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Ritual offerings – Sacred or debris?

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Clooties on a Beech tree – Avebury Stone Circle

A couple of months ago we took a group of visiting friends to Waylands Smithy, a neolithic long barrow on the ancient track known as The Ridgeway. By the time we arrived the Sun had set and we walked the ancient track in darkness. Walking through the gate to the barrow it appeared as a black shape in the night. Ancient, sacred, and doubtlessly haunted by countless ancestral spirits.

We walked to the doorway, crouched down and crawled inside the tomb. Utter darkness. Silence. I switched on my torch and the inside of the tomb was washed with light, illuminating, and casting deeper shadows inside. In the centre of the far end of the tomb an arrow had been pushed into the earth. It stood as if fired from far above. There were flowers.

For this week’s look at an area of my spiritual life I’m going to take a look at what is often an controversial topic.

Ritual offerings.

I remember being at a Pagan conference some years ago where one of the custodians of a stone circle was giving a talk about this topic. They had brought a carrier bag full of what they called ‘debris’ they had collected from the stones. They un-ceremonially upended the bag and tipped out the contents which they then picked through, holding bits and pieces up to show the audience. They said, “There are crystals, ribbons, lots of aluminium nightlight remains, and pieces of paper, including bad poetry for dead boyfriends”. They picked up a little scroll of paper, then tossed it back onto the pile of ‘debris’. I was shocked. Shocked that people would leave offerings that might damage the stones like candles, but also shocked at the callous way some of these offerings had been not only dismissed, but treated so horribly by a person who, as a Pagan, seemed to have no respect for the emotion behind some of the offerings. They might not have been sacred to her but to the partner of that dead boyfriend, who had written their heartfelt words onto a scroll, then left it in what they obviously considered a sacred place (as a Christian might light a candle in a Church) it was important. Some of this ‘debris’ was devotional.

All around me people were voicing their disgust at the litter on the table before the speaker. And although I could see their point, I also couldn’t help but think that we were all missing something incredibly important. I looked at Cerri and it was obvious that she was feeling it too. She put her hand up to ask a question. The voices died down and she said, “Why don’t you create a little space, just a table or some kind of altar, where people could leave their offerings? If people are going to leave votive offerings, isn’t that better than having nowhere, which is why they are left by the stones?”

A good and valid question I thought. But all around me, giggling. I was now even more confused. “Look,” the speaker said, ” we don’t even know what the stones were used for. They might just be a goat pen for all we know! If we put an offering table we would be suggesting that this was a ritual site, and we don’t know that is was. No we won’t do that.”

We don’t know that it was… Well, maybe that’s true. But it is now.

I went back to the stone circle this past Summer. Sat quietly among the stones. That potential ‘goat pen’. Looking around I saw a few flowers left here and there. The aluminium remains of a nightlight sat at the bottom of one of the stones. People still coming here and leaving their offerings. If they had placed a small table I think people might have used it. Instead the ‘debris’ still comes.

When I stepped into Waylands Smithy and saw the arrow and flowers I was torn, as I always am when finding ritual offerings of this kind. Part of me thinks why did you feel the need to leave something like this? Why not leave only footprints? Then another part of me thinks the Pagan religion is alive, this tomb built by our ancestors is still being used 5000 years on. It’s a hard one for me to balance. People have been leaving offerings at sacred sites since the dawn of humanity. It seems to be something in our very DNA. This is nothing new, in fact we can honestly say that this is an unbroken tradition.

When Cerri and I went to Cyprus some years back we went to Aphrodite’s Rock. We parked our car and walked under a roadway, through a dark passage and then out into the light of the beach, and the first thing we saw was a tree literally dripping with white ribbons. Did I look in disgust at this ‘debris’? No, I had tears in my eyes. Here on this beach the Great Goddess Aphrodite was still being remembered and honoured by hundreds of visitors. She was alive, and if this tree hadn’t been hung with clooties I would never have known that. Instead I would have seen a beach and a rock connected with an ancient myth on an island that had seemingly forgotten its ancient heritage. Seeing this tree made me happy.

I have a current bugbear and that is when authors write ‘the Druid did this, the Pagans did that’ etc etc. I am very much looking forward to the time when we give our paths the credence and acceptance to be able to say ‘the Druids do this, the Pagans do that’. Here this tree was a living example of a spiritual practice. As are the ribbons and clooties on other trees in Britian.

