The Symbel: Pandemic Edition

Fourteen years ago, when I was in Paris, I decided to recreate The Symbel, a Norse ritual introduced to me years ago by my friends Kerry Noonan and Steve Wehmeyer when they were Ph.D. students in folklore at UCLA. Quoting the original blog post:

Everyone sat in a circle around the fire. It started with a round of dedication to the gods. When the horn of alcohol was passed to you, you declared your dedication to a god, and you sealed it with a drink before passing the horn to the next person. The next round was the bragging round. One bragged of their accomplishments during the year, drank to them, then passed on the horn. In the last round, one made oaths for the coming year. When the symbel ended, we poured the remaining alcohol on the ground as an offering to prove to the gods we weren’t greedy.

It isn’t necessarily the historical or “correct” way to perform a symbel. However, at the time I needed to focus on the positive things that had happened that year. (Although, come the fuck on. I was in France, writing, drinking, and living my best life. I must have been wallowing in some kind of weird self pity.)

The Symbel

But this year was different. Shit got real as hundreds of thousands of Americans died, and we turned into a nation of ghosts. The anxiety, the exhaustion, the isolation—burdens were never ending. The challenges wrung the positivity from my soul at every turn. I found myself working every healthy coping mechanism (and some not-so-healthy) I’d ever learned to keep from disasterbating as I always do.

As a result, the Symbel feels more phoenix rising from the ashes rather than standing on a pile of dead enemies after a war. I still feel the need to do it, though. It’s especially important now during a year that I largely spent cooped up at home, broke as dirt.

The Dedication Round

I dedicate the coming year to Cernunnos, the god of the forest. The Horned God. The Lord of the Wild Beasts. He is also associated with travel, treasure, and mediation between humanity and the forest. This year I became aware of how deep and broad my Celtic heritage is. Shortly after the revelation, he appeared in one of my meditations, and now I return to him every time I meditate. May I one day soon see him again in Paris, where his image resides on the Pillar of the Boatmen alongside Jupiter, and Castor and Pollux, in the Musée du Moyen Age. (Drink!)

The Bragging Round

I’ve made more money with my creative writing this year than I have in 20 years. (Drink!)

I signed a very special contract that I can’t discuss, but it brought me a lot of light this year. (Drink!)

I started writing stories for Shortz, and learned a new form of storytelling. (Drink!)

My first story for Shortz landed in the Top 3 Most Read Stories. (Drink!)

I had two short stories published, both in crime fiction anthologies, which is a first for me. (Drink!)

I had a story published in an anthology with one of my favorite authors, Joe Hill. (Drink!)

I had a story published in an anthology edited by another author I love, Heather Graham. (Drink!)

I began learning Scottish Gaelic, which is insanely hard. (Drink!)

I outlined my first cozy-caper novel. (Drink!)

I started a TikTok account and have a post with over 20,000 views. (Drink!)

I became certified as a UX Writer, with an “A” grade on my final project and a score of 98.5% on my final exam. (Drink!)

I wrote and designed a new UX-friendly resume using new-to-me software called Lunacy. (Drink!)

I didn’t go bankrupt. (Drink!)

I didn’t lose my house or my car. (Drink! Drink!)

Snowblind, the third book in the Bloodline of Yule Trilogy, came out! (Drink!)

A secret community project I spearheaded 3 years ago wound up having a HUGE win that ultimately benefitted the entire state of California. (DRIIIIIIIIINK!)

I helped get two beautiful Bengal kitties adopted. (Drink!)

I have fabulous pandemic hair. (Drink!)

I didn’t kill my noisy neighbors when they threw pandemic parties. (Drink!)

I grew closer to my handsome, sweet husband, and we had lots of fun. (Drink!)

Shot my first-ever footage for an award-winning film in the 48-Hour Film Project. (Drink!)

I baked six apple pies and (as of tonight) three trays of apple bread using apples from our tree. (Drink!)

I helped Robie go into remission from diabetes. (Drink!)

My freelance business started to pick up despite the pandemic. (Drink!)

I learned to reach out to my fellow writers for help when stuck. (Drink!)

I’ve at long last figure out how to write the memoir I’m meant to write, and I am 20,000 words in. (Drink!)

I started writing a collection of haiku based on Japanese blades. (Drink!)

David Gerrold said I was a great writer, and I didn’t even bribe him with chocolate! (Drink!)

The Oath Round

My first oath is to finish a draft of the new memoir by March 26, 2021, which is the 25th anniversary of the life-changing event that concludes the memoir.

My second oath is to write more poetry, in particular poems I can submit to the HWA poetry showcase, but also the haiku collection.

My third oath is to continue studying Scottish Gaelic.

My fourth oath is to take care of myself as best I can, because while this Symbel and the year might be over, nothing else is…



Today, I took the ring to the very frou-frou jewelers today, Pellegrine. They might not be able to repair the ring. If not, we’re going to wait until I return to Los Angeles and take it back to Antiquarius.

Afterwards, I hung out at L’Elfike for a few hours, talking to my goth friend Ange. She helped me understand some of the sentiments towards the Arabic immigrants. Apparently, she’s been attacked and robbed on multiple occasions by young Arabs and the police won’t do anything about it. She works bad hours, too, making her especially vulnerable to this kind of violence. She’s very happy Sarkozy is in office because he wants to clamp down on immigration and, more importantly, create jobs. She told me that the older Arabic folk — those over 30 years old — were great people because they choose to learn the language and assimilate into French culture, but that the younger Arabs were a nightmare across the board. I discussed this with The Frenchman, and he believes the reason the younger people are committing crimes is because — hello! — they can’t get jobs due to discrimination and all the other economic problems. According to Ange, they’re only discriminated against because they refuse to learn the language and the customs. She asked me how I’d feel if someone came to the U.S. and refused to learn English whilst demanding social services and committing crimes. Honestly, it would be difficult for me to accept. The Frenchman and his colleagues, however, seem to believe it’s far more complicated than that. It’s always more complicated, that’s for sure.

Meanwhile, Ange is asking the owner permission for me to take photos of the interior of the bar. You have no idea how beautiful it is. These photos will not be on Flickr, as a promise to the owner, who fears their use in magazines trashing the gothic culture in his club (sound familiar, Los Angeles club owners?). They’re for my private research when I write SECRETS FOR MELUSINE. Ange seemed to dig the story premise a lot. I’m terribly grateful for her help.

Ange also introduced me to a real live pagan! Woo! His name was Mark, and he said there were maybe three or four pagans in all of the South. However, up north there were a great many pagans, especially in Brittany and Paris. Once a year, they hold an exposition with ceremonies so that pagans can meet one another. Sort of like Pantheacon in San Francisco.

And, yes, I had all of these conversations in French. It was exhausting.

Must do more writing before I fall over and sleep another night.