Tag Archives: Asatru

Hail to Sumbel!

mead-horns

Heathenry in Victoria and Australia is a growing practice, a fellowship that is increasing in knowledge and numbers. Ásatrú and Odinism are a part of a growing community, descendents of Scandinavian countries within Australia are bringing back the worship and reverence of the Norse Gods; often times, it has been inspired by Tolkien. One thing about being Heathen in Victoria, you actually have the pleasure of living in a landscape that feels the colder temperatures similar to Northern Europe. That’s a good excuse to wear the right clothes, a woollen tunic or dress, cloak and hood, and hold your bonfire rite in a pine forest.

Yule is to be celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere in the next two weeks, and for some Heathens, sumbel will be celebrated.

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Jotun’s Bane Kindred, Kansas City

Sumbel (also symbel, or sumbal) was a holy ritual conducted during a blót, a feast or meal by the Norse people in days of old. Sumbel is toasting with a drinking horn – often carried out at the end of a ritual or feast. A drinking horn filled with alcohol – usually mead, but whatever you want, is passed around the room clockwise. It was more solemn than average drinking. Each person choosing to be involved in sumbel will drink and toast in three rounds. These rounds can vary per gathering, desires, and needs. Headed by the Gothi (goði) or Gythia (gyðja) – the holy people – gothi being a priest, and gythia a priestess, the horn is passed around three times each with a different toast.

Often the rounds consist of:

  1. Round 1: To the Gods and/or the Goddesses
  2. Round 2: To the ancestors and/or a personal hero
  3. Round 3: For an Oath, Boast or Toast

1: To toast to the Gods and Goddesses, or the Æsir, you will be raising the horn to whichever God or Goddess sits in your favour at that time. Perhaps you have felt their presence in your life, or you feel an affiliation with them, and wish to thank them. Give your reasons within your speech as to why you speak of them. If you do not like the alcohol, simply pour some onto the ground, the fire, a blessing bowl or anoint your forehead with the ale. Finish your speech with ‘Hail’ and all those in the room will echo you, it’s like an ‘over and out’ sign off of your speech..

raise-a-horn-and-hail-odin

2: Toasting to your ancestors or personal heroes – you must give reasons why you toast to them, why they are your heroes at the time. Make sure your individuals are deceased, it is believed to be ill luck to toast an ancestor not yet dead. You may even want to tell a short tale about that hero, a tale that inspires and instils motivation within you, something that might make sense or imitate your life at that moment. Again, finish you speech with a ‘Hail.’

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3: In this final round, you will raise the horn in an Oath, Boast or Toast. You may choose one, two or all of these three toasts:

Oath: You may make an oath to do something or improve on something, but be prepared for it to be taken very seriously. Never make an oath on anything you do not expect to be able to complete, the Gods would not want you to be hard on yourself.*

Boast: You may boast about something you have achieved recently, something that you are proud of yourself for.

Toast: You may toast anything or anyone that has brought you happiness in whatever form and has improved your life or well-being, or toast the hosts of the feast and ritual or the attendees.

Don’t forget to say ‘Hail!’

The people present at the feast will listen to your oath and take note of it, as sumbel is a powerful and emotional ritual, you will want to be honest and true to yourself – this oath will be a powerful sacrament – words are very strong, the Æsir are present, and your loved ones and ancestors are there listening. You must be honourable to yourself, so make sure your oath has meaning
to you, and you are capable of implementation.

*Attending sumbel can be quite revealing, you will hear a lot of personal feelings being expressed, have respect for what they say. You may feel the compulsion to reveal much yourself during your toasts, so be prepared to be conveying personal moods and emotions. It is a time of honesty and you will be in a space where people trust each other.

You can choose not to do all of these three things – when you receive the horn, you may simply raise the horn to the Gods, take a drink and pass it on. You are not under any obligation to say anything at all, if you are not comfortable. Some people may not have a God or ancestor to toast to, but they may have an oath or a boast to say. If the horn begins to get quite empty when it reaches you, inform the host or goðar of it and it will be refilled and be blessed by the remaining liquid. Sumbel may end at any time, when those conducting it are ready – may be when the horn is finally drained, all things are said, or the ritual feels to be ending. Sumbel is an open ritual, all people are able to come and go as they please, although the ritual does have a beginning and an end.

