Nordic Horn Ceremony
Kari Tauring, October 2013
Viking art and legend made the Nordic horn ceremony famous, a popular subject of speculation and cartoonish re-enactment with visions of fire lit rooms full of burly men getting piss-faced and swearing oaths. It was much more than this, and still is. Sacred drink ritual survived in countless Midwestern households as coffee replaced mead and “themed mugs” replaced the horn. Many a tea-totaling farm wife brewed a few bottles of dandelion or current wine to have on hand “just incase the pastor stopped by.” The intent of sacred drink remains the same throughout time – to welcome, honor, and bond with others. It is the first gift of guest friendliness. Drinking ritual builds relationships. The rune Gifu (X), giving and receiving in balance, describes this concept from a Nordic perspective. Stavs (vertical lines) of equal length lean into one another and are bound at the middle. This is the essence of the Nordic mindset. We must all be sturdy stavs in order to support and be supported by one another, essential in the harsh climate of the Northlands. Drinking ritual creates and supports Gifu.
The cow horn as a sacred vessel is depicted by mysterious Ice Age artists from 20,000 BCE in the caves of Laussel, France. The Voluptuous Lady holds the horn in her right hand. She stares into it’s core with a face blurred from detail. There are 13 stavs hatched into the horn. Her left hand is placed on her womb. This is the oldest horn ritual in Europe and the first horn stance we must practice.
Hold this stance and breathe into the horn, whisper into the horn, listen to the echos. Feel yourself there and then, connected to Her, to the cow, to the land of your origin.
Drinking ceremonies prevail in all cultures for the same purpose, to greet, to share, to honor, to wish good will, and to make the bonds of community for the health of all. Just look up the “toasting” entry in Wikipedia for a list of all the “hails” or things people say when they raise a liquid to one another. Globally, drinking ceremony is characterized by three main things: personal relationship to the vessel, the liquid, and the others taking part.
A few examples are:
Japanese Tea Ceremony is an example of extreme regulation, tradition and ceremony surrounding the ritual tools, drink preparation, serving and consumption. Different rules apply for different times of year, different times of day and who is present at the ceremony. And there are different traditions within the tradition.
Fiji Kava Ceremony has interesting similarities to Nordic/Germanic tradition. The drink is prepared by a virgin chewing the roots soft and spitting them into a vat. An elder woman then mixes the drink. It is served in polished coconut shell bowls in social rank order by a virgin who is not blood related to anyone in the hall. The emphasis of the toasting is on community bonding and conflict resolution rather than as a ritual in religious context because, as in Nordic tradition, community is sacred. Everyone in the village is allowed to participate.
Hindu Soma Ceremony was reserved for priests, kings and the upper class. The plant and the process of creating the drink were all parts that connected one to the ultimate deity. We know little of the ceremony surrounding it but the Rigveda poems describe the imbiber achieving unity with god.
Greek Dionysian Mysteries center on wine but has roots in mead. Honey was sometimes added to the drink, perhaps to honor of this. The full process was sacred. Growing the grapevine is the extension of deity up out of Mother Earth. The god goes through the full cycle of life, death and rebirth as the grape (the body of the god) is crushed to death in its prime. Fermentation in the underworld allows re-birth of the divine in the euphoria of wine. That euphoria was the spirit of the god – hence the name “spirits” in relation to alcohol. Wine was poured from a goat skin bag and drunk from the cow’s horn, animals sacred to Dionysus. The drinker is said to be possessed by the god and the ceremonies included trance dance, poetry and song. It is believed that the wine cults superseded the mead cults of the Neolithic and bee swarms were also related to Dionysus. The rituals were great equalizers as women and servants were allowed to participate at all levels of celebration.
