offerings

The Shiny Parts: Devotional Practice to the Dagda

Herein is the thing about being given a missive to write a series of blog posts by one of your beloved Gods, no matter the crazy, or how many obstacles that life throws at you, eventually the work bobs up again. Luckily, the Good God is a patient one and has been incredibly helpful and kind in recent times when I have needed support. But enough that, back to the task at hand!

When I last left you wonderful folks, we had talked about Learning being the starting point of connection to the Dagda and how that never ends. Which means you should still be on that Learning track, yes? Good.


We had also talked about the Work, and how after learning you then have to actually apply that into Doing. The “what” wasn’t as important as the act of breaking out of the theoretical and rolling up your sleeves to work. That my friends, is also an ongoing process, so I expect you are all merrily working a long.

But I know that those two things aren’t as satisfying an answer as some might be looking for in regards to making a connection with the Dagda. You might look at those two things and think that sort of spirituality or religion wouldn’t look any different from others on the outside. It’s too simple. Which to be fair, it is, but honestly that is the core of my devotions to most of my Gods and specifically to the Dagda. It’s not fancy. It’s not complicated. If I just had books, the internet, and living my life, that would be enough. I could still do it all with nothing on a desert island at this point, actually. Just with the knowledge and what I have learned thus far in my head. That’s honestly my goal. To be able to take my Gods and their teachings with me anywhere and without need of anything more than myself.

“But Branwen!,” I hear you say, “You are notorious for carting around all kinds of ridiculous accoutrement over hill and dale regardless of the weight!” You aren’t wrong. I do. Happily. Gladly, and I like to think with panache. But I am a firm believer in knowing the basics, know the roots, and THEN go hog wild and dress it up however you fancy. The heart has to be strong and in alignment, otherwise everything else is just glamour and shallow.

That being said, if you have made it this far, questing traveller, then you get to read me prattle on and on about all the trappings and shiny things that I too enjoy and take much reverence in, and do help in their way to build a strong connection.

 

Altars and Shrines – I want to be a Pagan damnit!

dagdaaltar2017

Altar and offerings to the Dagda on his holy day August 9th 2017

I admit it. One of the appeals of being a pagan or a polytheist, for me at least, is embracing an aesthetic that I have always been attracted to and just holds a deeper meaning when added to my beloved Gods. Our aesthetics may vary, but the power of props and surrounding yourself with the visuals and items that make your heart beat and your soul feel bigger can help you to feel more yourself, more powerful, and more in touch with the Gods.

One place to start with this is building an altar or a shrine to the Dagda in your home, place of work, or yard. “What is an altar? what is a shrine?”, you ask. Good question. Ask a different polytheist or pagan and you will get a different answer, but for the sake of this piece and really this blog in general, the following definitions apply (your mileage may vary):

Altar: Is a set space, usually flat (such as a table top, or shelf) where items associated with the Deity are artfully arranged to focus devotional energy and give the Deity the open invitation to come and be at home here. It is a place where offerings can be set, where items can be charged, and where additional spellwork or prayers are worked. An altar can be set up, taken down, rearranged, cleaned, and moved whenever needed. Some of the items on the altar might be the practitioners, some might be dedicated to the Deity, it’s all interspersed and mingled.   

Shrine: Shrines can take many shapes. They can be contained in a open shadow box type construction, on a flat surface, portable, immovable, you name it. They tend to center around a statue or image of the Deity and are the focus of devotional energy for offerings and petitions to said Deity. Shrines undergo a ritual instantiation of the Deity’s energy into the iconography so they know they are always welcome here and the prayers and offerings are being made directly to them. Offerings and prayers can be left at the shrine and usually collect until a specific time when the shrine is cleaned and the offerings are ritual disposed of. Most items on a shrine are considered property of the Deity.

If either of these call to, you then go for it! They don’t have to be big and should fit into your lifestyle and needs. I don’t personally prescribe to any “You must have X, Y, Z, to be an altar”. My altars have changed and shifted depending on my moods, needs, and just where we are in the year. There is not a lot of historical evidence for what might have been on an altar in Ancient Ireland or even if altars were a household practice (unless I’m missing something, and if I am and you know of articles and information let me know!). But it is a practice that makes sense and has a cross cultural appeal, so one that I have incorporated into my practice.

altarfromthepastIn that vein of making things work for you, you don’t have to have a specific altar for each individual deity. But maybe you want to give it a try and set up a space just for the Dagda when you are starting this new relationship, or deepening it. Even if it is just a specific corner of a larger altar. Go with what works for you.

You might want to start with an item or image of an item that you particularly associate with the Dagda.  A piece of artwork that really calls out to you and evokes those same feelings you get when you read his myths and stories.

My friend Marjorie, has a great practice of creating collages of different images that then help to evoke the different aspects of the deity. You can see things like this on Tumblr a lot. She prints them out and puts them in frames for the altar. Not sure where to get started? Feel free to look through my An Dagda pinterest board. Those are all images that stand out for me.

