Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Role and Responsibilities of a Modern Godhi

This essay is co-written by Rod Landreth and Mark Ludwig Stinson...

Many kindreds have designated a position of responsibility called the "Godhi" (pronounced "Go-Thee")  Rod Landreth is the Godhi for Jotun's Bane Kindred, and he co-wrote this essay with Mark Stinson.

Among heathens in Iceland, a Goði was a local chieftain with religious and administrative duties. For modern heathens the Old Norse word Goði, has been anglicized as Godhi for males, and the word Gyðja has been anglicized as Gythia, Gydhia or Gydhja for females in the role. The plural Old Norse word Goðar has been anglicized as Godhar or Gothar. Throughout this essay, we will use the masculine form or the plural form to keep things simple. This is not to take anything away from women being in this role, as everything written here can apply equally to both men and women. In Iceland, modern Asatruars use the term Godhi for both males and females in this role, and find our use of the term Gythia as rather odd from a linguistic standpoint.

As with most topics in modern Heathenry there is a wide range of opinions on the role of a Godhi within a modern kindred. Some kindred's have both a Chieftain and a Godhi, some kindreds have either a Chieftain or a Godhi, and some kindreds choose to have neither. Some see Gothar as a vital and important element in the growth of modern Heathenry. Others see the modern Godhi as an attempt to imitate the power structures and roles within other religions. Going even further, some see the role as playing to the delusions of grandeur of whomever claims the title.

Instead of focusing on the many controversies regarding modern Gothar, this essay will focus on the real world example of the various roles, interactions, and basic responsibilities of the Godhi of Jotun's Bane Kindred. Each kindred will approach this role somewhat differently based on their own circumstances, experience, and needs as a kindred.

There is not a lot of surviving information regarding heathen priests among our ancestors. Go to this link for a summary of some of the information we do have:

This essay is not meant to be a scholarly paper on the role and responsibilities of an Icelandic Goði or a religious-spiritual expert in ancient Heathenry. It is a practical essay regarding the role and responsibilities of a modern Godhi within our own modern tribe.


Within a Kindred, as in any group, there are many roles. In the simplest terms there are Leaders, Maintainers, and Supporters. At any one time, everyone takes on one or more of these roles. Just as the primary job of the Chieftain is to be the Leader of the Kindred, the primary job of the Godhi is to be a Maintainer of the Kindred in religious, spiritual, and personal matters. The Godhi does this by keeping actions and events on track, and concentrating everyone involved on what is important, how it is important, and why it is important.

This means that a Godhi needs to have their finger on the pulse of the emotional, spiritual, and social circumstances of the individual members, as well as the kindred as a whole. The Godhi may have to take on different roles, acting as an arbitrator, mediator, or spiritual counselor. When serving in these roles, the Godhi calls on such skills as active listening, understanding of communication styles, and the ability to calm people down and discuss things in order to come to an amicable and satisfying solution.

In addition, the Godhi needs to fully understand the dynamics within his/her kindred. They must know the way the kindred interacts with itself and holds itself together, and also how to reinforce kindred thew or work for adjustments in kindred thew as needed. This requires not only intellectual understandings, but also emotional and spiritual understandings.

Being the religious-spiritual expert of the group, the Godhi must have not only knowledge of Heathen Lore, but also how to properly apply that knowledge of the Lore in various real-life situations. That means Gothar must have more than a working knowledge of Primary, and important Secondary, information and Lore; they must also be constantly striving to gain new understandings and insights into the Lore. A healthy and vigorous personal, spiritual, and intellectual regimen is necessary to balance incoming knowledge with understood spiritual “connections” to best be able to advise, guide, teach, and encourage actively-lived Heathenry.

Kindred members should be able to come to the Godhi expecting clear explanations and guidance in matters of faith, spirit, and practice. It also means the Godhi needs to be able to explain and solidly instruct the What, How, and Why of Heathenry, both ancient and modern. This is a tightrope walk, because you must temper this knowledge and wisdom with where one’s Kindred is going, and its existing thew. A Godhi guides, advises, and encourages—rather than dictating these ideas and understandings.