In the Northlands
Vessel, Liquid, Relationships: Nordic Horn Herstory
I say Her-story because the first horn came from the first Mother Cow. In fact, She gives us the first liquids as well. This cosmic myth is told in the Voluspa (Staff Carriers Prophecy), the first poem of the Poetic Eddas, and within Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Eddas. We learn that Ice and Fire were born out of Gaping Void (Ganungagap). Ice and Fire birthed Howler (Ymir), the sound that built the universe. Salty frost began to grow in fingers to support Howler. Nurturer (Audumbla), the first Mother Cow came to lick the salt and her teats streamed bitter rivers into the mouth of Howler. As Nurturer licked the salty brine of the ice her tongue began to uncover a new being called Producer (Buri). Howler grew and spontaneously created many beings for Producer to mate with. All beings come from the action of Nurturer feeding Howler and licking Producer free from the Ice.
One of Producer’s sons was Mountain (Borr), who married Great Waters (Bestla), the sister of Pondering (Mimir). Great Waters birthed three sons called Spirit (Vodin), Will (Villi) and Holiness (Ve). Spirit, Will and Holiness performed the first blot (pronounced bloat – ON blood indicating ritual sacrifice). This story describes how to perform this ritual act. The three brothers make a blot of Howler. They strangled him, pummeled him, and slit his throat. Howler’s blood filled up the vessel, the bowl of Gaping Void, threatening to drown all life. Spirit, Will and Holiness worked hard dividing the body of Howler to create the world in which we live today. They made earth from his flesh, the ocean from his blood, hills from his bones, his hair became trees, they threw his brains in the air to make clouds and his skull was the heavens held in place by four dwarves name for the four directions. Between the eyebrows of Howler, humanity lives.
As the flood waters receded three wellsprings appeared. One is called the Roiling Cauldron (Hvergalmir) and it feeds all the rivers of the new worlds. One is called Primal Spring (Urdbrunnir) and is attended by the ancient well keeper Was/Is, (Urd). Was/Is and Her sisters Becoming (Verdandi) and Debt (Skuld) protect and serve Primal Law (öorlog) which layers in their wellspring. A third well is named for Ponder (Mimir), the uncle of Spirit, Will, and Holiness. The Yelling Horn (Gjallarhorn) is kept there and used for drinking from Pondering Well (Spirit gave an eye for a drink). This is the horn that Home Valley (Heimdallr) will blow when the battle at the Doom of the Gods (Ragnarok) is about to ensue. One of Home Valley’s nine mothers is Yelling (Gjallar). Yelling is the boundary river between Hela’s underworld home of the dead and the land of the living. Yelling Bridge (Gjallarbru) connects these worlds.
The roots of Fate Tree (Mjötviður) grew from these three water sources in the worlds below. Fate Tree’s branches canopy the worlds above, cradling the worlds of the Vanir and Aesir gods in Her crown. Her branches and trunk support Middle Farm (Midgard, where we live), the worlds of giants, and the above and below ground elves. Her trunk protects Life and Lifebringer who will re-populate the new world born after the battle at the Doom of the Gods.
This cosmology gives us the source of all sacred liquid. The first sacred vessel is Audumbla herself, then the bowl of Gaping Void, then the Yelling Horn. Could it be that this primeval horn was made from the first Mother Cow, to capture the sacred liquid and to blow the resounding notes of death and re-birth? This is the origin of the very horn you are holding now.
*Horn use in Biodynamic gardening – Rudolph Steiner (1861 -1925) was an Austrian born Anthroposophical scientist, philosopher, theologian whose writings and lectures spawned the Waldorf Education System, the Theosophical Society, and the Biodynamic Gardening movement. His teachings drew on ancient Germanic/Nordic mythologies and the pre-Christian mindset. The most famous of his astrologically, mythically potent gardening/farming techniques are his preparations.
Preparation 500 – A female cow horn stuffed with fresh manure and buried at Fall Equinox is dug up at Spring Equinox. It ferments over the Winter and the result is a sweet smelling pellet of humus which is added to water and stirred for one hour in opposing vortexes. This is sprayed on the earth before planting. This preparation brings the cosmic Cow elements of the horn, the essence of the plant world (manure), and the deep elemental influence of the underworld together in mystic science. http://www.biodynamics.in/BD500.htm
Preparation 501 – A second preparation called Cow Horn Silica is made from burying fine quartz crystals in a horn during the light half of the year. It is stored in a glass jar in a sunny window. As ground quartzite, it is sprayed on the resultant plants to amplify the astrological effects and marry the heavens with the earth in the body of the plant. http://www.biodynamics.in/BD501.htm
These preparations marry the worlds of the above ground elves (ljosalfar) and the below ground elves (svartalfar) here in Midgard and for the health and benefit of humanity. It is a sacred marriage that has origins in the mythic past of Northern Europe and the result is a holy plant (hail, healthy, whole).
