The Sumbel

The Sumbel

When Beowulf came to Hrothgar, the first thing they did was to drink at a ritual sumbel. This was a way of establishing Beowulf’s identity and what his intent was, and doing so in a sacred and traditional manner.

One of the most common celebrations noted in tales of the vikings is the Sumbel, or ritual drinking celebration.

The Sumbel and Blot (the two primary rituals of Asatru) are two sides of the same coin. A blot is a ritual to enhance the relationship between ourselves and the gods/goddesses. A sumbel, while certainly strengthening this bond, is more about strengthening the bond in our community.

A sumbel is more “mundane” (less religious or magical) than a Blot, but in many ways is more important.

The sumbel is simple. The guests are seated and the host begins with a short statement of greeting and intent, and then offers the first toast. The horn is then passed around the table and each person makes their toasts in turn. At a sumbel toasts are drunk to the Gods, as well as to a persons ancestors or personal heroes. Rather than a toast, a person might also offer a brag or some story, song, or poem that has significance. The importance is that at the end of the toast, story, or whatever, the person offering it drinks from the horn, and in doing so “drinks in” what he spoke.

The sumbel is an important time for people to get to know each other in a more intimate way than most people are willing to share. People within our modern society often behave at one of two extremes. At one end are individuals who remain distant from their own emotions, either because to display emotion would be inappropriate or because they have been socialized to believe that self-sacrifice for others is the only desirable way to live. On the other side are those who cultivate their “feelings” and who spend their lives consciously attempting to stir their emotions and who force an unnatural level of intimacy between themselves and others. There are some levels of emotional intimacy which are not meant to be openly shared with strangers. Doing so reduces their meaning to the mundane. At sumbol, barriers can be lowered in a place which is sacred to the Gods. Thoughts can be shared among companions and friends without embarrassment or forced intimacy.

One format for the sumbel is to drink three rounds. The first is dedicated to the Gods, the second to ancestors s, and the third to personal ancestors, heroes, or friends which have passed from this world. An alternative to this for the first round to be to the Gods, the second to an ancestor who has passed on, and the third a personal boast.

Another theme for a sumbel is past, present, and future. This type of sumbol is more of a magical ritual than one of celebration. The idea is to make toasts which bring up some aspect of your past and present situation, and a third toast or brag which represents your wishes for the future. One might make a toast to the first ritual one attended as the past, a second to the companions and kindred then gathered, and for his third toast might state that he intends to be dedicate himself as a Gothi in the coming year. The purpose would be to link the coming event of his dedication with the two already accomplished events of pledging Asatru and finding a kindred — two other important rites of passage. In this case initiation as a Gothi then becomes something which is linked to a chain of events that have already occurred, rather than an isolated action which might occur. Thus magically, this moves the person towards his goal.

A third and ever popular type of sumbel is a free-for-all where stories are told, toasts are made, and bragging is done until all gathered are under the table. Perhaps this is not quite so esoteric or purposeful as the previous ideas, but it’s certainly in keeping with the examples of our Gods and ancestors. In any case, no matter how relaxed a sumbol has become, I have never seen one that was merely a drinking event. Some of the most intense experiences I have had with people have come from such “open ended” sumbels.

These are only ideas.

The sumbel is a very freeform type of thing and the framework is very simple to adapt.

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