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Viking Priests


"The Viking Age," by Paul B. Du Chaillu, vol. 1, p. 525-531



The power and functions of the godi, or temple-priest, whose name has been mentioned in the chapter on Religion, were probably the same in Norway as in Sweden or Denmark before the time of Harald Fairhair of Norway, Gorm of Denmark, and Eirik of Sweden. In the earliest times of the godis, whose office was called Godord (Godiship), were the leaders at sacrifices and spiritual rulers of the people, and their descendants united both the spiritual and temporal power.

The original number of holders of the godiship in Iceland was thirty-nine, but in the year 1004 twelve new members were added.

The position of the godi among the thingmen was of a special nature, and was grounded on birth or privilege, such as purchase; the only thing above him was the law, which was in the keeping of all the godis of the country. He had to see that the law was carried out among the Thingmen, and had to help his own Thingmen when they had a case against a Thingman of another district.

The temple-priest as such had certain revenues; he had, besides,a share of the pay given to the Thingmen by the búndr who did not go to the Thing; parts of certain fines and forfeited property, and fees for certain legal formalities which could only be performed by him. He was named by the district or by the family, and the búndr under a certain godi were called the Thingmen of the godi.

The Godord was looked upon as property; it was inherited, and could be given away, sold, or forfeited. If the godi forfeited the godiship, then the men of the Thridjung-district to which the godiship belonged had to elect another; and also, when the heir was not of age, they could elect a provisional godi. The heir to a godiship would become godi, if the boendr allowed him, at the age of twelve. If the heir was a woman, she could give the godiship to whichever man of the district she preferred.

When a man became a godi he killed a ram and dipped his hands in its blood.

If the godi broke the law he was prosecuted like another man, consequently there was a check upon his powers, and he had to take great care that law and justice were properly executed.

If the godi for one reason or another could not rule over his district, he could give it to whomsoever he liked within the district; though the office could be owned by more than one, it could only be represented by one man.

If there were several owners, and the power had only been given to one of them, it went by turns one year at a time.

The godis seem to have worn long beards, which apparently was the custom among rulers, for Edward is represented on the Bayeux tapestry with a beard.

When the heir to the godiship was a minor, the fittest Thingman took the office till he came of age.

Every Thing-district had a fixed Thing called Herad-thing, which was presided over by the three godis of the Thing-district.

The godi in whose district the Thing-place lay declared the Thing holy; if the Thingman could not come himself, he could send a freeman of his house in his place.

A Thingman could declare himself the Thingman of another godi. Every godi had to have a booth on the plain, large enough to hold all his Thingmen; but the great búndr often had with them their own booths, and their friends, women, children, and servants, & etc. The godi who declared the Althing holy was called Allsherjar Godi (the godi of the whole host).

We see that in Iceland at first the Kjalnesinga Godi had the high office at the Althing, but later the godi in whose district the Althing lay.

The Althing began on Thursday when ten weeks (fifty days) of summer had passed, and lasted fourteen days.

To the Althing all the godis had to come, and to arrive on Thursday night, before the sun had left the plain; if not, they forfeited their godiship. If a godi had met with lawful hindrances, the godi of the same Thing-district decided who should take his place. He had the right to call upon every ninth man of his Thingmen to follow him to the Spring-thing.

All the búndr who had come to the Althing on Thursday night were considered right Thingmen, but the búndr who remained at home had to pay a fine. If they came before the first Sunday of the Thing they were right Thingmen, but received no pay. The Thingmen were not allowed to leave the precincts of the Thing before the assembly was dissolved.

Sometimes meetings took place called Vapnathing, where all the búndr had to appear, and produce for inspection the arms which every man was legally obliged to have.

The place where the judges sat was holy, and ropes, vebond marked out the boundaries of the enclosure.


"The Viking Age," by Paul B. Du Chaillu, vol. 1, p. 525-531 



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