The other idea that stands out and is one that I immediately took to was getting a cauldron (or fifty), because of his association with the Undry, the cauldron of plenty, as one of his many treasures. Cauldron’s don’t have to come from a witch shop, don’t have to cost a lot of money, and really lots of vessels can become cauldrons if you decide to make them that. I suggest checking out your local thrift stores regularly for some finds. Usually they appear in the home decor or flower pot area. You can find some great brass ones. But do not be daunted, until a cauldron catches your eye a lovely deep bowl can easily serve as a cauldron. I have several wooden bowls that shapeshift from cauldron, to bowl, to well, as needed.

What other items jumped out at you in the myths and lore that you are reading?

It was important to me to have a representation of the Dagda’s club, the lorg mór. That’s not something that I felt I could just find in a thrift store or order online. So I went out to my local woods and spent some time looking for the right branch, and fashioned it into my own little mini club that fits on the altar to represent the lorg mór and the power of life and death. This neatly combines all the previous steps we talked about in devotions to the Dagda. I learned about the club, learned it’s name the lorg mór (working on being able to pronounce this regularly). Then decided I need to go out and create an icon of it. Went out in the woods, spent some time thinking and praying to him. Then spent the time and devotion making the icon. The act of creating an altar is an act of devotion. You can layer it with as much energy, love, and dedication as you feel called to do.

dagdacauldronandclubSome other associations that I make that you might look over for your own altars are listed below. I noted if things that are purely UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis) and you can go ahead and ask me about anything you like:

Cauldron
Irish Harp
The Club
Boars/Pigs
Horses
The color red (this is not solely the Dagda but UPG particularly for dark ruddy clay red)  Red Jasper and Tiger Iron (UPG) Oak Trees
Sid in Broga, Brú na Bóinne, Newgrange (It should be noted that the Brú na Bóinne changes ownership to Aengus, his son in the lore but I still feel there is that familial connection) because of this UPG for the Newgrange spiral being associated with him
Oats
Bread (UPG)

So go out. Look around your house. Embrace your local thrift store. Patron your favorite artists. Create a little Dagda space in your life. Embellish it with the style and fashion that is you. For me that involves furs, leather, antlers, bones, horn, rocks, and metal items. But maybe you are a more clean lined modern aesthetic. Go for it. Then use it!

If it’s an altar, I will put the books that I am studying Irish culture and lore on it for the Dagda to give me a little insight into the. I put my jewelry that I would like blessed by him up there too. If an Oak tree gifts me with a leaf or acorn on my daily walk I set it up there in appreciation. I make sure to pour and give offerings.

It’s a place to come to and say prayers specifically for him. A focus point to seek guidance and do divination readings to get messages from the Good God. Keep it clean. Keep it well loved and hopefully it will serve you well in return.

Offerings – Connection through Giving

Above in the altar and shrine section, I mentioned that being a place to set out offerings, but what exactly is an offering? What is a good offering for the Good God? What do you do with it? All excellent questions. Let’s discuss below!

What is an offering?  

It occurs to me now, that it would be interesting to go through and look to trace down the archaeological, folklore, and mythic, examples of offerings and offering practices in Ireland throughout history. Suffice to say I have not done that yet but it does make me happy to think about. In any event. Offerings is the practice of giving a gift of reciprocity or an act of propitiation to spirits and deities. It is a spiritual practice that has deep roots in many human cultures and is still seen in Irish folklore and wisdom in leaving milk and butter out for the Good Folks. Below I’m going to link to two excellent articles that cover more history and depth of what a offering is and I highly suggest anyone unsure or curious to go ahead and give those a read and then come back.

Tairis article on Offerings

Morgan Daimler’s Offerings to Gods and Spirits

For me and my practice, offerings are how the connection with my Gods are maintained. It’s how we keep in touch. It’s how I show them I revere and am devoted to them. It’s how I ask for their blessings. It really is that simple.

What is a good offering for the Good God?

The good news is that if you have already started on the Learning and Working parts of this particular series then you, my friend, are already making offerings to the Good God. Congratulations!

That being said, the articles above talk a lot about tangible (largely food) based offerings, so let’s go over some options and ideas for that and then we will talk about the non-corporeal type offerings afterwards.

dagdaofferings
As you read in those articles, and if you are reading the lore and stories, I am sure you can imagine that whole milk or cream and Irish butter will never go amiss as an offering. Across the board really. Delving deeper into the stories you might glean some ideas for other offerings yourself. Things like, porridge, pork, baked goods, and stew, all come to mind.

For the Dagda’s holy days, I usually try to make a feast meal that I think he would enjoy. Usually pork plays a central role, and from there we add just good well made, well loved food and flavor. Then I make sure he gets the first and best plate. It goes up on the altar and ta da! Offering served.

But making big meals is not really something a person can do everyday. Not that you have to give offerings everyday. There are other options that I use on a more regular basis that are more liquid in form.

If you are ok with alcohol, then a good beer, or a good whiskey, or good mead, make for a good offering.
toastingofferings
Food offerings aside, there are other tangible offerings that seem to me to alway be appreciated. These things include devotional crafting/arts. Poetry, calligraphy, artwork, sculpture. If you make something for him. With him in mind. That is a beautiful offering and can also make for wonderful altar additions.

