Toasts, Boasts and Oaths   Leave a comment

On Friday, Mystic River Grove, an OBOD group based in Massachusetts, celebrated a Summer Solstice ritual inspired by the Anglo-Saxon symbel or feast, and built around toasts, boasts and oaths. I couldn’t attend, but I want to reflect on these three components of celebration, apart from however Mystic River chose to celebrate beyond those three elements.

ASfeastWith a toast, boast and oath, you could certainly hold a fine solo rite. Toast your gods, land spirits, ancestors, teachers, living kin — whoever you’re called to honor. Then on to a boast, a celebration of excellence, a claim to honor for ourselves, for something we have achieved. Like gratitude, boasting’s a skill we neither teach or practice enough. My default boast is survival. I’m still here. But I can definitely claim more; this blog, my other writings, a good marriage, years of teaching young people, a circle of friends I admire and enjoy.

A solo rite still has witnesses: our own selves, hearing the words. Powers and beings of the world who attend because they were “in the neighborhood” so to speak, unless we explicitly ban them. And anyone we did invite to join us. But what’s the value of our community witnessing when we do these things? Why do these things publicly?

Toasts others make can remind us who we honor and who we might include next time. We learn of others’ gratitude. What I’m grateful for carries a story with it. It’s a window into a life, and speaking gratitude in a circle opens us to each other and our stories.

Boasts tell us something of the commitments and dedications of time and energy in others’ lives. If I’m proud of it, I’ve spent myself on it in some way, poured myself into it, and probably sacrificed in some way to accomplish it. Boasts also let us laugh — we can boast about silly things, or make fun of ourselves for how much even a small achievement may have cost us.

Oaths tell us what will matter in the coming days and months. What are others binding themselves to do? How does publicly announcing an intention, having others witness it, help energize us to accomplish it? An oath may include a spell of finding or binding, of opening the way, or shutting down obstacles, resistances, barriers, and so on. When I took part in Nanowrimo in past years, for instance, and wrote my 1600 words a day, announcing my progress online helped me keep going. You helped me persevere because you knew I’d set out to do it.

drinking horn

Depending on the size of the horn passed round the circle for each of the toasts, boasts and oaths, and the kind of drink you quaff each time, you may find your tongue loosened and the three acts easier to pull off!

Here the rhymer in me wants to add a fourth word, wrecking the lovely triad of toast, boast and oath, but creating in its place a new and balanced pair of rhymes: toast, boast, oath and growth. After all, a rite moves us to a new place and space, never the same as where we were before. As with yesterday and tomorrow, the difference from today may or may not seem like much, but just as the daylight lengthens and shortens each year, depending on which side of the solstice I’m on, so do the energies at play in my life. I can do things today not possible yesterday or tomorrow. And that’s worth a toast, a boast, an oath and the growth that comes with them.

Finally, if we’re going to be Anglo-Saxon about things, the Old English Maxims 1, lines 138-140, offer relevant insight here:

Ræd sceal mon secgan, rune writan, leoþ gesingan, lofes gearnian, dom areccan, dæges onettan.

Keeping to the spirit I feel lies behind these proverbial expressions, and unpacking their compactness and concision*, I take this to mean, roughly, “Let your speech be words of good counsel to others, write runes of wisdom, sing as epically as you can, deserve praise, test and expand your judgment, while holding nothing back each day”.

/|\ /|\ /|\

*With even a little Old English, you can explore meanings and fashion your own translation with the help of the online Bosworth-Tollers Anglo-Saxon Dictionary here.

rǣd: advice, counsel, prudence, deliberation
sceal, 3rd singular of sculan: shall, ought, be obliged, must
mon, Wessex dialect form of man: person, human, mortal, man
secgan: say, speak, express
rune, plural of rūn: whisper (speech not intended to be overheard, confidence, counsel, consultation), mystery, secret, rune
wrītan: write, cut, draw, form letters (on wood, stone, parchment, etc.)
lēoþ: song, poem, ode, lay, verses
gesingan: sing
lofes, genitive of lof: praise, glory, hymn
gearnian: earn, merit
dōm: doom, judgment, judicial sentence, decree, ordinance, law
areccan: to put forth, relate, recount, speak out, express, explain, interpret, translate
dæges, genitive of dæg: day, daytime
onettan: hasten, anticipate, be active or diligent

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