If there’s one positive to come out of some of the more bizarre news in the online Pagan and witchcraft communities this weekend, it’s that it brought many of us together in conversation. Yesterday a relatively new Pagan posted in a local FB group about the whole “hexing the moon and the Fae” nonsense, but it turned into a really great conversation about my relationship to spirits. When she asked what I do with my offerings the next day, it made me realize I never wrote about it before, but it’s such a basic thing! We polytheists wax poetic about offerings, but seldom share how to handle the aftermath, especially in our homes.
As an ADF Druid strongly influenced and inspired by Irish culture, I make daily offerings to the Three Kindreds – the Land Spirits, Ancestors, and Shining Ones. Basically, I do this to maintain a bond but also to show gratitude. So often, new Pagans conflate giving as something you do to get something else in return. While that certainly occurs, and while I also pray that the Kindred bless and protect us, I put more emphasis on thanking them for what I’ve already received. But what happens to those sacred gifts afterward? I believe how we clean our altars is yet another way we demonstrate respect for the land and spirits. Whether you’re planning what to offer outdoors or how to dispose of items from indoor spaces, you need to consider various factors.
- What are you offering? Is it potentially dangerous to wildlife (chocolate)? Are the seeds you’re offering able to germinate? Are they potentially invasive? Is the material biodegradable? If so, will it break down quickly or slowly and end up as long-term litter? Plastic items should not be offered. Just don’t. Opt for natural materials and truly demonstrate respect for the Earth!
- Where are you placing your offering? Do you have an outdoor space where natural items can go back to the Earth? Do you have a fire pit? If not, you may want to find peace with putting offerings down the sink, in the garbage or, even better, community compost. After a day or so, I believe the Kindred have already taken the spiritual essence of the gifts. Just as I would clean up after feeding family, we need to do the same for our divine allies. Develop a prayer for such chores and clearly state that the items are going back to the Earth. If you have access to an outdoor space, consider whether or not it’s shared. What was a divine gift in your eyes is litter or a potential pest magnet to others. After all, hospitality is a virtue we should cultivate, and daily offerings of apples under a tree can become a stinky situation fast. Finally, I understand the desire to express gratitude and pray for safe travels when hiking, but just because you’re out communing with nature doesn’t exempt you from the 7 Principals. Familiarize yourself with the “Leave no Trace” philosophy so you don’t end up being part of the problem.
- Is your offering culturally disrespectful? Some types of offerings, even traditional ones, can damage organisms or landscapes. For example, the rag tree tradition in Ireland is very old and has more to do with sympathetic magic, but visitors have begun leaving fabric that can’t easily go back into the land, and it’s damaging the trees! This is incredibly disrespectful to both the flora and fauna, but also the Irish culture! In addition, many polytheists have ceased pouring alcohol on the Earth out of respect to indigenous cultures who find it disrespectful. When in doubt, research. The later may not apply to where you live, but it’s good to know.
If you find yourself running into obstacles, don’t despair! We’re all in a process of learning, and different circumstances will dictate our lives. Some of us can’t have sacrificial fires, or we lack access to green spaces. Sing a song or recite poetry instead. Still feel that giving something tangible is more appropriate? One of my go-to offerings is tea. Once cold, you can pour it into a potted plant (maybe even the very herbs you’re cultivating to make infusions), and it’s safe to put down the drain if needed. Finally, don’t forget service as sacrifice, and definitely follow through. For example, instead of leaving something during your nature walk, give your time and effort picking litter off the trail. The genius loci will likely appreciate that more than a penny or a chunk of your Cliff Bar anyway.