What do you do with the offering?

This comes up the most in regards to the food and beverage offerings. It’s a question that I had starting out and something I’m still evolving in my practice.

For food items, I usually leave them overnight and then either put them in the compost if possible or put them in the bin if not. No one wants molding rotting food on the altar.

Now there are some folks who are in the “offer it to the Gods and then consume it yourself” camp, and there are some in the “if it is for the Gods it is for the Gods” camp. I gotta tell ya that I can see the argument on both sides. From what I can tell the evidence for Irish tradition leans towards the “What is for the Gods is for the Gods” but that doesn’t mean you can’t have your own practice. It means go research, look into the sources, figure out your practice and needs, talk to the Gods and do what is best for you.

I personally let food items be for the Gods, unless otherwise guided in the moment by inspiration. Beverages when out and about, such as at a restaurant and wanting to buy a drink for the Gods, can sometimes fall under the “I drink, you drink.” clause. Above all be respectful and be mindful, and for the love all:   DON’T LITTER.

We have enough going on in climate change, and wrecking our ecosystems and natural resources. There are way more people in the world now, so some practices that were ok back in Ancient times now fall under the umbrella of Littering and please don’t do that.  Lots of the food we eat today causes havoc on local wildlife. Not to mention making a mess in publicly shared nature spaces is just rude. So be smart. Think about the environment. Don’t litter.

Other devotionally created items can make great pieces for your altars or given as gifts to other devotees.

Non-Tangible Offerings

Food and libations make up a good portion of my offerings but by no means encompass all of them. Nor does tangible devotional creations. There is more that can’t be so neatly defined.

As I said at the start of this section, I consider my work to learn the lore and learn more about the Dagda and his people to be an offering. The completion of this particular blog series is also an offering to the Good God and seeing his will be done. If you are dedicating work to him, that in itself is a type of offering.

There are also offerings that come in the form of prayers or songs, these are things that I’ll cover in their own section, but I consider them offerings as well.

But let’s take a moment to think on the idea that the Dagda is a God of Ireland. His lands, his holy places, his people, are based in Ireland. Being a deity that takes great care in life and stewardship of his culture, it very quickly follows that what we can do to support the people and land of Ireland can be made as an offering to the Dagda. For me, that means that I try to make monetary offerings on behalf of the Dagda towards Ireland and her people. Supporting native Irish practitioners and artists. Supporting grassroots movements, heritage sites and environmental organizations helping people, places, and the culture on the ground.

A few of the people, and organizations that I have donated/patroned to:

Irish Peatland Conservation Council

Abortion Rights Campaign

Scealai Beag – Bard of the Dagda

Lora O’Brien – creating Authentic Spiritual Connection to Ireland

Story Archaeology

Taking this all to another layer. After we give offerings to the land and traditions that we are getting so much enrichment from, it then feels like the next step is to apply the teachings and lessons within our own community and local areas.  


For my own practice, living in the Bay Area, something that has come up and just continued to grow in my connection with the Dagda is the complete utter unacceptable way that the homeless and poverty is being treated, or more accurately ignored and abused. I have a lot to say on this topic but suffice to say, that with the Dagda’s connection to plenty, abundance, and hospitality, he ain’t fucking pleased.

This has translated into my giving a monthly donation to my local food bank in his honor as an offering in the name of the Dagda. This also manifests in my more daily life of being aware and kind to the homeless, I give money directly to them when I can, and if I have food in my hands and am asked I will always give it. This is again is done as an offering to the Dagda.

Finding ways that you can acknowledge the teachings you have learned from the Good God in your everyday actions is a wonderful way to have offerings to stay meaningful and to give you something to grow on towards being a better human person.

What can you do to help? What do you want the Dagda to look at see you in action and be pleased with? These are good places to start brewing on!

 


 

There are two more parts that I intended to include in this section. Prayers and Finding Sacred Places. However this section has been sitting on my drive for several months, so I felt like I would just post it and let the other sections come at their intended time. So what I intended to be a 4 part blog will now be a 5 parter. Such is life.

I hope it is of some use!


Devotional Practice to the Dagda: The Call

Learning: Devotional Practice to the Dagda

Doing: Devotional Practice to the Dagda

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Brigid’s Holy Day

As I posted in my last blog, I was part of a group celebration of Brigid on the 1st of February. It was delightful.

For most of the day I was working, so I could not do my usual activities of reverence for Brigid, such as cheese making. However working at the amazing Sacred Well, I was able to utilize our Community Altar room and set out a water offering a candle for Brigid for the day. I also took the liberty of listening to Celtic music pretty much exclusively all day lol. But I eagerly look forward to the end of the day and the small ritual that was planned by our Brigid priestesses.