Last year I went to the Rocky Valley Labyrinths, and Avebury, and at both I found offering trees. There were ribbons, hair, but also plastic bags, and other non-biodegrable stuff tied to the trees. Now that I don’t get. If people are going to leave offerings make them natural offerings. Small things that we know will rot away into nothing over the course of time. Not Tesco carrier bags..!

There is no easy answer to this debate. Simply saying “don’t leave stuff” is not going to change anything. There is a drive to leave physical objects in honour of our Gods and the Spirits of Place. This ‘debris’ can even add great atmosphere to a site – if you’ve ever been to St Nectan’s Glen waterfall in Cornwall you will know what I mean. But if we are going to leave offerings let’s make sure they are honourable offerings. Not nightlights, candles or plastic, but a simple hair (my personal favourite), small cotton or silk ribbon, flowers, honey, or milk. Something that is a part of you, something that has taken some thought, not only for the object of the offering, but with respect to the place and people who will visit the site after you.

35 comments on “Ritual offerings – Sacred or debris?

  1. G

    I’m of the strong opinion that people should have respect for other people’s votive acts, even if it isn’t something they particularly agree with. One example of this is the reverence that Cambridge University’s Archeology and Anthropology Museum pays to all its items. They treat every artefact with respect and dignity, even though many items come from cultures and belief systems that staff are not a part of. Whether people see items as rubbish or otherwise, that does not give them the right to dump them and treat them as trash.

    I would have been equally shocked and troubled if I had been sat at that table Damh. As an atheist druid, I don’t really “do” deity but that doesn’t mean I’ll disregard the views and values of those that do worship in that way.

    1. Treeshrew

      Absolutely agree with you about the Arch and Anth museum, they are incredibly respectful of cultural beliefs while still recognising their need to display items.

      I think that the intentions and emotions behind people’s offerings should be respected, but if those offerings are plastic, candles, or other non-biodegradable stuff then it should be cleared away from a natural site. As druids/pagans/nature-lovers, our first thought should be for the ecosystem of that site and the creatures who live there and we shouldn’t clutter it up with stuff that could be harmful. What does a sacred place want with ribbons and candles anyway?

      One of the practices that kind of bugs me as well is the idea of cutting flowers to leave as offerings. Surely nature would ne happier if those flowers were left where they are to grow?I think one of the best offerings you could give would be simple water for the plants or seed and grain for birds and other small creatures.

  2. Catty

    On a few interrelated Facebook group on holy wells and holy sites in the Netherlands and surrounding lands we had a similar discussion. I will be sharing this blog there also.

    I myself do sometimes leave non-perishable goods, but often in a playful way: a little clay gnome peeking out of a hollow tree, or a small round chrystal in a field of pebbles. Someone else might find it and take it again, and that’s just fine. Also, I often offer my cleaning services, including the respectful disposal of other, old, offerings. Taking home old weathered synthetic ribbons, papers etc, burning them, thanking the energies and scattering the ashes on my compost heap. Picking up plastic and metal, recycling it, leaving the site better than I found it.

    Another “offer” one should be careful with is tobacco! I’ve seen pagans flick their cigarettebuds into the woods (with filter) saying: tobacco is sacred. But even if ceremoniously offered: nicotine is a deadly poison and it will leach into the watertable. The only time I think it’s an appropriate offer it when it’s geven as a decoct to an ailing, lice-infested young tree, since it will kill some bugs and might save the tree by acting as a pesticide.

    1. HeartWind

      I like the offering of clearing debris respectfully. And since offerings are going to be made, then the cleaning should be part of the maintenance of the site. If a table or other offering spot is indicated, it should be cleaned as well. A UU church I attended had a candle offering area which they cleared out at the end of each Sunday. There was a sign clearly indicating the area would be cleared. Everyone respected this and candles were regularly lit and placed.

