A long and heated debate exists over the validity
and purpose of Clergy in the religion of Asatru/Germanic Heathenism.
Primarily the arguments fall into two categories, For and Against.
Those who are against the role of Clergy claim that since the concept
of Clergy itself is questionable among our evidence of the original
practitioners, that it is an alien practice stemming from Judeo-Christian
ethos. Those who are for the role of Clergy often do so for the
perceived benefit of legitimizing their faith to the great Judeo-Christian
majority. In both cases, the role of Clergy is not defined in a
way that makes sense to the faith.
What are Clergy?
The roles Clergy play in other religions may not necessarily be
the model that fits best modern Asatru. Those roles include Spiritual
Intermediary, Social/Cultural Leader and Spiritual Counselor.
The concept of Spiritual Intermediary is one that nearly every
modern Asatru practitioner will scoff at. The Catholic Church, for
instance, promotes that an individual may only achieve spiritual
connection, revelation and absolution through the Church and Clergy
as the mechanism. Even then, however, they have versions of Clergy-lawyers
arguing over the fine-lines between saint and heretic. Asatru has
no history of individuals who are deemed the conduit of Spiritual
or Religious connectivity, ergo this role is not needed and usually
not wanted by modern Asatru. Those individuals who call themselves
this kind of Clergy are quickly chastised for being so. Any individual
may host a blot (religious ceremony bestowing the blessing of the
gods) or perform a community ritual.
The concept of Social/Cultural Leader is one that Asatru does have
a history of, yet does it mean anything in modern times? In Heathen
Iceland, before the conversion, blots and rituals were hosted by
the landlords. Those landlords were wealthy enough to host the feasts
on their land, so they performed the community rituals they hosted.
In this, they were not seen as much as a spiritual leader, as a
community leader, to whom the community wished to bond further with
the local power-player by attending their ritual feasts. There were
no laws or ordinances mandating attendance and no tithes were collected
(officially). Many households had their own ritual spaces and alters,
yet obviously the most recorded were the glorious ones built with
lots of money from raiding and taxation. In modern times, Landlords.
are not usually seen as part of the community, especially part of
the Asatru community, so community leaders come from another facet
of sociology. Even so, the only accreditation involved was the ability
to host and manage a community ritual, holiday or festival. Additionally,
while records in the sagas suggest that the hosts paid for everything
and gave gifts to the attendees, this was only socially practical
since all the food was paid for by rents and taxes (this kept the
tenants friendly). Nowadays, communities share the burden of the
costs through work or financial contribution. Thusly, the role of
Social/Cultural Leader is much less associated with Clergy than
it ever was. One remaining aspect of the Social/Cultural Leader
is the ability to legally perform certain rites of passage and life-events
among the community, such as Marriage and Funerals. The United States
government has made provisions for this by allowing any individual
to register with their local (county) offices for the purpose of
performing those rites. Most local (county) ordinances do not require
any accreditation or experience to perform those rites. Again, modern
Asatru will generally agree that this role is not exclusively the
realm of Clergy and that since anyone may perform those duties,
then this role for Clergy is not relevant.
Spiritual Counseling, though, is the critical role that is so misunderstood
by those anti-clergy factions. The fact is, every individual has
different paths in life with different degrees of ability to navigate
it. While there are individuals who are driven to learn for themselves
without communication from anyone else, most people require interaction
with those who know more lore, know more techniques to interact
with the gods and are dedicated to being helpful to those who are
less knowledgeable. One who is Clergy purports themselves to be
a figure for the those in the community to turn to, should they
require information or assistance in learning how to improve their
personal relationship with the gods. Certainly, there are individuals
who can take advantage of those people by claiming rights to the
other roles stated above. However, a properly helpful Clergy-person
who is dedicated to helping others can and will make the distinction
between teaching lore and techniques, versus indoctrination of beliefs.
This is especially important since the religion is 99% converts
from other religions who will automatically seek out Clergy as counselors
to advise them on how worship and who the gods are. To those converts,
the title of Clergy goes far. A program like The Troth's is specifically
designed so that individuals who call themselves Clergy have been
deemed knowledgeable, respectable and responsible and will not abuse
those who come to them.
There are some anti-clergy factions who go so far as to say that
anyone who is in spiritual crisis is doubting the gods and therefore
no longer practicing the faith and are both failures as human beings
and oath-breakers to be reviled and spurned. These claims are clearly
attempts to validate the superiority of their own unwavering spirituality.
This is in direct violation of the claim that no individual is more
spiritual or closer to the gods than any other.
Do we need Clergy?
Does the individual who worships the gods need Clergy? I think
that everyone will agree that "No. Individual worshippers do
not need Clergy in their lives." But the word "Need"
here is critical. At some point in time, either earlier or later,
any individual may suddenly decide that they want someone to fulfill
the role of 'Spiritual Counselor. in their lives and do not trust
or approve of just any figure in the community. In that, they may
choose to seek out a person who has dedicated themselves to being
helpful to those in that situation. Those persons may be called
Clergy, for wont of a better term. Whether the individual in crisis
NEEDS help or just wants it does not affect their status within
Does the community who worships the gods needs Clergy? This is
a more complicated question. As one individual in a community may
not want or need clergy, another may. Communities are built upon
the foundation of "only as great as it's weakest link"
and therefore a community may legitimately claim that a person who
dedicates themselves to helping other in crisis is needed. Those
persons may be called Clergy, for wont of a better term.
Does the religion need Clergy? On a grand scale, the religion as
a whole is liken to that of a community, however, at this level
the term Clergy exudes a preexisting definition from other cultures
and religions. By legal definition of the "Penitent-Clergy"
statutes, the primary role of Clergy is to perform as personal spiritual
counselors for his/her community. While there are cases on the books
whereby individuals were accepted as Clergy by the law who held
no accreditation other than a petition to the courts, the general
public at large likes to see Clergy as symbols of the ideals of
the religion. Those Clergy will be recognized not only as public
servants within their communities, but also as knowledgeable. representatives
of their communities, regardless of social or political status.
Whether one wishes Clergy to have that role or not, the role does
and will continue to exist. Since the reality of our world will
recognize individuals claiming the roles of Clergy, it may be prudent
to get behind programs which promote those wishing the title to
actually be knowledgeable., helpful and eloquent representatives
of their respective communities.
Myself as Troth Clergy
I own property and lead rituals for my family and, occasionally,
friends. I joined the Troth Clergy program as a means of learning
everything there was to know about the faith and to join a community
of knowledgeable. and helpful individuals to attain my ultimate
goals. I reasoned, that once my education reached a certain level,
that I would happily join those in service to my community to assist
those in spiritual crisis, educate new worshippers and represent
my faith to the public in as eloquent and faithful a manner as possible.
One may claim that I needn't have the title of Clergy for that,
but I see it as a useful tool, with which I may gain introduction
to those most interested in the knowledge I have to offer, and no
other title will do as well in this time and place.
If you have no need of my knowledge or skills, then feel free to
ignore me completely. I do not ask for your fealty in any form.
I do, however, think that my efforts to contribute positively to
the community warrant some modicum of respect, but I shan't expect
I may be reached at godhi@FreyjaFirst.com.