A Godhi needs to be able to do at least the following, and probably more:

  • Get to know each new person in the Kindred to assess who they are, where they are in their Heathenry, what is important to them, how it is important, and why they are Heathen. A Godhi needs to maintain this contact and knowledge of individual kindred members on an on-going basis.
  • If there is a mentoring process for new kindred members, the Godhi should work with the Chieftain and Thyle to properly match up mentors with applicant members.
  • Serve as a resource, give rede, guide, advise, and provide encouragement on the what, how, and why of religion, spirituality, related history, ways and modern practice of Heathenry.
  • Provide guidance about understanding and honoring our Gods, Ancestors,the Vaettir, and our modern Folkway, in a manner that coincides with current kindred thew.
  • Be an example to the rest of the Kindred in their participation, learning, appearance, goals, values, and ethics, as well as adherence to kindred thew, as best they can. They should also be an example to the rest of the kindred in their interactions with greater Heathenry outside the kindred.
  • Spiritually maintain (Bless, Cleanse, and Secure) items and places of religious/spiritual significance to the Kindred.
  • Conduct fainings, both seasonal and specific rituals.
  • Assist with the leadership and administration of the kindred, as needed.
Johnny, Mark Stinson, and Rod Landreth at LATP 2010.


Besides the general responsibilities of the Godhi, there are also some specific interactions with various other roles within the Kindred. There is a natural overlap in responsibilities among these various roles in the kindred. Often these areas of overlap are areas that benefit from the increased level of attention that they receive, and areas important enough to demand some level of redundancy.

In a frithful kindred, there is no sense of competition regarding these responsibilities. In the ancient world, there may have been some jockeying amongst the Thanes to get the Chieftain’s ear, but in modern Heathen Kindred there should be more of a focus on collaboration and cooperation. The Chieftain is first among equals, and while the Godhi may be the Chieftain's right hand and may share certain leadership responsibilities, this does not mean the Godhi “outranks” any of the other titled Thanes. In Jotun's Bane Kindred, none of us has or attempts to exercise dictatorial powers. We each have our primary role and responsibilities, and we have differing areas in which we focus. The Godhi focuses on spiritual-religious issues, the Thyle on guarding the Orlog of the Kindred, the Valkyrie on protecting the layers that are put into the Well, and the Chieftain on holding and preserving the Kindred's Luck. Others in the Kindred focus on other things both mundane and sacred, based on roles they establish through their own skills, interests, and hard work.

What follows are specific descriptions of how the Godhi of Jotun's Bane Kindred interacts with the other positions of responsibility within the Kindred. The various roles mentioned here are by no means an exhaustive list, as each Kindred will develop their own positions of responsibility, based on their needs. In addition, each kindred will likely differ somewhat in how these roles interact with one another. These examples however, will hopefully get you thinking about how things can or should work in your kindred.


The primary responsibility of the Godhi is to use his wisdom, knowledge, and skills to support the kindred's Chieftain. It is immensely important that there is a mutual understanding and trust shared between the Godhi and Chieftain. A Godhi should know what his Chieftain’s goals are, how he/she wants to get there, and why he/she wants to achieve those goals. Toward that end, the Godhi and Chieftain should be able to have long in-depth conversations about the direction and dynamics within the kindred. But, the Chieftain also needs to be able to glance at the Godhi and get advice or guidance with a nod, gesture, or word.

Gothar need to *seek* connections between, within, and around. These connections may be found in what appears to be random information. Through and because of the connections and relationships with the Divine, a Godhi senses and realizes patterns in that randomness intuitively. This is where Orlog comes together. This place is where omens exist. Bringing together these connections in comprehensible ways through a spiritual-religious lens, the true meaning of gnosis, is where a Godhi is the most useful to their Chieftain.

This seeking and understanding connections is also one of those things that a Godhi has to learn "in the field." In practical terms, it means a Godhi has to be inquisitive, observant, and thoughtful. The Godhi needs to be constantly on the lookout for what is worthwhile to the Kindred, and what is not. Then, when asked, be able to advise the Chieftain with the best and most useful information one can. We joke sometimes that Rod is the “Merlin” to Mark's “Arthur.” This analogy is mainly meant to communicate Rod's role as a trusted advisor. The Thyle, and other Thanes, are there to advise the Chieftain as well, but it is primarily the role of the Godhi.

