How do you create sacred space?
Most CRs feel sacred space is not made, it is found. As a religion connected to the earth and the spirits of nature, we are likely to seek out a wild place that feels powerful to us, then communicate with the spirits of that place to establish a working relationship based on hospitality and mutual respect. In these cases, through our repeated offerings and reverence, and sometimes through the building of shrines, the place becomes even more sacred.
Like other sorts of Pagans, we also try to make more neutral spaces sacred, or find the sacred in unlikely places and build upon it. Most CRs have household shrines, dedicated to various Deities, ancestors and other spirits. When beginning a ritual whether it be a simple offering with prayers or a more elaborate group rite many CRs will first purify and bless themselves and the space. This is often called saining (blessing, sanctifying), and can be done with the smoke of sacred herbs like juniper, with water or flame, with song and poetry, or simply with the energy of the ritualists. Many use a combination of all of these methods.
Protection of the space, when needed, is generally accomplished through the aid of Deities and spirits, and the use of traditional items such as sacred trees, flame and herbs. This seems especially true of those working in an Insular format. If a boundary of some sort is desired, most CRs are likely to choose naturally-occuring boundaries such as a stream or grove of trees, or to meditate on the concept of the edge and the center, and the Ninth Wave of the ocean which is the boundary between this world and the Otherworld. Some CRs, especially those following a Gaulish model, like to create a physical boundary of some sort around their ritual spaces (such as a ditch or wall), or perhaps a temporary boundary of energy. Perhaps the majority of CRs create no boundary at all, and see the energy of the ritual as sufficiently contained and present, or needing no containment at all, as the purpose is not to wall out spirits but to create relationships with them. In cases where the spirits are not helpful or peaceful, and an alliance cannot be made, ritual actions and offerings are often made to create a treaty of non-interference with them.
What holidays do you celebrate? Dont you do the eightfold wheel of the year?
Folks following insular Celtic paths generally celebrate Samhain (Oíche Shamhna), Imbolc (Lá Fhéile Bríde), Bealtaine (Lá Bealtaine) and Lúnasa (Lá Lúnasa), though they may call these festivals by other names, depending on the Celtic culture in which they are working. Other individual holy days may be added, depending on the Deities or Spirits important to the celebrants. For instance, followers of Manannán mac Lír might celebrate His holy day near the summer solstice, which was traditionally the time when the Manx paid their rent to Him for the island. Scottish CRs may celebrate Latha na Cailliche, March 25 / Spring Equinox, the date when Brìghde finally triumphs over the Cailleach and begins Her reign over the warm half of the year.
CR as a whole does not follow an eightfold wheel of the year. Gaulish CRs follow the Coligny calendar as best they can, but again, that calendar doesnt offer an eightfold cycle of holy days.
At Oíche Shamhna, our new year, we pay our respects to our ancestors. Lá Fhéile Bríde marks the first stirrings of spring, and is one of Brídes festivals. Lá Bealtaine is a fertility festival when the hawthorn blooms and fields are ploughed and planted. Lá Lúnasa is a first harvest festival marked by athletic games in honor of Lughs foster mother Tailltiu, and rainstorms are seen as the presence of Lugh at the rites.
CRs may celebrate the holidays on the calendar date or follow a lunar calendar which centers the festival around the full moon of that season. Perhaps most CRs choose the date for celebration based on changes in local weather and landscape (first frost, spring thaw, blooming of the hawthorn trees, ripening of the blueberries or blackberries, or other phenomena). And a modern, but important, tradition followed by many is to celebrate the festival on The Date When Everyone Can Make It (usually the weekend closest to one of the above phenomena).
What kinds of rituals do you have?
Like any other spiritual path, we have rituals for lifes passages. We celebrate handfastings, child blessings, burial rituals and adulthood rites. Additionally, we have seasonal rites that usually involve feasting and offerings, and are held at the turning points of the year. For the folks on Gaelic paths these would be Samhain (Oíche Shamhna), Imbolc (Lá Fhéile Bríde), Bealtaine (Lá Bealtaine) and Lúnasa (Lá Lúnasa), or the Brythonic equivalents for other Insular Celtic paths.
A common CR practice is to familiarize yourself with the land you live on, its wildlife and natural seasonal cycles, and synchronize your seasonal festivals around the changes that happen on the land where you live. CRs in the Southern Hemisphere will be observing different changes than CRs in the Northern Hemisphere, and this should be taken into account when planning seasonal rites. We have culturally based community rituals that are primarily celebratory in nature, and smaller, more mystical or ecstatic rites.
We also make rituals of everyday things, from purifications upon rising or before going to bed to daily renewal of food and drink offerings on our household or personal altars. Candles might be lit on shrines for the dead, or to ask for healing for friends or relatives who are ill. We also have more involved rituals for healing and for protection that we use when necessary.
Some individuals or groups may have specialized rituals, for instance periodic devotionals to different Deities. Based upon the historical orders of women flamekeepers, there are groups that tend Brighids sacred flame, keeping watch over a fire on their personal altars for one day out of a twenty day cycle before the fire is passed on in person or by intention to the next devotee in the rotation. On the twentieth day, Brighid is said to tend the flame Herself.
