I was a devout polytheist Pagan for 20 years before I became a heathen. Practitioner of Asatru. Devotee of the Old Gods of Europe. I had a 15+ year devotional relationship to Kali, Hindu goddess of death, sex and magic, prior to Freyja and Frigga reading me the riot act and telling me where to go (and where I belonged).
Heathenry IS the religion with homework (TM) after all, so as a new practitioner I did what any responsible devotee would do and set about reading. I was already a voracious reader so it was merely a matter of changing my reading material from anthropological and archeological reading material to adding in the Eddas, some of the sagas, Tacitus and Saxo Grammaticus, other foundational books, and of course The Culture of the Teutons by Gronbech.
I have been a history buff, particularly pre-Christian and early medieval buff, for many years. It has been enlightening to me to go back and re-read articles, research papers, and archeological journals looking for evidence of indigenous practices that continued in post-conversion times.
I actually recognized many cultural practices including frith in my own upbringing during my first reading of The Culture of the Teutons. So much so that I nearly turned away from the path I had been set on. Having been a victim of frith when justice should have prevailed I was exceptionally sensitive to the idea of protecting wrong doers simply because they are family members. I have experienced the dark side of that. Ultimately my piety and devotion to the Gods of this path kept me on it, helped me to see both my failings and the failings of my family in keeping the traditions alive, and I won through my crisis of confidence. I came to a new understanding of frith and its potential pitfalls, and the importance of strong tribe in order to counteract frith gone awry.
The idea of women being holy in and of themselves, carrying within them the luck of the family and the holiness of the home, was a piece of the puzzle for me that, when it slipped into place, made many matters, both spiritual and mundane, very clear for me. The knowledge of a deeper sort of holiness (not to be confused with spiritual purity) (and definitely not to be confused with modern day feminism) was a powerful revelation. And, as with many things that are perceived through a womanly perspective, completely different than power in a manly context. The power that I hold as a woman is a power WITH. Not a power OVER. Oh, surely, when you piss off a woman enough she may use it over you, and naturally some women have always been warrior types – but in general, a woman has the capability for comfort and calm that just doesn’t exist in most males.
Women were acknowledged to have a closer relationship to “the powers” as they are called than men. She also has a closer contact with the luck of the family. She was acknowledged to be the keeper of the frith of the home, the keeper of the luck of the home. The long hair of women was a token of recognition of their sacred holiness.
Bryan Wilton is not the first to recognize the role that female beauty plays in the human psyche, he is only the most recent. He is also one of those who acknowledges how beauty, twisted and degraded, distorts the holiness of the feminine and prevents proper viewing of the Divine Feminine.
Feminine beauty as acknowledged by men is a recognition of their holiness, their place in the cosmos as divine bearers of the positive aspects of frith, grith, their natural place as weavers of peace. Beauty emotionally disarms men, if it is properly displayed and perceived. It is meant to. Ideally, it physically disarms them as well so they are able to become holy in their own right and to open themselves to the divine.
In Gronbech we have documentation on the importance of men drinking together. What may not be evident to the modern viewer is that women did not generally participate in this drinking together. Women generally did not drink with men except on special particular occasions such as at a wedding feast. Women served men drink. They smoothed over quarrels as they developed. They plied their beauty in the service of their families to weave frith, to weave peace, to create comradeship and brotherhood. “…the spiritual service performed as part of a Germanic wife’s duty was indeed her essential work as a weaver of frith.” (Gronbech, p 287)
In Grimm’s Teutonic Mythology Vol 1 he speaks at length on wise women, demi-goddesses, and their relationship to womanhood in general as well as their significance to men. Germanic law doubled the weregild for injury to a woman compared to the same offense done to a man. He notes that greater sacredness was ascribed to the prophesies of women. He also notes that even after the Christian conversion, men placed the good will of women on a par with God in importance to the success of their war efforts. A man could simply speak the name of his beloved and this would call her holiness to him for protection and victory, giving him courage. But on the opposite hand, a woman forfeits her protection and holiness “the moment she takes up weapons” (p 397)
Why am I going on about this?? What in all that’s holy does this have to do with today?? What’s it got to do with heathenry or Asatru??
I was recently at a Midsummer event during which high sumbel took place. It began at 9 and continued until after midnight. It was a co-ed event, and there were approximately 1/3 more men than women participating. It was not organized by rank, other than the high gothi of course drank first, then it went in a clockwise spiral around the rings of participants. The first round consisted of toasts and invocations to the God of the drinker’s choice. The second round consisted of boasts of living ancestors, the next round to dead ancestors, and then finally any oaths that were to be made.
I did not participate though I sat through it all. My reasoning for non participation was simply that I don’t think women should participate in sumbel with men. Why? Well, because I’ve done a lot of research regarding it and my lone documentation for women participating is post – conversion where a minne is drank to St. John in a church and the priest passes the cup to the congregation to drink after blessing it. What I’ve found regarding women’s participation in sumbel, other than passing the cup, is vanishingly small.
Women did drink together, a sharing of the cup, but they did so with each other, separately from the men though generally at the same event. There is a short paragraph in Gronbech relating that “those vessels wherein women drink to one another across the floor shall go to the daughters.” (Gronbech p 287) I would assume that, generally, this means that the woman of the house would serve the men first, and as the formality of the sumbel reached its peak and general conviviality took over, that women would retire to their own gathering. Did they have their own sumbel? We don’t know. That they likely made oaths, remembered the ancestors, and drank to the Gods would only make logical sense. But to call that a sumbel? I think probably not.
This, to me, relates back to the preceding paragraphs regarding the essential sacredness of women, their essential holiness that was signified by their long hair. Sumbel was a way for men to regain holiness via sacred drink together, to drink to the Gods and reaffirm their relationship both to their lord and to their Gods, and to make oaths that would further bind them to both.
I know feminism has done much to return to women the status they had in pre-Christian times. I myself have benefitted from the advances of feminism – at least first wave feminism. I am grateful for those advances, for the acceptance that women should have equal status in humanity as men. I don’t think we are interchangeable however. I was a good firefighter and a good paramedic, but let’s face it – there are some things I’m never going to be able to do, no matter how strong I am, because I’m not a man. I’m a woman. Because I’m a woman, I have different priorities and different views on things.
Men gain holiness by their acts, women have holiness by their sex. And they lose it by their acts, if those acts include taking up weapons. Not to say that women couldn’t or didn’t. There are so many tales of women taking up weapons in defense of their homes, of becoming warriors in their own right, that to try to imply that they were just wilting flowers would be ludicrous. BUT. They did so knowing, understanding, that they were sacrificing something very important by doing so. One thing we do not have documentation for is how they regained their essential holiness. This is something I will have to explore at greater length some time in the future.
I simply don’t think women should participate in sumbel, even if equal rights is a thing. This is based on my research into these interrelated things. If women have sumbel, it should be a separate thing, honoring their own personal patron Gods/esses.
The only women who should participate in sumbel are the women passing the cup (who are not drinking) and the women who have taken up weapons (who are drinking, because they need to regain their holiness the same as men). Yes, our Gods evolve, yes, our religion evolves, but if we are to revive this thing we call Asatru, heathenry, the heathen mindset, then we need to do it in this area as well.