Under the cloak of darkness by the light of the bountiful full moon our small band of mischief and heart took to the bay, to a much favored spot known by our Cauldron sister Rowan. The moon was a glorious galleon on the foggy sea, luminous and steady. The rocks stood in silent witness as we gathered there on the liminal edge of space and time. The grey cloaked sky melted seamlessly with it’s loving tranquil sea. We had a few items to set up our altar. A bowl filled with precious water collect in that silvery moonlight. Candles to glow, small and cheerful echoing the powerful light above them. Apples and bottles of precious spirits for offerings.

Hail the Lady of fire and spirit. The Exulted One

Hail the Lady of fire and spirit. The Exulted One

We gave thanks and offerings to the three realms for their continued balance in our lives. Our leading Priestess made a heartfelt invocation to her beloved Lady Brigid that pulled down moonbeams on the water and parted the veils to swell our hearts with the power and love of the exulted goddess Brigid. We had gathered petitions and gave offerings on others behalves as well as ourselves. During that quiet time of whispered wishes and tearful prayers, our words were met with the gift of sea birds landing gently on the water. When prayers of health and well being for loved ones trembled from our lips a flock of geese flew out from the bay with hushed grace.

Brigid's Holy day 2015 (2)As our last words of humble reverence and honorings were raised up to the sky, our toes felt the moist touch of the sea that swelled up to meet us. As the tide took out the apples on their playful hands, we dipped out cloths in the waters blessed by Brigid and hurried back to firm ground.

There were many words spoken in sacred communion. Above all we lifted each others name in gratitude and praise and heaped glory upon the Lady of Well and Forge. Our small cauldron of five powerful women prove that with sincerity and devotion much can be accomplished. The rest of the year lays ahead of us, and we fully intend to prove ourselves worthy to be priestesses of our beloved gods. No matter how the year changes, we have made a wonderful start. I am very proud of us.

When I returned home, I had enough energy to set out my cloths and things to be blessed by Brigid that night and light a candle for her. In the morning I tended to my altar and poured her another offering of milk and honey, and set the flowers I had bought in her honor in the Cup of Glory. Simple and yet complete.

A linen shawl made by my grandmother. A cotton cloth made by me. A hair bauble given to me by my dear friend that was bought in Ireland.

A linen shawl made by my grandmother. A cotton cloth made by me. A hair bauble given to me by my dear friend that was bought in Ireland.

No matter what your celebrations looked like, I hope that you are blessed with health and joy at this time of year. May we all feel the hope that spring and the goddess of inspiration can grant us.

Brigid's Holy day 2015 (4)

Sacred Places: Cove Beach

Dark Moon beach 9-13 (15)

I thought it was about time to spotlight one of my dear and sacred places. What perfect timing as I just made a trip out there with Temple Witch to continue with our Dark Moon offerings practice! As you can see the beach has the glorious appeal of having cliffs as well as the Sea, oh but wait there is more 😉

The beach has a official state name, as it is an official state beach, but that name doesn’t seem to sit with it in my mind very well. Originally I was calling it Crab beach because it is a massive grave-site to countless crabs. Literally thousands of crabs from tiny tiny to big ol’ guys carcasses and shells litter the beach. Temple Witch has taken quite a few of the shells home for her own Sea dealings. But that name didn’t last long as the true star of the this amazingly peaceful and treacherous land emerged.

Before I indulge in that I’ll give you a little background. It was Temple and the Giant that found this beach, and were generous enough to share it. Unlike our other Sea haunt of Muir Beach, Cove Beach seems to be at the same time more peaceful, and more active. It is more peaceful in that most of the humans who visit tend to stay within a 100 feet of the parking lot, leaving the whole other side of the beach empty and gloriously isolated for our feasting and pleasure. More active in that the spirits and animals of the place just seem more…restless. It is not uncommon to watch a huge 100+ flock of seagulls diving and feasting on the crabs when the waves hit just so. Or to watch the Pelicans diving not to far off shore and the Gulls clamoring for scraps.    There are often many dead on the beach, not just crabs, gulls and other birds as well. And the turkey vultures always seem to make at least one pass of the sandy area. The waves themselves hit a little rougher, the undercurrent unforgiving and relentless in its want to pull you out. All and all Cove beach is a bit more wild.

Which suits are needs just fine.

Now the title of this wonderful beach is due to its neolithic-style coves that immediately impress the mind with the majesty and beauty of natures temples. There really are no words to describe the joy at seeing this powerful combination of Land, Sea and Sky. So instead I shall show you.

Dark Moon beach 9-13 (6)

Dark Moon beach 9-13 (4)

 

Dark Moon beach 9-13

Dark Moon beach 9-13 (5)

The pictures cannot do it justice. It is primal raw natural energy. It is intoxicating in its simplicity and it’s complexity. It is holy. The first cave (there are several) is accessible at certain times of the year when the tide is farther out. Making it an amazing liminal place, let alone that fact that it is a cove that tapers off into nothing. A true opening to the underground, the other world, the beyond.

There is a lot of evidence of the holiness of these underground spaces. There are huge man made cairns in Ireland and France, neolithic structures many of which are oriented to celestial bodies like the sun and moon. One of the many things that I would like to study more about, the way the sun has a habit of beaming into the cove really speaks to me. Was it finding such a wonder as this that made the Ancients of Ireland decide to build there own? Portals have always been a fascinating feature in the myths and stories, and staring into the darkness at that point when suddenly the crashing waves are muffled, feeling the cold damp and heaviness of rock. I can feel the draw. The pull to somewhere else. Somewhere beyond.

