Ritual toasting was a significant part of religious life in ancient Scandinavia. Chapter 14 of the Saga of Hákon the Good
speaks of toasts to Odin, Freyr and Njord, the king or the ancestors (called a minni
or memory toast). A similar scene appears in chapter 20 of Fagrskinna
, where the funeral of Harald of Denmark is the stage for toasts to Thor, other gods and, of course, in memory of the deceased monarch. It also speaks of oaths being made on the raised drink, a pratice mentioned in a prose section of the eddic poem Helgakviða Hjorvarðssonar
, between stanzas 30 and 31: hands were placed on a sacrificial boar and then vows were made with a pledging cup or bragarfull
. Chapter 35 of the Saga of Óláf Tryggvason
even speaks of memory toasts to Christ and Saint Michael, which, if true, shows how it was deeply rooted in Scandinavian religion – enough to survive the Christianization. Little wonder then that modern heathens have taken up the practice (often called Symbel – see here
, for instance).
As a traditional part of Norse polytheism, ritual toasting stands as a rite of its own in a Latinized cult of Ingui. Though a simpler ceremony than the Bread Rite, it is not by any means less sacred: it binds together family and community members, both living and deceased, human and divine, and any oath pronounced on the raised cup becomes instantly binding. Though the rite is best done with a group of people – family, friends or unrelated worshipers – there’s nothing against it being performed by a solitary practitioner. Keeping with the original tradition, it can be used for multiple occasions: midwinter, marriage, birthdays, midsummer, crops, funerals, simple gatherings, etc.
For an outdoors version, a ritual fire is needed, as well as a bell and a small tree branch. Wheat wreaths and music are optional and the rest is obvious – beverage (alcoholic or not) and as many cups as the number of people taking part. All should wash hands and faces before the start of the ceremony.
EFFUNDATIO (outdoors version)
The ritual fire is lighted with people sitting around it. The person leading the ceremony takes a cup with beverage and pours it on the ground as a gift to the genii loci or landwights. The cup is refilled and a toast is made to Ingui. Which titles and aspects of Him are mentioned depends on the purpose of the ceremony: for instance, if it’s a marriage, call on Ingui as a giver of pleasure and happiness; if a birthday, recall Him as a nurturer (and may He nurture you for many more years); if a funeral, mention Ingui as the renewer, the god of the grave or as a lord of the ancestral line (He is, after all, a deity of procreation). Then pour the beverage on the ritual fire as the bell rings.
Take the tree branch and wave it horizontally as if spreading the smoke. Do it while praying to Ingui as a protector and giver of peace and then raise the branch and wave it all around. Declare the ceremony hallowed.
One at a time, each of the participants fills his/her cup and makes a toast. There’s no limit to the number of rounds, though I’d suggest that the first is given to Ingui, since He’s the focus of the ceremony. The toasts can be long, short, poetic, sung, to name just a few options; you can do it sitting or standing and, after the first round, they can be given to ancestors, heroes, other deities (especially if They’re close to Ingui), friends, the genii loci, etc. Oaths too are a possibility, though remember that they become instantly binding, so they must not be done lightly. As for the beverage, at each toast a portion can either be poured directly on the ground or on the ritual fire and the rest is drank.
After the last round, the person leading the ceremony takes a cup and pours a libation on the ritual fire in case someone – god or wight – was offended during the ceremony. The cup is refilled for one final offering to the landwights, which is poured on the ground, and finally refilled a third time for a last toast to Ingui, thanking Him for His blessings. A bell rings as the beverage is poured on the ritual fire.
EFFUNDATIO (home version)
When a ritual fire is impossible, a candle is a suitable alternative. This, of course, means that the beverage cannot be burned in the flames and, if the ceremony takes place indoors, there’s also no way one can simply pour it on the floor. As such, a home version of the Effundatio specifically requires a candle, incense and at least one bowl – the size of which depends on how much drink it’s suppose to hold. The rest is the same as in the outdoors version: a bell, a small tree branch, beverage and as many cups as needed.
After everyone washed their hands and faces, the candle is lighted by the person leading the ceremony. He/she then makes an offering to the housewights and gives Ingui a portion of incense. Again, the opening prayer depends on the occasions, if a wedding, a birthday, funeral or any other reason. Take the tree branch and wave it horizontally, as if spreading the smoke, while praying to Ingui as a protector and giver of peace. Then raise the branch, wave it all around and declare the ceremony hallowed.
One at a time, each of the participants fills his/her cup and makes a toast. As in the outdoors version, there’s no limit to the number of rounds and the options are multiple with regards to the type – poetic, sang, oaths, etc. – and to whom they’re dedicated. Though, again, at least the first set of toasts should be dedicated to Ingui. Each time, a portion of beverage is poured into a bowl and the rest is drank.
If toasts are dedicated to more than one god or spirit, you may wish to separate the offerings, which means you’ll need as many bowls as the groups or number of receiving entities (e.g. one for Ingui, one for your ancestors, etc.). They can also be passed around by the practitioners themselves or by someone else. If you have children and toast with alcoholic drinks, you can integrate your kids in the ceremony by having them carry the bowl(s) from one worshiper to another.
After the last round, the person leading the rite offers a portion of incense in case any deity or wight was offended by the ceremony. A final offering is given to the housewights and one last toast is made to Ingui, thanking Him for His blessings. The bell is rang as the drink is poured into the bowl and it should again be rang when the bowl is later emptied outside.