After I published my book, I posted it on most of the Heathen groups I was a member of on FaceBook. I received a PM from someone representing the Mystic South Conference in Atlanta, GA, and was asked to submit a proposal to give a presentation. This is only the first or second year of it, I think, so you may not have heard of this particular conference. It focuses on paganism in the Southeast of the US. I live less than two hours away, so I thought I’d give it a try. I wrote up a submission and sent it in. The following is my proposal:
One of the unique and ubiquitous religious ceremonies of modern Heathenry (Norse/Germanic Paganism) is the sumbel. Sumbel consists of rounds of ritual toasting typified by honoring the gods, ancestors or heroes, and bragging or boasting. Speaking over the horn in sumbel is more than just drinking and making speeches. It is a sacred act. The words spoken over the horn are typically believed to be heard not only by the people present, but also by the gods and ancestors.
Outsiders are often either confused or impressed by the ritualized drinking, even if they do not understand the social and spiritual obligations inherent with sharing a horn.
Modern Heathenry is presently only 44 years old. As the religion has grown and matured many adherents have shifted the primary attention of their religious practices from the gods and goddesses to their ancestors. The focus on ancestor worship seems to set modern Heathenry apart from many other Euro-centric Pagan traditions.
Though sumbel is certainly an important Heathen ceremony that helps to connect the participants with their ancestors, there are a variety of smaller, though potentially more binding, rituals that take place in women’s homes and communities on a regular basis. Some of the revered ancestors were known by the worshiper in life, though many were not. While researching an ethnography of modern Heathen women the author interviewed 39 Heathens throughout North America and Europe, 12 of whom are Southerners.
This paper will attempt to demonstrate some of the ritual practices and beliefs of Southern Heathen Women in regards to their ancestors. Whether they study their genealogy, construct ancestor shrines to give offerings, follow a predecessor’s career path, or visit the graves of their forbearers to commune with the dead, these women endeavor to create or continue relationships with their relatives who have gone to the afterlife.
While many of the interactions with ancestral spirits have been reported to be positive or perhaps confusing, there is a dark side to this practice. Many Americans have conflicted relationships within their families. This can be even more intense for those who have chosen an alternative religious path. On top of that, Americans in the South have inherited cultural grief as a result of the history of our country, especially in regards to the enslavement of Africans and the genocide and forced removal of the indigenous peoples. This paper will also confront these issues and provide ways of healing inherited grief.
Yesterday I was notified that my proposal was accepted! I’m very excited! Now I’ve got to put together my presentation. I’ve got plenty of material to work with, so that’s no problem. I’m going to try to record the audio of the session. I’m also going to try to interview people for the SHEathenry Podcast. I have also been accepted as a vendor at the conference, so I’ll have copies of my book, as well as my god/dess soft sculptures and ritual clothing. I hope to see some of you there!