Sacrifices, Honoring and Rituals.
Before you continue reading, there are no examples of how to do a ritual or the history of them in this article. I am not a historian. The American Asatru Assocation is for heathens of all walks to focus on living Tru in the 21st century. To see the modern world through the mindset of the old ways, but to put on new shoes to walk the old paths. What follows is a basic information available on Wikipedia or any other Heathen page with some of my personal insight. UPG? I don’t see any, but opinion(s): Yes. Take it or leave it.
Outside of the basic understanding of the godh, most people outside of Asatru and Heathenry associate ritual with the faith. There is a popular video on YouTube of the Icelandic Asatruars in robes of white and red doing a ritual with a horn cup speaking in Icelandic. Many kindreds and orgs have either a traditional way of going about rituals – dress, accessories, the words, the movements. And some kindreds and orgs are modern and have adapted it with a bonfire, wearing jeans and t-shirts, just having a good time. Neither are wrong, though some traditional Heathens might think the godh take offense to not wearing the tunics and era accurate clothing. I see no reason why Odin or Skadi would mind you wearing an Aeropostle shirt and Tommy jeans so long as you are presentable.
Havamal Stanza 61.
Don’t be hungry when you ride to the Thing,
be clean though your clothes be poor;
you will not be shamed by shoes and breeches,
nor by your horse, though he be no prize.
So what rituals are there in Asatru and Heathenry? That’s like asking how many grains of sand are in a glass jar. Every tribe, kindred, family and person is different. Some celebrate, some don’t. Even the dates are different. There are scores of photos depicting the dates of the sumbels and blots on Tumblr or Facebook. How are you supposed to know? And what are the rituals?
The most common are blots and sumbels.
Blots (pronounced blow-T) is what most people know. It was what was depicted in the History Channel TV series Vikings. Sacrifices of many sorts – animal, man, food and objects (the former more known) for the spirits of the land, elves and the godh. While it is still practiced, animal sacrifice isn’t as common place today, especially amongst newer practitioners and it is NOT RECOMMENDED THAT YOU TRY. The blot is to reaffirm, strength and renew ties to the elements around us yet which affect us. Disablots to the Disir at Winter Nights, Yule and Spring. Sigrblot in Summer. Haust and Volsi blot in Autumn. Other events on other dates are according to org, kindred, group, family or person.
The other, yet lesser know, is the symbel or sumbel. It is mentioned in the beginner books of Asatru, but it a feast for a group, kindred or family where a horn, cup or bowl is passed to people and they give oaths and praises to people, godh, ancestors and other people’s, drink from the cup and in some instances pour some out for the person or being their speaking of.
Rather simple, yes? The acts are simple, everything is intent. Oaths are serious, they’re the same thing as promises. Some people attempt to rationalize them as different, yet they are not. The common day way of speaking causes some concern because so many people “swear” and “promise” to any little thing without looking at it in the serious way our ancestors did. Some innocence might surround it between family members and the younger kin – a 5-year-old has no real grasp of depth a promise or oath should have. Even raised in a Heathen household, how can they? It’s just words until they become mature enough to understand the meaning. Breaking it is shameful and children do no like to be looked upon as shameful by their kin.
Two things – first, oathbreaking. A longer TotD to come on this, but oathbreaking in the time(s) when people depending on each other was considered worse than murder. Oathbreaking could endanger an entire tribe. Our ancestors did not split hairs. An oath to plow a field was the same as an oath to an Earl. Giving one’s word was binding. It could only be “broken” or “dissolved” if both sides agreed. But the godh were known to break oaths – some will say you need to look at the language of the ‘contract’, but again that’s rationalization and trickery. The oath, while important, vital and all binding, is like frith. It’s strongest between family. Family always comes first. If an oath to a neighbor is hindering your family, your family comes first – break it, but always think upon it first. It WILL effect your orlog, but that is your orlog and the wyrd of things and tie to your kin should always remain strongest.
Second – entirely too much oath making. Oathing oneself to a godh, to a Kindred, or a group or org. Why do we feel the need to do this? Why to a godh? They are our elder kin (if you do not agree, that is fine). You already owe them so much more – blood always trumps your word. The sacrifice of honor to retain the honor of your blood ties. Making an oath should not even be remotely considered unless it is well thought out, and then discussed with those who you have ties with – family, be them blood or adopted.
So why do Heathens sacrifice through ritual? Well, it’s not magic. Sacrifice is not a spell. Sacrifice has two meanings – first to remember those who came before and those still alive. sacrifice is not “Oh no! I must give up my MP3 player for grandmother needs money for her medications!. It is sacrifice of your own stock to keep frith and do honor to your ancestors, forces of nature and the godh. Many can’t get past the term. In Heathenry, family and your ancestors are most important. When they die, they do not disappear from our lives. They come back in other forms, and parts of them in other ways. The godh are also kin and they are present, but not always in our lives every second. We give to them, as we would (and should) family members to “share the wealth” and support our kin. You have 10 goats. You sacrifice – or give one – to Thor. It is to honor the Thunderer or maybe to ask for something. This brings us to the next point: Giving to receive.
Heathens give, sacrifice, to receive aid or help from the godh or their ancestors and unseen forces. For fair weather, for rain, for a plentiful harvest, for fertility, aid in battle – scores of things This is a semi-parallel to magic. Sacrifice (or magic) will not gain for you which you can gain for yourself. Honor in battle – you have personal honor, but you are human. Doubt is real. You seek to strengthen your sword arm or bow arm. You wish to stand tall if you are facing ten men. Or you wish composure in court, or seeing someone you love going in for surgery. You ask for a plentiful harvest – you’ve done your work sowing the seeds and tending them. The weather could have been fair, poor or good. But more food is always better. You give 100%, the land does not guarantee 100% return. Freyr, Thor or Freyja are asked to bless the hard work with bountiful return. Also you could be harvesting good will, but serving food to the poor. Or helping your family with a business venture. The point is – YOU DO THE HARD WORD and the sacrifice is to bolster it. If you do not give it your all, why should anyone (family, disir, godh, etc) do the heavy lifting?
Now we come to another issue, and the last of those TotD. Over-honoring, too many sacrifices. CAN THIS BE DONE?! The godh are not our overlords, nor are they going to carry us because we are lazy. We live our lives to the best of our abilities, remembering family, honor, duty, our ancestors and them so that we can stand tall with them. How many times do you give at your altar for a godh’s favor? Every day, week, month? Bi-weekly? Why are you giving Freyja apples every week? Odin wine? Examine your reasons. Is it because you want something so bad you want the godh to step in, or are you trying above your station, or means? What are you asking for? The sacrifice is not to be given lightly. If you can dole out so many offerings, yet you are in need, what’s going on here? Keep in mind, I am saying LOOK at what’s happening. Not that it’s wrong.
I am not the Asa-pope (been using this term often lately). I am no one’s gothi, or spiritual adviser. I am a modern Universalist-Asatru. I only want you to think and look at things in a modern context and not on someone’s view from a book. Human beings are not words on a page, but real people. We cannot change what Christianity has done, we can only move on. Every person’s wyrd is effected by the migrations and Christian expansion. It is the world’s wyrd what happened. Look to the past to tread in the present to strive for a better future. Pretty words, but a lot of truth behind them. I can only give my opinion – if you need a car for work, how many times are you going to take your parents or grandparents to dinner to butter them up for it, or ask for assistance? Why are you pouring milk and honey into a hole in the ground every week asking a godh to give you the winning lottery numbers?
Sacrifices – or Honoring – are not quid pro quo. We do not give a goat to receive a sword. Did our ancesters kill herds of horses for victory in battle? Probably. But did they do it because horses are expensive or the godh needed fine stallions for their livery? No, it was done because the animals, items and people sacrificed were of importance and value to those giving them up. Giving of yourself, of what you have, for someone else. Truly that is honoring someone. It is done at times of year that which were important to people and tribes to survive. Celebrations and feasts were held. It was a joyous good time, and a time for reflection and to strengthen the bonds between people – tribes, kin and community.
Sacrifice – to give of yourself to those who have passed on, yet live in our lives everyday. To the godh who are our elder kin. Thanks to them for what they’ve done and welcome please into our lives.
Honoring – to thank them, godh, forces of nature or ancestors. We are better for having you and proud to call you to us.
Ritual – the tool to do this. The elaborateness of it depends on the setting, but it is important because the intent and action to bring it about is true.