Caring for One’s Ritual Drinking Horn

(I posted this today on my facebook and I was surprised at the response–this is apparently information that people do not have. So, if this helps folks, especially those new to our community, I am very glad). 

My husband was manning the horn during our Solstice ritual and was a little confused about how to clean it afterwards. It occurred to me that he’s not the only person in our religious communities who might have this question so I figured, as a change from bitching about politics (I do this a lot on fb lol), I’d talk about that for a moment.

Those who practice Heathenry often utilize drinking horns in their rituals. The horn symbolizes the well of Wyrd, fate, and memory so any prayers or oaths taken over it have particular sacral power. In some denominations (particularly Theodism), only women may bear the horn around the gathered community but our household’s tradition does not hold with that, and having a priest and orpheoteleste of Dionysos carrying the horn (which is almost always filled with alcohol for rituals) seemed fitting — far more than having me do it while trying to juggle two shaman’s drums, or our Freya’s woman who was leading the rite.

Most horns are made of some type of bovine horn that has been cleaned and either lacquered or covered with wax inside. I own several, with museum quality carvings and semi-precious stone inlay. I also have at least one that has just been engraved with a bit of color added, and one with brass design around the mouth and tip. styles vary and some horns are just plain with only the inside having been fiddled with. Regardless, they do need a bit of care (1).

So here you go: rinse out the inside with tepid to lightly warm water. If it’s lacquered, you can use serious dish soap and a cleaning brush. If not, be careful. Do not let the horn sit after rituals. Do this immediately. Take care of your tools. With a slightly wet towel or sponge, wipe down any mess on the outside of the horn (drinking from a horn is tricky. ha ha. it’s almost a rite of social initiation for a newcomer to Heathenry to do it incorrectly and end up with a face full of mead. We’ve all been there. lol). Let it dry. Take a bit of food grade mineral oil on a soft cloth and wipe down the outside, every nook and cranny. Let that dry. (This is the same way, by the way, that I care for ritual offering bowls if they’re made of wood). Store your horn in a safe, dry place (mine live on two different shrines).

That’s it – easy, peasy. Do NOT run them through the dishwasher. Do NOT let crud accrue in them. Do NOT use abrasive chemicals to clean them. Treat your tools with the respect they deserve and they will serve you well all your working life — this is especially so with horns that are nearly objet d’arts.

Idunna horn

(a close up of my Idunna horn, crafted by Shrewood)

 

Note:

  1. The only difference between sealing the inside of a horn with a lacquer of some sort versus wax is that with the latter hot liquids cannot be used in the horn (they’ll melt the wax). Honestly though, in the thirty years I’ve been Heathen, I cannot think of a single time that I have used a hot drink in a horn. I guess i must have with either wassail or spiced wine –I probably didn’t think about it because most of my horns are lacquered. If your horn is sealed with wax, and you want to use something like Gluhwein in it, just use a glass or cup instead. I think our ancestors were practical and there’s no harm in substituting a glass. I even have a couple of glass horns that I inherited. If you haven’t found the right horn yet, or you can’t afford one at the moment, it’s perfectly ok to use a glass or cup as a stand in and then during the ritual it serves the same sacral function.

 

About ganglerisgrove

Galina Krasskova has been a Heathen priest since 1995. She holds a Masters in Religious Studies (2009), a Masters in Medieval Studies (2019), has done extensive graduate work in Classics including teaching Latin, Roman History, and Greek and Roman Literature for the better part of a decade, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Theology. She is the managing editor of Walking the Worlds journal and has written over thirty books on Heathenry and Polytheism including "A Modern Guide to Heathenry" and "He is Frenzy: Collected Writings about Odin." In addition to her religious work, she is an accomplished artist who has shown all over the world and she currently runs a prayer card project available at wyrdcuriosities.etsy.com.

Posted on June 24, 2020, in Heathenry, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. So, I’m not Heathen and my question probably doesn’t matter that much, but from the description in your intro heathenry book and other things I have read, it sounds like this horn is shared among multiple people? I recall sometime in my late teens/early 20s when shared chalices went out of fashion in Wiccan rituals — or perhaps there were preexisting differences between East Coast circles and the one I grew up in — and am wondering if there are parallels in your religion. Especially post-COVID-19 with limitations on public gatherings and the encouragement to social distance/not share saliva, how does the drinking horn ritual work? Is it poured into an intermediary vessel like a cup or a secondary drinking horn? Is there a preferred method so that the ritual integrity is preserved? Sorry for the question; I’m just really curious!

    Liked by 1 person

    • No, I think this is a perfectly legitimate question. A “dumb” question is one that is never asked, in my opinion. How else is one to learn but to ask questions? I too would like to know, because I would say the health of one’s guests is an important part of Xenia or Hospitality…I think the word “Frith” is the Old Norse word for it?

      Liked by 2 people

      • ganglerisgrove

        Frith is actually better translated as ‘right relationship,’ though many modern Heathens translate it inaccurately as ‘peace.’

        Liked by 1 person

    • ganglerisgrove

      in smaller rites, yes it is (though if someone is sick or for whatever reason doesn’t want to do that, they can have their own horn or cup). In larger groups, I would suggest everyone have their own cup/horn as well, but this isn’t the norm. Usually it’s one horn passed around. A second horn may also be carried around filled with a non-alcoholic beverage if there are those in the group who wish it.

