Is it Ethical to Offer Silver in Druidic Rites?

Come we now to the well
The eye and the mouth of Earth
Come we now to the well
and silver we bring
Come we now to the well
The waters of rebirth
Come we now to the well
Together we sing!

– Excerpt from “The Portal Song” by Ian Corrigan

This post may be controversial, but it’s something that must be examined.

There’s a tradition behind using silver in magical rites.  According to ADF member and author Ceisiwr Serith, there are two theories behind the use of silver with regards to water/the well – one of the sacred hallows in ADF tradition.  He says:

There are two basic theories as to why silver is put in the  well, and
what is done with the silver afterward will depend on which theory is  used:
1.  The silver consecrates the water.  If this is  the theory, then the
silver is reused.
2.  The silver is an offering, either to beings  associated with the
well or to the water or well itself.  In this case the  silver is not reused,
and is eventually disposed of either by casting it in the  water or burying

Since coming to Druidism and embracing it as my spiritual path, I have utilized the second theory.  At Muin Mound, we offer silver to the well with the view that it consecrates it but also, I think, as an offering to that hallow.  The silver is placed down a shaft as is traditional in many groves.  Offerings of precious metals is historical.  There are lakes and bogs full of gifts given by the Celts.  Modern Druids have adopted that practice.  On the ADF e-lists, the subject often comes up – “Is it environmentally friendly to offer silver?”  It ping-pongs back and forth but it’s usually accepted that the small amounts we put in aren’t dangerous and that silver has been used for hundreds of years to purify water.  That’s all fine and good – but why does the discussion always stop there?

The topic has come up again and I shared my qualms about continuing to use silver due to my concerns about mining it.  The topic remained on offerings.  Finally, out of curiosity, I started to look into silver extraction.  Here’s what I shared on the e-list:

Everyone tends to focus on the impact of putting silver back into the earth in the form of shafts or bodies of water.  As I’ve mentioned, I’m interested in the impact of extracting silver.  That should be where our focus is.

I did some digging and found a few resources that could be of interest.

“The Ecologist” explores whether or not silver can be considered ethical.  The biggest argument for calling silver more ethical than other mined resources is reusing it.  We put it back into the ground and buy more to put back into the ground…  Hmmm…  Be sure you go to the end of the article where it talks about labor at the mines.

Then, of course, there is the mining at sites that are sacred to other people:

The more I delve into it, the more I think that offering silver should be one of the practices we “leave behind.”  At least, that’s where I see myself going.  I don’t see how offering something that causes so much damage to the land and other people to be personally acceptable anymore…

To me, it feels hypocritical to continue offering silver. It’s not a renewable resource.  We’re supposed to be an Earth-centered spirituality and living in balance with the Nature Spirits.  Offering silver, at least most of the time, should be left back in antiquity with head hunting.

I could see reusing a silver talisman to consecrate, but making offerings is so central to my practice.  Something I’ve been experimenting with for awhile now, and seems acceptable to the water spirits thus far, is using quartz that I find in the forest on my walks.  I’ll sometimes find a little chunk that is exposed or came loose.  I give offerings of thanks to the Earth Mother for her treasures and use them in magic.  I’ve also been thinking about offering river stones.  I sometimes find beauties along the St. Lawrence river and see the ones that truly call out to me as gifts from the local spirits.  Giving them as offerings could be truly meaningful.  Finally, the local group could commit to cleaning a beach before a high day, then stating that we did so and naming it our offering to the water spirits.

What are your thoughts on offering precious metal to the well during ritual?

* Ceisiwr Serith.  "[ADF Discuss] Silver Offerings."  ADF Discussion List, 28 Aug, 2012.  Web 28 Aug, 2012.  Later in the discussion he says the first theory is 
only based on one source he has come across from Scotland.

Published by M. A. Phillips

An author and Druid living in Northern NY.

33 thoughts on “Is it Ethical to Offer Silver in Druidic Rites?

  1. I’ll be writing my own take on this later today or tomorrow.

    This latest discussion has me thinking about silver offerings in new ways. I do more with consecration than with offering to the well, fire, and tree, simply for logistical reasons, but it’s always good to question, as individuals, why we do the things we do.

    I think you’re right, though — it’s time to make a change. Offering silver is not a sustainable practice. That’s easy for me to say, of course, because I don’t really identify as Reconstructionist, and abiding strictly to historical practices isn’t a powerful part of my practice.

    Ack, I want to say more, but I have to go work! Blog post to come!

