There are four principle rituals of religious devotion in TFA: Wirdskapon, Fîringa, Offron and Drenken. In this piece we will investigate and describe the first, a most important, custom common and accessible to all adherents on the allodium. Wirdskapon or “the banquet of the household lord” is fundamental to the values of a Frank, a means to exemplify the noblesse of one’s Hîwiskî (family) with decorum at the festive board.
At first glance, Wirdskapon may appear as nothing more than a formal dinner. You break out the good chinaware, crack open a bottle of the finest wine and serve a number of luxurious courses to the delight of the household guests. It is all these things, but should not be viewed as a mundane. In the elder age among the Franks of the land, it was primordial to have at the ready all the fixings to host a meal for royal officials and guests of a certain status.
To have the means serve the needs of unexpected guests for a number of days was an important means to have one’s wealth and status exemplified to the world. It was common for the retinue of a count to bivouac in hamlets while they awaited the arrival of supporters or in preparation to make war. It was the responsibility of that community to feed and supply provisions to the Frankish army, for these men of war could not support themselves with agriculture or husbandry on their own. Typically, the Gallo-Roman citizens lived an agricultural life while the Frankish hordes made their living from the profits of the campaign (although by this time, the distinction between Gaul and Frank was minimal). In this a tenuous relationship developed between the tenants of the land and the retinues of big men, each using the other and offering a service in return.
The royal court was also a circuit court, where the king would move his seat from one location to another throughout the kingdom. When the court arrived in a given location, it offered a boon to local economies as well as a strain on the provisions the community needed to make it through the year. The royal court offered a first-hand opportunity for local administrators to have litigation cases heard by the highest authority as well as an opportunity for the king to show his grace by way of munificence (pardons, gifts, etc.) Each household could expect to lodge or supply goods and services to the royal host and in such a way, by hosting feasts and hospitality to these officials, the household lord (TFA Hêmahêto) could benefit from the encounter in a variety of ways.
There also existed a profoundly important feasting custom at the royal demense, where hospitality and gifts were exchanged between nobles and magnates from distant foreign lands. A taste of local wines and meats could be returned with gifts of fine linens, perfumes, exotic animals or even precious jewelry for the treasury.
Wirdskapon is the ancient form of the ModD “waardschap”, which can be translated in a number of ways, though principally as “banquet”. Another meaning of the word is “innkeeper”, a profession which arose out of the above custom of a household lord (landlord) from capitalizing on the receiving of strangers and providing them hospitality for a return. Wirdskapon is a composition made of the OFrk “Wird” (household lord) and “Skap” (-hood), thus “the act of being a household lord”. If in time this “act of being” became synonymous with providing a gracious meal, then to hold a banquette was the epitome of lordliness.
In the many sermons of Gallic Christian fathers and royal decrees, there is an often repeated denouncing of feasting on sacrificial meats and wine. This could be a meal shared in a cemetery with the dead or at shrines dedicated to pagan divinities. Caesarius of Arles was most prolific, notably in his sermons 54 (6):
“It further occurs to me that some people through either simplicity or ignorance or, what is certainly more likely, gluttony, do not fear or blush to eat of that impious food and those wicked sacrifices which are still offered according to the customs of the pagans. I exhort you, and before God and His angels I proclaim, that you should not come to those devilish banquets which are held at a shrine or fountain or trees. Moreover if anything of them comes to you, shudder and reject it as though you saw the Devil himself; refuse it in such a way that you do not permit anything from such an impious feast to be brought into your home.”
It appears as though it was more where and to who the feast was dedicated to that was the principle issue, as similar feast took place at the shrines of Saints and these were encouraged and seen as a blessed experience. One notable difference is that at the Saints’ feasts, roasted meats were often substituted for fish or foul, staying away from pork or red meats. The feasts at the royal court, although touted as secular in nature, featured roasted meats and wine as well as toasts to the health of the king or toasts to various Saints, but these, although discouraged by the church, were often attended by bishops none the less.
