THE ROLE OF THE GOTHAR IN THE ASATRU COMMUNITY
BY VALGARD MURRAY
THE OLD NORSE WORD " GOTHAR " is the plural form of Gothi or Gythia. The Gothar are the collective priesthood of the Asatru Community. Proper pronunciation in Old Norse is: Gothar (go-thar). It literally means: those who speak the godly tongue.
We know from many surviving ancient accounts that the Gothar played a pivotal role in the founding of Iceland and the development there of a system of government known as the Godic Republic. This ancient method of self government was known as the AlThing. At the AlThing the Gothar of the 36 districts of Iceland met annually to read the Law, settle disputes among the Folk, and mete justice to law breakers.
This concept of self rule has been practiced since antiquity by the people of the North. We will deal in greater detail in a future article titled "The AlThing", but here we will discuss the role of the Gothar in the contemporary Asatru Community.
In ancient times, as we know from the writings of Tacitus in The Agricola and The Germania, the Teutons worshipped their Gods and Goddesses in holy groves and by sacred springs and rivers. Tribal priests and priestesses presided in these matters. We learn from Adam of Bremen of the great Temple of Uppsala, where great public Blots were held, again presided over by the Temple Priests. There are also numerous Saga accounts of the Hofs maintained by the priests for public worship in Norway and Iceland.
From all of this we learn that there were people who specialized in conducting public worship of the Gods and Goddesses. They were also responsible for establishing Hofs and Temples, and maintained the equipment and furnishings necessary to conduct Blots and other religious services. In the days of the Godic Republic, the Gothar was also responsible for the civil administration of the country as well.
In modern times, as the Asatru Community struggles to reassert itself as the true religion of the Folk, the work of the Gothar is difficult indeed. Not only is it his or her duty to conduct the Blots, maintain the Hofs and sacred groves and provide the ritual equipment, but he or she must also seek out those within our Folk worthy to practice the old ways, and to reawaken the Ancestral Soul of our people, which is weak and near death after a thousand years of Christian pollution.
The true Gothar of the modern era must be a fearless spiritual warrior, a fervent Asatru missionary. They must be as wise as the AllFather, as strong as Asa Thorr, and as loving as the Lady Freya, if they are to succeed in their chosen profession. In short, only the bravest, wisest, and most loving of our Folk can ever aspire to the position of Gothi or Gythia. Nothing less than total dedication and personal sacrifice to our cause will do. Anything less will result in failure. If you are a dabbler in the Northern mysteries, a crystal poking Norse Wiccan, or someone who lives in a fantasy world, please go far away and do everyone a favor. For the rest of you who have a sincere desire, a burning will, and a constitution of iron, we will proceed. In Vor Tru No. 52 not only did we discuss the significance of the Blot, we examined the actual mechanics for performing public sacrifice, and we discussed also the part that the Gothi and Gythia played in such religious services of the Folk. I urged all who have the desire to perform Blots to do so whether privately at home with the family, or publicly in the sacred places with the Kindred. The person who performs the Blot, is at that place and time a Gothi. However, it is what you do for the Folk after the Blot which determines whether you are indeed a member of the Gothar, one who has earned the respect of the Asatru Community as a tireless and fearless spiritual leader of the Folk, and one who constantly strives to improve himself through constant study and practice of the lore of our people. Indeed, are you one who has earned the respect and admiration of the Folk because of your tireless efforts in their behalf?
At this point, let's assume that you aspire to become one of the Gothar. Where do you begin? I will start by saying that I have known more than a few who wished to become a Gothi. My best advice at this time is to urge them to find a recognized Gothi, and somehow convince the Priest of the Folk to become his apprentice. You must realize at this point in time that many may choose to walk this path, but by the process of natural selection, few will attain their goal. If you find a Gothi to aid you in your studies, you are fortunate to have that aid in your quest. If you personally don't know anyone of the Gothar, don't despair. You can teach yourself. THEY DID!
I might add at this time that there is a course of study offered for the Gothar offered by:
The Asatru Folk Assembly
P.O. Box 445
Nevada City, CA. 95959
Please write to them for details. This course outlines a course of study including the Eddas, Sagas, the Runes, and associated liturgical texts that will aid you in your search for knowledge. I might caution you that the course is tough, and will indeed separate the sincere from the insincere. It also costs money to conduct such courses, so you must be able to handle the financial sacrifice as well.
The Asatru Alliance does not have such a program per se, but we do have a number of Gothis at this time who are helping others learn the craft. As time goes by, we will have a program of our own.
However noble the concept of a Gothar course may sound, it is a waste of time if you don't have instinctively what it takes. The world is full of people with Masters Degrees who were the best of students, but can't apply knowledge to the real world. So, although it is a must to learn all that you can about our Gods, Folk, Heritage, and Lore, if you are incapable or lack the people skills to form a Kindred, serve the Folk, and profess the faith of our ancestors to the world, you're in the same boat as the guy with the Masters Degree working at the convenience mart as a clerk. What good will be your certificate of graduation from the Gothar course be if no one respects you for such? The course is but one step in your personal evolution as a priest of the Folk. You must earn the respect of your Kindred and the Asatru Community. You must set an example for the Folk by living your life with honor and dignity. Responsibility and personal integrity are keys to earning that respect. As I said earlier in this article, you must be totally devoted, and live your life accordingly.
Okay, let's assume that you have been blessed by the Gods with all the right instincts. You've enrolled in the Gothi course, or have started independent studies, and have found a recognized Gothi to aid you in your studies, or you are going it alone. What do you do now?
