Our Sacred Rite
Symbel is a formal drinking ritual composed of toasting, boasting, oath-taking, the recitation of poetry or song, and other forms of verbal expression. The symbel is composed of rounds (or fulls) in which the horn of mead or ale is passed in a circle, each person saying his hāl or other appropriate verbal expression, drinking, and passing the horn along. The Anglo-Saxon word hāl means “whole”, “entire”, “uninjured”, “healthy”, “well”, “sound”, “safe”, “genuine”, “straightforward”. By ending our speech with hāl we are attesting that that which we have said is true and complete.
The purpose of the symbel is great. Words spoken at symbel have a great power to them imbued by the nature of the holy rite. Oath-taking is a common part of the symbel, as it is considered to be especially meaningful and binding to take an oath before the Gods and the Folk during this rite. This rite not only connects us with the Gods and the Goddesses, but with our Ancestors, our community, and to a degree with ourselves. Here we may express ourselves in a holy forum, allowing us to define our place in the Folk as well as honor the Gods and Goddesses.
A typical symbel consists of a forespeech given by the symbelgifa (symbel-giver), followed by three formal rounds: one for the Gods; one for the Ancestors; and one for Heroes. Following the forespeech, a welcoming is sometimes made to invite the witness of the Gods, Ancestors, or other spirits (living or dead). A symbel can have many more rounds than three, and those rounds are usually free from formality. Generally any words that are proper and in keeping with the spirit of a holy gathering may be spoken during the open rounds.
The Free Folk gathers for symbel three times a year at Summerfinding (on or around April 21), Winter Nights (on or around October 21), and Yule (on or around December 21). These seasonal celebrations are accompanied by a ritual feast hosted by the symbelgifa and may also include gifting, poetry, and song. During this time the custom of geistriht (guest right) is observed for a period of three nights. Under this custom a guest can expect to receive the hospitality and protection of his host. In exchange the host can expect to receive the peace and good conduct of his guest.
The Free Folk conducts fainings and shamanic circles three times a year for the purposes of gifting to the Gods and Goddesses, hallowing, and energy work. These events correspond with the feastdays of Summerfinding, Winter Nights, and Yule, and are open to known and trusted godfolc (godfolk). Fainings and shamanic circles are generally conducted on the eve of the observed feastday.