      With Covid, our solstice was just the three of us and living in the same house, we already share each other’s germs so there was no issue sharing the norm. I tend in the unusual event that I attend someone else’s ritual, to kiss the horn rather than drink from it, and the pour a bit out onto the round or in an offering bowl for the Holy Power/s that I’m hailing.

      This is a good question though and i haven’t considered it before. I would probably have everyone with a cup and the hornbearer could pour some in as he or she carries the horn around.

      Liked by 1 person

    • ganglerisgrove

      Kaye, thank you for bringing this up — this is exactly the type of thing one has to consider leading group rituals!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m going to chime in too @Kaye

      Pre-covid, typically we’d just all drink from the same horn as it’d be an alcoholic beverage which helps to kill things anyway. Standard practice was if you suspected you were sick, you wouldn’t drink directly from the horn, but still take up the horn in hand, and say what is on your heart to the Regin. At this point you could merely raise it when you’re done like in a toast to the powers, before passing it back to the horn bearer, or you might reverently finger-kiss it (but in an area away from the lip, and more where folks are already grabbing it by .

      Years of rites, and never once have I picked up another’s illness.

      The act of ritually speaking over a horn, even sharing a horn in our tradition is steeped with symbolism. The drink alone ties to the story of the mead of poetry, and then to Odin’s eye in Mimir’s Well. Because of this while there is variety in the drink (wine, ale, whiskey, sherry, etc.), the trend is towards the classic “mead” in the horn, as a more direct tie to the mead of poetry.

      In our ritual settings whenever one drinks mead AND speaks over the horn they’re tying back to poetry (i.e. the heartfelt aspect of your prayer/hail), knowledge, memory, and wisdom. In turn since Mimir’s well is connected to Yggdrasil, this means the waters of his well (and Odin’s eye), link into the Tree, which connects them to things that live and die, and ultimately Urd’s well where the Norns dwell and work. It is also an act of using your words like a weaver uses thread… the words spoken weave together the vast community into a tapestry. The act of speaking over it impacts orlog, hamingja, and wyrd.

      It links you to those who are present, it weaves you to your Gods and Goddesses, connects you to the vaettir, your ancestors, friends and family; ill-chosen words can have negative impact to that tapestry, well-chosen words strengthen it.

      Various groups have different traditions. On how the drinking is handled. I’ve seen the horn used as like a decanter, where the drink was poured out of it into an individual’s cup when it was their turn to speak. Sometimes for medical reasons or cases of addiction, other members would have their own drink separate from what was in the horn. They’d drink from their individual cup, but then hold and kiss the horn.

      But it’s meant to be shared, like you are partaking of the mead of poetry, and using that to weave you closer to the powers, and your religious community. I’ve seem a group who had a horn bearer and a bowl bearing, where the horn bearer poured into an individual’s cup, and then the individual after their words, would pour a libation out of their cup into the bowl going back to the Gods. A symbol of gratitude, reciprocity, of connectedness to them.

      Like with many things, there’s some room for interpretation and adaptability to modern times. The key is the respect, and that we don’t lose the import of the symbolism.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, that’s what I meant by ritual integrity — keeping the symbolism intact so that it could function as an appropriate link to the Gods, ancestors, and community. I read the section in Galina’s book, tbh, several days ago, and this was a burning question given current events. It seemed like, in line with what you said above, the ritual sharing was important to the entire rite, and the significance seemed like it could be at risk if the ritual is altered for public health needs without carefully weighing which adaptation preserves the rite most effectively. It’s fortuitous that I was reminded of this question via seeing this blog post, lol.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve also heard there’s another method of sealing it, using alcohol. Or some folks will use the food safe resin ‘salad bowl finish’ or similar type topical applications.

    Like

  3. ganglerisgrove

    Kaye, I’d also add that I wouldn’t pass a horn in a large group. The way one does ritual for five, ten, or maybe up to a baker’s doze is very, very different than how it should be done for sixty or seventy people. It would slow the energy and flow of the rite down way too much. I’ll be writing about ritual soon. With large groups, I find other things to do.

    Also, when passing the horn, the horn bearer needs to be humble and not make it about him or her. i’ve seen some hornbearers who insert themselves in the rites in ways that I find inappropriate and gross. It’s never, ever about us.

    I was talking to my husband last night about your question, bc it was a damned GOOD one and he said, “maybe the alcohol kills everything.” maybe. but i will rarely drink out of a horn if i’m with people I don’t know (esp. now that i realize how few people knew how to clean one lol). having the horn present and bearing it around though maintains the sacrality of its equation with Urda’s well. I rather like the idea of filling everyone’s cups from the common horn but never actually drinking from it. We adapt and manage. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did a search in the health sciences literature, and it seems that this is understudied with respect to common seasonal viruses; the bacterial risk, however, is low based on the several (small) studies available. There was some activity in the late 1980s when people were worried about HIV and Catholic communion and before much was known about its transmission. There’s a review paper that’s open access (from 2013) about infections associated with religious rituals, except IMHO some of the examples that are provided are too understudied. The NIH should fund more studies.

      Like

  4. ganglerisgrove

    The other thing wiht bearing a horn that I want to mention is in more formal gatherings, the hornbearer takes it to people in order of their rank…we rarely bother with that in our House, though if there are guests, we carry it to them first. Still, in Theodish rites, I’ve seen bearing the horn used to demarcate rank within the Theod and i’m not sure how that sits with me. I mind it less when it’s done unobtrusively. If it detracts from praying, it has to go.

    Like

%d bloggers like this: