Gnosis Diary: Life as a Heathen

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Priest, nun, daughter: Relationships Between Gods and Humans

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

People sometimes ask, Why would a god want a human godspouse? Or, why would a god be a human's patron?

Sometimes I think we're the cats of the gods. Asking why a god would want a relationship with a human is like asking why humans adopt cats and bring them into our homes. Because we love them, of course. Why do we love them? Love or do not, there is no why.

Modern pagans and heathens have many different types of relationships with our gods. These relationships have varying degrees of closeness, different types of partnership, built on different levels of equality of partnership, for different purposes, and are described in terms that are ancient or modern, in sacred languages and common English, in unexceptional or controversial ways. For example, a person can regard a god as family in different degrees of closeness, from ancestor of all humanity, through remote ancestor of the family line, to spiritual father or mother, spouse, all the way to larger version of the fragment self. Very few people regard themselves as a fragment of a god, but there are some. Regarding oneself in that way appears to be a recent phenomenon, without historical precedent.

A human can be in partnership with a god for a specific purpose, such as making crops grow. Many of the standard rituals in most types of modern paganism ultimately derive from the holidays of ancient farmers. These holiday rituals mark the turning of seasons and include sacrifices and festivity in which the ritual may be performed by only a few people but the entire community would have turned out for them. Modern pagans who keep these holidays may consider themselves priestesses, or witches, or may not consider themselves to have a profession to these observances. In heathenry, a person who holds rituals for the community is usually considered a priest or priestess, called a gothi or gythia, of their community or kindred.

Gothi and gythia are also titles used by those dedicated to a specific god. The same titles can also be used to mean a person ordained by a government recognized religious organization who can do things related to government permissions and licenses such as perform weddings, be a chaplain, etc., but most gothis and gythias do not have official ordinations. A gothi (also spelled godhi) can be either the one who leads rituals for a community (godhi of Local Name Kindred) or be dedicated to a specific god (gythia of Freya) or be officially ordained or any combination thereof. Only the ones dedicated to a specific god make any claim to be close to a particular power; other gothis may be no closer to the gods or other powers than anyone else.

Many pagans and heathens have adopted religious names over the years, although the practice seems to be less common now. In the early days of of the heathen reconstruction, many heathens adopted names in the language in which the largest amount of written heathen mythology was recorded, Old Icelandic. Many heathens styled themselves as son of Thor or daughter of Freya (Freyasdottir.) Most heathens who adopted such names did not consider themselves literally the son the Odin, but rather that expressed either the god they believed was their patron or just the one they identified with the most.

An increasing number of heathens and pagans use the term godspouse to describe themselves. This term encompasses those who have made what some pagan traditions would call a fairy marriage. Other traditions such as Christianity and Buddhism would call this type of person a nun. Some modern pagans actually do use the term nun. A godspouse is often a temple keeper or shrine keeper. A godhi could also be a shrine keeper, and one does not have to have a specific religious calling or title to dedicate land to the gods. Sometimes a godspouse is a also a gythia. Sometimes a godspouse is skinridden by her god for the purpose of providing sacrifices to him, or for other experiences and interaction.

A person can have a daughter / patron relationship with one deity, a godspouse relationship with another, and be a partner in agriculture with two more, and be a priestess of yet another. Any given pagan or heathen might have no such relationships, or one or more, or change them at different stages of life.

Rather than asking why a god would want a relationship with a human, in heathenry we generally place the dividing line between gods and powers that are not gods right at the line between powers that like humans and want to help or interact with them and those who don't. We regard those few Jotnar who moved to Asgard as gods, while the rest of their families are regarded as giants, who are not gods. For example, Skadhi is counted a goddess, although of pure Jotun extraction. We consider Hel, also called Hela, to be a goddess, although she does not live in Asgard, and whether her parentage counts as Aesir plus Jotnar or just Jotnar is not agreed upon among all heathens. Both gods and powers who are not gods can regard specific humans either negatively or positively, of course, but we call the gods gods precisely because they are a class of beings that we can generally assume are open to being approached by humans.  Love or do not, there is no why. 

Image: Jupiter and Io by Correggio

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Erin Lale is the author of Asatru For Beginners, and the updated, longer version of her book, Asatru: A Beginner's Guide to the Heathen Path. Erin has been a gythia since 1989. She was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine, and is admin/ owner of the Asatru Facebook Forum. She also writes science fiction and poetry, ran for public office, is a dyer and fiber artist, was acquisitions editor at a small press, and founded the Heathen Visibility Project.


  • Dragon Dancer
    Dragon Dancer Friday, 17 February 2017

    "Or, why would a god be a human's patron? Sometimes I think we're the cats of the gods. Asking why a god would want a relationship with a human is like asking why humans adopt cats and bring them into our homes. Because we love them, of course."

    This makes SO MUCH SENSE to me! And is an excellent answer as it really is something I've always wondered. Thank you for sharing this!

  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale Friday, 17 February 2017

    You're welcome, and thank you for commenting! Glad to know someone got something from my writing.

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