Ritual Format

Before Ritual

HRAINEINS (PURIFICATION)

Purifying the self before ritual acts was common in the ancient world. The ancient Greek concepts of miasma and katharsis are well known, as are their purification methods. Vases, literature, and archaeological excavations all indicate that washing the hands, bathing, and changing clothes were part of purifying oneself before entering sacred spaces or engaging in rituals [1]. Cicero, Livy, and Ovid, among other ancient Romans, also stressed cleansing and purifying before rituals, often with water but sometimes with other means [2]. Meanwhile, to the east, Herodotus wrote that the Scythians had their own purification rituals, such as rinsing their hair and then fumigating their bodies with hemp seed smoke [3].

While we have no evidence that the ancient Germanic peoples, let alone the ancient Goths, had similar concepts of ritual purity, we can make an educated guess based on their cultural and religious neighbors that they might have had them.

Sidjus Reidarje Sauilis recognizes the difference between that which is profane (pertaining to the mundane) and that which is sacred (pertaining to the Gods). In order to prepare their minds and bodies for communion with the divine, it is necessary for Reidarjos to first purify themselves.

To purify the body, a Reidareis can either:

  • Wash the hands / bathe the body, or
  • Smoke-cleanse with incense (þwmiama)

Purifying the mind is a more difficult task, as everyday stresses and worries can weigh heavily on many. Some Reidarjos like to meditate for a few minutes to still their minds and bring themselves into the present. Others will wait to perform any rituals until a time of day when they are more relaxed and at ease. Still others will use aids like hemp smoke, just as the ancient Scythians did.

HULAIS HAUBIÞ (COVER THE HEAD)

Jordanes wrote the following excerpt in his book The Origins and Deeds of the Goths:

Hæc et alia nonnulla Decæneus Gothis sua peritia tradens mirabilis apud eos enituit, ut non solum mediocribus, immo et regibus imperaret. Elegit namque ex eis tunc nobilissimos prudentioresque viros quos, theologia instruens, numina quædam et sacella venerare suasit fecitque sacerdotes, nomen illis «Pilleatorum» contradens, ut reor, quia opertis capitibus tiaris — quas «pilleos» alio nomine nuncupamus — litabant.

These and various other matters Dicineus taught the Goths in his wisdom and gained marvellous repute among them, so that he ruled not only the common men but their kings. He chose from among them those that were at that time of noblest birth and superior wisdom and taught them theology, bidding them worship certain divinities and holy places. He gave the name of Pilleati to the priests he ordained, I suppose because they offered sacrifice having their heads covered with tiaras, which we otherwise call pillei.

Essentially, Jordanes described priests of the Goths as covering their heads while making sacrifices during ritual. A pilleus to the ancient Romans was a brimless, close-fitting felt hat that was sometimes worn by commoners and freed slaves.

It is not known why the ancient Gothic priests wore this cap while making sacrifices, only that they did. SRS adopts the Roman reasons for covering the head as described by Plutarch:

…they thus worshipped the Gods, either humbling themselves by concealing the head, or rather by pulling the toga over their ears as a precaution lest any ill-omened and baleful sound from without should reach them while they were praying [4].

To summarize, covering the head shows humility in the presence of the Gods and helps limit distractions during ritual. With this in mind, Reidarjos participating in a ritual must cover their heads. They may choose to do so in whatever style suits them, be that a hat, veil, shawl, or some other item. Reidarjos are recommended to use that item for ritual only and not for everyday use.

Ritual

Setup

The following actions are broken down into Step 1a, 1b, and 1c because they can all be combined into a single prayer, or expanded into a more elaborate process.

STEP 1a. TANDJAIS FON (LIGHT THE FIRE)

A comparative study of evidence from various Indo-European religions, including Roman, Greek, and Vedic, supports the notion of fire as the primary cultic representation of divinity [5]. Among the ancient Germanic peoples specifically, carvings dating back to the Nordic Bronze Age suggest a solar cult associated with a deity of the skies, storms, life, fertility, law, and order. These match evidence of similar religious beliefs all across Central Europe and the Mediterranean [6].

The practice of a solar or fire cult was also shared with the Goths’ neighbors, the Scythians and Sarmatians. Herodotus compares Tabiti, the Scythians’ “most important deity,” with Hestia [7], a Goddess associated with fire (among other things), while the Sarmatians “seem to have worshiped the sun as well as fire, and believed in its purificatory power” [8].

As a result, SRS recognizes the sacredness of fire and its purifying quality. Specifically, the ritual fire is the domain of the Goddess Þaibons, so She is the first deity welcomed when the shrine candles are lit. This follows the Greek model, as Goux writes:

[Hestia] is assigned primacy in place, and also, especially in Greece, primacy in the very time of the ritual. Hestia was always, as I have mentioned, invoked first, no matter which god or goddess was the main object of the ceremonial. Hesiod, Sophocles, Aristophanes, Euripedes, and Plato are unanimous in indicating that every meal and every ritual should begin with a prayer or a sacrifice to Hestia [9].

STEP 1b. GASKAPJAIS WEIHSTAÞS (MAKE SACRED SPACE)

In most (if not all) Indo-European religions, sacred space was delineated from profane space by several means. The ancient Greeks and Romans set up demarcations with the use of stone boundaries [10] and the construction (and subsequent consecration) of altars and temples [11]. Among the ancient Germanics, archaeological evidence shows that many sacred outdoor sites, like groves and bogs, were marked off by stones and fences [12]. Therefore, if possible, the household shrines of Reidarjos should be set up in a clearly delineated fashion.

If, however, it is not possible to set aside permanent sacred space, or if pollution was brought into the space for some reason, then consecrating (or reconsecrating) the ritual space is necessary. In these cases, a common and widely attested ritual is circumambulation in a sunwise direction, as indicated by the variety of examples across Europe, Africa, and Asia [13].