Sumbel is NOT a pastime for getting drunk. It is a solemn and serious affair that deserves respect and honour. Those seriously attending sumbel will not want disrespect from heavy drinkers, and may ask those disrespecting it to leave.

Make sure the tip of the horn points down ‘Point down and you won’t drown.’  If the point of the horn is pointing towards the ceiling as you drink, you might find yourself wet with drink, as it will gush out at you rather fast, which can be quite embarrassing. If you can, when you know sumbel is going to be conducted, have a think about what you will say. There is nothing like feeling bad if you have forgotten to say something, even though you should not stress. Often other people’s toasts will remind you to say something when it is your turn. Also do not get too upset if you spill your drink or choke and think it is a bad omen. It will not be, have faith, and you will be satisfied with the sumbel.

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Make sure the horn points down, or the ale will gush at you very fast. You will be drowned.

Sumbel at Yule

I have attended Sumbel during Yule time, but there is no specific time of the year where it must be done. Our Sumbel was different to the plan above – it consisted of three rounds, but they were only the final round as mentioned above – our first round was a boast to the 12 months past, the second round was an oath made for the 12 months ahead, and our third round was a toast to whatever we wanted. With the dozen or so people in the room, the three rounds went for long enough, you would not want to do any more than that, people often got restless or left early. The final round mentioned in the above list, suggests that you do the oath, or the boast, or the toast, or all three in the same round, saving time.

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If you do sumbel once a year at Yule for example, your boast the next time can be a result of the oath you took the previous year, and whether you have honestly fulfilled that oath. An oath in turn becomes a boast the following year. It can be a cycle, if you tend to this ritual annually, and can be very satisfactory.

One person at our Yule doing a boast, said they had not much to boast about, when another member spoke up about how that person just became a grandparent, and should not be so modest. If you are modest, people may pull you up for it and request that you be proud of what you have achieved.

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Quaffing will just waste ale. Please take it easy while drinking. Note that the horn tip points up. Not good.

Sumbel in non-Heathen rites

You may not be Heathen, you may not have a drinking horn, but you can still invent your own sumbel ritual. You can use a goblet, toast to your preferred Gods, do three rounds or only one. You could conduct it at dawn, during a rite on midsummer, or during the Celtic New Year at Samhain if you choose. You can use the Strega drink instead. You can do anything! I know people (and I have done this myself on occasions) who conduct a small sumbel during New Year’s Eve instead of getting drunk and wildly partying. They have a relaxing night, and use the midnight celebration to reflect on their past year and plan for the coming one.

You can involve the kids in your sumbel, it can be kid friendly (no alcohol, for example). Kids have boasts and goals as well, you can teach them to set goals this way, and be proud of what they have done.

Sumbel can be become quite a poignant occasion for some people, especially when they make it an annual event. However you chose to conduct it is your own choice, but do not be afraid to make a ritual of it and understand that the Gods and Ancestors will hear you.

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Let Me Count the Ways: an alphabet of modern Paganism in Victoria

By Galloway, Daracha and Cecily M-B, with contributions and meddlings from Mary, Jan and Esther.

We have a vast and varied cross-section of paganism here in Victoria (or, as an overseas friend of mine recently put it, “the bottom right corner of Australia, before you get to the floaty part”). Below are just snippets of our favourite things about being pagan in Victoria. What are yours?

A is for Andrew

Nestled amidst the beautiful Yarra Ranges, Saint Andrews Community Market has been running for more than forty years now. It now runs weekly, and its eclectic and relaxed atmosphere makes it one the most pagan markets in the state. We especially recommend the drumming workshops on every second week!

B is for Beltane

The Maypole at Mount Franklin. Photo courtesy of the Mount Franklin Annual Pagan Gathering.

The Mount Franklin Annual Pagan Gathering, which turned thirty-two years old in 2013, is the oldest pagan gathering in the Southern Hemisphere, and possibly the world. We love its rich history, acceptance of all pagan faiths and the community atmosphere of the weekend.

C is for Castlemaine

This picturesque town in the goldfields of central Victoria has been home to many witches over the years, and is still popular with witchy folk today. Highlights of the town include the Theatre Royal, the oldest continuously operating theatre on the Australian mainland, and Wesley Hill Market, another gloriously eclectic experience.

D is for Druid

Druidry is thriving in Victoria, with a number of public and private groves established about the place, notably the OBOD-Associated Melbourne Grove and its affiliates.