In later times, horns of glass and precious metals were used in place of the actual cow horn. Bowls are used as a recognition of the blot bowl or sacrifice bowl to catch the blood of the sacrifice. In Norway, special drinking bowls were used for weddings that have a handle on either side to be handed back and forth between the bride and groom or from hand to hand in a company of people. It was usually made for the couple out of turned maple or birch and decorated with carving and rosemåling (folk decorative painting), the couple’s name and date being incorporated into the design. The Irish have a similar bowl called the Loving Cup to share sacred drink at weddings. Theirs is most often in silver or peweter.
The Holy Grail is a late medieval addition to the sacred vessel category. Said to be the cup that Jesus used in the last supper, it has associations with the blood of sacrifice and the female principal as the womb of the virgin. Many of the ancient motifs are continued in the grail stories. If you don’t want to use a horn to drink from, a blot bowl connects to these ancient themes, the wood to the Fate Tree. A sacred chalice is fine too, but you miss some of the ancient emotional impact with a chalice. I have a special coffee cup that my grandmother gave me and sometimes I will use it if I am connecting in ritual to her directly. What is most meaningful to you for the moment is what you should use!
Deep Spiritual Significance – öorlog, wyrd, and luck
Personal öorlog, the primal law that forms layers in Urd’s well, is the story of our individuation; our genetic, cultural, and environmental inheritance to the beginning of time. As all liquid comes from and returns to the three wells, we are taught to be very careful about who we share a drink with, what we drink with others, how much we drink and what we say while drinking. Whether casually or in ritual, being offered a cup holds responsibility as it creates a bond. Just think if you offered a cup of coffee to everyone who knocked at your door. That is what it was like when my mother was growing up on a small farm in Wisconsin. It was even more important in the ancient of days when a traveler would come upon a farm infrequently. Today we have solicitors, politicians and all manner of people knocking! Everyone we invite into our homes (our inngard) is given a cup of welcome during which they introduce themselves and state the purpose of the visit.
Wyrd is the mingling of öorlog and the web of relationships. The layers of personal primal past intersect and form a pattern in the well of Urd. This is the web of wyrd, the lines of fate created through meetings, greetings, and interactions in the past and in the present. These intersections create little Gifu’s throughout our lives and the patterns create probabilities for future interactions. My mother used to say “you are who you associate with.” And I have first hand experience with being mis-labeled or categorized because of the company I was keeping (as I’m sure most teenagers experience). Creating wyrd influences luck.
Luck is an actual inherited substance in Norse tradition. It is built up or torn down by our ancestors, the environments in which they lived, the decisions and associations they made. Luck travels to us through our ancestors and we can increase or decrease our luck through our associations, by how we tie our wyrd to others. For these reasons we are warned in the Havamal (The words of High, second poem in the Eddas) and other poems to be careful with whom we drink, how much we drink, and what we speak when we drink. The words spoken over a horn in ritual go directly into the well of Urd as a personal layer. The act of sharing the horn lays other people’s öorlog next to our own in the well and creates wyrd connections. These are the connections that affect our luck, our reputations, and the possibilities/probabilities for our decedents.
Types of ceremonial liquid
The idea that all waters come from the wells at the bottom of the Fate Tree means that all liquid has a sacred source. Using water in ceremony is perfectly acceptable. Be certain that the water you use is potable if you are going to drink it or put it in your horn, ie. Mississippi River water straight up is not suggested. In Minneapolis, we drink “cleaned up” Mississippi River water and I mostly use a three-filter purifier in hopes that the waters of Midgard can return to a purified form. Sometimes I add raw honey to the water to make it more special and connect it to the ancient beverage, mead.
