Volume 1, Number 6
Sit Now at Sumbel

Site nu to symle ond onsŠl meoto,
Sit now at the symbel, and let loose your thoughts,
sigehre­ secgum, swa ■in sefa hwette.
[speak of the] glory of men, as your spirit encourages.
The sumbel (sumbl in Old Norse) is a solemn ritual in which the participants sit together and participate in drinking, speech-making and gift-giving, in many ways similar to the toast in a very formal dinner today. Paul Bauschatz, in The Well and the Tree, briefly describes the ritual in the context of the Norse and Germanic cosmology:

"The act of drinking takes place in the presence of the act of speech, each partaking of the fact of the other; in such activity, the power of all other actions is brought to bear upon the ritual moment and fixes it within the ever-evolving interrelation of all present actions with the past. This combination of words, their denoted actions, and the semantic elements of the drink and cup repeat the whole act of the continual speaking of the °rlog and the nurturing of the tree Yggdrasil, the central activities of the Norns. If this action is indicative of the power and presence of the past in the world of men, then here also the ritual words spoken become part of this past. They disappear into the drink; as it is drunk, the speaker of the speech, his actions, and the drink become one, assuring that all now have become part of the strata laid within the well."

A cup of an intoxicating drink is passed, the intoxicating nature of which is important to the symbolism of the rite as it is the result of transformation of the natural ingredients to a drink that is clearly outside of ordinary reality. The cup represents the well. In the sumbel in Beowulf, Wealtheow's careful passing of the cup and speech parallels that of the norns, who pour the holy liquid over the roots of the tree to nourish them and keep it growing.

The words that are spoken in sumble are important, and must be considered carefully as they become a part of orlog, blending into the past as well as setting the course for the future. But beyond boasting, commemoration, or honoring others with gifts, song and speech there is also an element of prayer and a uniting with the gods who likewise sit in sumbel in their halls. It is from the gods that the gifts of brewing, the runes or secrets that blend magically to create mighty spells, as well as the inspiration of mead and the resulting poetry come from.
Ů˙ scalt ßsom opt sumbl gora.
Thou shalt often prepare sumbel for the Ăsir.
If we gather to honor men, should we not, as anciently, also honor the gods, and the noble dead? Honor them as they themselves have sat and honored those who came before them and who met with them in holy assembly.

[1] Bauschatz, Paul, The Well and the Tree: World and Time in Early Germanic Culture, University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, 1982., p. 77-78

ę 2001 Susan Granquist - Published by the Irminsul Ăttir - All rights reserved.

Irminsul Ăttir