Working Rites and Holding Feasts
As spoken of in the last two chapters, many things need to be thought of when planning and performing a rite: group size, stead, tools, and so forth. This chapter is meant to give a basic practical guide to most of the activities which are likely to be needful in Troth rites.
I. Getting Everyone There On Time
This sounds simple, but isn't. There is an unkind, but unfortunately true, joke going the rounds: "Why do witches do magic at midnight? That's when the eight o'clock ritual starts!" To Heathens, "Teutonic efficiency" often seems to be much more like that described by Tacitus than that thought to characterize Germanic people in the twentieth century...
The way to deal with this is to hold the rites when the rites are supposed to be held. Those who are not there at sunset (or whatever the appointed time is) will just have to miss out. A certain amount of leeway can be given to those whose work keeps them from getting there at sunset and can warn the leader of it beforehand; but those who are not there when they said they would be there should not be waited for too long (though, on the other hand, holding a ritual without a guest of honour who is having trouble finding the site from your directions is REALLY TACKY and certainly inhospitable!).
Readying for the rite should start at least half an hour beforehand. The harrow should be set, those who need to put on garb should get into garb, the speakers should check their scripts for the last time. At fifteen minutes before time, it is not a bad idea to ring a bell or blow a horn and shout "Last call for the loo!" or words to that effect - nothing spoils a ritual like a full bladder. Five minutes before the appointed time, the bell should be rung and horn blown again, and the folk should start getting into whatever the desired position is. This means that you can start when you are supposed to start. Sometimes this is not tremendously important, but sometimes, as when dealing with rites that are supposed to be done at sunset/midnight/dawn, it is. With a dawn rite, make sure that you wake everyone up no less than a half-hour before time so that they all have time to become at least marginally conscious before the ritual starts.
This should be done before the rite starts. Make a list of everything you will need, then check the list to be sure it is all there. While religious rites (unlike magical rites) do not closely court major disaster if one element is left out, it is tacky, not to mention ruinous to the mood, to stop in the middle and say "Oh damnit, I forgot the matches! Helga, have you got your lighter on you?" or to have to make a run for the ice-chest, refrigerator, and/or bottle opener during the ritual.
A more elaborate rite may call for more tools than can easily be set on a small harrow. Ways to deal with this are: folk designated as holders-of-things, especially things like horns, spears, and other precarious items; a small table next to the harrow where items can be put until they are ready to use; or leaving larger and less delicate things (like baskets of fruit) on the ground by the harrow and hoping like Hel that no one kicks them over. Rehearsal of a ritual will make dealing with such things far, far easier.
The basic ritual tools of the Troth are the Hammer, the horn or cup, the sax (knife), the blessing-bowl, and the blessing-twig. A ritual Hammer can easily be made by painting a basic sledgehammer, risting runes or holy signs on the handle, or simply hallowing it. Blessing-bowls should be of traditional materials. If you are of the school that likes to leave a bowl standing all night with ale in it for the god/esses and wights to drink from, a ceramic or stone bowl is better than a wooden one. Kjalnesinga saga mentions a copper blessing-bowl. Blessing-twigs may be picked fresh for each ritual; what sort of twig you choose will depend on (1) the time and purpose of the rite, and the god/esses called on, and (2) what grows in your neighborhood.
The horn and the sax often seem to be the hardest items for people to get hold of. Generally, the best sources for such things are Renaissance Faires. It is not necessary that the sax be an actual replica of an historical blade; what is important is that it look and feel right and holy to you. Directions on making a drinking horn are given in "Mead-Making and Other Crafts".
If you live in a place where you cannot hold your rites outside, or easily walk out and pour the blessing-bowl's contents onto the earth (the first Steersman of the Troth used to fling his blessing-ale into the garden through his open window), you also need to have a large basin which you can fill with earth and set beside the harrow. The blessing is then poured onto this earth, which can be put back where you got it at your leisure.
Candles are often used in Troth rites, both for ritual purposes and simple lighting. If the candles are to be taken outside at any point, they should be of the glass-enclosed sort which cannot easily be blown out by the wind; it is a very bad sign for a candle to be blown out at the wrong time. If there is any wind at all, it is almost impossible to keep an ordinary candle lit outdoors for the length of a rite.