I have used milk in the horn for certain purposes. Raw milk, if available, is a wonderful way to honor Audumbla. Sometimes I use coffee as it was the preferred drink of my grandmother and my ancestors prized it. Here I grind the beans and brew the coffee, making ceremony of the process. Sun tea is a wonderful way to brew a sacred drink. Invoke Sunna, the goddess of the sun chariot, use mints or other herbs you have grown yourself or purchased especially for this purpose. It is about being in the process and being in relationship to each element in the drink. Mulling cider with spices and citrus is a process and connects us to the tree of apples, to Nature and her bounty. The more trouble you take with the liquid in time or expense, the more precious it is to you and the more honoring it is to the ones with whom you will share the drink.
Mead (fermented honey wine) is the oldest known fermented beverage with origins in ancient Africa (some 20,000 years ago). A honeybee hive left in a trunk that fills with water will yield mead with no human involvement – truly a gift of the gods, of Nature, of the bees themselves. Home brewing creates relationship. Your relationship to the plants, honey bees, and yeasts of the fermentation process is key. Buying from local brewers supports community and connects you to the process through your support of it. Take a tour of a local brewery and get to know your community of humans, bees, plants, soil, and water.
Beer or ale has been brewed since the domestication of grain and was used alongside wine and mead in Europe for many hundreds of years. Fermentation is the mysterious process of yeast organisms that transform what would be dead and rotten into useful and intoxicating liquids. Fermentation kills harmful bacteria and has likely saved countless communities from death by dysentery.
Hard cider is, again, this mysterious and natural process. Go to an orchard and greet the Earth, the trees, the apples, the caretakers of the orchard. Pick your own, press your own, or become involved in the process through financial support. Show your children how to be involved in what they drink from the ground and up. Tell the stories of Idduna’s apple, cut the apple in half to reveal the sacred pentacle, the star of humanity.
Kombucha is a great “almost non-alcoholic” way to create fermented sacred drink. Getting a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) or “Mother” from a friend is a wonderful feeling of bonding in the community. They are also available on-line. Kombucha has a long history in Russia and China as a sacred and medicinal drink that helps restore the balance of flora within the stomach. It is becoming popular in the US and bottles of commercially brewed Kombucha are available in coops and health food stores.
Many home brewers and bakers using live yeast cultures take time to talk to their yeasts and form relationships with them. There are many experiments suggesting that our words and the intention behind them can inform and create reality. Telling the yeast what you will be using the substance for and what you hope to accomplish physically, spiritually and mentally through the use of the drink in sacred ritual connects you deeply to the mystery of inter-connected life force. You are using Quantum Physics when you talk to your food and drink!
Distilled alcohols are mostly used in very small quantities and only for very special purposes such as to honor a specific ancestor who was fond of, say, whiskey or aquavit. There is a ritual in Norway for the bear hunt that has a song and dance which leads to the mixing of the bear’s blood and moonshine in a blot bowl to be passed around the circle of hunters. This ritual from Trysil is not practiced in the modern age but the song and dance have survived along with stories of how it used to be done. I can imagine that there were other, similar rituals throughout Europe to honor the hunt, the sacrifice and the power of the animal to be consumed.
Questionable ingredients: speculation about the ingredients for Soma include ephedra, cannabis, opium and stropharia cubensis (a mushroom growing out of cow dung in areas below the 35th Parallel) and other trippy mushrooms. Personally I would not experiment with these substances as I do not feel a need. Ehnobiologists have wondered if stropharia cubensis may be the basis of regarding the cow as sacred in India. In Europe (North of the 35th parallel) it was more likely the salvation of dairy products in a frozen world that kept the cow held in high esteem and the myth of her descent from the stars lively in the folk imagination.
The Mead of Poetry, is a mythological drink created with the blood of a god. After the great wars between Vanir and Aesir, they held a ceremony of truce. At the ceremony each deity spit into a cauldron. This fermented and grew into the being Kvasir who was wise beyond all others. Kvasir traveled throughout the nine worlds of the Fate Tree giving council and sharing his wisdom. Two dwarves lured him away and killed him, mixing his blood with honey in the blot bowl to produce the mead of poetry.
