Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The joy of giving

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (on the west coast of Canada), I spent many years learning to be a good Wiccan High Priestess. During those years, I always had an "offering bowl" on my altar, and there were many times when my HP and I (who were a couple during most of those years, though not all) would stop and put something in the bowl. It could be a penny as thanks for prosperity, or a drip of what we were drinking, just to say hello, or a part of a ritual meal portioned off for our gods.

Several years later, in a place much closer and yet still far from where I am today (on sooooo many levels), I Circled with a bunch of self-trained Wiccans. They, too, had an offering bowl on their altar. Into it, they poured a bit of their wine and a bit of their bread (after they'd eaten their fill). Into it, they deposited their garbage (the stubs of candles, the metal holders for tea candles, etc.). I was horrified.

I found out sometime after later that many Wiccans follow the practice of using the "offering bowl" as a repository for ... stuff. And it really, really bothered me.

Fast forward another few years (yes, I realize I'm racking up an awful lot of years here, shut up) and I am a practicing Hellenic pagan. Some of what I do is sort of Wiccan in its make-up. Most is not. My practices have morphed in a huge way. The world is good, and I still have my offering bowl, and I still offer up the first of my food and drink to the gods. I do so with reverence and a silent joy. It makes me happy to share with or give to my gods.

I understand more now, about why it felt so wrong in that one coven. While I do have a place near my altar for "sacred garbage" (for lack of a better term), it is quite separate from my offering bowl. What I put in the offering bowl is... well, an offering. It is a gift to my gods. I do not wish to give them gifts of metal tea candle holders or stubby bits of wax. (Well, okay that's not entirely true; there are times when such are the correct offerings for cthonic deities like Hecate, but that's another story entirely.)

I think what was missing in that and the other covens I ran into was that they really didn't understand the purpose of the offering bowl. Somewhere in their background (either because they learned from a book that never mentioned it, or it wasn't passed down by a responsible elder, or whatever) they had failed to have that bowl's meaning explained to them.

I don't make as many offerings indoors now. I have outdoor shrines that are better suited to food and drink being left out. I have special bowls and plates that I can use for leaving offerings outside, and I utilize them frequently. Most recently, I left out offerings of peace and goodwill for the fae and/or land wights and/or spirits of the neighborhood (or however you want to describe the Great Big Thing(s) that wake up around this time of year). I've been doing it on St Paddy's Day for a while, for no particular reason. It just feels right.

This year, I left a rather pretty arrangement. I was inspired a bit by a FaceBook friend, Jennifer, who has been making a daily pilgrimage to a local park for ages now. She often posts photos of her offerings, and she does fantastic things like drawing triskelions and spirals with her grains. With that in mind, I went for a different-than-usual offering display for me.

I think it was well received. Within an hour, every last drop of every item there was gone. While I could write off bread and maybe strawberries to squirrels, I don't think honey'd milk would make their top ten list. I felt... honored. I felt welcomed. And so that was my joy of giving.
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