A Godhi must understand their role in supporting the Chieftain. It is the Godhi's job to make sure the Chieftain is always putting his/her best face forward. A Godhi should only counter the Chieftain in public if there is an immediate need to stop the Chieftain from doing something wrong that will do the Chieftain or the kindred harm. This is a responsibility that is primarily the Thyle's, but it is helpful to have more than one trusted person watching out for the best interests of the Chieftain and the kindred. Remember, Heathens move from a place of strength, and it is important that the kindred's Gefrain is protected and Honor maintained. Unless the Godhi is in the act of doing their job (meaning during ritual, or other overt religious activity as mentioned above) the Chieftain *is* the face of the Kindred and carries its Luck. By protecting the Chieftain, the Godhi ultimately safeguards the Kindred.

This is in public, of course; behind closed doors or otherwise in private, it matters less how the Godhi and Chieftain interact, but hopefully they are good and trusting friends. That trust should come about because both are there for each other, giving each other rede, standing by one another, and earning that deep bond. While it may be the role of the Godhi to advise, “the kindred should go to that distant mountain,” it is the role of the Chieftain to trust and evaluate his Godhi’s rede and make decisions as to when and by what course the kindred actually reaches that mountain.

This is not to say that a Godhi is subservient or lesser. A Godhi's authority spawns from a different place than the Chieftain's authority. The Godhi's authority stems from the realm of the divine, and the acknowledgment by the Kindred and folk of those sacred connections and relationships. The Chieftain's authority comes more directly from the Kindred itself, the folk, its Orlog, its Honour, and its Luck, usually as represented by the oath ring on the Chieftain's arm. He is the symbol of the Kindred, while the Godhi protects, encourages, and establishes the significance of the Kindred.


There are many areas where the responsibilities of the Thyle and Godhi interact. Both, for instance share a role in protecting the Kindred's Orlog. Mostly, the Godhi deals with this in indirect ways, through guidance, advice, and teaching, or by nudging and encouraging a Kindred member towards the best course. The Thyle, on the other hand, is a bit more direct and focused. Therefore, a Thyle may bluntly tell a person they are moving out of kindred thew, and then direct that person to speak to the Godhi on how to get back in line with kindred thew.

In Symbel, the Godhi may act as a “back up” to the Thyle, noting some course of action to be taken concerning shyld, or pointing out where there may be problems for the Chieftain. During large events like Lightning Across the Plains, the Godhi may give a special blessing to the Hall Wardens under the Thyle's charge, or can step in simply to allow one of them to take a break.

In ritual, in their capacity of warder of Orlog, the Thyle may be the one that bears the flame around the ritual area, warding, and defining what is good, sacred, and holy.

In more general terms, the Thyle, Godhi, and Chieftain can act as a quick council when or if some important issue comes up. Moving from their respective spheres, they may discuss a course of action and then bring it to the Kindred's attention, covering these important bases so the Kindred can come to consensus as to the best course of action.

Rod during opening ritual at LATP 2010.


During ritual, the Godhi and the Valkyrie interact mainly in what is called a Husal (the “round” inside a faining where the deity or entity is toasted). Since the Valkyrie plays a role in safeguarding the horn and what is said over the horn, she takes control of the horn once the Godhi has blessed it. When the Husal is complete, the Valkyrie pours the horn into the Hlaut (blessing) bowl.

Another shared responsibility between the Valkyrie and Godhi, involves the handling of the various objects that are significant or important to the kindred. Often after something is blessed, only the Godhi or the Valkyrie can touch the item so as not to profane the item. This is an extension of the Valkyrie's responsibility with the horn, and the well it represents.