E is for Euphoria

The Euphoria Pagan Gathering until 2009, and was a long weekend of challenging and extremely transformative rituals, dealing with concepts such as the “shadow self”, facing fears, encountering guides, etc. We look back at these rites, organised by the iconic Seline and Hawthorn, with great fondness, and were absolutely thrilled to discover that the organisers have decided to present the “Rites of Euphoria” again in 2013 and beyond!

F is for Full Moon

Esbats are well and truly celebrated all around Victoria in different rituals, both public and private. One of the most notable gatherings is the one held by the lovely Seline Cardamon-Cairns. These circles provide a friendly and welcoming environment for both beginners and the more adept. You can find out more about them here.

G is for Greenery

Dandenong Ranges National Park

In Victoria, the winters bring harsh frosts, and even snow in places. Summers are long, dusty and dry, and some places don’t see rain for months at a time. But as the days slowly start to warm after the frosty months, and as the ground softens again after the harsh summer sun, we see the green coming back. Grass peeks out of scorched earth and leaves begin to appear on skeletal trees. Vegetable patches take off again, shoots pop up their heads and leaves unfurl. Victoria is a state dotted with state forests, national parks and conservation areas, and many of our small towns’ main streets are lined with oaks, elms, conifers or eucalypts.

H is for Heathen

Norse Paganism is also strong here in Victoria, particularly in the areas of Asatru and Odinism (though we have heard of smaller numbers of practitioners of Theodism). There are hearths, garths and kindreds far flung across the state, and the most active public group seems to be the Melbourne Heathen Moot.

I is for Ireland

Around a quarter of Australians with Irish Ancestry reside in Victoria today. In the early days of white settlement, many of the convicts and labourers who made homes in Victoria were also from the emerald isle – a legacy which lives on today through distinctly Irish place names like Koroit, Belfast (now Port Fairy), Portarlington, Coleraine and Maryborough. Little wonder, then, that so many new Pagans first find an affinity with aspects such as fairies or the ancient Celtic Wheel of the Year, and that so many Pagan meet-ups take place in Irish pubs!

J is for Jonquil

These sunny little chaps are usually the first inkling that Spring is on the way in Victoria, and by early Spring they are prominent in many gardens across the state as the first splash of colour. Jonquils and daffodils feature across a number of cultures and mythologies such as that of the Ancient Greeks, in which Persephone was lured to the Underworld by Hades while she was picking one. In further Ancient Greek ties, the Latin name for the standard Jonquil is Narcissus Jonquilla.

K is for Korumburra

This wee town, nestled in Victoria’s southeast, is also popular with the witchy folk today. Rumour has it that some of Victoria’s first Strega and related groups began in the east of the state back in the seventies (or maybe even earlier?), and little wonder – while many towns in the west of the state were predominantly English and Irish for many years, Korumburra and other places in the east have a strong history of migration waves from all across Europe.

L is for Lindsay

Norman Lindsay was born in Creswick in Central Victoria in 1879, dying in 1969 at age 90. Lindsay was famous for his paintings, etchings and sculptures, many featuring nude women. He also wrote novels, children’s books and essays, and illustrated many of them, too. A lot of his artwork was very pagan – scenes of Bacchanalia, Dionysian revelry, costume parties, half-human half-animals, sphinxes, fauns, decadence, lust and reverence. Lindsay’s artwork was controversial for his time. Some pieces were banned, destroyed or rejected by art galleries: pieces that explored sexual adventures or lusty pagan trysts full of nudes. The nude women in his paintings often held a regal air of authority, power and confidence. Infamous King’s Cross artist Rosaleen Norton also modelled in his painting ‘Crete’ as a nude riding a black bull. Lindsay’s art is still celebrated by many pagans today.

M is for Mysteries

Wherever there is Paganism, there are rumours, and Victoria is not spared from this. Sometimes a few are true, and help us steer clear of the many unsavoury characters that seem to be drawn to Witchcraft and Paganism. But most are untrue and are created out of spite or misunderstanding.
Then there are those rumours that create outright panic. In the 1980’s there were a number of books, such as the one titled Michelle Remembers, published, alleging a worldwide satanic abuse and conspiracy. Despite claims in these books being proven untrue, satanic panic exploded worldwide. Throughout the eighties and nineties, many Pagans and Witches in Victoria and the rest of the world were harassed, lost their jobs and had their homes vandalized as the moral panic about Satanic ritual abuse spread to Australia. In the papers at the time Victoria was described at hotbed of Occult activity, and to this day rumours circulate about a black coven up to no good somewhere in the Dandenong Ranges.
During the panic, some Pagans and Witches sought out media interviews to offer a contrasting view: that Paganism was a peaceful non-violent religion and that the biblical figure called Satan has no place in Witchcraft. Of course, the Victorian Pagan community is not without its own cases of real abuse and we must be vigilant. If you hear/witness abuse going on in any form under the guise of Witchcraft, please contact the police.

