In my youth I was fascinated by a lot of the religions that are now filed together under the banner ‘neopagan’, but my experience was limited to books and a few conversations. I had never taken part in any rituals.
Fast forward a decade or so and now I’m invited to a Sumble, which is a ritual followed by Norse inspired neopaganism. I have no interest in pursuing this line of belief, but from my former studies and my curiosity to experience everything I accepted an offer from a new friend to take part in the ritual.
I arrived at the friend’s house a couple of hours early and played Rock Band for a few songs on drums or vocals. We then had a wonderful meal with a roast turkey with the usual turkey accoutrement. Afterward I had a piece of apple pie with vanilla ice cream and a bit of a homemade berry cordial for dessert. It struck me a bit ironic that that we were having a traditional American holiday meal yet were about to engage in a practice that most Americans would not identify with. But as we are a melting pot of traditions, it also made sense in a wacky wonderful kind of way.
Anyway, at this point the dishes were cleared away, and the host made sure that each participant had a votive candle and a glass with whatever the person wanted to toast with. Most people started with beer or mead and a few who had to drive home later switched to iced tea or Pepsi after a few circles. I went with a large bottle of Victory Golden Monkey Tripel Ale and a bottle of polish mead called Kasztelanski. The host had these really cool glasses that looked like viking drinking horns.
A Sumble basically is several rounds of toasting where the host begins by filling a large drinking horn with mead(homemade is preferable to store-bought) making the first toast, and the toaster drinks from the horn while everyone else drinks from the glass in front of them. Then the horn is passed clockwise to the next person, and the process continues until the horn reaches the host. We only had six people at the Sumble, so the rounds were fairly swift.
The first round is traditionally for the gods. The host bid his gods to come and witness our toasting and boasting and give their approval, we all toasted, he lit the candle in front of him, and passed the horn. A few of the participants invoked “the powers that be” and one young guy invoked “The Good Lord.” When my turn came up, I was kind of unsure what to do as I did not want to offend my host or make a statement contrary to my beliefs. I think I said something along the lines of “I invite all of the forgotten ones once venerated but now left by the wayside.” It sounded quasi-mystical in a H.P. Lovecraft kind of way and I was a bit put on the spot as the second person in line, but I think it was okay. I took a swig of the homemade mead from the drinking horn. The mead was excellent; spicy and sweet, but not too sweet. I then lit my candle and passed the horn.
The next round was for the fallen or the heroes where we toasted. Again I was kind of put on the spot and as I did not have any close relatives or friends die recently I quickly tried to think of a hero to toast. I had read a magazine article earlier in the week talking about all of the good things that John Chapman did during his life. John Chapman is more commonly known as “Johnny Appleseed” and a wikipedia search will reveal the millions of dollars of real estate and material goods he gave away while sleeping outdoors in rags. I thought that is pretty damned heroic, so I toasted to Johnny Appleseed and everyone seemed to find it fitting after I explained why I had chosen him. Most of the others had close friends and family that they lost which made for a solemn round.
Next was a round of boasts. Each person was to boast of something they have done in the last year that they considered a “mighty deed”. I boasted of my NaNoWriMo win.
The rest of the rounds were more open where you could toast whatever you wanted. Some of the toasts I recall include to women, men, alcohol, ingenuity, compassion, kilts, gaming, computers, and the transistor. What can I say, we were all geeks.
All in all, it was definitely a positive experience. From my research, the main purpose of the Sumble was to build community and be a bonding ritual, and it certainly works very well for that. In fact, if you change the first round to the gods to instead toast the virtues you hold dear you would probably find very few people out there who would find it objectionable. Of course, my Astaru(Norse neopagan) friends would probably retort that doing that would “take the piss out of the whole thing” and water it down into yet another tepid team-bonding attempt that can be found in pathetic office environments. Try it if you get a chance and it doesn’t conflict too strongly with your beliefs.
The only other ritual I’m currently looking to do is to participate in a sweat lodge. If anyone knows if one happening within an hour or so of Greenville, let me know.