In more mundane terms, JBK's Valkyrie tends to be more outgoing, so she is often one of the first to greet or interact with a person. The Godhi may get some first impressions, be directed to, or get other views of a person from the Valkyrie before ever meeting that person. The Valkyrie works with the Godhi to maintain awareness of what is going on within the kindred or our region, in order to aid the Godhi in carrying out his various responsibilities and duties. The Valkyrie and Godhi both confer with the Chieftain and Thyle regularly about such matters, to ensure the proper level of awareness is maintained by the kindred's leadership.


You may have noticed there has not been much of a focus on rituals, rites, and fainings in this essay thus far. While these are important works of the Godhi, all Heathens should know how to perform a basic Heathen ritual. Trú Gothar recognize that all experienced Heathens are Gothar in their own home/hearth and no Godhi of worth would wish to interfere or impose themselves on such Heathens. It is the responsibility of Gothar to aid and guide Heathens in how to perform basic sacred functions, such as rituals, blessings, and other such spiritual practices for themselves. Those same Gothar should only do this if a householder wishes or seeks such aid. There is no requirement for an intermediary between a Heathen and their Gods, Ancestors, the Vaettir of their Home and Land, and Folkways. Most of the time Gothar are pulled in for special occasions, like Weddings, Namings, Funerals, and other significant rituals, usually because some legal aspect is required.

In JBK, Rod only performs the big public rituals at events like the Open Ostara Gathering or at Lightning Across the Plains (LATP). Even then, he tends to spread out the various parts to as many members of the Kindred as he can. In his experience, solid Kindreds spread the doing of rituals around, letting the Godhi keep track of it. It becomes more a supervisory position rather than the one who “does the ritual” every time.

There are also times when various people want to do a specific ritual, say to Ullr for a good hunt or to Eir to help guide the doctors in helping a loved one. The Godhi's role is not to write a ritual for them (though they may, occasionally) but to help the person write up fitting invocations, time the blessing rightly, and otherwise give advice on making a good rite.


Magic is not vital to Heathenry. Some Heathens perform magic at most occasionally, while others are more heavily involved. While Galdr and Seidhr are in our Lore, only a small percentage of specialized people did it, and that is a good model to follow. Magical practices are like “gravy”—magical acts can provide flavor and richness to the “meat and potatoes” of regular Heathen practice, but it is not very filling or sustaining when that’s all one gets.

A Godhi should be the person that at least knows a little about the various aspects of magic within Heathenry. They do not, by any means, need to be an expert in such things, but it is possible that a kindred's Godhi will be adept in one of these arts.

If there is a person who displays talent in Spae or Seidhr, their practice needs to be grounded firmly in the Lore, in the Kindred’s Thew, and be connected with the goals of the Kindred. Too heavy an emphasis on the magical aspects within heathenry can cause problems within any kindred, and this is especially true for a kindred with members that do not have much of an interest in the various magical practices within heathenry.

Runes are less problematic, but again, too much focus on the Runes rapidly moves a Kindred away from religious practice to one more magically focused. A Godhi should know their Kindred, and what that Kindred can handle. It is part of a Godhi's responsibility to make sure the Kindred stays on track, and focused on what is truly important. If the Kindred starts careening too much towards the mere magical, it starts lacking focus on the Gods, Ancestors, Vaettir, and our Heathen Folkways. Instead of being the means of reaching a more religiously focused goal, magical practices can become the end themselves. A Godhi should work to guide his/her Kindred away from this pitfall.

Jason, Rod, and Heather.


A Godhi's primary responsibility is to uphold the Kindred in as many ways as they can with their skills, talents, and experience. Their role is not to wield authority over anyone, but bring information, wisdom, and guidance to those who wish support. They should work to unite, arbitrate, and encourage, always striving to assist worthy Heathens in gathering together in the best and strongest way possible. They can and do lead, but it is more by example, encouragement, guidance, and influence rather than attempting to wield some self-proclaimed divine “authority.” Gothar do not get between a Heathen and their religion; instead, they do all that they can to make a Heathen's religion more deeply and richly experienced, more satisfying, and more closely suited to what will work properly for them. This makes the Gods, Ancestors, and Vaettir happy, as it brings more people closer to them and more in tune with our Heathen Folkway.

Rod Landreth and Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods

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