As a result of Herodotus’ comparison of the Goddesses Tabiti and Hestia, SRS considers the Goddess Þaibons as the link between the sacred realm of the Gods and the earthly realm of humankind. Therefore, circumambulation is performed with fire for its purifying qualities. Praying to Þaibons for Her assistance in merging the two realms is optional, as the use of fire during sanctification already implies Her presence.

In the event it is impossible for a Reidareis to walk around the sacred space, passing fire over the space in a sunwise motion will suffice.

STEP 1c. WEIHSEINS HUNSLE (CONSECRATION OF OFFERINGS)

Another characteristic of Hestia is that She transmits offerings to the Gods [14], since fire transmutes burnt offerings into smoke that drifts heavenward. SRS views Þaibons in the same respect. During this part of the ritual, Reidarjos give a small offering to Þaibons in honor of Her esteemed position among the Gods. They also request Her approval of the main offerings. By accepting them, She transmutes them from profane objects into sacred ones.

Prayer

STEP 2. GOLEINS (GREETING)

Following the prayer structure as described by H. S. Versnel, the SRS prayer format is divided into three parts: invocātiō (“invocation”), pars epica (“argument”), precēs (“requests”) [15]. In Gothic, they are goleins, bida, and hunsl. The prayer itself is also called either bida or aihtrons.

It is the belief within SRS that the Gods are constantly traveling with the movement of the sun across the sky and with the progression of the calendar year. Therefore, the Gods are welcomed as visitors and guests by Reidarjos conducting their rituals, which is why the first part of the prayer format is called goleins or “greeting.”

In the style of other ancient hymns and invocations, the Gods are greeted three times, once by name or title, and then by other epithets, bynames, or deeds.

STEP 3. BIDA (PETITION)

At this point during the ritual, Reidarjos should state their reasons for praying and why they are worthy of receiving blessings. They may make bids, request aid, seek atonement, etc. or otherwise simply express gratitude. At the end of this declaration, Reidarjos should state what offerings they intend to give the God(s).

STEP 4. HUNSL (OFFERING)

Reidarjos who wish to make a sacrifice do so at this point in the ritual. The ritual leader, who is taking on the role of priest (gudja), might make all of the sacrifices on behalf of others, or multiple Reidarjos might all participate in giving offerings to the Gods. These offerings should be poured into vessels (cups, bowls, plates), burned in fire, dropped into a natural water source (rivers, lakes, springs, etc.), or buried in the earth.

In the case of a feast, raw ingredients are presented to the Gods for consecration, then removed immediately from the altar and cooked. The first portion of this cooked meal is then offered to the Gods as a sacrifice. This follows the Scythian manner as described by Herodotus:

Once they have skinned the victim, they strip the meat off the bones and then put the meat into a pot, if they happen to have one; these pots are of a local design and most closely resemble Lesbian bowls, except that they are much bigger. When they have put the meat in the pot, they make a fire out of the victim’s bones and cook the meat that way. … Once the meat is cooked, the worshipper takes some of the meat and the innards as first-fruits and throws them forward. [16]

Wolfram suggests that the ancient Goths partook in ritual feasts (dulþs) in a similar manner on certain days according to the full moon [17].

Closing

STEP 5. ANDQIÞAIS (SAY FAREWELL)

It is helpful to indicate the end of a ritual with a closing statement or farewell. This is a highly customizable part of the ritual and can be as formal or informal as desired. At the minimum, Reidarjos should express gratitude to Þaibons for Her role in the ritual.

After Ritual

AFHWAPJAIS FON (EXTINGUISH THE FIRE)

Some Reidarjos will let the lit candles burn until they burn themselves out, but many do not have that luxury. Fire safety should be observed at all times, so Reidarjos should put out any lit fires as needed. There is no preferred method for extinguishing shrine candles.

FRAWAIRPAIS HUNSLA (DISCARD THE OFFERINGS)

If the offerings were not destroyed during ritual or eaten in a feast, Reidarjos should remove them from the altar and discard them in an appropriate manner. Some Reidarjos like to leave the offerings outside for the benefit of nature, but those who do so should ensure that the offerings are environmentally safe and nontoxic to animals. Others will discard the offerings in the trash or pour them down the sink if liquid.


NOTES

  1. Parker, Miasma, 19.
  2. Lennon, Pollution in Ancient Rome, 3, 35.
  3. Herodotus, The Histories, 259.
  4. Plutarch, Moralia, Volume IV, 23.
  5. Mallory and Adams, Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, 203.
  6. Davidson, “The Chariot of the Sun,” 174-175.
  7. Herodotus, The Histories, 254.
  8. Sulimirski, The Sarmatians, 34-35.
  9. Goux, “Vesta, or the Place of Being,” 92.
  10. Linke, “Sacral Purity,” 291.
  11. Scheid, An Introduction to Roman Religion, chap. 5.
  12. Gunnell, “Ritual Space,” 6.
  13. Sudhi, “An Encyclopaedic Study on Circumambulation,” 209-210.
  14. Çayir, “Sacred Hearth,” 19.
  15. Versnel, ed., Faith, Hope, and Worship, 194-197.
  16. Herodotus, The Histories, 254-255.
  17. Wolfram, History of the Goths, 112.

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Plutarch. Moralia, Volume IV: Roman Questions. Greek Questions. Greek and Roman Parallel Stories. On the Fortune of the Romans. On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander. Were the Athenians More Famous in War or in Wisdom? Translated by Frank Cole Babbitt. Loeb Classical Library 305. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1936. Last modified September 16, 2018. Accessed September 12, 2020. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Moralia/Roman_Questions*/A.html.

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