I’ve recently finished Ian Corrigan’s Sacred Fire: Holy Well. While I disagree in how he categorizes some of the Gods (for example, I honor Aine as the sun, not a land goddess, and Midhir as the Moon, not some sort of fairy-king), the overall text inspired some thoughtfulness.
Namely, how does one make appropriate offerings to the Kindreds? And for what cause?
Many modern Druidic traditions are centered around sacrifice rather than, say, the working of will one finds in ceremonial magic and some forms of Wicca. Sacrifice, in this case, means making offerings to the Gods, nature spirits and ancestors — giving them gifts to help foster relationship.
Corrigan proposes that the Druid make the traditional offerings: actual gold and silver, along with oil burnt in the sacred fire, various forms of alcohol, etc. Unlike Keltria, ADF formulates sacred space using the Well, Tree and Fire; the physical representation of the Well should be given actual silver as an offering upon each use, and it should then be disposed of in running water.
Now, I have a problem with this — and have historically, as a former member of ADF — from an ecological standpoint. In modern times, we’d probably better honor the waters by taking a piece of metal out of them. And I also have economic issues, shall we say. By requiring a Druid to make offerings of actual precious metals, you’re effectively limiting practice to the upper class, to folks who can afford such offerings. (There are only so many family heirloom rings you can file down for dust or toss into a body of water.)
Corrigan also requires the authentic nine kinds of wood for the sacred fire, which can be an imposition if they don’t all grow in your area or — moreover — if you don’t have the property from which to gather them. Importing would be a less than ecological idea, in the days of the emerald ash borer when transporting wood more than 50 miles will result in a $250 fine.
From a historical standpoint, the strictures are understandable. Druids were the upper-most class and drew their members largely from the nobility. In short, they had the resources to offer gold and silver, cattle, animals, even slaves. They offered on behalf of the whole community, and so the community pooled its resources for important rites.
But in these times, we do not make offerings on behalf of our entire culture. Rites are private and personal — just as rites probably were for the average Celt on her farmstead or in his pasture. Humanity crowds the natural world with its numbers; offerings left in holy waters or on sacred land can too easily become pollution, as this New York Times article demonstrates.
To find out what to offer, you need to know why you’re offering anything at all. Is sacrifice a means to prove your disposable wealth, as it was for ancient nobles? Is it a gift-for-a-gift exchange, in which you’re bribing the spirits to work for you?
I hold, rather, that it’s the forging of relationship. You’re offering hospitality, making the spirits as welcome as you would your human kin. You don’t need to deed over your house, but offerings of food, beverages and sweet incense can make the spirits feel welcome. In my experience, song, poetry and anything from your heart, even if it’s not what we call “professional quality,” is eagerly sought after. At the end of the day, it’s not what you offer, but the spirit in which you offer it. Anything from the heart — a poem, a cup of tea lovingly made — is worth more than all the formulaic gold and silver offerings in the world.
Granted, for this to work, you need to develop a personal relationship with the Kindreds, which is appropriate in any case. That’s the difference between a priest/ess and a magician: one forges relationships out of love and a sense of our place and role in the cosmos, the other coerces forces to work her will. Religion should be more than asking with open hands, or giving a gift for a gift. Faith is generous, and gives gifts out of love and the greatness of one’s heart for the betterment of all.
Don’t worry about the nine woods, or where you’re going to get the silver for the well. Ask your heart how to honor those you love — whether human or God, animal or spirit. Give of what is most uniquely yourself, and what is closest to your soul(s).