Luckily I have always managed to feel the sun’s call and return back to the glittering passioned sea.

Dark Moon beach 9-13 (1)

One of these days we will get around to holding a ritual in this cave. Temple has long wanted to honor Persephone in this manner, and I know there are several of my deities who would use such a portal as this to be honored. But till that time, we continue to come and leave our humble offerings.

Dark Moon beach 9-13 (8)

I to sign my songs and praises of the Gods that I have oathbound and those who I have not. To feel the warmth of the sun and the strength of the rock, to see the darkness of the shadow and size of the sea. Under the massive cliffs I feel the Morrighan’s watchful eye, the challenge and the expectation forever weighing upon me. I thank the Dagda for his continued blessing, and for the guidance to keep hospitality in my heart. I acknowledge my vows to the Great Queen and know that there is much yet I need to do to be worthy. I turn smiling to the jovial sea and sing flirtatious love songs at the wild outsider Manannan Mac Lir. I give thanks to the beach and the land, those small spirits that have opened up this sanctuary to me.

And I feel blessed.

Dark Moon beach 9-13 (12)

Winter Mountain

The holidays have come and gone and I feel exhausted lol. Yet there is still so much to do. It is a simple fact that I have come to accept that the Winter is not a time of rest and respite for me. For me the Winter is a time of constant movement, creation, and work. It’s crafting, cooking, cleaning, gift making, offering, feast planning work. Work I love, but work none the less.

That’s what I’ve been doing. Crochet, cleaning, cooking, cleaning some more, crafting, offering making, more cleaning, prep work for the new year, and that’s right more cleaning. Which is sort of a vicious cycle in itself, because I clean and realize that I need to reorganize everything but I can’t stop to do that now I have to just get it clean in order to do xyz. I suddenly understand some of my mother’s manic nature.

I’m happy to report that on the whole most of my presents have been shipped and or received  With the exception of a few here and there that need finishing.

This year I made a batch of jerky which was edible but not gift material. The Lumberjack ate it all up and I myself knawed on it happily on the way to work. There is something intensely satisfying about knawing on beef jerky. The way the muscle shreds, the tang of dried meat. I don’t know what it is about it, but I enjoy it a lot. So plan B was enacted and copious amounts of Baklava was made. I have to tell you that nuts are insanely expensive in these neck of the woods, and it was quite a culture shock for me. I spent my teen years out in the farm land where almonds and walnut orchards were everywhere,  so nuts were cheap. This $8 a pound thing was a blow to my poor little heart.

But it was worth it. And the local honey omgs, topping on the cake. Seriously this stuff is just heaven layered between honey and more heaven.

Pistaschios

Heavenly mixture

Nectar of the Gods

Nectar of the Gods

Wrapped in goodness

Wrapped in goodness

Made so much of the stuff, delicious sticky stuff. That I’m surprised that I’m not in a permanent sugar induced coma. Hopefully my Dad will get his goodie package today or tomorrow and it will be up to his standards.

We spent our Christmas up at the Lumberjack’s folks on the Mountain.

Holy Winter Wonderland Santa!

I have never SEEN so much snow. Snowflakes the size of half dollars! It was purely amazing. We even caught full on crystalized snowflakes in our hands. So pretty. It was a white Christmas for me and I could not have been happier.

Winter Wonderland

 

I know that a lot of people don’t seem to enjoy the winter, for a plethora of reasons. But for me, I just continue to fall deeper and deeper in love with it. The clean cutting of the cold. The absolute stillness that seems to only be found on a snow laden night. The way the stars just bite through the sky, and the gleam of ice. There is something dangerous as well as magical about the snowy winter. The same flakes that seem to encapsulate the wonder of childhood and fantasy also hold a real danger of life and death. Something as simple as driving to the store becomes treacherous. Everything takes a little more thought, more preparation. I like that. And along with the danger and the beauty of the cold, is the warmth and glory of the hearth. The house is warm and begging to be filled with smells of delights, feasts happen continuously, good company is treasured.

Needless to say I adore it.   I made sure to go out and leave offerings to the Ancestral spirits, over the years I’ve learned that apples are token well loved here. We spent some time out in the snow and I carved out the faces of an old man and woman, then snuck out at night to pour brandy into the snow before them. Happily I cooked for the family, with my excellent Sou Chef, and in general we tried to make his Mom’s holiday a little easier.

 

SAMSUNG

 

SAMSUNG

SAMSUNG

SAMSUNG

SAMSUNG

SAMSUNG

Hope everyone’s holiday was delightful! Much more mischief is on the horizon 😉

2012-12-25 14.05.52

 

 

It was time

 

Time to return to the sea. It had been a growing need. The thundering of hooves in the mind blending with the rhythmic clash of the waves on the rocks. The soul centering balance of being at the place where all three worlds meet. Bad luck had been at my heels all winter, it all cried out for the cleansing waters of brine. There would be no stopping this pilgrimage. There would be offerings made, there would be fire, there would be water, no matter how cold.

