Toasting the gods

Toasting the gods

Caroline X wonders why pagan cultures toast the gods before they eat or drink themselves, and decides to give it a try…

I was meditating once, as you do, and at the end I asked “Give me a message”. And, as so often happens when you ask for something, the message came through clear and simple: “Toast more often”.

I couldn’t see it being much about burned bread, so I decided it had to be about the ritual of saying ‘cheers’ or whatever before you take a drink. So over the next couple of months I started thinking about what it might imply and this is what I came to think…

When you make a toast, you’ re making a wish to the gods and in exchange for the granting of that wish, you’ re offering the first taste of your drink to the gods. That is why you must make the toast before you take a drink yourself: offering a second-hand taste would be insulting. And that is why you do it with alcohol but you do not do it with a cup of tea (say). Alcohol vaporises at around 70 degrees, whereas water stays put till 100 degrees. At room temperature, your drink is gradually evaporating but far more of the alcohol is evaporating than the water; and it is the alcohol that the gods enjoy.

There was a programme on television about the Mexican Day of the Dead, which is on November 1st (day after Hallowe’en) and when Mexicans make ritual offerings to their ancestors. The TV cameras had travelled to a remote village and there a marquee had been set up and it was filled with tables laden with spicy food, prepard by the villagers. The TV presenter rather sneeringly asked a local countrywoman “Do you really believe your ancestors eat this food?” The countrywoman answered “Of course they don’t. But they enjoy the savour of the food.”

And there’s the secret. The dead, the spirit world, the gods cannot eat food or drink drink but they can live off its scent, its spice, its volatility. If you want to attract or to please spirits (and gods and the dead), offer them scented flowers (like at funerals) or burn them incense (like in Catholic churches) or offer them evaporating alcohol.

So what you’re doing when you toast is you’re making a wish and you’re asking the gods to grant it. And in order to attract their attention or in payment for the wish, you offer them something they can enjoy. And the rule is the stronger or spicier or more volatile the drink the better. Wine is good but champagne is better. Vodka is OK but brandy and sherry and port are better. Fruit juice is not acceptable and water (I’m sorry) is definitely out; so far out, in fact, that there is a superstition that if you toast with water, somewhere in the world a sailor will die!

There are two reasonings with the chinking of glasses. One says you should not chink because it is an old sailor’s superstition that glasses chinking means unsteadiness and that means a storm. But the other says that chinking (especially the nice bell-like sound from lead crystal glasses) is like ringing a little bell and we know from magical practices (mostly Buddhist) that little bells are often used to call the attention of the divine. On balance, I would say chinking is good.

Toasting is the commonest magical ritual we perform. We do it with friends. We do it when we are enjoying ourselves. We do it very often when we want to wish well for others. It is a lovely thing to do.

So, toast more often…