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Sumble: The Origin of Toasting

Toasting is a peculiar custom in Western society.  Nearly everyone who has a drink makes toasts, but few realize that they are taking part in an ancient custom with roots in the old pre-Christian religions of Northern and Western Europe: the Sumble.




The Sumble is an ancient communion rite that was historically practiced by Germanic and Celtic peoples.  This rite is portrayed in the epic poem Beowulf and other sources of Germanic and Nordic folklore.  Sumble is closely related to the English tradition of Wassailing, popular especially as part of the Yuletide.

The majority of those whom actively participate in Sumble today are religious Heathens, practitioners of the old Germanic and Celtic religions.  They base their rite directly off of the 11th and 12th century Nordic customs as recorded in their respective texts.  In its most basic elements it consists of a gathering into a drinking hall, or a circle, a blessing or consecration is recited over the drink, a libation, and a sharing of the sacrament by the participants from the same vessel.

The sacrament is usually ale or mead, and historically it was served with toast.  This is where the term toast originates, as in drinking a toast.  A series of rounds of toasting take place.  In rites in which the Sumble is the central or sole focus there are typically a minimum of three rounds.  In traditional Heathenry it is standard for the first round to be dedicated to gods, the second round is dedicated to heroes and the third round is dedicated to ancestors.

The leader of the ceremony typically makes the first toast to a patron deity, takes a drink from his drinking horn.  Then, the next person in order makes his toast.  This continues in order until all have had a chance to toast.  Then that round is ended and the second round begins.  After the third round the rite may come to an end or it may continue.

If the Sumble continues any number of themes may be proposed.  Common themes are boasts in which the participants are allowed a chance to tell a tale of their own great successes.  Oaths may be sworn, goals may be professed, and gifts may be exchanged.  Open rounds may also be called in which anything of value may be offered to the community: stories, songs, poems, or prayers.  This may continue to a specified number of rounds, until the sacrament is completely consumed or until the participants have nothing more to contribute.

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