IV. Horn-Filling; Drinking from a Horn
This is something that takes practice. If mead or wine are used, filling is no problem, but ale tends to put out a huge head when poured into a horn, making it necessary to wait for a while if you want to get anything but froth for the first few gulps. Ways to deal with this are (1) pour the ale in a thin, slow stream along the side of the horn, rather than just dumping it in. This will cut down on the froth. It should be done in a deliberate and intense way, as a ritual act in itself: the worker should feel the might of the draught slowly rising within the horn until it is just on the point of foaming over - a few drops may be allowed to spill. (2) Have the hall-idis fill the horn a little while before it is needed, topping it up when it has settled so that she can hand a full horn to the godwo/man. (3) Start by filling the horn all the way and letting the froth run over into the blessing-bowl. This is ritually good, because it shows that you have so much ale that it is foaming well over the horn to be shared by all god/esses and wights. Again, it takes much practice to make sure that the froth will go into the blessing bowl, rather than all over the floor and/or godwo/man.
Drinking from a horn is a skill that can only be learned by much practice. The keywords are slow and careful. Otherwise, you will get a sudden tidal wave sloshing over your face.
V. Sprinkling with a Blessing-Twig
This needs to be done with some care, especially in a group that goes in for fine ritual garb, whose folk may not appreciate having to clean off mead- or ale-spots. The worker should walk slowly around the circle with bowl and twig in hand, stopping directly in front of each person and lightly sprinkling their heads.
VI. Lighting Fires
This can be the most magical part of the rite. Fires come in two sorts, need-fire (kindled by friction - see discussion under "Waluburg's Night") and struck fire (flint and steel - see discussion under "Thonar"). Matches fall into the former class, lighters into the latter.
The First Law of ritual fire-lighting is this: Where you have a ritual fire, you must also have a ritual water-can. Accidents happen. Whether you invite him or not, Loki is always around when fires are lit. Also, never try to squirt lighter fluid, gasoline, or anything else intensely flammable onto a burning fire.
When dealing with a fire, Wisdom is the most important of all the thews. Remember, fire is potentially the most destructive of all the elements with which we usually deal in the course of the rite. If an outdoors fire is not fully extinguished by the time you leave, it can destroy an entire woodland. Handled carelessly, an indoors fire can burn down your home. Always consider the maximum damage that can be caused, then consider the minimum effort needed to cause it - such as the flying of a stray spark.
If you are lighting a fire inside, you need to be sure that you do it in a place where there is little risk of stray sparks catching curtains, rugs, and so forth on fire. Normally, candles are easiest to deal with for indoor work anyway. However, if your hall has a fireplace, you may wish to make kindling a hearth-fire part of the ritual.
Probably the best way to deal with a fire in your yard is to put it in an actual barbecue grill, which are made for the purpose of having fire in your yard.
In a natural/outdoors setting, matters become more complicated. When a central fire is to be used, you must look at the three-fold considerations:
1) What size/kind of fire will be needed to accomodate the people involved and purpose to be served (cooking? warmth on a snowy night? simple fellowship)?
2) How much area will be needed to contain all the necessary participants, the fire, and the safety margin?
3) What provisions are there for low-impact usage of the area?
Central fires or Eldir (ON eldr) are best built by experts, but in lieu of such woodfolk, the following guidelines are offered:
A) Dead wood burns because it has dried out, live wood has moisture in its pulp and does not burn well. Beyond the need to harm as little as possible in the forest, this is an excellent reason not to be chopping down everything in sight. Non-felled dead wood may be a danger to the local habitat and clearing it can be a service to the denizens of the wood (but check to see that it has not become home to some woodland creatures).
B) Prepare wood as follows:
For center Eldr, use large logs, arranged by size in groups of three. Notch each to fit the other two in triangular fashion. Notching means interlocking cut-outs fitted together (Logs will be progressively smaller as the pyramid ascends). Three long stout branches, to be used as frames, are notched on top to tepee one another and angled on the bottom to be spiked into the earth. Several cross-beams are added at every third level of wood to add kindling to that level - two per level, parallel, kindling laid straight across them. The best material for kindling is hay, dried grass, dried pine needles, dry bark, and twigs. Also good are open pine cones that have been feathered (take pocket knife and cut angularly towards the center. Stop before cutting through. Alternate along sides). Small dry sticks can also be feathered for kindling.
