The Northern Way

Grimm's Teutonic Mythology

Chapter 5

Chapter 5: Priests

(Page 1)

The most general term for one who is called to the immediate service of deity (minister deorum, Tac. Germ. 10) is one derived from the name of deity itself. From the Goth. guð [[[god]]] (deus) is formed the adj. gaguds [[[godly]]] (godly, pius, eusebhj), then gagudei [[[godliness]]] (pietas, eusebeia). In OHG. and MHG., I find pius translated erhaft [[[honorable]]], strictly reverens, but also used for venerandus; our fromm [[[pious]]] has only lately acquired this meaning, the MHG. vrum being simply able, excellent. The God-serving, pious man is in Goth. gudja [[[priest]]] (iereuj Matt. 8,4, 27, 1. 63. Mk. 10, 34. 11, 27. 14, 61. Lu. 1, 5. 20, 1. Jo. 18, 19. 22. 19, 6. ufargudja [[[high priest]]] (arciereuj) Mk 10, 33. gudjinôn [[[to officiate as a priest]]] (ierateuein), Lu. 1, 8. gudjinassus [[[priesthood]]] (ierateia) Lu. 1, 9. (see Suppl.)

That these were heathen expressions follows from the accordance of the ON. goði [[priest, chieftain]] (pontifex), hofs goði [[temple priest]] (fani antistes), Egilss. 754. Freys goði [[Freyr's priest]], Nialss. cap. 96. 117. Fornm. sög. 2, 206. goðord [[authority of the a goði (priest)]] (sacerdotium). An additional argument is found in the disappearance of the word from the other dialects, just as our alah [[[temple]]] disappeared, though the Goths had found alhs [[[temple]]] unobjectionable. Only a faint vestige appears in the OHG. cotinc [[[priest]]] by which tribunus is glossed, Diut. 1, 187 (Goth. gudiggs?).---Now as Ulphilas (1) associates gudja [[[priest]]] and sinista [[[eldest]]] (presbuteroj, elder, man of standing, priest), a remarkable sentence in Amm. Marcell. 28, 5 informs us, that the high priest of the Burgundians was called sinisto [[[elder]]]: Nam sacerdos omnium maximus apud Burgundios vocatur sinistus, et est perpetuus, (2) obnoxius discriminibus nullis ut reges. The connexion of priests with the nobility I have discussed in RA. 267-8 (see Suppl.).

More decidedly heathen are the OHG. names for a priest harugari [[[fortune-teller, heathen priest ('harrower')]]], Diut. 1, 514, (3) and parawari [[[inspecting priest for offerings]]], Diut. 1, 150, (being derived from haruc [[[grove, place of sacrifice (harrow)]]] and paro [[[sanctuary, place of sacrifice]]], the words for temple given on p. 68-9, and confirming what I have maintained, that these two terms were synonymous). They can hardly have been coined by the glossist to interpret the Lat. aruspex, they must have existed in our ancient speech.---A priest who sacrificed was named pluostrari [[[sacrificer]]] (see p. 36).

The fact that cotinc [[[priest]]] could bear the sense of tribunus shows the close connexion between the offices of priest and judge, which comes out still more clearly in a term peculiar to the High Germ. dialect: êwa, êa signified not only the secular, but the divine law, these being closely connected in the olden times, and equally sacred; hence êowart, êwart law-ward, administrator of law, nomikoj, AS. æ-gleaw [[[law-learned]]], æ-láreow [[[law-teacher]]], Goth. vitôdafasteis [[[knower of the law]]], one learned in the law, K. 55 56,. Gl. Hrab. 974. N. ps. 50, 9. êwarto [[[law-ward, priest]]] of the weak decl. in O.I. 4, 2. 18. 72. gotes êwarto [[[god's law-ward]]] I. 4, 23. and as late as the 12th century êwarte [[[law-ward]]], Mar. 21. and, without the least reference to the Jewish office, but quite synonymous with priest: der heilige êwarte [[[the holy law-ward]]], Reinh. 1705. der bâruc und die êwarten sin [[[his fattened hog (?) and priests]]], Parz. 13, 25. Wh. 217, 23 of Saracen priests (see Suppl.). The very similar êosago, êsago [[[law-sayer]]] stood for judex, legislator, RA. 781.

