Monday, 28 March 2011


I have mentioned in the previous article, the drinking tradition known amongst the Franks as wesheilinga, here I would like to highlight some examples which have survived into the written record. Each of these have been pulled from Origine et formation de la langue Francaise by Joseph Balt. Some of the exerpts, such as the lai du cor date from as far back as the 12th century, which by no means puts us in the period of the pagan Franks, but it does show the survival of a tradition which may well stem from those days.

In the Lay of the Horn, a mysterious page has been sent to King Arthur with a drinking horn. He said that whoever could drink the entire horn would win the lead of a faithful host to the end of his days. King Arthur then grabbed the horn and furiously began to drink it down. But he had underestimated the feat and became soaked in wine, from his feet to his head. Guenevere then pleaded with the king to give up, but instead he forced the entire host to drink as he did. None was successful, which showed that each and every one of them was unfaithful to the other. Only the knight Caradoc and his wife could finish the horn and for their efforts they were offered a fiefdom and the magical horn itself.

This story highlights a few points. For one, when the king drank, all drank as well. The phrase which is used to describe the process is:

"When the king said wessail ,
the horn went to his lips"

This demonstrates the point very well and inculcates the necessity in fulfilling one’s role in the custom. Another example here is drawn from ‘A song to celebrate Christmas’:

"My lord, I say to you and your host this Christmas,
For you are one who drinks well;
I will drink mine,
then you will drink yours;
If I call out to you: Wesseyl (Wes heil)
Reply to me: Drinkeyl (Drank heil)"

Once again we see the obligatory nature of the custom, which must be fulfilled by the King as well or face a similar charge unkweðanlīk.

From the ‘Rom. de Brut’:

"The custom, my lord, in his lands,
is that when friend drinks, the other does as well,
for if he says wes hel;
A drink hel he must be replied,
until they have each drunk their half,
for joy and amusement,
when he receives his hanap (drinking vessel)
it is customary to embrace (as in hug)"

This hug demonstrates the close and intimate nature of the wesheilinga. Even if the hall was filled to the rafters and the sound would be deafening, this would still be an intimate moment among kin. 

 Another source from ‘Rom. de Renart’:

"If I hand you the hanap and say "take",
then my friend, I am telling you guersai (Wes Heil)"   

In summary, what we can say about this custom is that it is a close and intimate ritual which may take place among two men (women) or more. It is compulsory for the participant to drink once he has been told to ‘take the hanap’ and to ‘be hale’. This could also happen spontaneously and without warning. But even though, the rules must be abided. It is also incumbent upon the host or offering party to not force his guest into an uncomfortable position for once the deed will have been done, he may never come back. It is also interesting to note that the wesheilinga custom was forbidden by Charlemagne as he claimed it was too ungodly. The truth is however that he did not want his troops coming to the frontline hung over due to a heathen custom.

Have fun and Wes Heil!


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