Wunjo! Here we are already at the height of Wunjo’s power. Wunjo is a lovely rune, its meaning is seemingly so simple and benevolent that it is easy to overlook it as we face the ‘winter runes’ with trepidation – but they aren’t here yet…
Wunjo literally means ‘joy’ and its appearance in a reading will signify happiness, fulfillment and the success of wishes. Although the rune poem states that Wunjo enriches everything around you, the rune is often thought to refer especially to the happiness that comes through family, friendship and kinship. While we know that our northern ancestors would have been celebrating the harvest, giving thanks to the ancestors and, for the Norse, celebrating the New Year at the end of this month, today this time has come to represent the ending of harvest and communion with the ancestors for a much broader section of the ‘pagan’ community.
For me this is a time to affirm bonds with both the living and the dead. My work is founded on the belief that each of us is bound up in the great web of being which connects all things; we gather great strength, joy and fulfillment through honouring each other and those who have come before us. On my podcast for Shaman of the North on The Shamanic Voice this month I have shared some of the ways in which I work with and honour the ancestors so, on this blog entry I want to share a very simple rite that I like to do with my family when we meet. It is based on the principles of the symbel rite practiced by modern Heathens, Asatru and other Germanic religious groups. If you are interested in reading about the history of the rite and modern reconstructions I would recommend Wednesbury Shire’s article or Arlea Hunt-Anschutz’s article. My own rite follows on from a workshop I did with Ian Read of the Rune-Gild which I found very powerful and moving.
Symbel is essentially a ceremony where toasts are made which honour those present, their gods and ancestors. The power behind it lies in the words spoken by each participant, and in the act of drinking from a blessed vessel which is passed from one person to the next by an individual who is responsible for ensuring the Wyrd is woven correctly as the vessel makes its journey. In a sense, the passage of the vessel is the motion of the threads of Wyrd; as the vessel passes from person to person their words and intentions are woven into Wyrd and (if spoken with truth and honour) will serve to reinforce the bonds of the clan and the luck of each individual.
My own family are of mixed faiths, and some are no faith at all, so it would be disrespectful to all concerned to try and reconstruct a religious rite such as Symbel. However, the act of speaking words of power and intention, and of passing the cup from person to person to weave stronger bonds and increase personal luck is a beautiful one. From a shamanic perspective, the honouring of ourselves, our loved ones, and our dead is also very healing and empowering; it allows us to speak words from the heart and to engage in a little bit of taboo breaking (as you will see). My family have no problem honouring a tradition which is part of their own heritage (being rooted in the Anglo-Saxon land and language) and we all enjoy the sense of occasion and sacredness - even if the sacred is something different to us all.
For your family rite (you can also do this amongst groups of close friends), you will need a large drinking cup or horn, and something nice to put in it – mead is traditional but my family have a particular fondness of red wine so we tend to use that. It is nice to perform the rite after dark, perhaps after a family meal. Bring down the lights and perhaps put out a few candles to mark the occasion. Take your time thinking about who you would like to toast to. The subjects are a family member (or close family friend) who has passed away, a living family member, and yourself. If you are in a large group then you might choose someone to take the drinking cup around, they will need to use their intuition as to who should go first and how the drinking cup will then make its rounds of the group. Otherwise, you can pass the cup around the circle, or each person can take it at the time that seems right to them. When it is your turn (or when you feel that it is your turn), take the cup and speak your words in honour of the person you have chosen, then drink to seal them and pass the cup around so that all may toast to the person.
Now, you will find that it is easy and heart warming to drink in honour of somebody else, but, it is also really important to drink in honour of yourself. This is where the taboo breaking comes in as the rite demands that you aren’t self deprecating or modest, you need to speak about something you have achieved or to describe personal characteristics or actions that you are proud of. It is no good demeaning yourself in front of your family and then drinking to seal a diminished and weakened version of yourself – you have to believe that your family are going to accept and embrace your words. On their part, each person in the group is expected to accept your words graciously – if you really believe a person has lied then you might get all Viking and challenge them, but I’ve never experienced that in the groups I’ve worked with so I can’t comment on how that gets resolved! Honour, integrity and acceptance are the important qualities for you all to hold in your hearts during the rite.
If you are feeling really brave, then the rite can also be used for oath-making. This is where a member of the family makes a vow over the sacred drink that they will fulfill a particular task they have set themselves. Their resolve is strengthened by weaving it into the rite, however, the whole rite will be weakened if they don’t fulfill their promise – so don’t promise anything you don’t intend to go through with. In the Symbel rite, these vows were witnessed by the gods, as well as the family and ancestors, so they were taken very, very seriously.
At the end of the rite the remainder of the drink is ceremoniously poured out onto the earth. You could offer it (as is right for you) to your ancestors, to the spirits of the earth, to your family’s protective spirits, and to the Gods.
Wunjo is not traditionally associated with drinking rites but, for me it is the perfect rune to call on to bless a drinking ceremony. What more could you want than a happy, harmonious family and the blessings of the rune of wish-making upon your vows for future deeds?