  3. Lori Othen

    This is a wonderful article and also something that I have struggled with as well (haveing found many bits of non-biodegradable things), To this end I would like to share my favorite offering, for I do make offerings in reverence and celebration of sacred sites.
    I always sprinkle some tobacco (be it at the base of a tree, a standing stone or a doorway). It was something my 1/2 native american grandfather always did and I picked it up from him when I was a kid. He told me that the tobacco was a gift from the earth and when it was used (burned) it embodied man’s ability to connect the earth and the sky (smoke). He told me that by using the tobacco as an offering we showed the spirit that we valued the earth’s gift and we would continue to seek spirit in the earth and in the air and in all that was given to us (including the sacred site).
    My grandfather was a smoker. He would break off the end of his cigarette and sprinkle some of the tobacco and then sit quietly and smoke the rest of it. As a kid I did not smoke but I was allowed to sprinkle the tobacco and light the cigarette. If you do decide to adopt this wonderful offering please remember to take the filters or the butts away from the site as the object in the offering is that only your gratitude and positive energy (connecting earth and sky) remains behind.

  4. Persephone Hallows

    As usual, an informative, moving read. As a Witch in a very Christian state (Texas), I often see traces of Pagans in my solitary walks. Most people just designate it “litter”, and throw it in with the beer cans, cigarette packs and shotgun shells. It saddens me to know that my fellow Pagan’s offerings are treated this way, when roadside crosses or Catholic votives are held in high esteem, often left for years. I think that a happy medium would be to leave natural offerings alone, and pick up the plastic flowers, chemlights, etc. I hope we as a people can reach a peaceful solution. Love and Light ! )0(

  5. john

    Yes I know what you mean Dave, being torn about this issue. My feelings are, it is great that the stone circles are being used for votive offerings, a tradition that goes back through the mists of time, but we have to be sensitive and sensible about this, most pagans are committed to the healing of life, including mother earth, being aware of our own input were pollution is concerned, walking gently on this beautiful planet, the only home we have in the physical. I have seen what I consider must be blessed water left at sacred sites in plastic bottles, aluminium tea light holders, crystals, now there is also spiritual pollution, these ancient sites do have a presence, and energy, now this is a personal point of view, crystals can cause disruption in the energy of a particular monument/circle. I think this is a contracted habit that comes from new age type of thinking, do those who leave these objects go to these sites and sit or have a quite time to key into these energy’s… to see if it would be the right thing to do, or wanted, would you go to some one, a stranger and push an offering on them, or place crystals in their garden without asking permission first? I’m sure that most will be aware enough to do this. One important aspect of this is, teaching others respect not just for these sites, but for our planet, SHOWING BY EXAMPLE. I think the action of those pagans who was giving a talk on this, lacked sensitivity, and respect, and the table idea for offerings is food for though.

  6. Wayne Avanson

    If I jave offerings to take, I put them out somewhere I feel appropriate and they stay there for the time that I am there myself. Then, having done their job so to speak, I take them away with me. For me it’s all in the thought and a ‘gesture’ that back up the thought with action. After that, it’s simply the thought/memory that lives in that space. The only time I have left something was a short message tied to the tree in the Chalice Well gardens which seemed to be a place especially set aside for such.

    I see mess left behind sometimes and I simply wish people would think a little deeper about what they take and leave, and what impact it has on the place they so wish to ‘honour’ with their gifts.

  7. Wendy Trevennor

    These sacred sites belong to pagans, as they always did. And the crack about “bad poetry for dead boyfriends” leaves a particularly nasty taste. Maybe the aluminium tea-lights aren’t the best idea, though. Cerri’s idea of a special votive area makes so much sense.

    1. john

      Hiya, just want to say something about what you said about these sacred sites belong to pagans, I disagree, the idea of ownership of the earth is one of the things that has caused many problems amongst human beings on this planet for thousands of years, and this attitude is really prevalent in this day and age, we do not own these sites or the earth, we are suppose to be stewards/caretakers, and that means not just Pagans, but all of humanity, where the earth is concerned, we pagans are not an exclusive club who have some sort of ownership or authority over these sacred places, we are guardians, Kind regards, Blessed Be, John.

      1. admin

        I agree John. Maybe what is meant is more we feel as if we belong to the site, not the site belongs to us. That sits better with me, and in fact is how I feel about the land/Earth in general.