To arrange your ritual site, begin by clearing an area in a multiple of NINE - six feet of clear area around each three feet of fire space. Stake the centre of the site, and lead out three lengths (nine feet) of rope. Centre the bulk of the rope around the stake and attach the end of your length to it. Walk out until the nine-foot rope is taut, then walk deosil around the centre. You are acting like a protracting compass, creating a close to perfect circle. Trace this area. Then repeat at the two inner markers (6 and 3 feet respectively). You can mark the 6' point with four stakes, denoting the cardinal directions. Later you may highlight these with standing smudge pots (called glóðker - "glow-pots", ON) or tiki torches (blys - ON). Remove all flammables (leaves, sticks, paper u.s.w.) and rock off the fire ring with large stones to hearth the fire. At the base of the fire lay, notch together the three largest logs, and sprinkle kindling in the middle, starting with dried grass, leaves, and feathered pinecones. Then add feathered sticks and twigs. Build the pyramid on the frame of the three "tepeed" or tripod vertical beams, internotching wood in alternating fashion around the frame horizontally. Note: the tepee tripod is inside the structure. Occasionally add a pair of cross-beams for stability, and to sub-stage the kindling. To add flavour to the fire, mix oak and pine together with varying amounts of cherrywood. The inner ring of Eldr represents the hearth (heart of the home), the illuminating force within, and contact with the divine through nature.
The cleared area immediately outside the fire-circle, called Miðhringr (Middle-Ring), may be marked off with glóðker. Take four stout branches each at least three feet long by at least three inches circumference. You'll need 4 metallic containers (like a coffee can - the heavier the metal, the better), 4 wide-headed wood nails, a metal saw, and a nail driver. Cut the can so that it is only three inches high, then nail dead centre to the top of the wood at one end. After attaching the can to the end of the wood, carve a spiked tip at the opposite end and drive into the ground at one of the four compass cardinal directions. Glóðker can hold lit coals. For added excitement, fill the glóðker with denatured alcohol and a colouring agent: for the West, an earth-coloured or green flammable like boric acid; East, water, blue, potassium nitrate; South, fire, red, strontium nitrate; North, air, yellow, pure alcohol and a wick (or vary with your chosen elemental/directional attributions, if you wish to use colours for this purpose at all -KHG). Needless to say, if this is done, you must be especially sure that the bases are very firm and that you have full supplies for putting out the fires at once in case of accident. The use of glóðker is not recommended at rites where children are present, or during times when much drinking is going on.
For dealing with fires and outdoor work in general, we strongly recommend that every group get hold of a copy of the Boy Scout Handbook, which sets out the most clear, practical, and responsible guidelines you can have. If there is an experienced Scout in your kindred, all the better.
To make a proper need-fire according to the procedures described in the Boy Scout Handbook (p. 114), you will need a spindle (round at one end, tapered at the other), fireboard with holes gouged for the spindle, spreading into V-cuts for the embers to fall into, a stiff, arm-length branch with a leather thong for the bow, a block of wood or stone with a smooth depression that the round part of the spindle fits into and can spin easily in, and tinder (shredded bark, cotton). Put the tinder on the ground and the fireboard over it. Kneel on one knee with the other foot on the fireboard. Rest the round end of the spindle in the handblock (which is in the palm of your weak hand), the tapered end in one of the holes in the fireboard; wrap the bowstring around the spindle once and pull the bow strongly back and forth until heavy smoke is rising. Knock the ember into the tinder and blow it into flame, feeding it up with twigs and bits of kindling. The Boy Scout Handbook claims that fire has been made in 6.4 seconds, which is great if you can do it. Remember that, much practice is needed before you try to make a need-fire as part of a ritual; otherwise everyone may be standing there watching you sweat for half an hour.
Stores that have Scouting supplies may actually sell kits with a pre-made spindle, bow, and fireboard, though the ideal is to be able to make your own from natural materials. According to the Handbook, the best woods are "yucca, elm, red cedar, willow root, basswood, sycamore, cottonwood, poplar, soft maple, and white pine" (p. 114).
Sven Coman-Lugar also suggests a means of "cheating" - shave the tips of matches off and crumble them into the hole where the fire is to be kindled.
