Ritual – Oath as a Goði/Wéofodþegn

Most would agree that on becoming clergy—a goði/gyðja, wéofodþegn/wéofodþignen, godman/godwoman, or whatever terminology is used—one should swear an oath.

This can be an oath to a group (such as a kindred) that one will lead or where one will officiate, or to an organization that conveys ordination and within which one will serve.

Or it can be an oath to the gods and to assist heathenry as a whole.

The wording of the oath should reflect this, particularly if the commitment is not intended to be lifelong, but more of an administrative position.

Either way, the oath should be sworn before the gods, in particular Vár, who “listens to people’s oaths and to compacts made by men and women with each other.” The second part of the sentence makes people think of her in connection with engagements and marriages, but the first part is quite comprehensive.

According to Eyrbyggja Saga ch. 4 and other sources, a Norwegian or Icelandic goði had a ring which lay on the altar and on which people swore oaths:

lá þar á hringur einn mótlaus, tvítugeyringur, og skyldi þar að sverja eiða alla. Þann hring skyldi hofgoði hafa á hendi sér til allra mannfunda.

“thereon [on the altar] lay a seamless [or open] ring, twenty ounces of silver, and on it all were supposed to swear oaths. This ring the hof goði was supposed to have on his arm at all meetings.”

This is the source of the modern oathring, but reading this passage shows that it doubles as a badge of office. Thus if at all possible, a goði oath should be sworn on one; on the kindred’s or the hof’s ring if there is one, or possibly as the first oath made with a new oathring with which the new goði/gyðja is gifted—or required to buy–on completion of training. (They are rarely twenty ounces of silver these days.)

If an oath to a group or in the context of an organization, it should also be witnessed. Here is an Icelandic goði/gyðja oath that starts with such witnessing. The “as long as . . .” section is a traditional poem, and, it should be noted, entails a lifetime commitment; use this only if you are comfortable with that, and also look carefully at the breadth of the duties section that precedes it; this is based on a concept of goði as local judge/chieftain. I have based my translation on that of Jörmundur Ingi-Hansen. There is an alternate translation by William Bainbridge.

Nefni ég í það vætti ______________, er ég vinn eið að þessum baugi,
Að ég er reiðubúin(n)2 að taka við goðorði,
Með öllum þeim skyldum og kvöðum er því fylgja,
Mun ég styrkja vorn sið, sætta mann og annan, verja tunga vora og
menningu, svo og náttúru landsins.
Halda lög og hefðir og siðu góða,
Virða landnámssáttmála áa vorra við móður Jörð.
Halda frið við huldar verur allar, landvættir, álfa, dísir, dverga og tröll,
Meðan eldur brennur
vindur vex
og veitir vötn til sjávar
sól skín og jörð grær
móðir mög fæðir
karlar korni sá
eldar upp brenna
skip skríður
sól skín, snæ leggur
heimur er byggður
himinn hverfist
fura vex
fiskar synda
hirtir renna
valur flýgur vorlangan dag
og standi honum beinn byr undir báða vængi.

I name [list all gathered here] as witnesses as I swear this solemn oath on this ring,
that I hereby take up the office of goði/gyðja
with all the duties and responsibilities that pertain to it,
to strengthen our way, to reconcile within the community, to uphold and
transmit our lore and culture.
to keep the law, moderation and the good way,
to respect the ancient pact our ancestors made with mother Earth.
to keep frith with all hidden beings, the landvættir, elves, disir, dwarves
and trolls, and giants.
As long as fire burns
wind blows
water flows to the sea
the sun shines and the earth yields,
So long as mothers nurture their child
and men tend their fields
fire flames
ships sail
and the sun melts the snow,
So long as people live in Miðgarð,
and the Heavens turn
and the fir tree grows
the fish swims
the stag runs
and the falcon flies in the long day of spring
and may the straight winds bear up her wings.

As a contrasting example, I offer the following in Anglo-Saxon. Note that it does not specify a permanent commitment; an “until such time as . . .” clause could be added, for example for a position within a particular group.

For Wære ond eallum úra goda ond gydena, ic _____ swerige nú swá wéofodþegn/wéofodþignen, þæt ic for þá h’æþenan godu ond for þá h’æþne3 wyrce [ond for _____]. Ic beháte þæt ic mín betst dó tó fremmanne úre ‘æ, tó helpanne óþra h’æþenra, tó wesanne fréond þara goda ond weard þara wígas, tó wítanne úre ealdan wísu ond tó wesanne wís láreow ond ryht fultumend ealra h’æþenra þe mé biddaþ. Wuton nú ealle andwearde gewitnesse béon mínes áþes on þissum hringe.

Before Vár and all our gods and goddesses, I [name] swear now as a wéofodþegn/wéofodþignen to work for the heathen gods and heathen people [and for name of organization or group]. I promise to do my best to further our way, to help other heathens, to be a friend of the gods and a protector of the holy things, to keep our ancient traditions, and to be a wise teacher and a fair helper to all heathens who ask me. Let all present now witness my oath upon this ring.

Someone who regards him/herself as a goði/gyðja of one god or goddess in particular can specify in the oath that they are dedicated to all the gods, but in particular that one. In the oath above, for example, insert swíþost ______ after for þá h’æþenan godu, or alternatively after For Wære ond eallum úra goda ond gydena in the first sentence.

1 hlýðir á eiða manna og einkamál er veita sín á milli konur og karlarProse Edda, Gylfaginning ch. 35 (22).

2 –nn for a man, –n for a woman

3 or þæt h’æþenfolc if you regard all heathens as one folk