Some groups or orders may have initiatory rites, such as warrior-band initiations, or vision-seeking rites as part of the training and initiation of filí (poets) or fáithe (seers), where vigils in wild and sacred places might be performed for several days in a row.
Divination can be a part of ritual for many people, and divination is almost always done after making offerings, to determine if the offerings were found acceptable by the Deities or spirits. Ogham is commonly used for this, as is taking omens from the signs around us in nature such as by cloud-watching. There are also divinatory and trance rituals like the tarbhfeis (bull-feast), or the tigh n alluis (Gaelic sweat house) rites that different groups and individuals are attempting to reconstruct from details in the tales, manuscripts and folklore.
Do you have to be a priest or a priestess to do a ritual?
No. Anyone can set up an altar for their Deities, their ancestors, and for the land spirits that dwell in their region. Anyone can pour out libation offerings to the Deities and the spirits, or make biodegradable food offerings at the base of a tree, into the fire, or in any other place that feels sacred to them and connected to the spirits of place.
Larger public rituals are usually best run by those with experience, but anyone can do personal daily rituals to show their respect for the sacred and to connect themselves to it.
What do you do for Samhain?
If you live in a place where it gets cold in the autumn, Samhain (Oíche Shamhna) tends to come at about the time of the first frost. (The calendar date is October 31st, but most CRs take this as an approximation rather than an exact date, and adjust the date to suit their regional climate.) In North America, pumpkins are ripe and the berries of hawthorns are red and getting soft. The festival itself is one of honoring the dead and of mourning the newly dead who have passed away in the just-finished year. Due to Her association with the dead, and Oíche Shamhna being the time of her mating with the Dagda, many CRs pay particular attention to the Morrígan at this festival.
Its appropriate to do a saining of the home with juniper a New Year tradition in the highlands of Scotland and to set up altars or shrines for the ancestors. On the night of Oíche Shamhna, many of us hold a feast with our friends and family where we invite the honored dead to come and feast with us. A place of honor is laid at the table or on the altar, where the first food of the feast and cups full of drink are placed for the dead. This portion of the food is never eaten by the living, but is instead offered outside when the feast is done. Candles are often lit for the dead, and their names are spoken. Tales about their lives are shared and toasts might be made in their names.
Divination is another common feature of this festival, and readings are often done to get a feel for the luck of the coming year. These might be divinations or readings done for individuals, or for a group or family as a whole. Oíche Shamhna is also the traditional start of the storytelling season, and traditional tales might be shared around the fire or after the feast while divination goes on in another room. As a time when the spirit-worlds are close at hand, ghost stories are fun and seasonal, as well as stories from our family or community histories. Music and dancing are common parts of modern Oíche Shamhna celebrations as well.
It is traditional in many Scottish and Irish communities for the teenagers to have a bonfire party on Oíche Shamhna, much as the younger children may attend more supervised parties or participate in trick-or-treating, which has its roots in some Gaelic guisers customs. A number of traditional forms of divination have survived in childrens games, and these are often a part of Oíche Shamhna parties. One of these is the Gaelic tradition of divination by apple peel, where the apple is peeled in one long strip, and then the peel thrown over ones shoulder with all due ceremony; the peel is then supposed to form the first initial of the name of ones future spouse, or the first letter of the answer to ones question. Another divination game involves naming two nuts after two people, then putting them on the fire. Omens are taken from how the nuts roast or pop, and whether they move closer together or further apart.
As an agricultural and herding turning point, cattle were brought down from the mountains at this time and driven between two fires to purify and protect them for the winter. Excess animals were culled and sacrifice was performed, with the meat being prepared for winter storage. These days such things are rarely necessary unless you live rurally and raise your own animals for meat, but this would be a sensible time for slaughter and sacrifice, offering some portion to the Deities, ancestors and spirits as you put food away for yourself and the living family.
After this time, berries on the bush were traditionally considered the property of the Spirits and no longer good for human consumption. The last grain that went unharvested was left in the field for the Spirits as well.
What do you do for Imbolc?
If you live in a climate where the winter is a time of snow and frozen ground, Imbolc (Lá Fhéile Bríde) is usually seen as the time of first thaw. Generally, some time between late January and late February, there is a time when when the temperatures rise and the weather is briefly spring-like. Though there may still be snow on the ground, the first stirrings of spring can be felt.
In warmer climes, such as much of Ireland itself, the festival is marked by the first appearance of greenery, or the arrival of spring flowers such as primroses, crocuses or dandelions, which are sacred to Brighid. Scottish legend has it that on the day of Brìghde, the snakes will emerge from the ground. This only makes sense if Là Fhèill Brìghde is celebrated at the true beginning of Spring but, given the climate in much of Scotland, perhaps the reference is more symbolic of Brìghdes connection with serpents, and the wisdom, healing and immortality they symbolize. This tradition of looking to the emergence of a hibernating animal to predict the weather has been Americanized as Ground Hog Day.
