Fish Stories

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The U.S. Ásatrú/Heathen community is growing, but it's still a pretty small pond. If you have a few thousand dollars for a travel budget and a little determination, you can meet most or all of the big fish in our little pond, in person, inside of a year without too much trouble. Depending how and when you search the internet for these people, however, you may have some difficulty figuring out who the big fish are.

It probably says something about your personality whether you find this difficulty comical or annoying. Whatever. The Ásatrú Reconstruction is still quite young, and getting a religion off the ground has inherent risks and liabilities. We get to see these firsthand. Being Ásatrú, we get to see them in our own peculiar ways.

For example, Google Allsherjargothi. This word comes from Old Norse, and it is one of the two highest titles in historical Heathenry. During the time of the kingless Icelandic Republic (930-1262), the Allsherjargothi was the one who opened and sanctified the Althing, the annual legislative and judicial meeting. There were many with the title Gothi (literally Godman, a sort of composite local chieftain and priest), but there was only one Allsherjargothi at a time, as the title was hereditary in the line of Ingólfr Arnarson, Iceland's first permanent Nordic settler. Translations of this word into English vary widely. The Allsherjargothi was neither national ruler nor religious overlord, but he was still a very big fish in the historical Heathen pond.

It's important to understand something of the original meaning. If you want to know about that, and about how the word is used today, you can always ask Google.

One of the first listings Google gives you when you search for Allsherjargothi links to a page written by one Casper Crowell, who likes to put an umlaut over the O in his name. He also likes to call himself Allsherjargothi. One can wonder how he acquired the title, with which he declares himself to be the biggest of the big fish. One can also wonder how many smaller fish his "Holy Nation of Odin" has in the pond, but a little more research shows that he is serving a life sentence in a prison in California. Rumor has it that his wife posts his increasingly infrequent missives to the masses.

Stefn Thorsman, who is one of the bigger fish, tells me that you can buy a certificate from some website saying you are an Allsherjargothi for $500. This certificate is, no doubt, suitable for framing. The lesser titles of Gothi or Gythja (a female Gothi) cost only $300. From this same website, you can also purchase Druidness or High-Priestessness or several other flavors of Power-and-Greatness in whatever pagan religion you ever heard of. Just look at the price list and send in a check. As he's telling me this, Stefn has this incredulous You Gotta Be Kidding Me look on his face while trying very hard not to burst out laughing.

Stefn, in spite of his significant stature in the Heathen community, does not call himself Allsherjargothi. But Google tells me that another fellow who leads a little kindred in the Upper Midwest does call himself that.

You'll have to scroll down farther in the Google listing before you get to Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson, the Icelandic farmer and poet who was responsible for the official recognition of Ásatrú by the Icelandic government in 1973. He was the first Allsherjargothi of the Ásatrúarfelagidh, or Ásatrú Fellowship, representing one of Iceland's two official religions, the other being state Lutheranism. Beinteinsson died in 1993; his office is currently held by Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson. But visiting either of these men may strain your travel budget.

You'll also read about Steve McNallen, a former U.S. Army Ranger. He is an eloquent gentleman who, also in the early ‘70s, came right out in public, said that he was Heathen, and reminded interested people what that can mean. He is the founder of the Ásatrú Folk Assembly, and within his sizable organization today is called its Allsherjargothi.

Another longstanding Ásatrú organization, the Ásatrú Alliance, has its own Allsherjargothi, Valgard Murray.

To further complicate your fishing expedition, The Troth, the Ásatrú organization of which I am a member, doesn't have anyone called Allsherjargothi. The Troth is less like a sect and more like a public square with a bookstore. We have a regularly-elected board and officers, and our CEO has the title Steersman, currently held by Victoria Clare. She is also a Gythja, which is not a requirement of the office.