The tide was high, and while the land surrounding this beloved slice of sea is going through much upheaval and change (a “reconstruction of the water table” that I am unconvinced is for the benefit of the land itself…) the beach and the sea remained as it ever was. The sky shone out cerulean blue from between its wisps of gray and the sun sparkled on the sea with tantalizing warmth. The evocative call of the sea and it’s jeweled adventures. Beautiful, deadly, a delightful trap if ever there was one.

The Corvid brothers wheeled in the sky and preened on the beach. Eager, and anxious for what was to follow, if a little reproachful at the long absences. But amends would be made.

With my own two hands I gathered the stones, carrying, rolling, pulling from the sand. Piecing together a pit where there was none. With stones you build. And it felt good. Good to stretch the muscles, good to have grit under my nails, good to take those beautiful stones of the beach and honor them with fire and libation. Once gathered, our fire starter set to work, and the food was laid out and all was good.

 

After eating our fill, laughing, turning our faces up to the sun and feeling its warmth. It was time. Time to throw the past on the fire, to drink to our Ancestors whose time of high power was drawing to a close, to ask for their blessings. I gave the flames the holly, cedar and pine that had been gathered for the great Ancestral Feast. Giving the spirits fully the essence of those plants that kept us safe in the dark nights. The smoke billowed high, and the fire higher. Toast of the Winter Brew were passed around and good cheer was given. Ancestors bless us, bless us with your wisdom. Bless us with hearth and home, with prosperity and wealth, with the way forward.

Then it was time to make our offerings to the Gods. Carefully planned and prepared, each of us with a mission of our own. Each of us with our own Gods to tend to. On my brass platter a mighty cow’s heart, drenched in barley, oats, honey, whisky, and rosemary. In the wooden vessel: strawberries, tomatoes, chocolate, potatoes and sausage. A split apple of my love and devotion. Out I walked hands full, towards the rocks, and the jagged sea. The Raven Brothers followed close behind, their chorus a harsh and beautiful chant. The rock was chosen and all laid out, the apple given as a token to the Brothers. And in the presence of all Three Realms, and those that are my beloved, I sang.

I sang, and prayed. I lifted my voice, in love, in strength, in courage and frustration. I was not meek and mild.  In that moment there was understanding, and I was seen. The sun shone. The sea glinted with resplendent glory,  and the Ravens cawed.

The sea, the sea. All can be cured in the sea. With my dark Irish red beer for the Son of the Sea, I stripped down to my skivvies and answered the call that had been so long in my ear. And it was cold. The kind of cold that burns, yet it brought a smile to my face. The waves teased and enticed us farther and father out. Laughingly, cautiously we ventured forth. With squeals and delight I submerged my netted shall in the foamy brine, forever dedicating it to he who keeps the veil. And dripping diamonds of salt water I poured it over my head. Gone was the illness that had plagued me for days before, gone was the coughing, the pain. In its place joy, clean pure, and ecstatic. For as long as my poor broken foot would allow I stayed there, in that liminal state. Not properly in any one realm, instead joyfully in all three. And then back to the fire, to the warmth and sanctuary of land. Grateful for my gift. One special and large witch’s stone to take with me.

I treasure these times. These places, where all my Gods are so vibrant and real and near. These moments when so much can be felt and done. These dark moon offerings shall forever be cherished by me.

Until next time, the time when the Sea calls…

Sacrifice, Food, the Gods and me

Celtic sacrifice by immersion, detail of the Gundestrup Caldron, c. 1st century bc; in the Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen.

This is one of those posts that have been a long time coming. It’s one of those hot button topics in Pagan circles, and please go ahead with the knowledge that as with everything on this blog, this is all my personal spiritual belief system, disagreements, questions, points of contention all welcomed. What sparked this post was a post that came across my dashboard on Tumblr and the discussion that followed (you can read the original post here if you would like). I stand by all that was said there but want to expand further, past a simple conversation between two disagreeing people. To the different notions of sacrifice, to our societies inherent disvalue of food, to how that just does not work for me.

Cursory use of the internet to find the root of the word sacrifice tells us that it wasn’t until recently that it became attributed to “doing without something” or “giving something up” which tends to be its common association today. An association that continues to be retrofitted to ancient peoples and society, and perhaps wrongfully so. With this common societal association comes what appears to be the mainstream point of view of sacrifice and offerings in the modern Pagan community: That is something given of value with intention to the Gods.

No arguments there. But that is a fairly broad and wide plank to stand on and does not hint at the foundation of “Why?” or even what “value” is. Here is where I see the arguments, and not without reasoning, that animal sacrifice is no longer valid. This argument is usually coupled with the idea that sacrifice is to the Gods of things you wish to have more of, and the assigned value that meat and animals no longer have any. It is both of these things that I take a severe left turn from.