  8. shiredweller

    I am not a pagan nor Druid but someone who once called her self a christian from a charismatic,Pentecostal tradition. Events in my church life caused me to decide to explore other belief systems and over the past ten years I have met some kind and welcoming pagans who have taught me to respect their spiritual path. Whilst not always knowing the history or significance of certain sites I am happy to see ribbons in trees or other objects which indicate to me that here is a special place where I might learn or connect with something which may help my progress on my path of discovery. When I put food out for the birds or squirrels I consciously do it as an act of friendship for them and welcome them to my garden,when I use produce from my allotment I always say thank you to the plant and the earth for the provision,when I walk in the woods I try very hard to be grateful and to whisper my thanks for the beauty around. Are we not always in communication with the world around us and are the things people leave only a part of that communication? Obviously it is better to leave something biodegradable but those of us still searching for our path they are a help.

  9. Silver Ether

    I dislike the idea of taking things that are of import to the folks who left them there .. (poems are good to whoever likes them, not to every one’s taste) but surly they should be careful to leave offerings that will biodegrade and give the energy that placed them there to the space. Why do ribbons get used when a ribbons of paper is as good. Crystals .. now they do bother me ,,,, Crystals change places and folks and should be used for a reason and in a place that can be cleansed at some point when those energies are no longer needed .. Some crystals can work deeply on a person, what about some one coming in contact with something that they are unaware off .. and what right do we have to change the energy and balance of the place with such wanton disregard by leaving something there that will work on for a long time.

  10. Jay

    could i suggest, as i saw on a visit to a site a short while ago, offerings of fruits or berries found in the surrounding area ? or flowers maybe. anything that is natural and bio-degradable has got to be better than tin and plastics surely !

  11. katecorwen

    In the past clooties were always made of biodegradeable fabric, because that’s all there was! The traditional idea was that as the clootie rotted away so would the ailment it had been placed there to heal also disappear.

    Clooties are now placed as offerings rather than healing spells, but I still think it is important they rot away. I think part of the problem is that people aren’t able to recognise which fabrics are biodegradable and which are not. A piece of acrylic wool will remain for evermore, and most ribbons are also polyester and whilst they will sometimes bleach in the sun they generally don’t rot. If people use non rotting materials then they build up and get very weathered, dirty, untidy and look horrible, and remain looking horrible for many years, eventually falling down and getting buried in the soil like some kind of sacred landfill. This doesn’t seem like a good way of showing respect to the Spirit of Place!

    A strip of cotton muslin, the same stuff prayer flags are made of, will look much nicer and eventually disappear entirely. A prayer or message written on a piece of paper (especially rice paper) will also rot away eventually.

    As for other sorts of offerings I don’t think there is much place for them. I sometimes clean up Knowlton Rings near us, and I must say I have removed bag-fulls of aluminium night light holders. They can be recycled, but their contents are generally made of paraffin, and burning a fossil fuel also doesn’t seem a good way to honour a sacred place. If people must leave a candle please make it a beeswax one with no metal pot, these will disappear naturally, and if it costs a little more, then its a better sacrifice.

    Crystals are generally mined, if your idea of a sacred offering is something torn out of the Earth with explosives then you need to join up your thinking.

  12. Aleq Grai

    Some will say I have a bug up my butt on this but here goes. West Kennet – I remember a “documentry” where a few well know wiccany types had a damned fire doing inside the chamber FFS!. Times I have visited – the place is covered in wax, litter, plastic bags, used johnies, tea lites, and all manner of tat. Doing a clean up once got the ire of one pagan who called the cops. The cop was quite bemused when said pagan(tm) tried to argue the toss that lighting fires in burial chambers was something she had permission to do.

    Dont get me started on crystals.

    As for Sacred Wells – we have one near us – St Brides – and it is fully used today – thr trees about it are decorated with ribbons. Which I think is lovely. It requires a bit of a hike to get there up by Harolds Stones and I think because its not the main route for the pagan tourist then we see little tat there. I must say I prefer the way the Lady well is treated.