If you already belong to a Kindred, you're off to a good start. If not, you must found your own. Tough work, but again part of the job. You are fortunate, though, that there is an Alliance of Independent Kindreds who aid those like yourself in forming Kindreds. Contact us, let us know your intentions and little bit about yourself. Perhaps we can help you in finding others in your general area who are looking for Kindred contact, but don't quite have what it takes to take the initiative to actually form a Kindred. You must then use your Gods' given skills and talents to seek these people out and START that Kindred. I am not going to discuss how to form a Kindred in great detail at this time. It will be the subject of my next installment in this series of articles. For now, let's return to the subject of becoming a Gothi.
It is important for every Gothi to have a library, for study and reference, but also to share with others who seek knowledge of their precious heritage. This, of course, like all of the other requirements of the job, is a life's work. Begin with the Elder Edda, study The Havamal daily, but also learn the ancient myths of our Gods and Goddesses. Learn the myths and unlock the keys to the Nine Worlds. Study the Runes and obtain a set of them, or better yet, make your own. Learn the Runes, and use them. Read the wealth of information about our heroes in the Sagas, and obtain and read every possible book about the history, culture, customs, and lore of our ancestors. Of course study the Viking Age, but don't forget that the history of our people began with Ask and Embla, and continues on today. Where are you going to find time to do all of this reading? Why don't you start by selling your television and using the proceeds to buy books? And please, list your library in your Will so that when you die your precious book hoard doesn't wind up in the Goodwill box! You must acquire all of the knowledge that you can, because the Folk with come to you with their questions. Be prepared to answer them.
It is also important for the aspiring Gothi or Gythia to obtain the ritual tools necessary for your work. I know that it will take many years to obtain or build them, but you must do it all the same. Since the beginning of our people's spiritual awareness, the most precious possession of our holy men and women was the ritual bowl. Pronounced Bowli in Old Norse. It is symbolized in the shape of the Perthro Rune. It contains the power of our Gods, the luck and fortune of the tribe, the receptacle of our will and aspirations, and the holy offerings that we make to our Gods. It is the primal possession of the Shaman and the priest. It is sacred.
However, just as important to the Gothi, is the Oath Ring. The Book of Settlements, written in Iceland to describe the Godic Republic, says; "A Ring of a prescribed size should be placed on the altar in every Main Temple. The Gothi of that temple should carry that Ring on his wrist to all regular Things, where he should conduct the procedures. Before that he should wash the Ring in the blood of a bull he had sacrificed himself." Here we learn the importance of both the Ring and the Bowli. I might note here that a surviving 1,600 year old Ring of the Goths with runic inscription still survives, crafted in solid gold. The Ring is brought to all Kindred functions, and is worn by the Gothi at all Blots and Sumbels as a service to the Folk who may wish to take a sacred oath. I know that it may be impossible for some to procure a gold or silver Oath Ring, myself included, but some type of Ring must be used. Mine is made of brass and has served our Kindred for over ten years.
We know from the Myths, that Thorr blessed the funeral pyre of Baldur with his Hammer. We also know from the Sagas that Thorr's Hammer was used to bless brides, babies, and the Folk. A ritual sized Hammer is also a must. Mine was a gift from my foster father, and is hand carved from cherry wood. It has served me and the Folk well for twenty years. The Hammer is also used in some Blot is for the banishing ritual, and later to bless the Feast. I have seen some Gothis use a sledgehammer purchased from the hardware store, and I know of some prison Kindreds who use a rubber Hammer. Again, what is important here is the symbolism, and the power in the blessing projected by the Gothi. Improvise!
The last of the most important implements is the Stalli, Old Norse for altar. We have a stalli made of stone at our Hof, and I know of many who have constructed Stallis in their sacred groves. The Stalli, of course, is the focal point of the Blot, and holds the necessary implements used during the service. I have also used a simple folding camp table, which has served me well, both during the Blot, and the ritual Feast to follow.
It is worthy to note here, that our Kindred banner is also designed to be used as an altar cloth. Kindreds may keep this in mind when they are designing their banner.
Of lesser importance is the making and procurement of various ritual items used during various Blots, like a ritual drinking horn, a Gander, sword, spear, a Brisingamen, etc. Of course in many cases you will have to improvise. Also keep in mind that the procurement of ritual items can very well be a Kindred project, and thus are Kindred property.
I think it very important to add here that a Gothi should have ritual attire as well. It is an important part of the personal transformation that you must make to prepare for the Blot, or other religious function. By the donning of ritual attire, vestments if you like, you make a conscience step to separate yourself from the mundane, and enter a spiritual state.
This leads to the next step. You must familiarize yourself with the basic Blot and Sumbel formula, as well as the other important rituals and ceremonies of the Folk. There will become a time when you will be called upon to officiate at various activities of the Kindred, and the public as well. Work hard and learn the priestcraft.
The last important point that I wish to make is that you, as a member of the Gothar, are a highly visible member of the greater Asatru Community. You must conduct your public, as well as private affairs in a way which is beyond approach. In effect, you must set an example for others to follow. Always conduct yourself with dignity and honor. For you are the last great hope for our Folk. Never forget your responsibilities to your Kindred, and work hard to develop your skills. You are an important link in the legacy and history of our people. The martyrs of the Saxon's Gothar never flinched when ordered to renounce Asatru or face beheading at the hands of Charlamagne's Holy Roman Empire. Nor did the Gothar of Norway who bravely defied "Saint" Olaf's edicts to submit to the throne and the Pope. We shall never forget the deeds of these heroes, and always honor their memory in our deeds.