The Boy Scout Handbook also tells how to start fire with flint and steel. To do this, you need a piece of flint, a steel (see "Signs" for a drawing of a Viking Age fire-lighter, which can easily be made by anyone with minimal metal-working facilities. This is best - but an old file can also be used), punk, and tinder. Punk is made of lighter wicking (light the end, then snuff it out) or charred cloth; shredded dry bark is best for tinder. If using charred cloth, you must be sure that it is really charred - almost ready to fall into ash, but not quite. Put the cloth in a coffee can or on a base that will not burn and light it. Let it burn until the whole surface is black and embers can be seen around the edges. Put a metal lid on the can or something else (metal pot, ceramic cup) over the cloth to smother it. The best sort of cloth to use is tightly woven and of natural fibre; a bit of cotton washcloth or towel is ideal. The best pieces of flint are large enough to hold firmly between your thumb and first two fingers, but not too much bigger, with a lot of sharp edges. It is much harder to strike sparks from a rounded edge than a jagged edge, and almost impossible to strike them from a flat surface. Striking will chip the flint and, after a few blows, will wear the edge down so that it is harder to use, so have a good supply of pieces ready.
Hold the flint and punk between your fingers; strike a glancing blow on the flint with the steel, which you aim so that the sparks will hit the punk. Place the smoldering punk in the tinder and blow it gently into flame. The punk and tinder can also be placed together on the ground and lit in the same manner (p. 115). The punk should catch easily with a good spark. If it does not, then probably you have not charred the cloth enough, or else have fried all the life out of it.
While this wouldn't do in the Scouts or in a European re-creation organization, for ritual purposes it is acceptable to have a match ready and light the match-head from the ember you have struck.
Again, it is important to practice lighting flint-and-steel fires several times beforehand, to make sure that you have both the knack of striking sparks and a supply of reliable punk.
VII. Site Responsibility
The fitting behaviour of guests in another's home has already been spoken of under "Guest-Friendliness" ("Troth and the Folk"). The same basic rules apply even more so to outdoor workings - for there we are guests in the home of the god/esses, the land-wights, and the Earth herself. It is our responsibility not only to leave a site as clean as we found it - but, if possible, to leave it in better condition. When one who is true goes walking in the woods, s/he should bring a bag to collect the trash those who do not love the land have tossed aside; when true folk gather for a holy feast outdoors, they should be all the more aware of their need to honour the Earth by caring for her. This means: collect all non-bio-degradables, whether you were the one who left them or not, and take them away with you (hopefully, you will take whatever can be recycled for recycling). Do not toss cigarette butts on the ground. Make sure that not only are fires out, but the ashes are raked into the earth so that the fire's site can no longer be seen (although, if it is a site often visited, you may choose to leave the stone ring there for other folk to use). Do not cut living wood if you can help it, and if you must, be sure to make fitting honour to the tree. Obey all park regulations, and take due note when warned of natural hazards (such as bears, in some places...). When you leave an outdoors ritual site, it should not only not look as though you had never been there, it should look, aside from necessary structures, as though no human had ever been there.
These deeds may seem like small things, but they are part of a deeply important ritual - the blessing which is made to the Earth and the land-wights when you come to a stead and when you leave (see "Rites of Need). The elder Troth is an earth-religion: without that love and honour for the world around us, there is no point to any of the other works we do.
This must be done well in advance. The host/ess must decide what s/he is willing to provide as far as food, drink, and such are concerned; then the group must decide how to make up any lacks.
With groups of less than forty, the most practical means of arranging a feast, as has been mentioned a couple of times before in this book, is potluck, B.Y.O.B. If everyone brings food and a six-pack or a couple of bottles, then there will likely be enough of everything for everyone. The only caution is that the host/ess or rite leader should call the folk and find out what everyone is planning to bring well in advance. This way you avoid ending up with loads of dessert and no main dish. Stew is a popular choice, being easy to cook for a large gathering and relatively cheap. Bread is always in demand, and whoever is responsible for co-ordinating the feast should make sure that several people bring loaves. Roasts are nice, but more pricey; and if serving a roast, you have to have a very clear idea of how many folk will actually be showing up.
For various reasons, planning the quantity of food for Heathen feasts is different than planning it for a dinner party. This is partly because of the length of most feasts - anything from a few hours to a full twenty-four - and partly because Heathens tend to eat and drink a lot on festive occasions. This is fully in keeping with the spirit of our forebears, but must be planned for; few things are more shameful than running out of food or drink at a holy feast. At normal parties, one plans for roughly half a bottle of wine and six to eight ounces of meat per person. The latter allowance should probably be doubled for a Heathen feast, the former - is dealt with by B.Y.O.B.