The mead of poetry and wisdom must be obtained by a female being who guards it and dispenses it at her own discretion in the stories of the Sagas and Eddas. Odin obtained this very mead of poetry from the giant woman Gunnlod. Odin wins her heart and she agrees to let him drink of the mead. He steals it all and leaves her bereaved. He drops a portion in flight which is called the “Rhymesters Share” and anyone is allowed to drink it. Would-be poets and scholars seek it out. Drinking mead in honor of Odin by a would-be poet or scholar makes them “filled with the Spirit” and they are gifted with ability. Odin’s behavior towards Gunnlod is not typical of the heros in the epic songs and ballads who treat the maidens with the mead cups with great respect and deference. Generally the heros marry the ladies who are often Valkyries, death maidens who can bring the hero straight to the Heavenly Halls, avoiding the crossing of the Yelling River and Hel’s domain.
In Old Norse Edda means grandmother and Saga is a goddess whose crystal hall lies beneath the waterfall of time and space. Odin visits Saga every morning to share her horn and her wisdom. Poetry and inspiration are stimulated by the female principal. Odin may gift poetic wisdom to humans, he receives it from the female principal first and dispenses it at his pleasure. In all the stories, it is the female who owns the mead and the horn from which it is consumed, just as the first vessel of liquid was the Mother Cow. You may have seen pictures of Viking women with keys on their belts. These are the keys to all of the out-buildings from grain store houses to the brew house, baking house, and barns. Women in Nordic tradition owned and controlled the resources of the community. Even into the start of the 20th century, Norwegian men did not milk the cows or goats. This was women’s sacred work and these poor immigrants to America suffered some shame when they found that they were to do the milking.
Because of this deep connection to the full process of the drink, the vessel, and the needs of the community, women in Nordic tradition were called “frith weavers” or peace weavers. It was their responsibility to see that everyone in the community was hail, healthy, and whole. Women are seen as representing the Earth Mother herself. Life bringers and life takers. Midwives played the role of birth helper and undertaker, preparing the body for burial. The connection of the life force of all things to the Mother principal is seen in various ways as horns were recieved through women’s hands and the toasting words often included a salute to the Earth, such as in Sigrdrifumal (3) “Hail to the Gods and to the Goddesses as well; Hail Earth that gives to all men.” The mead bestowed onto the hero is full of wisdom, memories, and the knowledge of runes for battle, healing, and eloquence. Only the valkyrie can bestow this on the hero of her choice.
Where Ceremony is held
You remember Spirit, Will and Holiness? Ve is the god whose name means holiness. A ve in Old Norse is an especially sacred place in nature. Nature is, as seen above, already sacred, a goddess, the giver of life to all men. There are some powerful places such as waterfalls or lakes that hold a heightened energy through ritual use over hundred, perhaps thousands of years. The bank of the Mississippi River is a powerful thing. Minnehaha Falls or Cold Water Spring (the last surviving artesian well in Minneapolis) are powerful spots that were sacred to the Dakota who have lived on this part of Mother Earth for countless generations. The Spring is their “garden of Eden”, the genesis place of their people.
The places in Nature that humans have created such as orchards, gardens, wells, grave mounds or cairns are all candidates for a Ve. I use the crab apple tree that volunteered in my back garden. This is the place I go to invite gods or ancestors to visit me. I place special rocks and fetishes around the base of the tree and hang prayer ties in its branches. Its roots receive the sacred drink that I pour out for those who have come to hear my prayers. A horg or altar of stone can be built in a ve for the purpose of focus and as an object to pour libations over. Mostly we greet guests in our house, in a hall or main room for feasting (like a dining room). Some traditions demand that sumble (community drinking ritual) take place under a roof. What makes the dining room a sacred space for ritual is doing the ritual in the space. No special preparation is needed, though decorations and candles can create a more festive feeling.
We say “Hail!”