    1. You’ve made my day! I felt like I was the only one concerned with this issue. I’m very happy to have company. I think it’s so serious! We have to consider where our offerings come from. Yes, it’s so easy to buy affordable silver beads at the craft store – but it’s so affordable for a reason! The true cost is being inflicted upon the land and the people surrounding the mines. Google search what a silver mine looks like. It’s disgusting! Look at all the crap going into the water for the silver some want to put into the water. It seems like the offering is tainted. Why would the water spirits want that anymore?

      I look forward to your blog post!

  2. I think if the silver (or gold or diamond or anything that is mined) came to you in an honest way, ie a gift from someone or something found, or if it is something you would get rid of because it was tarnished or broken, then it is fine to use it as an offering. But I don’t think we should buy silver just to have an offering. I think the best offerings are the ones connected to us in a personal way- something we’ve made or grown.

    1. I so agree with you on the last point! I think the best offerings are personally grown, harvested, or made. Some things that you buy to offer aren’t as environmentally degrading (such as bird seed or oat meal), but mining metal is a whole other story!

      I can totally see offering a special piece – an heirloom, for example – but I think that would have to be for an extraordinary rite. Thanks for commenting!

  3. I guess my local grove is a bunch of faux-druids, since they use nice shiny current mint US dimes (no silver), and I’m pretty sure they get re-used.

    1. I wouldn’t call them faux Druids. In fact, I did my best not to send that vibe through my blog entry but I could see it ruffling some feathers. I want to get people thinking about what they offer and how they respond to the environmental impact of said offerings – whether it’s how we offer them or how those offerings come to us. Personally, I don’t see the issue in reusing them. In fact, reusing them is arguably more eco friendly and your grove is still making offerings to the Nature Spirits.

      I dunno. I’m still going over it all in my head too. Thank you for responding and give your thoughts on it!

  4. It is interesting what you say, though I follow the example of the ancients. The ancient Celts had no qualms about offering anything of value of any material to the gods, the more valuable the offering the greater the impact the offering was to them.

    1. Is there any situation in which humans should update or change their behavior because of external forces, in your opinion?

    2. I understand that, but the way the ancients extracted the metals was much, much different than it is today. Modern mining is very ecologically devastating more often than not. My post is certainly not meant to point fingers or call others out as being “less Druidic,” but I need to make this change for myself to feel that I’m living in better harmony with the Nature Spirits. I would rather break some traditions and find new ways to honor the Nature Spirits I so desire to live in balance with. Thanks for your thoughts!

      1. I am a traditionalist, so follow established patterns; but I totally understand your position, and there is no wrong in adapting traditions to reflect modern needs and situations.

    3. Thanks again for replying. I think that’s the important thing – we are all looking at what we do, why we do it, and making choices based on our morals, situation, and goals.

      Personally, I utilize reconstructionist methods to better understand my ancestors and ancient Druidism. This informs my modern Druidism. Some traditions just don’t jive with me even though I understand why they were practiced long ago. One example is keeping Brighid’s flame. A lot of evidence suggests that men should not keep her flame. I briefly belonged to an online CR group that vehemently opposed men taking part in that for tradition. That was really the first time I seriously thought about leaving some practices in the past. I’m selective but only when I really feel I should be. Otherwise I try to be as traditional as possible for a modern Druid in America.

      We all do what we must. 🙂

  5. Thank you for this post!!! I’ve always had a difficult time in using silver, but I ‘went with the flow’ so to speak because I am still in learning phase. The ‘why’ I got but the practicality of it was what befuddled me. I understand doing what the ancients did and why it was done, but my whole practice is establishing something that is modern while still honoring the traditions of the ancients…..because I live in 2012, in an urban environment, in Alaska, and my worshiping of the gods should reflect that. You’ve given me another viewpoint towards this topic and definitely something to think about within my own ritual.

    1. Carol, thanks for commenting. I’m really glad you said this and I’m even more glad I spoke up. Sometimes it’s hard to open my mouth on the e-lists. It’s so easy to feel intimidated by people who have been there longer or who are somehow better at communicating! But I had to. I’ve seen this discussion happen too many times and I really needed to dig into it more and then take a stand. It certainly feels good to know I’m not the only one who questioned it. I hope my thoughts have helped you and I hope you keep in touch about your evolving practices. 🙂

      1. I’m chiming in again here, just because it makes me feel better and worse all at the same time to see that you’re also intimidated by the e-lists. That’s a different issue, I know, but how upsetting is it that we don’t feel comfortable speaking up in the lists? :-/

      2. Yeah that kind of sucks… I mean, yes, there are a ton of people on the lists who do genuinely know more than me about certain subjects. Yes, there are dozens of people who are more experienced than me in Druidism. I feel like half of what I want to say I hold back because it’s going to seem so horribly obvious to those folks. The other half I’m afraid to say because of how down right ugly it can get sometimes.