For me sacrifice and offerings have long since past the stage of being only about ensuring things that I want. In the beginning I approached sacrifice with the same understanding of it being something that I was giving up for a greater purpose, but after several years of steady offering I’ve come to wonder if that is not just a remnant understanding of the word from a belief system that I do not hold with.   After-all it is Christianity that is choked full of its abstaining for the glory of God, of sacrifice bringing us closer to the Divine (whether this is a flawed understanding of Christianity I cannot say, but it is the prevailing one in my life). But is this a pagan thought process? Is this a Celtic one? Is this something that the ancient people of Ireland would have held with? I have to wonder. Or is this merely the point of view that I was raised with and never realized was coloring my perspective? I am going to make it a point this year to go back and see what I can find of pre-christian thought on sacrifice. But even without that academic knowledge I realize that I no longer view my practice in that light.

Offering to the Gods

Chicken Livers prepared as offering

 Whether it’s before my altar or within the glory and the presence of the Land, Sky and Sea, I do not sit and take pains over my offerings with the idea or feelings of humbling myself before the Gods. It is not an act of subjugation. Even at it’s most difficult and trying, it is something that I do with great pride and devotion. It is akin to the pride and care that I take in giving gifts to my friends and family, in preparing meals for guests, in prepping for a feast. All that times vastness of the stars in the sky. In short my friends, sacrifice and offerings are about hospitality and loyalty for me.  Hospitality and loyalty on the divine scale.

It then goes rather rationally that I never once stopped to question or even ponder over the fact that the majority of my offerings to my Gods were of a consumptive nature. More precisely food. Because what is the cross-cultural symbol of hospitality? The act in which we do for each other to show we care?  Sharing and giving food. We are mortal, without food we would die. This is a fact that is overlooked in American society but is still a fact none-the-less. It is an act of good will to feed the Gods and any spirit we wish to commune with. An act that is unique unto us. Obviously other tokens of offering are equally worthy, but no other offering besides food seems to be brushed aside so much on the internet at least.

I understand where the point of view comes from, but I feel like it is a iffy one. If I were to believe that the Ancient Celts were a bunch of mud-covered barbarians eeking out survival in the hill sides, then I can easily see how the privileged of today could lead you to believe the simple offering of bread and beer paltry in comparison to the days before.  But I don’t believe that, the more I learn about the Ancient world in general the more this view of third-world standard just doesn’t seem to hold. True, life and death were much nearer and dearer then. Yes there were those poor who lived like that. But I wonder more and more if it was in fact the majority. The Celts were people of trade, of commerce, of agriculture, of war. These things do not lend themselves to such a rudimentary thinking. If I were to follow that logic, “because we live in modern times and food doesn’t have the same life or death value, so it won’t have the same meaning”, then sacrificing or making offering of little handmade crafts and goods does not equate the same meaning either. In fact in order to equate the same meaning (the meaning that value is something that is crucial to the livelihood of the person) then the only fit sacrifice would be large sums of ones income or maybe ones vehicle.

Thankfully I do not hold to this notion of sacrifice, or to the lack of value to food. Anyone who knows me, knows that I HIGHLY value food. A value I believe that was shared by the ancient world. Because while there are many wonderful and beautifully made artifacts of monetary value that have been found that were ritually sacrificed, never has that eclipsed the offering of food.  But America is a strange place now, a place that does not value food and yet is obsessed with it. Obsessed with the over eating of it, of the process of making it faster and better, of reclaiming it, of any laundry list of things to do with it and yet…the FDA just announced it’s giving up on regulating antibiotic abuse in the meat industry, we have a meat and dairy industry that is abhorrent,  cities take the notion that home grown veggies are too ugly to look at and should be illegal, the government has allowed companies to gain a monopoly on seeds in the farming industry, process foods reign supreme, the young and grown suffer from horrible eating disorders, bizarre and unhealthy diets continue to make the front page in magazines around the nation. All of this leads to an atmosphere that it is no wonder a majority of people have an unhealthy relationship with food. But does all that mean that food has no spiritual value anymore?

Not to me. To me food will always be one of those basic building blocks of creation, of magic, of alchemy. We put the pieces together, all the ingredients, prepare it, consume it. And in turn it helps us grow, aids us in our self-healing, keeps us alive. On a spiritual level it brings us together, creates bonds, symbolizes and holds up so much of cultural structures. There simply must be power in it. Being the somewhat animist I am it goes to follow that the more hands on, the more connected with it (as with any offering) you can get, the more strength and power it has. It is why all my food offerings are made with as little processed food as possible. It’s why when given the chance to go and make offering to the fruit trees and harvest the fruit myself before making it into bread or otherwise, I JUMP at the chance. It enhances the magic, it enhance the relationship, the connective thread of hospitality. From there it is just a small and tiny jump to wanting to be able to prepare and see through the process of life and death for my meat and for my Gods. There is a mystery, an initiation that comes with seeing the cycle of life and death through. Of taking it into your body, of being the one responsible for insuring its sanctity and humane nature. It is one of my goals in life to live in such a place that is possible. Now I can see how if you did not eat meat, for whatever reason, that then the act of animal sacrifice and offerings of meat would follow to be irrelevant to your practice. But to those who eat meat and still say that animal sacrifice is meaningless and invalid today, to me are also saying that offering and sacrifice of food is meaningless and invalid. I simply cannot agree.