Hail or Helsa literally means holy, healthy, and whole. The saying Wassail comes from Waes du Hael, Old Anglo-Saxon meaning “to your health.” In mythical history, a 6th Century Saxon princess named Rowena introduced the concept to England at a feast to honor King Vortigern. She gave him the horn and said “Waes du Hael” to which he replied, “Drink Hael.” The call and response of toasting is an ancient way of connecting the people during the ritual which has survived to this day. Wassail in the British Isles refers to the toast, the drink itself (there are countless recipes on line), and the activity or ritual of “wassailing” the orchard, house to house, and finally the hall of the chieftain. This was the template for “caroling” during the winter season. The majority of wassailing songs and rhymes preserved refer to the promotion of fertility in apple and pear orchards.
In Scandinavia, the word Skål (skoal) is used which means bowl, the ancient drinking vessel. Every country has its own phrase to use when toasting, all of which generally mean “to your health” or “best of luck” or other positive sentiments. Choose the words your deepest ancestors would understand! Old Norse or Old High German is great for Nordic deities, but if you have Itallian or Chineese ancestors, greet them in their native tongues. Language is magical
We can learn quite a lot about the formality of ritual drinking by observing the basics of the modern toast. From Wikipedeia: “Toasts may be solemn, sentimental, humorous, even bawdy or insulting. The practice of announcing one’s intention to make a toast and signaling for quiet by rapping on the wineglass, while common, is nonetheless regarded by some authorities as rude. Except in very small and informal gatherings, a toast is offered standing. At a gathering, none should offer a toast to the guest of honor until the host has had the opportunity to do so. In English-speaking countries, guests may signal their approval of the toast by saying “hear hear.” The person honored should neither stand nor drink, but after the toast should rise to thank the one who has offered the toast, perhaps but not necessarily offering a toast in turn. As toasts may occur in long series, experienced attendees often make sure to leave enough wine in the glass to allow participation in numerous toasts.
Putting one’s glass down before the toast is complete, or simply holding one’s glass without drinking is widely regarded as impolite, suggesting that one does not share the benevolent sentiments expressed in the toast, nor the unity and fellowship implicit in toasting itself. Even the non-drinker is counseled not to refuse to allow wine to be poured for a toast. Inverting the glass is especially discouraged.”
In the case of non-drinkers, it is allowable for one to kiss the horn (or wine glass) as an act of committing your energy to the well wishes expressed. Most modern Heathen events will offer two horns, one with and one without alcohol. Also at Heathen events you may find others supporting the eloquence of a speaker by hearing “well spoken” or light rapping on the table. If people have individual horns or cups with drink, they may also raise their horns during a particularly difficult or emotional toast but it is not seen as an insult if you do not, since you will be using the common horn and lending support in that way.
Types of ceremony
There are ceremonies in the Eddas and Sagas which have given us a place to start with reconstructing these pre-Christian ceremonies. They would have come down through oral tradition and would likely have varied from one tribe to the next, one family to the next. Anyone familiar with the Midwestern Scandinavian coffee ceremony knows that the receiver must say “no thank you” three times when offered coffee or sweets. This has been the source of both humor and agitation as folks from the coasts are caught it the very non-straightforward way of accepting anything in the culture of the Midwest.
Modern Heathenry or Asatru recognizes several different kinds of drinking ritual but the main two are blot and sumble (sometimes spelled symble). As we have been discussing, blot is a sacrificial ritual that may be performed out of doors. The use of the horn and sacred drink is part of blot. Sumble is a drinking ritual most often conducted in three rounds and in many modern traditions must be conducted in a hall (or under a roof tree). It often lasts for several hours so chairs and snacks are provided to guests in the hall. High Sumble is very formal and depending on the number of people in attendance, could be limited to one or two rounds. Sometimes a leader of a kindred or tribe will toast for the group. Formal sumble regulates who can leave or enter the hall during ritual and the rules of the house are described in detail before hand. Folk sumble is less formal and often includes more songs, stories, gift giving and joke telling than a formal or high sumble.