The Heathen community is also finding other ways of dealing with food and drink for larger events. Both mead and ale are usually brewed in five-gallon lots, and homebrew, aside from usually being better than commercial alcohol (not to mention more traditional and more fun), is a lot cheaper than store-bought. Lately, some groups that live in more rural areas have also taken to butchering their own animals and roasting them whole - again, much cheaper than buying the meat in the store, though only to be done by those who already know how to butcher an animal swiftly and humanely, and live in places where this activity is normal and permitted. One pig or sheep provides food for a lot of people.
Once you start getting above thirty-five people, however, potluck becomes more and more impractical for a ritual communal feast. This is the point at which it is time to start charging a small feast-fee in advance, as is now done in the Society for Creative Anachronism and at Ásatrú events such as the yearly Troth Ostara. With the financial side taken care of, Garth or Hof volunteers should be able to put on a large and reasonably good feast. The SCA has been doing this for many years, and may even be a good resource for practical advice and information about halls or sites that can be hired, although they must be approached with caution (see "Organizations and Resources"). If a feast-fee is charged, then either alcohol cannot be served (must be B.Y.O.B.) or the co-ordinator must find out what the regulations concerning the service/sale of alcohol in the area are.
This becomes more important as groups become larger and more diverse. In days of old, violence at feasting was quite a common thing. We would like to avoid this, the more so since many of the true still come to feasts and rites armed with swords and other weapons, as befits free folk. While there has never yet been any violence at Troth rituals, other çsatrœ groups have experienced quite serious difficulties.
It is, thus, strongly recommended that there be at least one person in ten who is both willing to stay sober and watchful and capable of dealing sensibly and effectively with difficulties up to and including drunks with drawn swords. Caution is clearly the most important watch-word here, of course! More often, the problem is simply someone making him/herself obnoxious to the point where s/he needs to be firmly told to sit down and shut up or take her/his leave. Having designated Watch-Thanes to deal with such problems saves wear and tear on everyone.
It is unfortunate, but true, that there are people in the world who do not like Heathens and will go to some lengths to make that clear. The chapter "Under the Law: Rights, Choices, and Dangers" outlines the best ways of dealing with such people. However, other Pagans (especially when holding rites in isolated areas) have been put in a position where there was neither time nor opportunity to call the police to deal with the problem. Here, the best advice we can give is: Know Your Area. If you live near a large community of armed fundamentalists, or hold your rites in a park frequented by gangs of one sort or another, then you had best be prepared to set lookouts and protect yourself at need. The best option in such cases may even be hiring professional security or (assuming that you have made sure that every detail of your event conforms to local law) requesting a police lookout; but failing that, you are ultimately responsible for yourself. As a warrior tradition in which swords and spears are a part of adult ritual dress, the elder Troth has a certain advantage over other Pagan groups in this respect; however, the Way of the Gun beats the Way of the Sword just about every time, and ending a ritual with either the police, an ambulance, or both coming to take you or unwanted visitors away is a Bad Thing. Be sensible and alert, and try to keep the testosterone levels down to a dull roar.
"It's still good enough for Odin,
when mead to horn has flowed in.
Though a hangover may be bodin',
it's good enough for me!" (That Old-Time Religion, anon.)
Alcohol is the base of all the holy drinks of the Northern people; the name of one of our holiest rites, "symbel", is even used as a general term in Old Norse for alcoholic drink. It has been the consciousness-altering chemical of choice for the Northern Europeans at least since the Bronze Age, and quite possibly from earlier times.
Beer, wine, mead, and their mightier distillations are the very life-blood of Heathen feasting, ritual, and fellowship. Where our forebears filled their blessing-bowls with the actual blood of slaughtered beasts, we fill ours with those equally holy fluids, mead and ale.
However, as we all should know by now, alcohol should be treated with great care. A degree of mellowness was not only allowed, but desired at holy feasts in the days of our forebears; while drunkenness was never condemned save when it led to rash words and boasts that could not be fulfilled. We have to modify our attitude towards drink in modern times, largely because of our changing technology. In the old days, a drunk might have fallen off his/her horse, or even steered it over a cliff - but s/he could not have steered it head-on into the next lane of traffic. In some places, law now provides that the person who serves the drink is responsible if a drunk person has a traffic accident. Finally, alcohol can be physically and psychologically addictive, and, taken in great excess or over a long period of time, can cause bodily damage up to and including death.
