Sunday, 7 October 2012

A Search For an Anglo-Saxon Alternative to the Term `Priest`

I have over recent years pondered on the terminology that we should be using for the function of `priest` within our heathen rites. `Priest` is a universally understood term but I am a little troubled over the christian connotations and wish to explore alternative and more Germanic terms. `Preost` is a term used by the Anglo-Saxons[See A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary by J.R. Clark Hall]. However from my studies of the term it appears to originate with the christian priesthood via presbyter. This in my opinion would make it unsuitable for us to use. Our research is limited by the scant amount of original Anglo-Saxon literature, especially during the pre-conversion period as pre-christian Germanic society was largely a pre-literate one. Literacy was reserved for the rune masters and priests. Therefore we must also resort to exploring the terms used by other Germanic peoples. Before we do this we need to consider if there are any other Anglo-Saxon alternatives to preost. Aeweweard could be a suitable term but its pronunciation may be too difficult for some to to accept in everyday useage. Also strictly speaking the term is defined as `law-guardian`[Rudolf Simek, Northern Mythology]. The astute observer will note the second part of this word-weard, a term which we already use for hearth and gemoot warders. If we recall the Icelandic example the priest was also a temporal chieftain although the situation was different among the non-Scandinavian Germanic peoples where the two offices were separate. Heargweard is a more interesting and in my opinion relevant term for the hearg was the sanctuary or temple and thus a heargweard was the guardian of the temple. In Iceland the priests were called gothar, the singular being gothi, the female gythja. The Gothic equivalent gudja corresponds closely to the Old Norse gudija. A temple priest in Icelandic would be a hofgothi. Clearly gothi`s specific meaning is `god man`. Hofgothi is very similar to the Anglo-Saxon heargweard with similar connotations. On balance I am in favour of the use of the term heargweard as Anglo-Saxons and Saxons this is more likely to be term which our ancestors used and differentiates us from Odinism and Asatru. We do not need to be dependent on their terminology nor do we need to use terms that are christian in origin or connotation. I have decided to post this article on all three of my blogs as I wish this to have as wide a circulation as possible to encourage reflection and debate.

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