N is for North

The old religion(s) are alive and well far from Victoria’s capital. The most recent evidence of this is the Wedderburn New Age Festival, put on in the rural town by a local coven. The festival was by all accounts a hit, and quite popular with the locals, despite much protest and contestation by local church groups, who accused the ladies of “bringing the devil to Wedderburn“, a notion which had most Pagans either falling about laughing or wondering if they had inadvertently time travelled back a few centuries…

O is for Otways

The Great Otway National Park consists of just over one hundred square kilometres of beautiful mountains and temperate rainforest on Victoria’s southwest coast. This rugged and beautiful wilderness has attracted pagans of many walks of life for decades, and contains a number of active ritual sites for different groups and individuals.

P is for Pub


“…So I said to him, ‘not with my athame, mate!’ LOL!”

The tradition of Pagans in the Pub is still going strong as a means for Pagan folk to network, socialise and share ideas. There are pub moots happening all over Victoria’s larger towns. The largest and most well-known is Melbourne Pagans in the Pub, which is currently run by local Melbournite, Philippe.

Q is for Quercus

Victoria is dotted with beautiful oak trees across the cities and the countryside. The oak is an ancient and powerful symbol across a number of ancient cultures, and as such is still very important in paganism today. In Victoria, there are a large number of oak plantations and heritage listed trees. Among our favourites are the pair of Quercus Canariensis in the Manningham Heritage Gardens in Bulleen and the Federal Oak, which was planted by Sir Henry Parkes at Parliament House in Melbourne in 1890.

R is for Ritual

You say the Goddess and God have gone
But I tell you they live on!
For in the cities and hills
And in circles of stone
The voices of the Old Ways
The Spirit of Albion is calling you home…

(Damh the Bard – “The Spirit of Albion”)

At any given Sabbat or Esbat, or at other key times of the year, hundreds of Pagans across the state are conducting their own personal rites of celebration and devotion: in the cities and towns, in the hills and forests, in parks and gardens and on the beaches… Indoors and out, solitaries, large gatherings and everything in between.

S is for Spring


Both red and white hawthorn can be found all around Victoria in the Springtime.

Spring in Victoria is quite a sight, and usually begins with a few very busy weeks. During this time, the air seems to warm up noticeably, everything is energised after the frosty months, and there is a real “feeling” of Spring everywhere you go! Then the wildflowers start dotting the roadsides, and the hawthorn blooms happily. If you only go to the country in Victoria once a year, Spring is the time to do it!

T is for Tradition



Like the rest of Australia, Traditional Witchcraft maintains a quiet but consistent presence in Victoria, where there have been a small number of covens and associated solitary practitioners for decades now.

U is for Unexplained

With its fairly spotty history, the notion that Victoria is quite haunted in places comes as little surprise to many. Among the creepiest of the creepy are the Old Melbourne Gaol; Werribee Park Mansion; The Elephant Bridge Hotel in Darlington, Western Victoria; and Mayday Hills Asylum, which later became the Beechworth Lunatic Asylum, in the state’s North-East.

V is for Varied

People new to Paganism here are often amazed at the amount of choice they have within the community. Back in the dark days before the internet, many groups kept themselves to themselves, and it was hard for “outsiders” to get any information at all, even about Paganism in general. Now Victoria (and the internet!) is home to many active and public groups from a wide range of traditions, and witches, magicians, druids, heathens, pagans and others can network freely if they so choose.

W is for Wiccan Conference

The Australian Wiccan Conference began as an annual conference of the Pagan Alliance (PA). It started in 1984 and was originally a meeting place for the PA in New South Wales with an AGM held at the end of the weekend, until it was decided that the conference could be held in other states. As of 2008, on its 25th Anniversary, the AWC had been held in every state in Australia, being held in QLD in 2008 for the first time. It is normally held on the weekend closest to the Spring Equinox in September, and usually runs for 3 days and 2 nights. People travel from all over Australia to attend the conference, or to present a lecture or workshop. Musicians such as Spiral Dance and many other bands have performed there, and a ritual is usually conducted on the Saturday evening. It is destined to be held in Victoria in 2014.