Welcome cup – Beowulf introduces himself through horn ceremony to welcome a stranger into the hall. A local kindred in Minnesota has begun to introduce the Welcome cup as people enter the hall for high sumble. A warm towel is given and a drink of sweet liquor is offered in an Irish Loving cup. It is a gentle and deeply honoring way to greet guests.
Minnis-full – minni means remembrance or memory and full is cup but also the goddess Fulla who hears oaths and toasts. A minnis-full begins by honoring the memory of a god or goddess, then the memory of friends or loved ones who have died. It continued through Christianization where minnis-full were drunk in honor of Jesus, Mary and the saints. It was well preserved in modern times in the form of the “Irish wake.” In this tradition one spends the night (or many nights) toasting the memory of the loved one, telling stories about them, and singing their favorite songs.
Braga-full is a best cup, promise cup, or chieftains cup. It is the cup in which oaths were placed. It is the cup over which a persons best talents, accomplishments, and feats are delineated, questioned, and accepted by the host and assembly. A person lays this “best of me” list at the disposal of the community and thereby becomes a useful member. The name may indicate the god Bragi whose eloquence was renown and who was the patron of poets, but modern scholars debate this.
In modern Heathenry or Asatru, these separate fullas have become “rounds” in the three round sumble. The first round is to honor the gods and goddesses, the second round remembers ancestors and heros on the other side, and the third round is for community building. The community building round is often called the “toasts, boasts, and oaths” round.
Oathing is not to be done at a public gathering without proper instruction and written contract that includes penalties or “shild” to be payed if the oath goes un-met. Oaths that go un-met affect the luck of the group gathered and shild is used to mitigate the damage to the wyrd. Usually oaths have their own ceremony which can be fleshed out separately.
Gifting often takes place in the third round of a sumble. Gift giving is also a ritual in and of itself and is not done without careful thought. The ancient hunter/farmer culture was based on gifting and voluntary reciprocity. In the Havamal, Odin says that a gift demands a gift. It can be very awkward to receive a gift in the context of formal sumble and is most often done by close friends in a show of bonding. Small tokens given can be simply explained such as, “I want to give this gift to you for sharing your talents so openly with the community” or “I want to gift you in honor of your upcoming marriage” or “to show how much our friendship means to me.” This way the receiver can accept the gift and the meaning behind it. Being offered a gift that is very expensive from someone who you don’t know well and without explanation should be addressed before receiving it. By receiving it, the circuit is completed. The same care should be taken when giving. If the circuit is completed, it creates strong connection points in the öorlog and affects the web of wyrd and luck.
Boasting is, to me, the most important of the re-constructed rituals. In a cold climate where half the year is spent in extremely close quarters, there is little tolerance for ego-filled bragging on a regular basis. In tribal social systems, no one is to consider themselves better than or above another. This was important to the Nordic farm communities. However, without the braga-full, a formal and ritual way of letting the community know what talents you have gained and good works you have accomplished, the öorlog becomes unbalanced. The post-Christian Scandinavian art form of self deprecation has caused stress and breaks in the öorlog, the web of wyrd, and the collective luck of our family and tribe. It is essential to use the horn ceremony to let the community know about our successes. These successes become layers in the well of Urd through speaking them over the horn. The community becomes aware of your gifts and talents in order to make use of them, build on them. This creates a new level of expectation and reputation for the individual in the community. Beowulf, as with other heros in the oldest stories, introduces himself through his deeds for it is our deeds that create our gefrain (reputation). There is a saying in modern Heathenry, “we are our deeds.”
Solo practitioners can do all of these rituals with the community of deities, ancestors, and nature beings as the community to witness. There are other private or solo horn ceremonies that can be created by individuals to serve a variety of purposes. One can pour a horn to Night (Nott) or Moon (Mani) when setting oneself up to dream. A morning horn can be offered to Sun (Sunna) or Day (Dagaz) as you begin your day’s work. A staff carrier (volva or vitki) who is going on vision quest (utti setti) may do a three round horn to the norns, articulating their öorlog, the intention of the moment, and asking to be shown what is most needful.
