Friday, October 30, 2015

The Generations of the Clan

What follows is a part of a longer ritual for the dead and the gods and goddesses of death. Close to the beginning of the rite, light a large, long-burning candle, preferably putting it in a glass container so it can burn down safely. In the candle, you can carve (in rune staves, if you know them) the initials of those kinfolk who have died during the past year, and the names of the major family groups on both sides of your family. After the rite is ended, share the two libations with your kin, and then end the ritual by bidding them farewell. You can then leave their candle burning all night, if you have a safe place (the bathtub can work, if it's made of metal), or at least throughout the feast that follows.

The "Cup of Mortality" and the "Cup of Rebirth" included in the ritual were intended to represent the two sides of death. To be born, to live in this world carries with it the ultimate destiny of death--and yet, isn't life worth it? The drink representing death is usually contained in a dark cup or a rough drinking horn, which contains a dark, yet sweet, beverage--a sweet red wine to represent blood, or a mellow, dark ale, for example (you can also use nonalcoholic drinks, if desired, fruit juices being best).

The drink representing life, on the other hand, is held in a beautiful, bright metal or glass cup, or a decorated horn. Despite its lovely appearance, it is a clear but sharp or bitter drink--a dry white wine, very dry mead, or a sharp beer. This represents the fact that death, which we usually fear and loathe, often contains comfort and beauty, while life, although we love it, has a touch of bitterness to it.

Here, then, is the text of the ritual:

(The candle for the dead is lit)

The generations of the clan
Are like waves on the ocean.
For a moment they touch the Earth,
Then return to their beginning,
To be followed by the next,
Each separate, yet part of the whole.

Oh mighty dead, 
Who are with us always,
You whose names
Still live in our hearts,
We call you now
From beneath that sun
That shone on you,
That shines on us,
That will shine on the children yet to come.

Be with us here
Within this circle;
Share our rite
And share our feast.
We light this candle (these candles) in your honor;
Know that you are still remembered.

(Pick up the cup of death)
This is the Cup of Mortality
Which all on the earth must taste.
This is the caesura of life,
The end and the beginning;
For as life is the passage to death,
So death is the passage to life.
Let us drink to death;
Let us drink to the passage. (all repeat)
(All share the "Cup of Death" and pour a libation)

(Pick up the cup of life)
This is the Cup of Rebirth,
Which all who are mortal will drink.
This is life's motion and meaning,
The destination of all journeys;
Each cycle returns to where it started;
The wheel continues to turn.

Let us drink to life;
Let us drink to the beginning. (all repeat)
(All share the "Cup of Life" and pour a libation)

(at the end of the rite)
Oh mighty friends and kinsmen,
We big you farewell now.
Return to the realms from which you came,
But know that you are forever here,
Living in our memories.

The ritual may be followed by a feast and, if desired, a sumble to honor the dead. In that case, the last stanza would be performed at the end of all activities.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Winter Nights

In the Old Norse calendar, mid-October marks the beginning of winter, and that period was known as the Winter Nights (Vetrnætr). This time is associated with the álfablót and the dísablót. Both of these were more private, household-oriented festivals honoring local and family deities and spirits.

The dísablót was a ritual or sacrifice held in honor of the female spirits or deities, and its purpose was to enhance the harvest and ensure continuing fertility. It was presided over by the woman of the household. The dísablót was also celebrated in spring, and the sacrifice at Gamla Uppsala in Sweden, where it became a great public ritual.

The álfablót was a ritual held in late autumn, when the crops were in and the herds were fat and ready to be culled for winter. It was a local, private celebration held in individual homesteads and as such, little is known about it. It was probably in honor of the ancestors and the local spirits and land wights and strengthened the life force or luck of the family. The poem Austrfararvísur tells the story of a Norwegian skald sent on a diplomatic mission to Sweden who was rebuffed at numerous homesteads when he tried to claim guest-right along his journey. The people refused to let him in and told him they were making the álfablót there and strangers weren't allowed. It is possible that the fact that the skald was Christian may have been part of the reason the people didn't want him at their holy rites.

It's a little early down on the Gulf Coast to be ready for winter, but the idea of ancestor worship certainly blends well with all the Halloween celebrations going on. And historically it does manage to get a little cooler around the end of October, which is something to be thankful for in a hot climate.