Many modern folk will be suspicious of a ritual such as this. Rituals which are deemed "sacrifices," such as the blot, have a certain lurid connotation and have been falsely re-interpreted by post-Pagan sources in order to denigrate or trivialize them. The most common myth about ritual sacrifice is that one is buying off a deity e.g. one throws a virgin into the volcano so it won't erupt. Nothing could be further from the truth. The other common misunderstanding of sacrifice is that the purpose is to gain some type of energy from the action of killing or the fear or suffering of the animal. This is also untrue, in actuality, if you do any kind of slaughtering--ritual or mundane--correctly there is neither. Our ancient spiritual forebears were slaughtering animals because they were farmers, and sacrifice was simply a sacred manner of doing so. In the way one might invite a friend to dinner, that bounty would be shared with the Gods.
The Norse conception of our relationship to the Gods is important in understanding the nature of sacrifice. In Asatru it is believed that we are not only the worshippers of the Gods but that we are spiritually and even physically related to them. The Eddas tell of a God, Rig (identified with Heimdall), who went to various farmsteads and fathered the human race. Symbolically, we see ourselves as kin to the Gods. On a more esoteric level, humankind is gifted with "ond" or the gift of ecstasy. Ond is a force that is of the Gods. It is everything that makes humans different from the other creatures of the world. As creatures with this gift, we are immediately connected to the Gods. We are part of their tribe, their kin. Thus we are not simply buying off the Gods by offering them something that they want, but we are sharing with the Gods something that we all take joy in.
Sharing and gift giving was an important part of most ancient cultures and had magical significance. Leadership was seen as a contract between the leader and follower. It is said, "A gift demands a gift." A good leader among the Norse was known as a "Ring giver," and it was understood that his generosity and the support of his war-band were linked and part of a complementary relationship. Giving a gift was a sign of friendship, kinship, and connection. Among the runes, gebo G encompasses the mystery of the blot. In English, the rune is named "gift," and the two lines intersecting are representative of the two sides of a relationship both giving to each other. By sharing a blot with the Gods we reaffirm our connection to them and thus reawaken their powers within us and their watchfulness over our world.
A blot can be a simple affair where a horn of mead is consecrated to the Gods and then poured as a libation, or it can be a part of a larger ritual. A good comparison is the Catholic Mass which may be part of a regular service or special event such as a wedding or funeral, or it may be done as a purely magical-religious practice without any sermon, hymns, or other trappings.
The blot consists of three parts, the hallowing or consecrating of the offering, the sharing of the offering, and the libation. Each of these is equally important. The only physical objects required are mead, beer or juice; a horn or chalice; a sprig of evergreen used to sprinkle the mead; and a ceremonial bowl, known as a Hlautbowl, into which the initial libation will be made. The blot begins with the consecration of the offering. The Gothi (Priest) or Gythia (Priestess) officiating at the blot invokes the God or Goddess being honored. This is usually accomplished by a spoken declaration with ones arms being held above ones head in the shape of the rune Elhaz. (This posture is used for most invocations and prayers throughout Asatru.) After the spoken invocation an appropriate rune or other symbol of the God or Goddess may be drawn in the air with the finger or with the staff. Once the God is invoked, the Gothi takes up the horn. His assistant pours mead from the bottle into the horn. The Gothi then traces the hammer sign (an upside down T) over the horn as a blessing and holds it above his head offering it to the Gods. He then speaks a request that the God or Goddess bless the offering and accept it as a sacrifice. At the least one will feel the presence of the deity; at best one will be able to feel in some inner way the God taking of the mead and drinking it.
The mead is now not only blessed with divine power, but has passed the lips of the God or Goddess. The Gothi then takes a drink of the horn and it is passed around the gathered folk. In our modern rituals each person toasts the deity before they drink. Although this sounds like a very simple thing, it can be a very powerful experience. At this point the mead is no longer simply a drink but is imbued with the blessing and power of the God or Goddess being honored. When one drinks, one is taking that power into oneself. After the horn has made the rounds once, the Gothi again drinks from the horn and then empties the remainder into the hlautbowl. The Gothi then takes up the evergreen sprig and his assistant the Hlautbowl and the Gothi sprinkles the mead around the circle or temple or onto the altar. If there are a great number of the folk gathered, one may wish to drop the drinking and merely sprinkle the various folk with the mead as a way of sharing it. In a small group one might eliminate the sprinkling and merely drink as the blessing.
When this is done the Hlautbowl is taken by the Gothi and poured out onto the ground. This is done as an offering not only to the God invoked at the blot, but it is also traditional to remember the Nerthus, the Earth Goddess, at this time, since it is being poured onto her ground. Many invocations mention the God, Goddess, or spirit being sacrificed to, and then Mother Earth, as in the Sigrdrifa Prayer "Hail to the Gods and to the Goddesses as well; Hail Earth that gives to all men." (Sigrdrifumal 3) With this action, the blot is ended.
