditional heathen function.  Hence we can be rather sure that the role is a fairly traditional one even though its exact nature may have changed or been reinterpreted in the later Viking period.

This being said we must acknowledge that despite the age of the title in order to have an understanding of its exact function we really do have to consult the Icelandic tradition.  As a title it indicates that the person holding that title has both social and religious or sacral prominence. The role is one with both socio-political and religious functions, the Godhi wielding a form of power that would seem to slide between our modern categories of politics and religion. This in itself serves to demonstrate the close link between the world of life, especially the soicio-political realm and the world of the divine.  Which itself forces the modern heathen to rethink the relation of religion to politics and social life - our ancestors were not secularists who sought to divide the sphere of religion from the realm of ethics and politics, rather for them the divine penetrated all aspects of their culture.  Hence the sacral power of a religious functionary flowed resonated with the temporal power of the socio-political functionary - one could not hold sacral power without holding temporal power and one could not hold temporal power without in turn holding sacral power.  A person with a powerful hamingja is a leader in both realms, for hamingja is a holy main which manifests through worldly actions, the luck of the leader was something that was intimately linked to the realm of the holy.

So the role of the Godhi is something like an amalgamation of the duties of both the chieftain who wields temporal power and religious functionary who wields sacral power. In the later Icelandic tradition and after the conversion to Christianity the role of the Godhar became more and more social and political and less religious.  This is a process that we can see occurring through the history of the Icelandic republic, for obvious reasons, the social changes that began in the beginning of the Viking era continue to erode traditional Teutonic values and practices.  The coming of Christianity to Iceland only served to compound these shifting values. 

Regardless of this the title of Godhi is a title that is given to those of social and sacral prominence. It is a title which indicates more than the sacral power of the religious functionary and more than the temporal power of the political official.  This is how it must be understood today.  In my own group most people have at some point undertaken to perform some sacral function, indeed I would hope that all heathens would aspire to undertaking some form of sacral function.  Yet I do not take this to mean that we are all Godhar, that any person who performs a religious function should hold the title Godhi or Gythja.  If this was the case then I think that the title would lose much of its meaning and significance.  The Godhar would come to be the majority of our community.

In the Icelandic tradition it does not seem that every mistake that the Godhar makes is going to cost him his Godhord. The role was more complicated than the idea that one mistake will cost you your title.  Sure the hamingja of the group is bound to the head of the group just like the Aettfylgja, the clannic fetch is associated with the head of the group. The Aettfylgja does seem to be transferable in many senses, but it is not so mobile as to pop from individual to individual every time a leader messes up or does something that the group does not agree with. Furthermore when this does happen, when an action of significance is taken which could have 'negative' consequences upon the hamingja of the group, the most appropriate (and I think the most traditional) thing to do is to determine a course of action that would bring equilibrium.
Action and consequence must be met with counter action in order to bring things back into a state of balance.  The law of reciprocity plays out at the level of action.  Significant actions effect orlog and only a significant counter action can work to bring things back to balance.  Understanding this relation between temporal action and the sacral spheres of orlog and hamingja is part of good leadership

The honour system especially as it existed in Iceland gives some indication of how this works in the practical sphere. If the holder of a Godhord in one area slights my own Godhi, then he has been dishonoured.  If my Godhi does nothing in response then he admits that he is a lesser man than the one who slighted him and this very inaction is, when considered as a response to offence, a significant action and thus forms part of that Godhi's orlog.  Furthermore this inaction is a mark that says a great deal about the hamingja of my Godhi, which is itself intimately linked to the hamingja of our group.  This situation can only be rectified through taking some kind of action, some kind of counter action - not necessarily violent - that can equalise things.  This serves to try to counter the bad orlog that has been laid but also serves as a further test of hamingja, a further test of luck.

Anyway in regard to the role of the Godhi, I think we have a fairly clear indication of the traditional nature of the role, or at least how that title was customarily considered.  I think that this is a role or a title that we should give sparingly, it should be bestowed on those members of our community that show not only a capacity to lead us in Blot but also those who show the capacity to lead our communities.  It cannot serve as a title for every heathen who has ever offered blot to the gods but rather should be reserved for those who have played important roles in both sacral and temporal leadership.

Ragnar -128!
Of; Das Haus Aarlig
In; Al-Thydhjagardh (Australia).