Alcohol was a prominent feature of Viking life and was particularly important to several seasonal religious festivals.
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Basics of Sumbel - General Pagan - The White Goddess

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Monday, 23 January 2017

Basics of Sumbel

Basics of Sumbel

Basics of Sumbel

Alcohol was a prominent feature of Viking life and was particularly important to several seasonal religious festivals, of which the Scandinavians celebrated three: the first occurring after harvest, the second near midwinter, and the last at midsummer. The Sagas often tell of the first round of drink being served by noble women, as in this passage from Beowulf:

"Wealhtheow, Hrothgar's queen now made her appearance according to courtly custom. Adorned with gold, she greeted the company in the banqueting hall. The noble lady first presented a goblet to Hrothgar. She bade him enjoy the revels, upon which the king gladly took part in the sumbel. Then Wealhtheow the Helming princess visited every corner of the hall, tendering the jewelled cup to veterans and the younger men."

Once the Vikings had their cups filled, they offered up toasts, or Fulls. The first full was assigned to Odin, and was made for victory and the king's success. The second toast was made to Freyr and Njord, which was for peace and plentiful harvests. The third toast was often made to Bragi, god of poetry. After this, men might make the Minni, a toast to those of their kinsmen who had become famous.

A Sumbel is a formal drinking ritual composed of toasting, hails, oath-taking, the recitation of poetry or song, and other forms of verbal expression. The Sumbel is composed of rounds, in which the horn is passed in a circle, each person saying their hail or other appropriate verbal expression, drinking, and passing the horn along. The purpose of the Sumbel is great; words spoken at Sumbel have a great power to them imbued by the nature of the holy rite. Oath-taking is a common part of Sumbel, as it is considered to be especially meaningful and especially binding to take an oath before the gods and the community during this rite. This rite not only connects us wit the gods and goddesses, but with our ancestors, our community, and to a degree with ourselves. Here we may express ourselves in a holy forum, allowing us to define our place in the community as well as honor the gods and goddesses.

These rounds of toasting were a part of the custom of Sumbel (Old Norse) or Symbel (Old English), both meaning "ale-gathering." Toasts might be combined with vows or oaths, boasts, storytelling and song. Those participating came and sat together, usually within a chieftain's hall. While referred to as a "feast," the sumbel did not include food, but might precede or follow a meal. A sumbel was solemn in the sense of having deep significance and importance to the participants.

A typical Sumbel can be broken up into four parts.

1. An introduction by whoever is hosting the Sumbel
2. The First Round – Dedicated to the Gods and Goddesses – they are hailed at this time.
3. The Second Round – Dedicated to the Ancestors and Heroes gone by – they are hailed at this time.
4. The Third Round – This is the time for all to make oaths, speak poetry, sing a song, etc.

A Sumbel can have many more rounds than three, and those rounds are usually "anything goes" as long as what is spoken is in the proper vein and with the spirit of a holy gathering.

A Sumbel usually ends with the pouring out of the horn's remaining drink much like that which is done at a blót's end. The horn is refilled multiple times during the Sumbel, of course, and is sometimes filled once more for the libation. The rite is then declared at an end. Much of the etiquette held for a blót applies here.


[Sources Sumbel by Gunnora Hallakarva, from Mountain Thunder, Issue 2, Autumn 1991.]

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