        The flame keeping SIG (which I coordinate) and the artisan guild are both really civil, easy-going lists. I like them… I never feel out of sorts there.

  6. Thank you for posting, Grey. I finally got a chance to read through your blog post again plus through the email thread. I did wonder for a while what the purpose was for the offering. I’m still exploring more reason behind it. I also prefer offerings that have personal meaning and purpose behind it than just because it says so. I believe if you don’t feel comfortable with the offering given because of its origins, then it wont be appreciated or accepted well because of the feeling behind it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. They’re greatly appreciated.

  7. In a world concerned with the spreading of virus and disease, silver is increasingly being tapped for its bactericidal properties and used in treatments for conditions ranging from severe burns to Legionnaires Disease.

    While silver’s importance as a bactericide has been documented only since the late 1800s, its use in purification has been known throughout the ages. Early records indicate that the Phoenicians, for example, used silver vessels to keep water, wine and vinegar pure during their long voyages. In America, pioneers moving west put silver and copper coins in their water barrels to keep it clean.

    In fact, “born with a silver spoon in his mouth” is not a reference to wealth, but to health. In the early 18th century, babies who were fed with silver spoons were healthier than those fed with spoons made from other metals, and silver pacifiers found wide use in America because of their beneficial health effects.

    1. Very interesting! I love learning things like this.
      The purpose of my post was not to say that offering silver is bad, but that modern methods of mining it are not healthy for the earth. It is harming ecosystems and disrespecting sites sacred to indigenous people. Knowing all this, perhaps silver should be reserved for very, very important uses in medicine and the like. We should be recycling it more and extracting less. Even though silver has medicinal uses and may not be harmful to *offer*, it doesn’t mean the acquisition of it is safe.

    1. Kudos to you for writing this!

      Once more I’m so glad to know I’m not alone in the decision to avoid using silver in my rituals. I’ve stopped using most gems for the same reasons – unless I know and trust the origin.

      I think it’s so important to really consider these issues. Otherwise it’s like we’re just “talking the talk.”

  8. I normally only leave biodegradable things, I’d rather offer by doing, by cleaning up. A few times I have given copper coins, once I gave silver, offering my old engagement ring to the spirits of my new home! That worked for me in a number of ways, but it was an exceptional circumstance.

  9. I use a silver coin not as an offering, but to consecrate the water in my Sacred Well on my alter. I reuse it over and over. I see tossing a silver coin into a river (or whatever) as littering. And I simply won’t do it. I made a promise to Nemetona that I wouldn’t litter, and that I will clean up litter that I find. That promise trumps ADF tradition on this issue.
    You said: “..but it’s usually accepted that the small amounts we put in aren’t dangerous.” – But many drops make an ocean. I do think it is a practice that needs to be left behind.
    I do like your idea of offering river stones to the Well. I would obviously have no problem returning those to Nature as on offering. I only re-use a silver coin because it is tradition to use silver. But should be be blinding following this without question? Raping the Earth for silver to make a coin which we will then litter Her with is very wrong in my eyes.

    1. Thanks for the reply, Adara!

      When I mentioned that small amounts are accepted and not seen as dangerous, I was trying to express what others have said to explain away the practice whenever the concern is brought up. However, I am with you 100%. Actually, another ADF member brought up this point exactly on the e-list today. He imagined a backyard pond and a family tradition. He worried what years of that tradition in the same pond would do to the ecosystem. And he is so right to wonder that! I think some people have a difficult time realizing that, just because something came out of the Earth, doesn’t mean it is Earth friendly – either the taking or the returning. There are a lot of natural resources that are dangerous. If we can’t make the changes within our own lives, what hope is there of ever living in better harmony with the Earth?

  10. I wondered about the use of silver some time back and remember a discussion on the lists about it. At the time, people were pretty accepting of my opinion that silver isn’t the greatest and It was even recommended that I use mint in its place, which has become my practice.
    After studying photography back when it was film, there were a lot of discussions about that sustainability and safety of it. We definitely didn’t let the silver leavings from our film processing go down the drain – they had to be caught and recycled because it was bad for the environment. And also, it was enough silver to fetch a pretty penny, as it were.
    However, it never occurred to me that the mining itself is also problematic so thanks for that insight. Another reason why I won’t use silver.

    1. Hey there,

      I saw some discussion about silver in photography as I searched for resources. I never realized it was used for that until this came up! I didn’t delve too deeply into that subject, so thanks for shedding more light on it.

      The mint idea is really nifty. It appeals to my green thumb.

      Once more, I’m very glad to know I’m not alone on this issue. Thanks so much for commenting with your own insights and ideas!

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