Back in December my brother and I had been talking about holiday rituals and celebrations and how over the years we had lost interest in many Christmas traditions. He told me he was reading Asatru: A Beginner’s Guide to the Heathen Path by Erin Lale, so I ordered it and added it to my TBR shelf. I can’t speak for my brother, but for me, I’ve been losing interest in rituals in general since I was a young adult.
It started with my high school graduation when I felt as if I were being forced to participate in a ritual that I did not believe in. I didn’t accomplish anything but survival of a process I was forced to undertake. I felt as if I were being released from prison while family and friends around me celebrated it as a chosen accomplishment.
My wedding was another ritual that lost its charm once I started looking at the ceremony. I was not raised to be religious, so I didn’t want that kind of ceremony. It would be heretical. I’m also quite the feminist and thought even the secular version of a wedding ceremony smacked of some pretty strange stuff. We chose a generic ceremony, performed by an official I found in the yellowpages.
Today, I’d do things much differently. I’d create new rituals based on my personal beliefs but hearken back to our ancestors and their culture. And I’d explain them and their significance.
Over the years, with children growing up, family dispersing, and life changing all around us, I participated in some ritual, but always felt like I was searching. Christian tradition just didn’t work for me. I always counted myself as a believer, but never agreed with church doctrine. I ceremonies and rituals never sat right with me. I wanted more meaning, more connection with the people around me.
This past Christmas was the best I’ve ever had. Part of it was having my mom here for a week in early December. The other part was discovering, through some Instagram influence and my brother, the heathen rituals of Winter Solstice, and the learning about what the old traditions symbolize. I felt connected to the past, and ready to celebrate in the present with those around me so that our future selves would be connected to this past.
THAT’S what ritual is all about, Charlie Brown.
Our modern age has lost those connections. Whatever rituals we each participate in we’ve lost much of the meaning. And to those around us that were raised in a different culture, we look at others and think they’re crazy, in much the same way that Christians and Heathens looked at each other in ancient times.
The great way for us all to come together in the modern age is to create new rituals and ceremonies based on a combination of the old, but with our own understanding of the world around us. To do start that for my own family, I’m starting a study of the old ways of my ancestors and others around the world.
Today, my husband and I are triangulating a meeting between us, our sons, and my dad and stepmom. Southern California is a big place, so we’re meeting in the middle for a traditional (to our family) meal, pizza at RoundTable. I was excited to be able to do this in the first place, but after my reading this morning, I’m beside myself because I get to acknowledge a personal family tradition and bring back an old ritual and share its meaning.
From the book,
“Clinking of glasses in a beer hall symbolically unites all the containers into one container, so modern-style toasts while sitting down at a table can also be practiced as a sumbel.”
A sumbel is the ritual shared drinking from a cow’s horn to symbolize Audhumla’s nourishing role. Audhumla is the cow that licked the gods to life from the ice.
And, no, I don’t believe a magical cow did any such thing. It’s mythology and symbolic not literal.
When I read that quote above, I thought, “Why do we not know this? Why did we stop sharing the meaning of these rituals when so many of them are around us every day?”
No matter how silly it feels, I’m bringing some of these back to our family’s consciousness. This afternoon, as we sit around the table as a family, I’ll tell this story, create my own blessing, and toast to my family; those with us, those afar, and those that have come before us and wait for us on the other side.
Why do we feel so separated and alone today, even BCBS (before covid bull shit)? I think it’s because we lost the reasons for the rituals we have in our lives, and then forgot that celebrations are not simply places to spend money and get drunk. Rituals, holidays, celebrations, and gatherings are ways for us to connect with the past, the present, and the future. We still need them and the reasons behind them.