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Hail to Sumbel!


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.


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..


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.’


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.


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.


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.


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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The Resurgence of the Old Gods – who never died


As much as monotheistic religions want to believe it, report it, demand it, the Old Gods never actually died. They’ve always been around, it was just the people of the world, for a while there, were made to believe something else – until it was legal to believe in what felt right for you. The resurgence of polytheistic religions is still very popular, as is the resurgence into atheism. It does not worry me what people choose to believe, but to be left alone to choose is what every human appears to want.

A great online article on the belief in the Olds Gods is Hannah M. G. Shapero’s Ancient Gods: Where are they now? – A fantastic piece covering all aspects of belief, existence, and popularity. I’ll be using this piece in this post, or referring to it – how can I not when it covers everything! Digressing over…

A wise person I have known for over a decade whom I trust with my life once said to me ‘The Old Gods lie dormant until you call them again.’ I think that is completely true. I’m also completely glad that other people out there are thinking just like me! I’m not alone! Even Terry Pratchett has a good point about Gods existing through the power of belief.

‘Gods on the Discworld exist as long as people believe in them and their power grows as their followers increase.’


It’s good to see when you search the internet, evidence across the planet of a resurgence in pagan rituals, and a true belief in the Old Gods. Seek out Doretta Peppa and see how this persistent and interesting woman brings back the rituals of the Olympic Gods. They may not be exactly like the ones from the olde days, but the fact that they are there doing it, means a lot. It makes people see what is going on – not just in Athens, but other parts of the world – AND that it’s really quite harmless. I have seen, and I really believe, that the general public, when they see a pagan ritual, begin to realise they appear pretty inoffensive. I’ve felt BAD vibes in a born-again church, but never in a pagan ritual and I think witnesses think and feel the same thing. Some don’t want to believe in it, damning it as demonic, even if they see it is harmless – a line in an article says about Peppa’s rites:

‘The Greek Orthodox Church has said they are miserable resuscitators of a degenerate dead religion.’


It seems to be easy to worry the Church. The religion may have died, but the Gods didn’t. You’ve got several countries looking at doing religious rites involving the Old Gods, using festival, masquerade, fire, and procession – like Latvia, Norse/Asatru ritual, Fire Festivals, and low-key Halloween ceremonies…like this one…

The amazing Rappahannock Halloween Festival

The variety is astounding. People are always finding out a way to connect with the Old Gods, letting them know they are aware they are out there. And the Gods know it! It’s a great shame the monotheistic religions are down on the poor deities, convincing people it’s not alright to worship such Gods. As Shapero says…

‘…some of the more fanatical absolute monotheists, among whom can be counted radical Evangelicals and other fundamentalists, the old gods did exist, but they were demons. They were actually evil beings, sent by Satan to deceive people. They were idols – false things worshipped by ignorant people. Once the true monotheism has arrived, there is no excuse to worship these idols. Therefore they must be smashed, and Christianity and Islam have done a lot of smashing over the years. Do they still exist? Yes, the way Satan and the demons still exist…’

athens-torchrelay_2215194bPriestesses at the Athens Olympics, 2004

At least they admit they exist! I’m fine with that – I’ll have my rant later about my own opinion. Now, coming to experiences with the Gods. I’ve had my fair share of experiences with the divine, and perceived it in my own way. I’ve had moments, where I have emanated pure emotion and had a response from something that comforted me – in a moment of sadness, I had a voice in my head that was certainly not me, and it helped me in my lonely, desperate moment. AND it was not just a voice, I was given some hindsight into something that would one day come to me – I actually got a glimpse into the future! I had called to Her in desperation, and She came! Others have told me of their experiences with the divine, and would have their own description for it – God, the Virgin Mary, the Goddess, whatever. Whatever we believe comes to us in those times – and often there is something in that moment where you somehow just KNOW that it is NOT your own head talking to yourself. You’re too emotional to think straight let alone give yourself a positive answer. That’s how you know you were not alone that moment. I’ve had that. It’s profound. But what about specific encounters with the Gods? I know of two accounts I want to write about – one from a trusted friend, a no-nonsense person who doesn’t take things lightly, and is not easily fooled, and another woman, whom I met once, whom I don’t really trust as much – anyway, both of them had an ‘encounter’ with the Horned God. And yes, I mean a sexual encounter. I know my friend’s story better – from what I gathered, this encounter occurred, not during sleep or physical broad daylight, but must have been during a trance or meditation. Nor am I aware of drugs being involved. But I asked my friend all the details – she distinctly recalls holding onto the antlers during the sexual encounter. That makes me think it was during a trance, or even some other world visitation. As a reader and researcher of strange phenomenon and the supernatural, I LOVE these kinds of stories. I file them away in my head, neither believing nor disbelieving them. But I know I have every right to believe it if I want. Would a skeptic laugh at me? Probably, but he can argue till he’s blue in the face, I will believe what I want.

