Autumn, Heathenry & Virgin Mead: respect for sober Heathens

Here we are in the middle of October. Many practicioners across almost all branches of paganism are gearing up for some form of Autumn celebration. Whether it be the typical commercialized candy, trick-or-treaters, and ghouls; or planning a blot or ritual for deities, harvest, ancestors and the like, it is that time of year that most pagans really do go all out for the occasion. Now, for many Heathens, and others, who follow more Norse-specific paths and ways, this often means including Mead in our celebrations. That is pretty much the standard to many. And it makes sense because there is clearly no lack of Mead and Ale in Norse mythology. Whole stories were dedicated to feasting and Mead. Thor and Tyr even went on a journey just to find a big enough pot to make enough for everyone. So there is no denying that Mead (or other alcoholic beverages for that matter) are more than welcome in celebration, ritual, and offerings. However, there are those practictioners who simply can not partake of adult beverages for one reason or another and are often left out because there is no substitute provided for them. Some people have allergies to the ingridients. Some have medical conditions or medications that don’t allow them to partake. And yes, some people are in recovery from alcoholism and/or addiction and can not take that risk. That is what I most want to address here in this entry. These people, specifically, need to be shown a bit more understanding within the community. If someone says they are allergic or have a medical condition that keeps them from drinking alcohol, most people respond with “oh well that’s too bad, but I understand” and proceed as normal without a second thought. However, when a person says they are in recovery and can’t drink, they are quiet frequently met with less care. Some people do say “oh, ok” and go about their business. But there are also very often those who will ask why you’re even pagan, or why you came to a blot knowing there may be mead. As if being in recovery and choosing sobriety somehow makes you less welcome around the fire and you should just practice alone so it doesn’t inconvience anyone. But even worse than that, are those people who will actually shame a person in recovery for being in recovery while being Heathen, or for not at least having some alcohol around for the sake of the gods only. They see it as weakness. And unfortunately, those types are often very vocal about it. I have even seen people in Heathen facebook groups say that if you can’t handle being around it even for the gods, you are weak. Or as one person commented, “Its for the gods, not you. Don’t impose your weaknesses on them”. Whether they are the asses like these guys, or the ones that simply ask why you even follow if you have a problem with alcohol, this attitude needs to stop. So let’s look at why we need to be more understanding about this.

For starters, getting sober after struggling with alcoholism or addiction is more than just choosing to drink or not drink. This is proven even in medical definitions. I will not entertain any agrument to the contrary. But, what I will say is that it takes a lot of strength and self-control to fight your own mind and body and to fight a condition that (while it can be treated) has no cure. That kind of self-control and strength is something most Heathens strive for and count as honorable. So why do we stigmatize it when its related to alcohol? Aside from that, there is also wisdom and self-knowledge involved, which we know is another important trait in the Norse paths. Those of us who are Lokean know all too well the importance of owning one’s faults and screw ups. We know how Loki was often sent to fix other’s mess ups, but also went and fixed his own screw ups as well. But for those who aren’t necessarily aligned with Loki, you still have to realize that Odin is also about wisdom and self-knowledge. Agree with him or not, he still owned what he did. He even told of it himself in Havamal, both good and bad. For people in recovery, it all starts with accepting we have a problem. And let’s not forget that even the literature and lore tells us not to over-drink and that it is ok to choose not too. But what people often overlook is that in Havamal, the words of the high one, Odin himself, we are told this. We’re told it is better to retire early instead of getting too drunk. We are told that ale is not as good for men as we think it is. It almost seems worded as if it is bad for us because we are not gods and can’t hold our liquior the way they can because they are gods. Stanzas 11 through 13 are focused on that very idea. Stanza 12 says “A worse provision no man can take from table than too much beer-bibbing: for the more he drinks the less control he has of his mind”. Even though this is talking about not over-drinking as opposed to not drinking at all, you have to realize that for those in recovery, one drink is almost always too much. For most, one drink is enough to set the uncontrolable monster into full havok. So for them, not drinking at all is the same as not drinking too much for non-alcoholics. And that is the control of the mind that Havamal tells us to hang on to. So again we see this wisdom and self-knowledge in place. Then, on top of this acceptance, we have to make steps toward getting sober and staying sober. It is a daily recognition of our faults. Many also have depression and other mental illness or disorders that make the desire come to the surface again and again and must be battled as it comes when it comes to fight another day. For many it also involves swearing to yourself and your family and loved ones that you will not drink again. When you go through a 12 step type program, it also includes swearing to your gods that you will not drink again as well. So no matter how you spin it, it is a form of oath-keeping. Isn’t that one of the key traits we strive for in Heathenry? Are you really willing to mock someone for not putting themselves in a postion where they may break an oath? Are you willing to put them in that situation yourself? Why risk it?

So when you prepare your celebrations and blots and rituals and everything else for this (or any) time of year, don’t ask questions or get uptight if someone doesn’t want alcohol. Truthfully, it is not any of your business why someone doesn’t want to drink to begin with. There are many reasons why. They could even just not be in the mood. Why does it matter? But when you do know they are in recovery, you are actually encouraging them to go against our ways by mocking them for it or telling them to just toughen up about it. You are asking them to go against “the words of the high one” that you claim to hold so dear. You are asking them to ignore their own wisdom in exchange for your opinion. That is the least spiritual way to handle it. So why not go ahead and prepare for just incase by having virgin mead and non-alcoholic options? Yes, even in rituals and blots when possible or needed. Isn’t part of hospitality being fully prepared for all guest? Now, it doesn’t have to be fancy or hard to find. It can be apple cider or juice or anything that fits the purpose of the celebration that just happens to not be real alcohol. I have used sparkling grape juice in place of wine for decades even before sobriety because we always had kids involved. You can go online and find recipes for non-alcoholic mead specifically. I will probably post one or two later in the week if you’d like to check back. Either way, please do consider having these alternatives. And whether you offer them or not, at least be sure to not question and not shame anyone who does choose not to partake. And most importantly, try to consider and even honor the fact that for some people, not drinking IS part of how they honor both themselves and the gods by the shear act of staying true and consistent to their sobriety. So now it is Autumn, let’s all raise a horn and toast… with virgin mead.

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  1. This post deserves standing applause!

    I recently decided to go alcohol-free. A lot of thought and confronting personal truths led to that decision. And… every one of my Gods and Goddesses was immediately supportive. Yes, even Odin, who used to get a shot of whiskey each Wednesday. I’d been afraid, wondering what I would offer to the Deities? But the transition to different kinds of offerings has been surprisingly easy thanks to Their understanding.

    Looking forward to your virgin mead recipes. IWNDWYT.


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