X is for eXcellence

Yes, I know. But X is tricky!
X is dedicated to all the excellent and exceptional pagan people we have met over the years: to those pioneers who were there at the birth of new groups and ideas, to long-standing elders and members our community, to those who have visited Victoria from interstate and overseas, and to all other decent pagan folk!

Y is for Yule

We have already spoken at length in this article about Victoria’s frosty winters. The icy ground and the green grass make Yule a safe time of year for shenanigans such as big bonfires, fire twirling and more… And non-Pagan folk have started embracing these traditions, too! While the night itself is usually a doozy of a leaf-sizzling frost in most regions, it provides cold ground and a clear sky – excellent conditions for welcoming back the sun!

Z is for Zen

Paganism in Victoria has seen many allies in recent decades, and sometimes from unexpected places. The Buddhist Council of Victoria, for example, have been actively engaged in organising education and awareness programs about so-called “alternative” religions in schools in the state for many years now, as well as interfaith dialogue with many religious groups, including Pagans. There is also the Satyanada Yoga Ashram in Central Victoria which opens its doors to Pagans and people of all faiths, especially during seasonal festivals.

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Heathenry: so much more than a boys’ club

By Galloway, with contributions from Daracha.

Recently we caught up with a friend of ours who had just left her Asatru kindred. Her story was similar to others we’ve heard over the years from women involved in Germanic Heathenry in Australia.

As a country dweller like us, she was thrilled when she first became involved with this kindred. The organisers aimed to recreate the feeling of traditional Norse festivals, so the rituals were solemn and spoken in Danish and Old High Norse. As a former reenactor this appealed to her interest in history, and coming to a Viking feast with ritual also worked for her eclectic pagan side.

After ritual, the kindred would have a feast in the hof (feasting hall). These were always wonderful, with tables packed with roast meats, vegetables and homemade breads and cakes. They even drank mead from drinking horns.

The problems arose when she realised that it was always her and the wives and girlfriends of the men in attendance who served the food, cleared the table, and even fetched the beer and mead. In fact, after this realisation it became clear to her that the only reason the wife of the host had invited her female friends to these gatherings was because she needed help in the kitchen to produce such large amounts of food and drink.

And it didn’t stop there. After the feast, our friend found that she was usually going and sitting with the other women away from the fire. The men would stand around the fire and share stories and songs from the Eddas and make toasts, boasts and oaths. The women would gossip about the men. When this became apparent and she went to stand with the men to share in the music (she is one of the most talented whistle players in the state) it was suggested, not unkindly, that she should “go and sit with the others”.

As mentioned earlier, this is not an isolated incident. Over the years in our dealings with heathen folk of all walks of life, this tale seems to come up fairly frequently from Australian heathen women.

So.

Even someone with a rudimentary knowledge of history knows that the Vikings were a vibrant and varied people. War and conquest were important to them, yes, but so were a lot of other things. For some reason many people seem to revere the warrior aspect of Norse heathenry and leave it at that. In Australia, that seems to have pigeonholed all Heathenry as some sort of Men’s Shed religion, and attracted some strange ideas.

In actual fact, Viking women were treated better than all of this. The role of wife and mother were seen as sacred, and extended so much further than bringing babies, food and booze. In many Norse societies women owned land, livestock and were even able to divorce their husbands. And don’t even get us started on warrior women!

Diana Paxson also mentions in this article that it is the dísir, the female ancestors, who were traditional protectors of family lines and customs. We have attended a number of different heathen feasts in a number of different capacities over the years, and this has never been apparent in the words or actions of any participants, male or female!

Any group serious about recreating the spirit of Viking religious festivals would surely take all this into account. In terms of solid, recorded history, heathens have it much better than many other pagan paths. The evidence is there. It’s just a matter of using it!

Contrary to popular belief, the Vikings were a complex and highly progressive society. The folk who work to recreate their customs do, for the most part, a brilliant job of living true to their hearths and kindreds, and in many cases create groups of people as close as blood relatives. In Australia, though, it seems that some groups are missing the point somewhat, and heathenry becomes something of a boys’ club, leaving female members feeling disillusioned. It’s time to step out of the shed into the sunshine. It’s time celebrate our ancestors. All of them.

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