    1. john

      I agree with Katecorwen and Aleq Grai, nothing worse than finding human,and dog excrement, and the smell of piss at these sites, I have experienced this at west Kennet myself, as for wiccany types, as a Wiccan myself, I doubt they were Wiccans. All the Wiccans I have known over many, many, years since the mid 70′s actually, when I took my first tender steps into the craft, would not contemplate such destructive, disgusting behavior any were, let alone at sacred sites, OK I am not suggesting that we are all pure as the driven snow, and that is right across the board, Pagans/Druids and Wiccans, there will always be a few no brains, but I think these are few and far between…..yes don’t get me going on crystals either, Blessed Be, :)

  13. Brochfael

    Dear Damh,
    Thank you for this timely reminder. I’m just editing a part of my PhD thesis which looks at this issue. I write both as a Pagan (Brythonic Polytheist) and as an archaeologist who has worked in the heritage sector. When I began to walk a Pagan path, Weyland’s smithy was one of the first places I visited. I recall seeing a paper plate with a pentagram drawn on it in the burial chamber in front of the entrance. It was surrounded with flowers amd it told me ‘you are not alone’. It brought me joy to see it. As an archaeologist I am torn, on one side I hope for the archaeological context of sites to be uncontaminated but I also feel that by leaving no trace of our activity we are denying the archaeologists of the future the evidence of our own lives. This seems somehow selfish and, in a way, dishonest. At the same time as a heritage professional I think that leaving too many offerings can change the character of a site and these sites are not only for us Pagans, us archaeologists, us heritage people but rather for everyone.

    So what do we do?
    I think you make an important distinction between offerings (flowers, votive plaques, poetry photographs crystals etc.) and the residue of ritual activity (tea light bases, beer cans, food wrapping etc). Frankly I would consider the leaving of the latter category of material to be an act of disrespect to the site, the gods and ancestors as well as to other visitors and I hope we would all share our disapproval of such behaviour. My Paganism is rooted in a relationship of reciprocity with gods and ancestors. If I want something FROM them, I must do something FOR them. Leaving gifts at their sacred places is a part of that and it is something I have done myself. After the birth of my daughter I left a small wooden shrine at a long barrow hidden in Gloucestershire woods near where I lived. It has since decayed. In isolated, seldom visited sites the processes of decay can handle the low volume of offerings recieved but in busy sites like Weyland’s Smithy this is unlikely to be effective and the volume of offerings could build up to levels where they become a nuiscance or alter the character of the place. In these cases a regular clearing of offerings might be considered necessary, but what to do with these? Most of these sites have already been excavated by archaeologists, at least in part. I find myself wondering if heritage management organisations might be persuaded to allow at least a portion of offerings to be buried at the site in an area previously excavated. Thus offerings which can may decay into the earth as I would think the offerers might have hoped and those which do not decay may form a record of ourselves as ancestors to our descendants

  14. Ali B

    I agree with Jay (reply 10) I often go to an Oak in our local park which I have been “associated” with since I was 17 yeas old. I leave offerings normally strung on the surrounding protective fence of the tree. Offerings mainly comprise of homemade biodegradable paper with appropriate symbols etc inscribed on them and woods from the Oak itself or various other local trees. (Fallen, not picked or cut) I also sprinkle seeds and berries as an offering, wiith the double benefit of honouring the Oak AND feeding the wildlife. When I go to other sacred sites I always carry a small bag of seed with me for that very purpose. What better way to continue the Circle of Life?

  15. Stephen Barnes

    We have to realise we live in a very different world to that of our an ancestors, all their offerings would have been bio-degradable , free from plastic, foil etc. The population was small, with transient pilgrims so I’m sure there was not an eyesore of litter at various sites.. For me an offering in the 21st Century is a personal gift of thought , love and intent by means of connecting to the place at that time. Once you leave the place the intent remains forever..

  16. Mrs sylvia Lee-Wild

    Love this article .
    For goodness sake why cant people just take away the tin candle holders and put them in their bin, without making a big issue about it.
    I always remove debris from sacred sites, just as I do if I visit a grave. I always believed that my own flowers and such would be removed by my fellow pagans willingly.
    I don’t leave night lights myself, but I don’t mind moving them for others. Who knows what kind prayers and thoughts have been left there with that candle.
    I also remove dead flowers from the altars and simply place them on the ground to be recycled and given back to the earth.
    If we cannot be considerate to others needs, well are we really pagan at heart.
    Love and light
    Sylvia

  17. GreenFae

    Damh, yet again you make us think!
    Here is a small poem I wrote in the New Forest, when the Awen was flowing for me, I think you may find it apt!