Obviously these principles of offering, of sacrifice, are deeply sacred and personal things.  They should be considered at length and frequently. At the moment I am content and solid in coming to this understanding of sacrifice separate from the one that prevailed before. It brings me great feelings of rightness to know that my sacrifices are not made solely under the pretense of need on my part or my deities part. But out of joyful devotion to them, and reciprocated respect.  That I accept the fact that I eat meat, that my Gods enjoy it as well, and that when the time comes I am willing to see that through to its end. I continue to hope and strive for a world where traditions and faiths that can practice their values (that are within just laws) without recourse. And that in the end we come to an understanding of letting people worship what Gods they will.

Pilgrimage for Holy Water

photos taken by Rowan Wilde

Holy Water is one of those things that every witch should just have on hand. While I’m sure that I could actually get my hands on some Christian “Holy Water” blessed by a priest and all that (and probably will when the Lumberjack and I start making our super cool Victorian Vampire Hunting Kit), that isn’t the type of Holy Water I am referring to. The Witch of Forest Grove has an excellent post outlining some of the different multi-cultural historical presence of Holy Water and also how to make it, what waters do what, some ways to use it. Very well written, well-studied article, go check it out!

For me personally, I use it for cleansing of the home (especially after a bought of illness), for cleansing of new magical items, cleansing myself before deep trance work, and having on hand to make connection to the otherworld. Some of my traveling friends have been so kind as to bring me back Holy Waters from around the world, that get used on special occasions. I have a lovely collection from Ireland that I cherish and use when needed. Bridgit’s Well water saved my poor little rosemary bush that was dying. Well her water and her guardianship I’m sure.

In any event I have some pretty big magical workings on the horizon and horror of horrors I was out of my favorite Holy Water. Time to go on a pilgrimage!

I highly suggest that if at all possible that people take the time to court their local spirits. And in so doing find and make a connection to their own holy rivers, wells, and springs. In my experience it grounds your magical workings, and gives them more of a focal point, while allowing you to continue to aid in strengthening your own connection to the world around you. So my favorite Holy Water comes from the water of my own Blessed Creek (I lived in the south where rivers were the size of multiple football fields I have a hard time calling the things around here rivers). I’m sure it has a name, as a state trail runs right along it, but it’s always remained mysteriously hidden from me, so perhaps the creek isn’t too fond of it lol. I simply know it as the Creek, or the Green creek.

The Lumberjack and I found this little hidden trail in the rainy months of winter when things were very bad at home and escape and our little Izuzu truck was all we had. We’d pack up a bag of sandwiches and go exploring the coast along Highway 1, just to be out of the house and away.  We were very pleased to find this little tucked away trail. The beginning of which is right off the freeway but in such a place that it gets few visitors. The end of which we have yet to discover. We hiked the trail for hours reaching the point of the moss covered stone steps and going as far up them as my little legs would take me.  Interestingly enough we’d discover more people going in the opposite direction as us the farther along we got. It is still my hypothesis that those mysterious stairs lead to the state park woods somehow.

photo taken by Nancy Kerr

That was years ago, and since then I’ve often returned. Leaving gifts, drinking in the beauty of it all, finding the serenity. At some point it just became my holy creek, the waters are so clean and clear, nothing else will do. Would that it weren’t an actual state park trail otherwise I’d happily bath in it lol. It’s one of those places I show to few. But those few need to see it. This trip I gathered up my trusty companions Rowan Wilde, and Nancy Kerr to walk the green way and gather up the blessed water (and to take photos because I always forget to). It’s a beautiful drive, and the trail was deliciously moist when we got there. We stopped to pay homage to the Gaurdian (a rather impressive moss and fern covered boulder that sits at the entrance to the trail. He’s a kind sort that likes to be admired). We walked the trail spying plants (Rowan has a much keener more knowledgeable eye for these things than I), both of them stopping to take pictures and me just being content. We went all the way to the stone steps and up to the first platform before turning back around. It was on the return trip that was stopped for the mission of our adventure. Water.

At the point where the fallen living redwood King makes a bridge over the nymph pool is where the water is collected. It is an amazing little oasis on an already stunning green trail. So between the two large boulders, in the little nook on the Otherside of the creek, I laid out my offering. An apple, a token of my love. Rosemary, a pledge of love and protection, cornmeal for sustenance, drizzled in Aes Sidhe elixir made last Midsummer.

Once honors were paid, prayers were said. It was time to catch my water.

photo taken by Rowan Wilde

 

photo taken by Nancy Kerr

One bright beautiful clear bottle of blessed Green Creek water. To be taken home and divided up. One part had my silver ring added to it and sat on my windowsill soaking up the power of the full moon. The other part got my silver emerald heart ring, my hunk of garnet, and a jade ring, also soaked up that delicious full moon energy. Big plans, my friends. Big plans.

Until next time!