Women and Sumbel


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??  

Because Sumbel.

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.

 

 

 

 

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Community, Personal Responsibility, The World Isn’t Fair, Gods.


Atheist alert: this has a lot to do with spirituality and yes, religion. Deal. In my mind science and ‘woo’ co-exist in a dynamic relationship that causes occasional cognitive dissonance, but forces me to continually re-evaluate my worldview. In my view this is healthy and necessary.

Pagan alert: Not Politically Correct Commentary on our community. Deal. If it angers you, perhaps you need to take a good hard look in the mirror.

I’ve been through the wringer for the past six months. In that time I have been places that boggle the imagination. I’ve been a specimen under a microscope. I’ve been betrayed on a fundamental level by those closest to me, and by some of the very systems our society is predicated on as well. And. The truck was stolen, trashed, totaled, rebuilt. I lost a job. I spent money I didn’t have (thanks FIL for the help, more grateful than you’ll ever know) and am in debt to the tune of thousands of dollars with nothing to show for it. I have a degree for a career I can’t work in. And I’m becoming more and more convinced I don’t want to work in it anyway, the way things are moving (see going places one doesn’t want to go, or my previous post). I have discovered, the hard way, that standing up for right doesn’t always mean you will be protected, or that things will work out. Sometimes you will be punished in the worst ways imaginable, and evil WILL prevail in spite of an individual’s or a community’s best efforts.

I’ve maintained a minimal level of spiritual practice through this, even if it has been nothing more than a simple acknowledgement of Deity and thanks for getting through another day. It has been nothing approaching the level of an actual devotional practice though, and I’ve felt that lack ever more keenly as I approached the end of my degree program. Once I finished, and had nothing else to occupy my mind but the drama and tragedies of life, it became a yawning chasm that contributed to my ennui and depression.  I literally couldn’t summon the energy to pray, let alone believe it would work.  I felt as though I just wasn’t worth it, that the Gods had better things to do than deal with me.

I believe in synchronicity. I believe in the fractal nature of the universe – As Above, So Below. I do believe that there are other entities, other dimensions, other realities than our own see/taste/touch/hear/smell reality, and that sometimes we reach out to those other entities/realities – and other times they reach out to us. I believe that things often happen for a reason, and that reason sometimes isn’t readily apparent for a very long time, if ever.  This faith was seriously shaken as a result of the happenings since January.

My children are fundamentalist Christians. Two, at least, were Pagan/anarchists earlier in teenaged life. I believe that they became Christians not because of the actual religion, but because of the structure and community it offers. This is something that very little of modern NeoPaganism offers, and I have seen that over and over and over again in the nearly 20 years I’ve been a Pagan.

In nearly 20 years as a Pagan, I’ve met more people who are trying to get on disability than I ever thought possible. I’ve met people ON disability who constantly cried about how poor they were, and who were no more disabled than I am, who ran side businesses based on cash to augment their disability payments and who actually had nicer things than Mr. TF and I do. I’ve met people who can’t keep a job, who can’t keep a relationship, who can’t keep an apartment, who can’t keep a car, who are using/abusing illegal drugs – and I’m not talking about marijuana here people – or who are abusing prescription drugs. When I worked in the ER I saw more than one person – significantly more than one – I knew from the local Pagan community come into the ER for problems directly related to prescription or illegal drug abuse or as “seekers.” It made for uncomfortable questions from fellow staff members, at the very least.

Many people who are drawn to the Pagan path often tend, in my experience, to be less than reliable on a personal level and tend to make very bad choices. These bad choices are ones for which they tend to not take responsibility. They misuse magick, in my opinion, as a tool to overcome lack of personal responsibility for bad choices rather than as a tool for self-development. Or they use it as a substitute for an actual spiritual relationship with Deity. Magick does NOT substitute for spirituality. And one does NOT need to do magick to enter into a relationship with Deity. Magick is a tool, it can sometimes be a vehicle, but it’s not the object (unless you are a Ceremonial Magician which is another conversation entirely). It’s as though they are drawn to Paganism because they perceive it as the one religion/practice for which they have to take no responsibility, and they can espouse beliefs that NO ONE can tell them are wrong. Cuz personal gnosis, you know.

Because of my experience (and that of my husband as well, I am writing this as an individual but we have shared this conversation many times between ourselves) we have mostly withdrawn from participation in and organization of Pagan events, particularly events like Pagan Pride, public Pagan holidays, Pagan meetups….you get the idea. The embarrassment of being associated with the crazies just simply began to outweigh the benefits of the participation.

And yes, I know there are those in the Christian community as well. However, they tend to be reined in by those who are around them, and either drawn into the fold or shunned. They are self-selecting in their long term participation.

As a side effect of withdrawing from public gatherings, my own spiritual practice has suffered – it’s not just the business of life/school/work/stressors, it’s been that I no longer go to events where I can get my spiritual batteries somewhat recharged because I’m participating in a community of believers. The very thing my children currently have. The thing I envy, even though I do not think a patriarchal herding religion from a desert region from 2000 years ago has any relevance for them – or for me, for that matter. I do ‘get’ why they turned away from a religious practice that *did* and *does* have relevance for them (and me). Because community. It’s important.

I have suspected for quite some time that the Pagans who were serious about their practice, at least in our area, were very secretive, or at the least insular, mainly because of the above. They are responsible adults and take their religion and spirituality very seriously, and they don’t want to associate with people who don’t. So, while believing firmly they’re out there, it also makes it very hard to find or connect with them. Friends of course excepted, but because of school/work commitments it’s made it hard for us to connect with them as well. When we’re all on different schedules and none of them coincide for all of us….you get the idea.

So why am I going on and on about this? Because I am going to a Pagan event for the first time in nearly a decade next month. I’m terrified. And excited. I don’t know if Mr. TF will come or not. He’s much more laid back about his spirituality, and doesn’t feel the need to actually connect the way I do – at least to hear him tell it.  And the way I found out about this event is nothing less than synchronicity.  It’s a Rube Goldberg nest of interconnected coincidences that defy logical explanation.

It’s not just any event though. It’s a Heathen event. I’ve shied away from heathenry for my entire time as a Pagan due to bad press about skin heads and racists who identify as heathen. I didn’t, and don’t, want to be associated with those who think the color of one’s skin denotes one’s worthiness to worship the Old Gods. When I first became a Pagan (or more realistically, realized that my spiritual beliefs were Pagan and I just didn’t know it) I was strongly advised against my interest in Norse spirituality by a Pagan friend who had recently spent 10 years in prison. His experiences there didn’t encourage me to try to follow up.

But recently I’ve been forced to rethink my blanket painting of this community thanks to blogs and websites devoted to heathens, as well as books I’ve had (and read previously) in my library. A recent re-reading of them revealed nothing that actually allows for this view, regardless of the views of a certain vocal percentage of heathens. And as far as I’ve read (which isn’t a lot, but also not nothing), there’s nothing in the lore that allows for this view either. As I stated earlier, I believe in synchronicity. And I believe the Gods call who They call. Regardless of skin color.

What I do know, is that the values Heathens espouse:

Nine Noble Virtues

are the same values I live my life by, and I want to associate with people who share my spiritual outlook as well as my ethics.  ETA:  because it doesn’t embiggen:  Courage, Truth, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Self Reliance, Industriousness, Perserverance.

Illustration courtesy of   My Journey into Midgardr

I am hopeful that I can find a group of people with which to share community and spirituality. Gods know I’m ready after the half year I’ve had.