    Walk Gently Through My Garden

    Walk gently through my garden
    Let your presence not be felt by sound or deed
    Leave no trace of your passing from print or from greed
    Disturb not the creatures that live here, the tree and the bee
    What ever you bring with you, be sure to take when you leave
    Take only the memories of what you perceive

    Listen to my garden the birds and the leaves
    The distant sound of aircraft fading to the sun
    Give way to the wind dancing around the trees
    The sound of human voices disturb the peace & tranquillity
    Stomping through my garden, neither hear, smell nor see
    Distant now the voices, replaced by the sounds of my children
    The creatures of my garden like me are all around

    Walk gently in my garden, for I am all around you
    And always will be, where ever you are

    (Written 18/6/05 in the New Forest whilst gently meditating with nature. The peace was disturbed by grockles (holiday makers), looking for the nature of the forest they will never see!)

  18. Lynda

    Whether or not it is a ritual site, or a goat pen…it sounds like it is now a ritual site. But personally, I would leave flowers or corn meal. Don’t leave anything that is man made, but rather that which honors the ancestors. flowers or corn meal meant for the ancestors or creatures great and small…but all to the Goddess.

  19. Jo Dunster

    I suppose one solution could be to provide an altar or devotional table as you suggested with some appropriate offering supplies with it. A roll of cotton or paper ribbon or some other biodegradable items. That way you could have a place for a sign or instructions letting visitors know of the preferred way that the site should be treated and asking that anything that isn’t a biodegradable offering be taken away. The caretakers could also give context to the site via such signage explaining the known history etc. It wouldn’t even cost that much to maintain and certainly be nicer than chucking everything and complaining about it.

  20. Michael The Brown

    Dahm,
    I agree with you completely. We must always be respectful of our sacred sites and while also having respect for those who have come to leave offerings. I believe that one should consider the ecological impact that the offerings may have on the environment. However, if there isn’t any negative impact and the offerings don’t desecrate the site, then I don’t see an issue. In addition to your suggestion of
    an altar, perhaps the caretaker can ask that certain items not be left as offerings but do so in a loving way that respects the pilgrim.

  21. Sue Cooke

    These ancient sacred sites were built with great personal and even generational sacrifice of both time and blood and goods. They are not our sacred sites. Our modern busy lives are not conducive to building our own pagan sacred sites; we have only adopted them and co-opted the old ones to our own modern beliefs and purposes. We romantically think there is a continuity of belief tracking back millennia when we do this, but there is not. We merely assume that our gods find these places sacred. We don’t know what gods or powers moved these ancient folk to purpose-build circles and dolmens and barrows. We have no idea of the role their religion played in day to day life. The associated material culture, be it foodstuffs or ribbons or corpses, is long gone. They left no writings or liturgy behind, just some carvings and earthworks that are evocatively mysterious. The builders of these sites were stone-age cultures. We have no clue to their values. They may have sacrificed grain, or goats or babies for all we know. They may have feared menstruation or cut themselves for blood offerings – some more current stone-age polytheistic cultures do just that. They might have immured virgins or abandoned their elderly; the early christian church even did that; as did the Rapa Nui and the Inuit.

    I am polytheistic, but I find most churches, mosques, and temples to be fine sacred spaces. They are set aside from the flow of life for worship and I use them when services aren’t in session. Catholic churches even have places especially for offering candles. Their builders sacrificed money and time and gathered together with the single purpose of building a community place of worship. In Europe some old churches were built on top of pagan sacred sites and while the purpose at the time was to obliterate the pagan presence, building on them has inadvertently preserved the site as a sacred space of worship. As modern pagans, we deplore this practice. But aren’t we doing just the same thing by leaving offerings at ancient sites? We are presuming to layer our belief systems over places sacred to someone else.

    I think there is tawdriness and a laziness in the little offerings left behind at ancient sites. Let us live in the here and now. Build our own sacred places on our own land, be it a ranch, a farm, a back yard or a window box. Contribute to larger efforts. Pilgrimage to pagan built labyrinths and pagan gatherings. Support efforts in the greater pagan community to make sacred space; give money, give time. Visit ancient places for awe and inspiration. Take nothing but wonder, leave nothing but footprints.

