Taking a quick break here from working on the last couple of chapters of New Paths to Plant and Fungus Totems before I turn the manuscript in. I’m writing about treating the leaves and caps and such of physical plants and fungi as sacred remains, much in the same way that I work with animal parts as sacred remains.
I was writing about how some people leave offerings of food out for gods, spirits and the like, either to be eaten in ritual, or to be given to wildlife. In addition to not being good for the wildlife–making them lose their fear of humans by associating us with food, encouraging them to sneak around human habitations and trash cans in search of food, and potentially feeding them something that makes them sick–it’s not very respectful to the animals, plants, and fungi whose remains went into making that food. So what do we offer those spirits and beings? At what point do we stop taking things from one set of spirits to give to others, and simply give of ourselves?
This is why I prefer offerings of actions to things. If I volunteer my time or money to a cause sacred to that god, spirit, etc. then it’s me making the primary sacrifice. Yes, I am alive because I’ve eaten and otherwise consumed many other living beings, but that’s the way of the world. Offerings are above and beyond what’s necessary. What can we give of ourselves that isn’t necessary, but meaningful nonetheless?
Alright. Back to book-writing.
Good point. Out in the woods, or living besides them – don’t feed the wildlife. All that’s far less of a concern in the city where the critters discovering people food is normal. Also, you can put out very small amounts, being sure that it’s not stuff that’d poison wildlife.
Birdfeeders are a nice add-on.
I was glad to see the suggestion of giving of yourself by donating your time and/or talents to various causes that honor in some way the deity you wish to give an offering to. It has always bothered me on a deep, fundamental level that we tended to just keep passing pain down the food chain. Your suggestion would eliminate that and bring a true measure of joy to both the giver and the recipient.
This should be another great book; I don’t think the subject of taking from one set of spirits for another is addressed (enough, at least). Ritual includes concrete actions people take to fall into sync with the energies around them. Ritually offering food is very concrete, but has some pitfalls. Giving of your time or money is excellent, but can be difficult to offer during the actual ritual. When I donate money I will draw out a copy of the check I’m sending off and burn that in ritual. Something meaningful gets done during ritual but the actual offering finds fruition where it belongs.
The traditions I am used to focus on giving physical offerings and occasionally I will be “out and about” and stumble upon a place where I feel I should give something, but I didn’t bring anything and anything I could potentially give is already part of the spirit of that place. I can’t go into someone’s home, pick up one of their books on the shelf and say, “Hey, I got you something!” and I can’t do that same thing with spirits of place out in the world. I’m left asking myself, “What is it that I have to give in this moment?” I’ve found that song is very often a good simple gift.
Reblogged this on lokastrommablog and commented:
I think it a good idea for all of us to examine how ‘harm none’ is played out in our practice. I’d never givena thought to this aspect of my offerings until this small article. Enjoy!
Thank you for this post. It has given me some food for thought. I will admit that I hadn’t thought of offerings this way, but when you put it that way, it is such a simple concept, I cannot fathom how I hadn’t realized it before. Thank you.
Thank you for your post. I’m also thinking many people put offerings out in places not their home. If someone isn’t returning there day after day, then they’ve littered or left it out to turn nasty, which doesn’t honor anything. When in the wild, the rules are “don’t take more than photos or leave more than footprints” (if they leave love in spirit, that’s alright, too, naturally.)
One kind of offering that goes over BIG with Genius Loci is if visiting a place that has somewhere to stuff a few bucks for it’s upkeep, like if it has a box at the visitor’s center or there’s fundraising for some maintenance work – to do that, even at museums. Even a little is better than nothing.
These really pleases beings. It’s so polite, both to the human caretakers of the land and the Genius Loci.
I agree that food is often not an appropriate offering. As you say, it’s really hard to go “hey I got you something!! :D” when you’re really just taking from someplace else!
(Though once I did bake a tiny apple turnover for a birch tree…. because she asked for it.)
Aside from the impact on the land, my guides have also encouraged me not to use that kind of literalism in my work. The spirits don’t need to be fed with food, they want to be fed with MEANING. That’s one of our unique jobs as humans! To MAKE MEANING! The spirits are so grateful to see that there are still those of us who speak the ancient language of myth, symbol and archetype.
So even when my offerings are made of substance (shells, feathers, what-have-you), the substance is not the offering. The meaning and intent is the offering.
Beauty itself is an offering, as well!! The spirits love to see that we care enough to craft a home environment that is uplifting and conducive to our physical, emotional and spiritual health. They love to see that we can shape the land to be beautiful and healthful for all its inhabitants. They love to see us care for the sacred remains of our brethren by crafting beautiful objects that hold our prayers for highest-good.
So yes, sometimes I will pick up an object and offer it to a being a bit further down the trail. (The other day I found a feather in my path, and offered it to my friend Willow in thanks… because she has been teaching me how to use Air to channel, energize and direct my Water energy appropriately.) If I’ve got a bit more time, I like to construct little art installations in the woods, using gently-gathered fallen objects. Sometimes “fairy huts”, or sometimes little altars. Beauty. Meaning. A place for spirit to dwell.
Kindness is an offering. At the grocery store or in the woods, pay attention! How do the beings around you most need and want to be met?
Appreciation and gratitude are offerings. Taking the time to watch, REALLY watch the sunset, or smell the roses, or say grace before we fully savor all the farm-fresh flavors on our plate… We are offering our attention to Spirit, engaging our full being, being present.
So, prayers are offerings. Altars are offerings. Gardening is an offering. Bouquets are offerings. Ritual itself is an offering. Hospitality is an offering. Making spiritual artifacts is an offering (as you do so beautifully, Lupa.)
These are our calling cards. These tell the spirits that we are here and awake, that we are actively engaged in the flow of meaning… so they know where to find us and in what way we most need to be met.
Really, I’m coming to see “offering” not as something I do in isolation, but as a way to let Spirit flow through me throughout the day. How can I honor the sacredness of THIS moment?