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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.