Obviously this is a very sparse ritual and if performed alone could be completed in only a few minutes. This is as it should be, for blots are often poured not because it is a time of gathering or festivity for the folk, but because the blot must be poured in honor or petition of a God or Goddess on their holiday or some other important occasion. For example, a father tending his sick child might pour a blot to Eir the Goddess of healing. Obviously he doesn't have time to waste on the "trappings" of ritual. The intent is to make an offering to the Goddess as quickly as possible. At some times a full celebration might not be made of a holiday because of a persons hectic schedule, but at the least a short blot should be made to mark the occasion. However, in most cases a blot will at least be accompanied by a statement of intent at the beginning and some sort of conclusion at the end. It might also be interspersed with or done at the conclusion of ritual theater or magic.
One important thing to note about any Asatru ritual is that ours is a holistic religion, integrated into everyday life. We do not limit our Gods or spirituality to a certain time and place. While the sacrament of the blot is usually poured as part of a ceremony, the feast afterwards, singing of sacred songs, reciting of poetry, toasts at mealtime, etc., are all part of our religion. At one Kindred Yule Gathering, we began with a great feast, then we held a blot ritual which involved a mystery play of Thor and the Frost-Giants. Afterwards, we held a sumbel. All the gathered folk sat for the first three rounds dedicated to the Gods, Heroes, and Ancestors, but afterwards people came and went (politely and quietly) as they wished. The atmosphere of the whole evening was one of ritual and celebration. When done appropriately, there's no disconnection between the parts.
Asatru is also a very vibrant, intense, and somewhat rowdy religion. Invocations to the Gods, particularly outside, are often shouted at the top of ones lungs, and are punctuated by loud "Hails!" which are echoed by the folk When someone in an Asatru ritual says "Hail!" or hails a God ("Hail Odin!" for example) it's appropriate to repeat after them in a similar tone and loudness.
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One of the most common celebrations noted in tales of our ancestors is the Sumbel or ritual drinking celebration. This was a more mundane and social sort of ritual than the blot, but of no less importance. 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.
The sumbel is actually quite simple. The guests are seated, (traditionally, in some formal fashion), and the host begins the sumbel with a short statement of greeting and intent, and by offering the first toast. The horn is then passed around the table and each person makes their toasts in turn. At the 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 also an important time for the folk 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 unnaturally distant from their own emotions, either because to display emotion would be "unmanly" 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 sumbel, 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 great heroes of the folk such as historical figures or heroes from the sagas, and the third to personal ancestors, heroes, or friends which have passed from this world.
Another theme for a sumbel is past, present, and future. This type of sumbel 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 Asatru 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 everpopular 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 sumbel 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.
The blot and sumbel make up the mainstream of our modern Asatru tradition. This does not mean that they are the only rituals that modern Asatru perform, but in one way or another most rituals revolve around one or both of these "generic" ceremonies.
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Profession is one of the most important ceremonies in Asatru. To Profess one's belief in and kinship to the Gods should be an important turning point in ones life and the beginning of a new understanding of the self. Profession is, however, a very simple and rather short ceremony. In our kindred we usually profess people during a regular meeting, but either before or after the blot offering.
Profession is not an occult or initiatory ceremony. It is nothing less than its name: one professes (declares, affirms) his wish to become one of the Asafolk. This oath is usually taken by the Kindred-Gothi on the oath ring or some other Holy object as follows:
The Gothi stands in front of the altar and says "Will [insert name here] please come forward." After he or she does so "Are you here of your own free will? Is it your intention to solemnly swear allegiance and kinship to the Gods of Asgard, the Aesir and Vanir?" If the answer to both these questions is in the affirmative the Gothi takes up the oath ring (or some other holy object upon which oaths are sworn) and holds it out to the person professing and says "Repeat after me. I swear to ever uphold the Raven Banner of Asgard, to follow the way of the North, to always act with honor and bravery, and to be ever true to the Aesir and Vanir and to Asatru. By the Gods I so swear. By my honor I so swear. On this Holy Ring I so swear. Hail the Gods." The kindred then replies "Hail the Gods!" and the Gothi finishes "Then be welcome to the service of Asgard and the community of Asatru."
The essence of Profession is making a commitment to Asatru. It should not be undertaken without thought and prayer. When one Professes, one is leaving behind other faiths. If one isn't yet comfortable in doing this, then Profession should be put off, perhaps indefinatly. It should be reiterated here that there should be absolutely no pressure put on people to Profess. False or coerced Professions merely cheapen the ritual and the commitment that it represents. It should also be said that Asatru ritual is open to anyone. You do not need to have undergone a ritual of Profession in order to attend kindred events or worship the Gods.
There may be other celebrations connected to a Profession, just as other religions hold Bar Mitzvah or Confirmation parties. When someone joins our kindred, we hold a Sumbel of nine rounds, each dedicated to one of the values of Asatru (see below) and toast those values to the new kinsman.
Next Chapter: The Asatru Ve
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