As we explained in this week's cover story, Houston's population of real vampires, those individuals who believe they must feed on the psychic energy created by other living beings to maintain their own sense of physical and emotional well being, are a diverse group.
While modern vampires tend to share some similar beliefs about the nature of that psychic energy exchange, they often follow other spiritual traditions outside of those directly associated with vampirism. Many of Houston's vampires also self identify as pagans, rejecting conventional religions in favor of various forms of polytheism that often include magical practices as part of their observance.
Lord Aramond Van Rahamdalph is the King of the Houston Vampire Court, but he and some court members are also adherents of Asatru, a form of Germanic neopaganism that pays tribute to Norse gods such as Odin. One of the rituals associated with the practice of Asatru is the Sumbel, where mead is drunk from a horn in a series of toasts while members gather around a fire. On a recent Saturday, Aramond and his Vampire Court hosted a Sumbel in the backyard of a house in Pasadena.
Asked what the appeal of Asatru is to his Vampire Court and the significance of the Sumbel, Aramond explains, "Most of this Court is made up of pagans. Myself and the Queen are Asatru, and most of the other members have sort of gone towards that path as well. It's a way for us to get closer with our friends and our family. That's what Sumbel's about."
Each round of toasts has a specific purpose for those partaking in the Sumbel. The first round is a calling down of the gods, inviting them to listen. The second round is for calling the ancestors of those participating, so that they might join the gathering. Next, toasts are made to individuals who have helped steer the celebrant along a righteous path in life or who have brightened their lives in a significant way. The fourth round is for group members to make boasts of the things they have done to improve themselves as people, and the fifth is reserved for thanking the gods. Then there is a final round where the ancestors are released to travel back to where they came from.
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Far from a silly Viking drinking game, Sumbels are a serious form of building the sense of community, while allowing each participant to connect with one another as well as their ancestors and significant people who have positively affected their lives. Even the fire has significance, as Aramond explains.
"That is what we call the Loki Fire. Loki is the messenger of the gods, and whenever we're drinking, we'll take a sip and then offer a sip to the gods by pouring it into the fire. It's a way we can give offering, and since Loki's symbol is flame, it's a way he can be there, and allows the gods to hear us."
The Sumbel allows Asatru members of The Houston Vampire Court to indulge in their pagan rituals, while building bonds among members. At the recent Sumbel, there were vampires attending from San Antonio and Austin, highlighting the way such events help to bring people together, and to allow them to get to know one another.
Aramond is clear about that goal. "It's a way to learn about everybody. Every time you perform Sumbel, there's something that comes up that you might not have known about a person. It gets you that one step closer to understanding who and what they are. It helps build unity."