Well, hello!

Another encounter I know of was during ritual – an extremely dark Goddess turned up during ritual, sought out and pointed to a particular disturbed person in the circle. This person was a cheeky one, and She knew it, and made herself known. He probably wet himself after that.

There will be people all over the world with stories to tell of experiencing the Old Gods – physically or spiritually – that would be quite a fun read! As an academic, I’ve read enough to learn something about the world, something about religion and something about belief. I cannot, in all honesty, even remotely believe that the Bible is a useful, reliable book that a human being should refer to. To me, it simply goes against human behaviour. However, belief in the Gods is certainly more plausible in my world. I once read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon. To be honest, it was a painful read, but what I LOVED, what warmed my heart and made me feel at home, was the characters in the book who stayed devoted to the Goddess and to Avalon. They did not bow down to the Christian religion, no matter how popular and powerful the religion was becoming. During the book, all I remember wanting to happen was that Morgaine went back to Avalon with her pagan lover Accolon, stay there, and let the foolish outside world war with each other till they all died out.

My opinions…

I’ve never told a Christian that his God doesn’t exist, but deep down I’ve thought that he, as a God, is rather boring. It’s just my preference, I enjoy a saucy God/dess just as much as the next person. When I anthropomorphise the Gods with characteristics, I think of the sexy, frivolous, yet vindictive Aphrodite, The sexual and cheeky, yet childishly playful Pan, and the wise and serene Athena, who has a scary streak. But when I think of the Christian God, he is the lonely shut-in that contradicts himself – according to the description of his followers. The level of importance the Christian God sits to his followers and priests, makes me think that I cannot speak with him. Jeanne D’Arc was envied and killed because she was spoken to by God via the saints – she was not a man let alone a priest, and we can’t be having with that. Nor have I ever thought the Christian God was evil, however a lot of his followers like to think he’s judgemental, vicious and damning. What a way to make your God sound unpleasant! In the end, it’s not the God that puts me off the religion – it’s the patriarchal, and often misogynistic domination of the world, where the sacred act of sex is a sin, where the selfish belief that their religion is the true one. It just ISN’T, in fact, it’s probably the furthest from it.

Today, people keep going on about the Virgin Mary being like the Goddess – but to me, that is not good enough. I don’t want someone clad in blue, with no features but the face showing, and no womanly figure to rever. I just don’t care enough. Mary was seen and not heard, carried a baby, raised it, but did nothing else – She was put in her place. They say the Gods are still alive in Christian religions – the Virgin Mary is like the Goddess, the saints are like separate Gods, etc etc – But I don’t want ANYTHING to do with any Christian religion at all. Before you say anything, I know our world is very Christocentric, and neo-paganism probably does have elements of Christianity that we don’t notice, but there is not much we can do about that in this world. I don’t think the Christian God in all his omnipresence and knowledge, gives a rat’s arse that I don’t worship him, only his followers would care about such things. I’m inclined to think he is not as bad as his followers say he is.

I’m not selfish enough to say my religion is the true religion – there is no true religion, because there are so many, and if the individual is kind, happy and lives a good life not harming others, then all the better. I’m also not selfish enough to say ‘my gods were around first, your god was invented at the council of Nicaea, and therefore is not real.’ There is something within the power of belief, again Shapero says:

Can something that was once worshipped disappear into oblivion? Popular legends and stories tell of ethereal beings, such as the fairy “Tinkerbell,” whose very existence depends on the belief of human beings. When people cease to believe in these sweet spirits, they disappear into non-existence, like bubbles. Are the gods the same way? If no one believes in them, as I said earlier in this essay, do gods die? If not, then what lives on?

Of course, you could say there is no point in having one God, and then demons, angels and saints. Just make them all gods – that’s what they are, they’re spirits, earth-bound, celestial, and they are revered. I once insulted someone when I said that Satan was a Christian god. I did not care either way, but he tried to argue his point – which he is completely allowed to do – but sorry love, there is no convincing me, when I sometimes see Christians talk about the Devil almost MORE than their God, it makes me wonder. We all know talking of something gives it power. Perhaps they should worry about who they prefer to admire. The best Christians I’ve ever met, LOVE that pagans have their own Gods and are happy for them, as they are happy with their God. They are the best examples of humans out there.

I’m kind of tired of hearing about the bible, the Christian God, but I know I cannot avoid it. I’d rather read more about the Mithraic religions, Gilgamesh, and bring back the Elusinian Mysteries. Hell, even build Roman baths like they used to! Do some parade that involves a thyrsus and a laurel wreath. What certainly is important in the world today is that we let other people believe what they want, and not laugh at them. I’ve been rude in the past but only to the fundamental, pushy people who joined cults in the end, but in reality, I am happy for all to be who they are, as long as they leave me alone to live how I want.

In service of the Gods,

~ Daracha

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