In TFA, the Hêlagugest (holy guests) of royal officials, etc. are viewed as a travelling host. It is expected that this host, while travelling the Regnum Francorum Novum will want to find lodging at the bode of the Hêmahêto. In such an event, the household lord is expected to offer them lodging, a formal meal, toasts and gifts and in exchange the munificence of the Hêlagugest will be bestowed upon the host.
The Kalends of March (March 1) was the customary date that the King met with his notables and discussed matters of law and bestowed judgments (at Andernach, Berny and Cologne notably) As such, this date is held as an auspicious one to hold Wirdskapon in the hope that by providing a place for the royal Hêlagugest to perform their duties, they will look favorably upon their host and offer them immunity, casting judgment elsewhere throughout the land. As TFA is a “civic and lawful heathen tradition”, the Capitularies decreed at the courts of the Kalends of March are to be paid careful heed (with an understanding of how to remediate the Christian influences of such laws). Example of such an edict:
“The following was agreed with regards to farfalia (inequity or outrage): that whoever presumes to bring forward farfalia in a court shall without doubt compensate with his own wergild. And moreover let the farfalium be repressed. If perhaps, as happens, the judge gives his assent and agrees to protect that farfalium, let him in all cases face the peril of death.”
In such a case, it is of the utmost importance that, at all times, no egregious outrages be committed in the presence of the Hêlagugest at Wirdskapon. When a meal is shared with the powerful unseen guests, one takes special care not to cause offense or be ungracious. A good way to frame the mind when entering such a holy engagement is to act as though an equally generous and exacting local official comes to visit your home… is this person your employer, a city councilor or a gangster? Either way, to show them great generosity is to win their favour.
An Example of TFA Wirdskapon:
- On a given day considered auspicious to the Hêmahêto, a generous cut of local beef or pork with root vegetables (uncooked) and a goodly measure of strong wine is brought to a holy place (Heiligduom, “temple”) within the vicinity or on owned land (a particular tree, waterway, crossroads, cemetery, rock or shrine) where offerings have been made in the past and the Hêlen of the place are understood as favorable to the Hêmahêto.
- The ingredients are presented to the Hêlen and a blessing is sought, a measure of wine and a number of coins are given as an offering in exchange for the rendering of the meat and wine holy.
- The raw ingredients are returned to the Hêm and carefully cooked in a skillful manner.
- The house is made suitably inviting and the table is set and a place for the Hêlagugest , with fine dinnerware and a full goblet of wine.
- A candle and incense are lit upon the table, lights are dimmed and soothing music is played in the background.
- The Hêmaheto goes to the main door of the house and opens it and invites the Hêlagugest into the home: (an example) “Oh wayward travelers, you regal host! May you find a bountiful meal, goodly company and a full goblet within my home!”
- The Hêlagugest are served their portion first, then, other guests sit at the table.
- The meal begins, good conversation, merriment and plentiful toasts are made predominantly to the Hêlagugest . [Tales of various exploits of ancient Frankish counts, dukes, kings and the like ought to be recited to remind the gathered guests of the glorious deeds of the Hêlagugest (tales of one’s own truthful exploits may be chanced in time, that the holy guests may learn of our deeds). Songs and other entertainment are encouraged.]
- After a great evening and that all are over-full with meat, vegetables and wine, the Hêmahêto rises and declares: “To our gracious, munificent, most regal and holy guests, it is my pleasure to have offered you my hospitality and this banquet of the finest our Hêm (and Civitas) may have offered your host. It is hoped that our humble stead was a profitable venue for your pressing works. You may feel free to stay the night and depart at your own accord tomorrow (or whatever day is felt best based upon the evening’s unfolding).”
- [Note: it is wise to be observant of any signs or omens throughout the evening and to mind one’s dreams]
- The next morning (or the fitting day thereafter) the main door is opened and the Hêmahêto bids the Hêlagugest farewell with an open invitation to return at their leisure.
Although the concept of Wirdskapon may seem unsettling at first, inviting a host of fickle spectral guests into one’s home… it is important to be mindful that the Hêlagugest are dependent on our hospitality for their continued benefit and that favour will be bestowed upon the fitting host of the banquet. There is an unspoken understanding between both parties that no effort goes uncompensated in one form or another.