The Oath Ring
Written by Mark Puryear
Within every religion the highest office is always recognized as that of the priesthood. In our faith, Asatru/Odinism, this is no different and is called the “Godord,” which is the plural form of the masculine godi, a male priest, and the feminine gydja, or priestess. These terms simply mean “those in touch with the Gods.” They are the ones who perform our blots, who guide our community, and who give us advice in times of need. But how do we recognize them? Wherever there is a priesthood there is some sort of insignia that represents them, that sets them aside from the others within the faith and mark them as representatives of the divine. White collars, special beads or robes, headdresses and so forth have all served as the regalia of those who dedicate their
lives to their deities. So how would we recognize our priesthood?
Thankfully, within our sources there is enough information that would point us in the
direction of finding our priestly insignia. This would be the oath-ring or eidbaugi, which is mentioned and described within several of the ancient writings. The first and most detailed of these comes from the Eyrbyggja Saga ch. 4, which states:
“ On this platform lay a solid ring weighing twenty ounces, upon which people had to swear all their oaths. It was the business of the temple-priest (hofgodi) to wear this ring on his arm at every public gathering.”
This corresponds to what is said in Ulfljót’s Law:
“A ring of two ounces or more [the stallahringr] should lie on the altar of every main
temple. (…). Every man who needed to perform legal acts before the court must first swear an oath on this ring and mention two or more witnesses. ‘I name witnesses’ he must say, ‘that I swear the oath on the ring, a lawful oath. So help me Freyr and Njörðr and the Almighty áss (Odin).”
And again in the Landamabook:
“A ring, weighing two ounces or more, was to lie in every head temple on the altar and
every godi was to wear it on his arm at all Law-things which he should hold himself and to redden it in the blood of the cattle which he himself sacrificed there. Every man who had to perform legal duties there had first to take an oath on this ring and name two or more witnesses and say, "I call to witness that I take oath on the ring, a lawful oath, so help me Frey and Njord and the Almightly As (Odin) , to defend or prosecute this case or give the evidence, verdict or judgement which I know to be most true and right and lawful and to perform everything as prescribed by law which I, may have to perform while I am at this Thing."
In the Kjalnesinga Saga ch.2 we are given a similar account, but there are told that the ring is made of silver, and thus gives us a start in how we can create oath-rings in a particular fashion. The Eddas mention the oath-ring as well. For instance, in Havamal 110 it says that “I believe Odin gave a ring-oath,” (baug eid) which refers to his wedding with Gunnlod. This shows us that the ring would also be used in the handfasting or marriage rite. In Atlakvida 30 there is mention of “Ullr’s ring,” which leads one to believe that the ring was consecrated in his name. So we can see that the silver ring worn on the arm had significance to the godord and as an item to swear oaths upon. But how did the ring look? What motif could have been used and why?
Our research has led us to the conclusion that this ring would have taken then form of a serpent, and that there are Eddaic references that would support this claim. The ring itself is mentioned in the Völundarkvida 6 where they are called lindbaugi “Serpent-Rings.” Although here they represent wealth, and are a counterpart to the divine ring know as Draupnir, we can also make the conclusion that these are the oath-rings we seek. In the Gesta Danorum of Saxo Grammaticus (bk. 8) there is mention of a king Gudmund (who is identified as Mimir in further research) who holds a sacred ring turns into a snake and strikes the arm of the man who tried to steal it. This ring may either be the ring Draupnir or it may have some relation to it. That Draupnir was given to Baldur,
a God of justice (one of the Ljónar) whose son Forseti becomes the God of justice is certainly fitting. We also have the motif of Jormungandr, the Midgard-Serpent who becomes so large he swallows his own tail, and becomes a ring. In fact, in the Skaldskaparmal the serpent is called “the ugly-ring.
So why would a serpent motif be appropriate for the godord ring? When we look at the
Völuspá 39-40 we see that the serpent becomes a symbol of justice:
“A hall she saw standing
Far from the sun
The doors open to the north;
Through the roof holes.
The hall is made from
The backs of twined serpents.
“There she saw wade
Through heavy streams,
The waste-water of
Falls upon him who
Seduces another’s wife.”
This sentiment is reiterated in the Reginsmal 4 where it is stated that oath-breakers will
wade through the venomous river known as Vadgelmir and be tortured by “terrible limar” (limar or “limbs” may be a metaphor for serpents) and Sigrdrifumal 23 which states that “horrible limar fall heavy on broken faith: accursed is the oath-breaker.”
Because of this, the oath-ring becomes a symbol of justice and a reminder to those who swear the oath upon it of the curses laid upon those who violate their oaths. Rather than demons that are feared and reviled, the monsters of the Underworld are respected for the job that they do in bringing justice to those who escaped it in their first life. Not only do we have source materials that show us how the oath-ring was designed and made, there are also archaeological finds that direct us to the same motif.
Without a doubt, we can demonstrate the need for a type of regalia such as this, and can point to the possibility that the ring was forged using a serpent image to represent the creatures that bring justice to those who violates their oaths. In demonstrating this, we can create a powerful symbol that can and will be recognized by people within our community and those outside of it.
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