Also, it must be remembered that alcohol was generally in shorter supply in elder times. The strong ale we can buy in pubs or at the grocery store was usually brewed only for holy feasts, while what was generally available was more akin to "light beer", "near-beer", or "low-alcohol lager". Mead, being honey-based, was even rarer, while distillates were basically unknown (though, it is true, beer kept over the winter could develop to startlingly high strengths, which undoubtedly added a little extra energy to the clashing of spear on shield at springtime moots). Thus the drinking at feast-times was more enthusiastic because the drink was mostly less available. There are many true folk today who seldom drink except at rites.
It would not be in keeping with the spirit of our forebears to discourage deep drinking at events (although loud-mouthed drunks at symbel were considered rather uncouth), or to condemn general drinking, so long as it does not lessen the atheling-thews of the person in question. Obviously, someone whose ability to work is damaged by his/her drinking, who is dependent on alcohol for any activities s/he must perform, or who allows drink to harm his/her physical health, has a serious problem as long as s/he continues to drink. This is when we, while staying true to our tradition, can say that alcohol has become not only a bad, but a spiritually damaging thing - and should, if necessary, be forsaken altogether rather than allowed to become something that lessens one's honour, strength, or productivity.
Consumption of much alcohol at a feast, however, is quite traditionally acceptable. But the Troth stresses that this must be dealt with in certain ways today - with the responsibility and self-rule that characterize true folk. On no account must people who are not completely sober be allowed to drive home. Some kindreds require that guests give up their car-keys when they walk in the door. Other groups have good folk, staying sober for one reason or another, who volunteer to drive those who should not drive themselves. At a larger event, especially when folk have driven from a long way off, it is important that basic crash space be provided so that everyone who needs to can spend the night there. If someone has drunk enough to be obnoxious or dangerous to those around him/her, s/he should be gently, but firmly, removed so that s/he can sober up before doing anything that s/he might regret later. Those who break things while drunk should still consider themselves accountable for them when sober: to be truly free-standing, you must be responsible for whatever you do in whatever condition you are. Sometimes this means embarassing apologies for whatever you may have done or said, paying for whatever you may have broken or soiled beyond cleaning, or accepting with good (if hung-over) humour the uncoveted "Egill Skalla-Grímsson Drekk-til-at-Spýja ("Drink Till You Barf") Memorial Award" and all accompanying teasing. If you find that the pleasure of a hearty skinful of mead at feast is not worth the prices you pay the morning after, learn from experience (or, even better, from other peoples' experiences) and think before you start drinking!
Finally, it must be noted that there are many true folk who, for whatever reason, cannot or will not drink so much as a ceremonial sip. Such folk should never have alcohol forced upon them. There are at least two ways of dealing with this in symbel or at holy rites. First, it is enough for someone who cannot drink to gape his/her mouth above the horn - to breathe in its might. Secondly, should that not seem fitting, the non-drinker may simply take the hallowed horn and raise her/his own horn or cup, knock the rim of one against that or the other, make the toast, drink, and spill a few drops of his/her own drink into the blessing-horn. Non-drinkers should warn the godwo/man ahead of time so as to assure that the rite has not been set up in such a way that they will be forced either to take a sip of alcohol or to set themselves outside the company of the true. While alcohol is traditionally linked with Heathenry as deeply as are animal sacrifices, both, at need, can be dispensed with: just as a bread-beast can be blessed and given to the gods by those who do not have the facilities to slaughter their own animals, so can many draughts be hallowed. Some are mighty in themselves - water from a running spring is very greatly holy; apple juice holds all the blessing of the fruit, and so forth - but even tap water can be made into a powerful draught by means of runes risted and scraped into it. It is the substance, not the form, which matters most in the end.