    1. admin

      Interesting thoughts. Thanks to archaeology we know more about the ancient people of this island than we did some years ago, and are learning more all of the time. I have to say that when I go to these ancient sites such as Wayland Smithy and leave an offering, I’m doing it more as an acknowledgement of the people who built it, and all of those who have come there over the millennia to study it, work magic there, held mythical beliefs about its purpose, or just look or have a picnic. It is the ‘Spirit of Place’ I honour, and my being there in reverence adds to that.

  22. Rowan Fairgrove

    There is a statue of Diana in a park above the Sutro Baths in San Francisco. I have never seen it without floral offerings. When I lived in the City we used to go every spring equinox and wash the statue and clear away older offerings. It was very meaningful to us and I’m sure to every person who left a flower there. I’m saddened to hear about how callously the offerings were treated in your story.

  23. Snooze Hamilton

    “We don’t know that it was… Well, maybe that’s true. But it is now.”

    THIS. Beer & Cookies for the whole article, but this particularly. If time itself can move forward, so can everything else.

    There’s nothing off about making mental or emotional offerings; I think those are the most direct and as personal as you can get. That in mind, I think sometimes people feel like a material offering is a gesture of commitment of intent or a way of solidifying intent. And, as was mentioned previously, they offer a tangible sign of community. Here in the US, where being publicly visible can sometimes be very problematic, things like that are very valuable.

    I like the idea of a dedicated table or area, with respectful removal of older materials (I’d turn that into a ritual itself). In a locale where people would be likely to allow it, maintaining it would also give local PHAs (Pagan/Heathen/Alternative spirituality) an opportunity for community service, i.e. putting their money where their mouth is, so to speak. I also like the previously mentioned solution of leaving things for the duration of a visit, then taking them away as you go.

    Almost everything I leave is done outdoors. I’m in the Bible Belt, so we often have the difficulty of keeping offerings out of sight or unrecognizable to the general public. The flip side of that is, that lends itself to keeping them low impact. I’m fond of writing things on flash paper myself; you keep the pieces of paper small enough to burn quickly and put any handy stick through them to hold them when you ignite them. The notes burn before they get close to the ground, don’t leave any ash or fumes, and you can get paper that will even burn in different colors.

    I work with land wights/spirits a good bit, and the odd dead fellow who wants attention. Some of the offerings I leave are geared toward what they seem to be asking for, but I can usually manage with pouring out a small amount of appropriate beverage. For the times when something more seems to be in order, I’ve used birdseed, berries, nuts that squirrels will eat, etc. I’m thinking about starting a line of votives made of spun sugar done in candy molds that will be taken by ants or will dissolve as soon as rain hits it. I have gotten some objections to this idea, and am seeing what a wider sample of people think.

  24. Tyler

    Damh,

    Thank you for bringing back some heartwarming memories from another dark evening, also not so very long ago, with you and Cerri at Wayland’s Smithy Barrow. Dusk is such a time of magick and a chance to touch the other world at that site in particular. It was one of the most meaningful and inspirational evenings of my life, and will always seem as if it was just last week. At that time as well there was “debris” left by previous visitors in that same chamber: flowers in a circle, evidence of a burned candle, a few other odds and ends. We did not disturb the (presumed) sacred offering. I recall feeling such warmth to know that others felt as strong a connection to this sacred site as I, and were visiting it with regularity and intent. It was one of the first times as a pagan that I felt I was not alone.

    Many things have been said here that touch me with their truth.

    Having spent many years following a Native American path, the concept of walking in a good way with the Earth, respecting our ancestors, my wife and I have always tried to leave offerings that worked with the site, such as corn meal, milk and honey, a pinch of tobacco, herbs, and seeds or fruit for the wildlife. Bio-degradables such as paper and muslin also ring true.

    I especially found Brochfael’s (13) comment interesting. To let future archeologists, as well as post-neo-pagans know how this site was perceived by us is intriguing. A respectful collection and burial of non-bio-degradables, and even a specific place to leave them seem only sensible. This would allow such offerings as were often left in sacred wells and sites by our ancestors- small figurines and coins and jewelry (with a distinct absence of severed heads).

    Blessed Be.

  25. Pingback: Ritual Offerings – Sacred or Debris? « WiccanWeb

  26. Pingback: Pagan Blog Project: O is for Offering | musings of a kitchen witch

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