The Role of the Goði

The role of goðar in Ásatrú is an interesting one. We translate goði into English as “priest” but I don’t think that really explains the word accurately. In order to discuss what the role of a goði is we need to make sure we first understand how it is different from ordained clergy. To the best of my knowledge, only the Troth and the AFA currently have clergy training programs in the USA. It is also my understanding that these programs certify graduates as ordained clergy with all the legal rights and responsibilites recognized by American law. I do not know what other countries have or what rights those nations grant ordained clergy. The important detail here is legal authority in religious matters as granted by the federal government. This is different than the role of goði for your kindred, hearth, or blót-group because very few states recognize any clerical authority to non-ordained persons. It’s unfortunate but it is a bias that we face because of our small size.

So, if your local goði can’t always serve the legal functions of ordained clergy, what purpose does he serve? Ideally, a goði is someone who serves their community as a source of knowledge about our lore, our history, our customs, and our faith. They should be able to provide guidance on these subjects and help members of the community understand who we are, where we come from, and how to deal with religious and spiritual matters in the modern world. They should also be leading people as a religious functionary, particularly when others are unable or unwilling to do so. In a lot of ways, this makes the role of goði a role of cultural leadership as much as it is sacral leadership making a good goði more akin to a Jewish rabbi or Muslim imam than a Catholic priest.

Since we don’t belong to an institutional religion and we don’t usually have ordained clergy filling this role we need to look at how goðar are selected. Let’s be honest, in most cases, the job falls on the man or woman who is knowledgeable enough and willing enough to do this job. Historically, this might well have been the case as well but we can’t be certain. Some groups actively select their goði or gyðja from their most knowledgeable and experienced members. In other groups it happens organically, with the most willing person taking on the roll. They may or may not be the leader of the group. Ultimately, the selection of a goði really is up to the community and it is worth looking at the qualifications candidates have. Each group must decide for itself what their needs are and if a person can fill those needs.


The Role of the Goði — 5 Comments

  1. Excellent post ! From a Swedish Standpoint, I’m reminded by the days of Sveriges Asatrosamfund (ie when it still existed, and followed its old charter) when there was a training programme for this as well – and not only that – mandatory tests of knowledge, before anyone could call himself or herself a Gydja. This was in the mid 1990’s. Since of then, sadly, much has changed hereabouts, and what’s left of the organisation I mentioned isn’t what it used to be. Even if there are many paths, of cource, and eventhough you migt be right in assuming that each kindred decieds for itself, I for one would argue that if real Asatru is to do well, expand and thrive, as opposed to syncretist, multiculturaliist “forn sed” (again, there is nothing wrong with that per se – only not everyone is a multiculturalist or syncretist) there somehow, somewhere has to be a “basic standard” of knowledge concerning the subject matter, or some basic services/blots/rites whatever to be performed, if Godehood is to function as it once did – in the quite recent past…

    • In this day and age, we are forced to validate clergy and clerical authority for the satisfaction of government agencies. This isn’t wholly a bad thing because it usually means that ordained clergy have received at least a modicum of training but it works against us as a religious group because we don’t have, and are almost allergic to, institutions that define our faith. We are a folk religion and our clergy grew out of that in an organic fashion. That being said, the role of clergy has greatly expanded in the modern world and is no longer limited to the local person who maintained a hof. We even look to organized clergy to lead us as cultural leaders as well as religious functionaries. From what I can see of Swedish history, and I think I’m going to have to pick your brain on this some time, is that the cult center in Uppsala was socially influential (as one would expect) and did appear to be more organized than the almost anarchist structures we see in Iceland at the same time. I would imagine that any area where a hof of decent size existed would also have had some degree of organization in religious life as it pertained to the community. I see American Ásatrú strongly influenced by the Icelandic tradition with almost no regard to the Swedish, Danish, or (now known) Norwegian practice of cultic centers that impacted public religion and supported a professional clerical class.

      Given the demands of modern society, I think we really do need to start understanding that there is a difference between a goði and your local religious functionary. We don’t require a cleric to practice our faith, unlike other religions, but we need to understand what purpose clergy should serve as we rebuild our troth. I would much rather have trained, educated leaders who know the lore, know our history, and are trained to deal with spiritual and personal counciling and call them a goði or gyðja instead of calling some random person who is willing to lead a blót by a title they haven’t earned. Maybe there is a middle ground that splits the difference between methods similar to how many imams are selected and how rabbis are trained, but I’d much rather go with a system much closer to the rabbinical tradition than leave room in our faith for potentially accepting the craziness that comes with so many imams in the Islamic world.

      • Well, in essece, you certainly is right. Turning to the Icelandic free state, however, there were four fjärdings or fourths, each divided in tridjungs or thirds, making for 12 “godord” in all, historically speaking, so I for one would say that in those days, the institution was far from “anarchistic” – and furthermore, the Godord concept then had a judiciary and legislative as well as administrative purpose as wel, that sort of took precedence, once Christianity came to the island in the year 1000 – after which “godehood” was in decline… but – that’s just my views on the subject

  2. I am ordained as a minister through the Universal Life Church. This gives me the legal ability to perform services such as marriages, funerals, etc. I am not ordained through a particular faith but I follow Asatru. Would this credential be a benefit or a hindrance as a Godi?

    • You need to look at the regulations regarding these clerical functions in your state. In some states, an ordination from the ULC has no authority at all while other states do no require you to be ordained at all.

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