Particularly if someone is not drinking for personal reasons, it may be well to arrange matters so that they can know that their abstinence is an aid to the whole group, if this can be done without making them feel self-conscious or patronized. Asking them to be designated drivers is one practical way. They may also be asked to stand as hof-warders and ritual supervisors or guides, especially if spae-work or other forms of magic are taking place, when at least one clear-headed warder is needed. Few things are grimmer than being made to feel set outside from a rite that should be a time of coming together: a person who has decided that their drinking has become a problem is already going to feel isolated at an event where drinking is part of the fellowship to some degree, and it is the Kindred's duty to prevent that. Someone who is fighting an inner battle does not need their Kindred to stand in the line against them, and is likely to be exceptionally sensitive to any hint of alienation, slight, or criticism - which, in turn, will make them wonder why the Hel they are bothering to try to deal with their problem, since fighting it seems to be bringing them so much more misery and annoyance than just getting drunk was, without even the accompanying pleasure. This is a delicate business, and there are more ways than can be named to damage a recovering alcoholic even while trying to help her or him. The biggest problem is probably that someone who has admitted to him/herself that s/he has a difficulty with alcohol is likely to feel of little worth, and unfortunately those around her/him are often likely to agree with the opinion - even to have expressed it in an effort to get their friend to realize that there is a problem - which in turn makes maintaining sobriety that much more difficult: someone who is given reason, externally or internally, to despise him/herself is more likely to drink out of self-hatred or a desire to escape that misery. This feeling on both sides that a drinking problem makes its sufferer less worthy - despite everyone's best efforts - can come out in the smallest things - especially in a situation such as a feast, when the attitude of someone attempting to be helpful even while holding a beer in their own hand may seem to be "I can drink because I'm all right - you can't because you're defective."
As for advice on how to handle recovery from alcohol problems within a Kindred: this is a hugely complicated issue, and should you be faced with it - either as the one recovering or as a supportive Kindred member or leader - I strongly recommend that you do your best to research information on alcoholism and alcoholism counselling. In general, from my own experience, I can suggest that perhaps the best thing for a supportive Kindred to do is simply to respect that this person is not drinking, and quietly arrange rites and celebration to allow that respect, without attempting any form of parental-type supervision unless it has been specifically requested: allowing a non-drinker's sobriety is necessary, but making them feel that it is being enforced unasked, with no respect for their own free choice and adult rights, may be severely counterproductive. It is also well to keep in mind that there are many types and degrees of recovery from alcohol problems. For many people, complete abstinence is the best - often the only - way. Some are able to impose strict personal limits and keep to them, or to take a ritual sip from a horn of ale and then let it go. Sometimes drinking problems can be caused or exacerbated by external difficulties, bad habits, or even real brain-chemistry problems such as depression which can be treated; such people may in time be able to drink again without overdoing it. And sometimes recovering alcoholics fall off the wagon: when that happens, it is their duty to pick themselves up and go on again, and their Kindred's duty not to make them feel so bad about it that they give up hope and stop trying. However angry or disappointed in your Kindred member you may be if this happens, think before you speak and ask yourself, "Is what I want to say going to make him/her hate him/herself enough to just keep drinking?" Sometimes, for some people, a caring kick in the butt is necessary - but at the wrong time, or for the wrong person, it could turn out to be a harmful kick in the face instead.
For non-drinkers and for children, a recipe for a non-alcoholic meadlike drink for ritual use is given in the chapter on "Brewing and Crafts". Several brands of non-alcoholic beer can also be bought at most large stores; Clausthaler is probably the best. Non-alcoholic wine is likewise available and appropriate for rituals, although its quality is not particularly high. Water is a very holy fluid in its own right, especially if drawn from a running stream (but beware pollution! It may be better to try to find a bottled mineral water from one of the lands of our forebears). Apple juice is also mighty and holy, especially fitting at Winternights and Yule; pear juice (perhaps etymologically related to Perthro, the rune-stave embodying the might of örløg) is especially fitting in rites involving Frija and/or the Norns, and at symbel where the horn embodies the Well of Wyrd. Cherry juice, plum juice, u.s.w. do not have any specific recorded correspondences, but any fruit that was known to our forebears is appropriate for rituals. Milk is most fitting for blessings to the goddesses, idises, house-ghosts, and land-wights. Given current Scandinavian and German use, a pretty good case could probably be made for designating coffee as a ritual/celebratory drink; and in fact, although the tradition can only date from the last two or three hundred years, it is used as such in the "Lucy" celebrations of Continental Scandinavia and the "Sun-Coffee" festival of Iceland.
It is extremely tacky to serve Kool-Aid at feasts. Despite certain superficial resemblances borne by some Ásatrú folk (and the fact that many of us started out in that church), we are not Lutherans!
D.J. O'Halloran, from "Of Fire, Ceremonial Sites, Risting, and Nature: Part II"
and everyone on Trothline who took part in the "Sacred B00ze" discussion.