The poet of the Heliand uses the expression wihes ward [[[temple's warden]]] (templi custos) 150, 24; to avoid the heathen as well as a foreign term, he adopts periphrases: the giêrôdo man [[[the honored man]]] (geehrte, honoured), 3, 19. the frôdo man [[[the wise man]]] (frôt, fruot [[[wise]]], prudens) 3, 21. 7, 7. frôdgumo [[[wise-man]]] (gumo, homo) 5, 23. 6, 2. godcund gumo [[[godlike man]]] 6, 12, which sounds like gudja [[[priest]]] above, but may convey the peculiar sense in which Wolfram uses 'der guote man' [[[the good man]]]. (4) In the Romance expressions prudens homo, bonus homo (prudhomme, bonhomme) there lurks a reference to the ancient jurisprudence.---Once Ulphilas renders arciereuj by aúhumists veiha [[[highest priest]]], John 18, 13, but never iereuj by veiha [[[priest]]].

With christianity there came in foreign words (see Suppl.). The Anglo-Saxons adopted the Lat. sacerdos in abbreviated from: sacerd [[[priest]]], pl. sacerdas; and Ælfred translates Beda's pontifex and summus pontificum (both of them heathen), 2, 13 by biscop [[[bishop]]] and ealdorbiscop [[[archbishop]]]. T. and O. use in the same sense bisgof, biscof [[[bishop]]] (from episcopus), O. I. 4, 4. 27. 47; and the Hel. 150, 24 biscop [[[bishop]]]. Later on, priester [[['priest]]] (from presbyter, following the idea of elder and superior), and pfaffe [[[priest, parson]]] (papa) came to be the names most generally used; AS. preost [[['priest]]], Engl. priest, Fr. prestre, prêtre; in Veldek, prêster [[[priest]]] rhymes with mêster [[[master]]], En. 9002.

When Cæsar, bell. Gall. 6, 21, says of the Germans: Neque druides habent qui rebus divinis praesint, neque sacrificiis student, ---the statement need not be set down as a mistake, or as contradicting what Tacitus tells us of the German priests and sacrifices. Cæsar is all along drawing a contrast between them and the Gauls. He had described the latter 6, 16 as excessively addicted to sacrifices; and his 'non studere sacrificiis' must in the connexion mean no more than to make a sparing use of sacrifices. As little did there prevail among the Germans the elaborately finished Druid-system of the Gauls; but they did not want for priests or sacrifices of their own.

The German priests, as we have already gathered from a cursory review of their titles, were employed in the worship of the gods and in judging the people. In campaigns, discipline is entrusted to them alone, not to the generals, the whole war being carried on as it were in the presence of the deity: Ceterum neque animadvertere neque vincire nec verberare quidem nisi sacerdotibus permissum, non quasi in poenam, nec ducis jussu, sed velut deo imperante, quem adesse bellantibus credunt, Germ. 7 (see Suppl.). The succeeding words must also refer to the priests, it is they that take the 'effigies et signa' from the sacred grove and carry them into battle. We learn from cap. 10, that the sacerdos civitatis superintends the divination by rods, whenever it is done for the nation. If the occasion be not a public one, the paterfamilias himself can direct the matter, and the priest need not be called in:---a remarkable limitation of the priestly power, and a sign how far the rights of the freeman extended in strictly private life; on the same principle, I suppose, that in very early times covenant transactions could be settled between the parties, without the intervention of the judge (RA. 201). Again, when the divination was by the neighing of the white steeds maintained by the state, priests accompanied the sacred car, and accredited the transaction. The priest alone may touch the car of Nerthus, by him her approaching presence is perceived, he attends her full of reverence, and leads her back at last toher sanctuary, cap. 40. Segimund, the son of Segestes, whom Tac. Ann. 1, 57 calls sacerdos, had been not a German but a Roman priest (apud aram Ubiorum), and after tearing up the alien chaplet (vittas ruperat), had fled to his home.  


1. Strictly the Evangelist; the translator had no choice.----Trans.  (back)

2. For the sense of perpetuity attaching to sin- in composition, see Gramm. 2, 554-5.  (back)

3. If haruc [[[harrow]]] meant wood or rock, and harugari [[[harrower]]] priest, they are very like the Ir. and Gael. carn, cairn, and cairneac priest. O'Brien 77.  (back)

4. Parz. 457, 2. 458, 25. 460, 19. 476, 23. 487, 23. The gôdo gumo [[[the good man]]], Hel. 4, 16 is said of John; ther guato man [[[the good man]]], O. ii. 12, 21. 49 of Nicodemus; in Ulrich's Lanzelot, an abbot is styled der guote man [[[the good man]]], 4613. 4639. conf. 3857, 4620 êwarte, 4626 priester. But with this is connected diu guote frouwe [[[the good lady]]] (v. infra), i.e. originally bona socia, so that in the good man also there peeps out something heathenish, heretical. In the great Apologue, the cricket is a clergyman, and is called (Ren. 8125) preudoms and Frobert = Fruotbert (see Suppl.)  (back)

Index  |  Previous page  |  Next page