Basic Ritual Components
Ritual, like a good essay, will have a beginning, middle and end or introduction, body and conclusion. The conclusion is best when it re-affirms the opening premise. The middle is best when it delineates the steps taken to reach the goal set out in the introduction. Whether alone or in a group, the vibration of the words spoken out loud is what travels inter-dimensionally through the world tree. Choose your words with care and speak them out with clarity, supported by the breath, confidently.
Solo rituals can be more or less formalized as the individual would like. Here are the basics:
Invocation – declare your intention, name the deity or ancestor and invite them to be present. You may want to sing a welcoming song they would recognize or in the language they would understand.
Consecrate – the liquid. Sing into the core of the horn as the lady in the cave was doing. You may chant a rune, the god or ancestors names, and declare again your intention for the ceremony. The deity or ancestor enters into and partakes of the liquid.
Share – as we drink, we share the liquid with the deity. You may want to take some of the liquid with your finger and dot your third eye space or other areas of your body.
Sacrifice – pour the rest of the drink into the earth, over an altar, into water (river, lake, well) or a ritual fire. This completes the circuit and creates Gifu and ends the ritual.
In Modern Asatru
Here I describe the basic blot as performed in a group by practitioners of modern Asatru in the Midwest. Generally there is an altar set up with bottles of sacred drink, a horn, a blot bowl and ladle, a sprig of pine, a hammer of Thor and any god statues, ancestor photos or other altar objects as desired. Outside rituals nearly always have a central fire which is burning well before the community gathers.
Invocation – Before the ritual begins there is often a calling or invocation such as blowing a horn, ringing a bell, or singing a call to worship. The Law Speaker of Chieftain will explain the rules of the ritual. For example, some will not allow other god names than the one to whom the blot is dedicated. Some will not allow Loki or any of his children to be hailed. The gothi/gythia (priest/priestess) or chieftain/lady of the hall will then begin the ritual. The invocation continues as the ceremonial leader calls on the honored god or goddess to come and be honored. If there is a feast beforehand, the god/ancestor plate is offered into the fire so they can enjoy the feast as well. The horn is filled and blessed by the leader, imbued with the intention of the ritual. The first drink of the horn may be poured into the fire as the food was done. I have also seen the drink be poured into the fire with the blessings of the ritual imbued in it at the end. One may even do it both at the beginning and at the end!
In traditional/formal kindreds, a woman serves as the “Valkyrie” who then carries the horn to the next in rank (such as chieftain, lady, law speaker etc) who receives from the female principal and returns to her. The Valkyrie may stands by, sometimes behind as each person holds the horn up high to “hail” the god/goddess who is being honored. Those in attendance chorus “hail” in response as the toaster drinks or kisses the horn. It is then passed back to the Valkyrie who offers it to the next in the circle.
If there are words spoken or deities toasted that are not beneficial to the community, it is the Valkyrie or the Law Speaker who points it out and asks the individual to retract them. One may cover the top of ones glass or horn as a signal of offense. This is a very rare occurrence. Only once have I witnessed the sumble being called off completely when the Valkyrie has felt the wyrd was sullied to such a degree that there was no repair. In this case, the horn and blot bowl were removed from the hall and all contents poured out beneath the holy tree. In this case, ask Nerthus/Jord the Earth Mother, to use her power of transformation and change the unhealthy to healthy.
Once a full round is complete, the horn returns to the ceremonial leader. The Valkyrie and the leader each take their turn to hail the deity. Some of the contents of the horn are poured into the blot bowl. If another round is to be performed, the leader then ladles some of the blot bowl into the horn and re-fills it. All is repeated. When the rounds end, the Law Speaker, Chieftain or other designated leader will confirm that “good and true words have been spoken.” After this confirmation, the blot bowl is taken around the circle and the company is blessed with it’s contents through sprinkling it on the company with a twig dipped into the liquid and with the words “the blessings of our gods and goddesses be upon you” or some similar saying. The rest of the horn is poured into the fire or over the horg or at the roots of the community tree and the rite is ended. Very often a final chorus of “hail” will close the ritual. A bell may be rung or a horn blown at the end as well.
I pour a horn not to summon but to welcome.