Scholarship offers us little help in determining how organized the ancient religion of Asatru was. We know that there was a large temple at Upsulla, and we know that some areas had taxes which were clearly intended to support the religion. We also have abundant evidence of a much less organized system in which people met in sacred groves or built their own Hof's and thus became a Gothi (Priest) or Gythia (Priestess). Such temples were generally maintained by the family after the builders death, the title being more or less inherited by whomever was lord over the land.
Today, Kindreds are highly autonomous. The clergy of Asatru are known as Gothi (Godman/Priest) or Gythia (Godwoman/Priestess). These are honorary titles only. Being called Gothi does not mark any administrative or religious power or rank within Asatru as a whole. The Gothar are those who have chosen to take on more responsibilities. Anyone in Asatru can reach the Gods through their own prayers or blots without being a Gothi.
As to what makes one a Gothi, the requirements would vary from group to group. Some might have written criteria, while others might leave it up to the persons heart. The true test of a Gothi is not one of credentials, but of whether the folk take one seriously or not. Certainly a Gothi is one who has a long term relationship with the Gods and Goddesses. One does not, for example, simply read this book or practice the religion for a few months and then proclaim oneself Gothi, to do so would invite scorn and laughter. A competent Gothi should have studied the Eddas and Sagas and know the history of our religion. He or she should also know a bit about the runes, and the other mysteries of our tradition. One should also note that this is a public office and the Gothi of old had responsibilities as leaders of the community. Most importantly one must be sincerely dedicated not only to the Gods, but to the duties and calling of being a religious leader. There's no push to move to a "higher" level of the Priesthood as there are in religions or magickal orders with "degree systems" and if you do not feel compelled to take on the responsibilities of being a Gothi or Gythia, there is no need for you to and much to say that you should not.
Most persons who were given the title Gothi in the old days were dedicated to a single God. The title most often formed their last name: Thorolf Thorsgothi for example. This dedication to a God or Goddess was usually part of one's family heritage and was passed down to your children. While there is no compelling reason why one cannot act as Priest to the entire community of Gods and Goddesses, it is most common for one to be dedicated to a single deity. A kindred may have persons who are each dedicated to a different deity, or it may orient itself towards a single deity as did families in the Sagas.
One national organization, The Ring of Troth, offers official ministerial recognition on two levels: Eldership and Godmen. The Elder program entails a great deal of study in the ways of our ancient forebears. Elders are intended not so much to be everyday ministers, but to be teachers and sources of information for the Folk at large. The second program, entitling one Godman or Godwoman, is intended for more day to day clergy. A Godman must be informed about the lore of our modern religion and familiar with the Gods and rituals of Asatru and capable of performing them, but does not go into deep academic study in the manner of an Elder.
The most basic unit of Asatru religious worship is the hearth or homestead. This is nothing more than it sounds like: a household of Asafolk who worship the old Gods and Goddesses. Several individuals or hearths may group themselves into a "kindred," which is a term that has many meanings to many different groups. Some kindreds have many members and function like mainstream churches, others are more familylike and attempt to hold to their privacy. The place of a kindred is more or less analogous to a clan or small tribal group. A kindred is made up of people you are familiar with and with whom you meet in person and in it's best sense it's an organic grouping, however it's not the same sort of bonding that one would find in a single family or even in an extremely close knit group of friends. In a true Pagan society, the kindred would be found on the level of a farmstead or small village.
The ritual blots are most commonly done on the level of the kindred, or in meetings where more than one kindred comes together. The rituals of a Hearth might be less formalized and more "homey" in atmosphere. The blot ritual is based on a religious observance that was part of the official public aspect of ancient Asatru, and its likely that there were many other private rituals that would not necessarily be appropriate for a kindred to take part in together. For example, a kindred might not honor the individual family Dis or the house-spirits unless all members of the kindred lived together or were tied by blood as well as companionship.
Most persons will want to join or found a kindred in their area, however, before one runs out and begins to solicit people, you should think about what you are doing. The very name of our groupings, "kindred," implies a great deal more than does membership in a church. Today we are accustomed to religious institutions that are more or less anonymous. A kindred should not be this way. While we must be open to all, we need not act as if we were a public facility with no more intimacy than a department store. It is best to start small and gather people as they come to you. Once you are established, get involved in the local Pagan community if you are not already. Perhaps you might wish to attend a few events of the local Leif Erikson society or the Sons of Norway. While the overwhelming majority of these people are good Lutherans with no religious interest in the Nordic Gods and Goddesses, it is possible you might find some whose interest in Asgard goes beyond the historical. Open one of your blots to the public and take note of people who are attracted to Asatru.
A kindred is something which should form organically. It's not a good idea to push ones friends into joining unless they are sincerely interested. We usually wait until people ask to formally join, unless we perceive they are waiting to be asked. On the other hand, Asatru is not a secret religion or one open only to "initiates" as many Neo-Pagan faiths are. We must be open to outsiders who are truly interested.
People in a kindred should be aware that they are making a commitment to the group. The first duty owed to our kindreds would be regular attendance. The kindred cannot function if people do not attend. I have heard some say that making a monetary donation should be sufficient. I say this is simply not true. While the money most certainly does help, it cannot make up for the impression made on new people when they are the only ones showing up for a ritual. Also since Asatru is still a growing religion a lack of regular attendees will lead to only one view being put across instead of many peoples personal takes on a subject.
The next duty we have to our kindred is loyalty. I will assume that every kindred has some sort of leader whether it be an elected leader or not. This person has taken on the responsibility of being in charge of the kindred as a whole. I say that we should ask these leaders what we can do for them to make their job easier. I am not saying that we have to center our lives around whatever kindred we may belong to, but sometimes just asking if we can pick up the mead for the blot will take a lot off the mind of the person in charge.
Another duty we have to our kindred is helping the other members of that kindred. This could include the simple willingness to give a ride to events, but also on a deeper level to really be their for each other in times of need. We must remember that while our religion espouses the glory of the individual, that individual usually only as good as the community from which he came. We also do not want to be like other religions, where members of the same church are strangers to each other. The fact that we have chosen the word "kindred" to name our religious bodies should mean, in practice as well as definition, a much closer relationship to each other then is found in most, but certainly not all, mainstream churches.
Next Chapter: The Values of Asatru
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