Raising a Glass

The idea of ritual toasting is one I got from Heathen folk, although I cannot recall where exactly I encountered the idea. The premise is fairly simple – the mead horn is filled and cannot be put down until empty, so is passed around the circle. I believe the traditional way is to identify a group – The Gods, the ancestors etc and everyone drinks to them.

When it comes down to it, most pagans aren’t averse to a drop of ritual alcohol. This is a lovely tradition to borrow, and can be adapted – mead horns not being essential, nor for that matter, is mead. But the sharing of drink in a ritual context is bonding, and toasting is something everyone can easily participate in. You can provide non-alcoholic options as well for greater inclusivity.

In open rituals, getting people to feel they can join in is always a challenge. It’s also really important to make sure that everyone in a circle is able to actively engage with it. Paganism is not a passive religion, people should not come along to have it happen to them, they should be enabled (as far as is humanly possible) by whoever leads the ritual, to take active part. Those new to ritual need simple things they can readily understand and undertake, without feeling self conscious or intimidated. When acting as celebrant for groups that include non-pagans, getting meaningful engagement is even harder, but no less important. Techniques that are comfortable for non-pagans and help them act in meaningful ways in pagan rituals, are useful indeed.

Toasting is a familiar form. You don’t even have to speak, you can just raise the glass to make a meaningful gesture. This makes it an incredibly useful, and powerful tool in a celebrant’s repertoire. People who might otherwise stay silent find it possible to raise a glass and offer a word ‘to my grandparents’ ‘to the earth’. As a celebrant, I’ve had families drinking to the memory of the dead, and to the health of the married couple. It’s very easy to organise, you just need a drink and a receptacle. The act of toasting gives everyone the chance to say what is on their mind, to share a memory, offer a hope. It is an act of celebration even in times of grief, and it helps people to share with each other. Used in seasonal celebration, it’s a happy, playful activity that allows people to express themselves creatively.

The sourcing of the drink for toasting also allows creative expression. People can seek out organic, and local products, they can make their own and bring to share. That’s another way to engage for folk who might not be able to express in more wordy ways, but who want to give something. Someone can be bottle bearer – an easy, non-speaking role enabling a student to become that bit more active in circle. There’s also the possibility of mulling – wine or cider – and in those chilly Samhain to Imbolc rituals, a mug of something hot going round the circle can lift spirits and inspire folks in all sorts of interesting ways!

There’s much to explore and play with here, and from experience, I can heartily recommend it.