I posted this over on my Livejournal, but wanted to share it here as well. It’s a paragraph from an essay I’m working on for an anthology:
Too often pagans have the tendency to take and take from the spirits and other beings who help us; too often we forget offerings. Or if we do make offerings, they’re rote and prescribed, and offer little practical aid to the spirits. While there’s nothing inherently wrong, for example, with leaving a place for the genius loci at the table at a feast to celebrate the harvest, this does nothing to relieve the actual soil that grew the food at that feast. We offer the spirits the “spiritual essence” of what we have benefited from, but we do nothing physical to help the physical phenomena that these spirits are attached to. In that, these sorts of offerings are somewhat of an empty gesture if we take both spiritually and physically, but only give back spiritually.*
* Yes, some people like to leave out food from the feast for wild animals as an “offering”. I fail to see how encouraging wild animals to do something mutually dangerous like associate humans with food is an offering, especially when it was the soil and not the animals that made the crops grow.
Updating via iPhone here so pardon any typos.
Although originally many offerings were left in the earth, to say that animals had no effect on crops would be incorrect. There is a whole zoology centered around crop production, not just centered around beasts of burden. Birds such as crows and rooks, field mice, locusts. Their activities could make or break a crop season, and many early animistic cultures would know this.
An obvious example would be the sacred foxes of Inari. Early Shinto practitioners associated them not only with rice, but crops and growing things in general, because foxes active in your fields would ensure less crop damage from vermin. But, bringing in the point you made in the first paragraph, offerings were not left for physical foxes, but rather their divine manifestations.
Good points, but I would recommend the second paragraph be edited to fix this oversight.
An excellent point! I have seen many pagans ignore the “do not feed the bears” signs and place food out in the wilderness … uh, hello?
There are so many better choices for offerings than your rotting leftover sandwich.
I think you make good points as we are not in the kind of culture that once would be able to use the kinds of offerings that are now obsolete. The world is changing, so what now can we do to give back to the Gods? What kind of offerings do you suggest?
We practice lots of little earthy/green ways to contribute. (Limiting plastic use, using our own grocery sacks, reusing to go containers, choosing biodegradable products whenever possible, et..) None of it though could be considered a “formal” or “ritualistic” type offering. I’d love to hear any suggestions, because honestly, this bothers me too.
Solo–While I agree that animals are an integral part of the harvest process and you made a really good point there, I think people often have a tendency to focus on the animals to the exclusion of the other parts of the ecosystem, including the land. It’s still a sort of anthropocentrism where we’re biased toward “beings like us”.
Juniper–This is why I like donations to nonprofit orgs doing the work to protect these species (and to inform them!)
Mia–generally I do things like donations to nonprofit environmental organizations, and whatever volunteer efforts I have the time for, either organized or on my own. However, the everyday activities shouldn’t be overlooked, either, and I find that the efforts are appreciated.