A Scottish rhyme about Imbolc runs:
Another version is:
(McNeill, F. Marian, The Silver Bough, Vol. Two. p. 30)
One legend has it that Là Fhèill Brìghde is the day the Cailleach gathers Her firewood for the rest of the winter. If She needs lots of firewood for the long winter to come, She will make the day clear and sunny. She can sometimes be seen on a clear Là Fhèill Brìghde, in the form of a large bird (often a crane or heron) carrying sticks in Her beak. Sighting the Cailleach is usually an omen of fierce, spring snowstorms to come. However, if She has decided to make the winter short this year, there is no reason for gathering wood; She can sleep all day and make the weather on Là Fhèill Brìghde as horrible as She wants.
It is still debatable whether the weather on Lá Fhéile Bríde / Là Fhèill Brìghde truly determines the weather for the rest of the season. Some CRs secretly think that the omen of a shorter winter is a hoped-for consolation prize for terrible weather on the festival day. Some feel gentle snow on Brídes day is a good omen, much as is gentle rain on Lá Lúnasa.
Other forms of divination are practiced at Là Fhèill Brìghde as well. In Scotland, children have been known to chase crows on the festival day. The direction in which the crow flies is seen to signify the direction in which ones future spouse resides, and where ones future home will be.
Traditionally, Bríde is believed to wander the earth on the eve of Lá Fhéile Bríde, and many will leave an article of clothing or tool outside their door in hopes that Bríde will bless it for them as She passes by. In the morning, the ground is observed for signs of Her footprints.
Many CRs celebrate Lá Fhéile Bríde by welcoming Bríde into the house, based upon traditional rituals recorded in Ireland and Scotland by authors like Alexander Carmichael, F. Marian McNeill and Kevin Danaher. A favorite activity, especially for those with children, is to weave Brídes Crosses out of rushes, straw, or yarn and sacred woods like rowan or willow, which are then blessed and hung in the house to provide protection for the following year. In Scotland, Imbolc is very much a holiday for girls, with the girl children dressing up in white, or festive, spring colors, and carrying an effigy of Bríde through the community. This party will then stop at various houses for refreshments and maybe to offer a song or skit. If the weather is warm, sometimes the teenagers will have a bonfire party that night while the adults celebrate indoors.
As Brighid is a Goddess of holy wells, some CRs will center their Lá Fhéile Bríde ritual around asking Her blessings upon their local water source, making a pilgrimage to their well or resevoir and making offerings to Brighid. These offerings can include food and drink, as well as songs and poetry. Priestesses and Priests of Brighid often take this time to do deep trancework with Her, and to divine Her wishes for the coming year.
Lá Fhéile Bríde is a very appropriate time to dedicate to writing or performing poetry in general, especially praise-poetry for Brighid and other liturgy. Whereas most of the other festivals involve travel and feasting with large groups of friends and extended family, Lá Fhéile Bríde is often the festival which focuses the most on the hearth and home, and quiet activities with ones household or local community.
What do you do for Bealtaine?
In a climate with cold winters, this is the festival when spring turns to summer. (The calendar date is May 1st, though most CRs adjust this to suit their own climate.) CRs who have thorn trees locally often use their blossoming to mark the beginning of the light half of the year. Because Beltaine (Lá Bealtaine) is so linked with Samhain (Oíche Shamhna), many of the traditional activities that began then would end at this time. It is, for instance, the traditional end of the season of storytelling that began with Oíche Shamhna. Like Oíche Shamhna, it is also a time when the spirit world is seen to be particularly close at hand.
As this day is regarded as the beginning of summer in Scotland and Ireland, summer activities traditionally begin at this time. In herding communities, cattle and other livestock were moved from the byres and cottages to the summer pastures in the hills, and would be herded between two fires to purify them for the summers coming. Many CRs still celebrate this custom by passing themselves and their pets, and livestock if they have any, between two fires on this holy day whether the fires in question are bonfires, torches or candles.
Before leaving for the festival, it was traditional to douse all the fires in the village and clean out the hearth. In many households, this might be the only day of the year the fire was allowed to go out completely. The festival fires were then traditionally started by friction (a needfire or tine-éigean), and then tended through the festival and over the next night. This took place in areas such as Arran in Scotland and on many of the sacred hills in Ireland.
Flames from these bonfires were then taken home to relight the fires in each family hearth. Today, community bonfires can be built and vigils held on Lá Bealtaine eve before the people and animals pass through them at the dawning of the day, and candles lit from these fires can be brought home from the festival for good luck and protection. The bonfires are still regarded as a source of protection, good luck and fertility, though one should never give another fire from their own hearth or anything else from the home on this day, as the luck of the house would go with it. This is the one exception to the tradition of hospitality that was highly prioritized during all the rest of the year.
Some CRs also enact the custom of dousing and relighting the home fires by shutting off the pilot lights in their stoves and furnaces before they leave for the festival and upon their return relighting the pilot light with the flame from the festival fire. (If you do this, make sure you also know how to shut off the gas line, to make sure the renewed fire upon your return is not an explosion!) A practical way of carrying home the Lá Bealtaine flames is in a jar candle, camping-style candle lantern, or other shielded flame.
While the blooming of hawthorn marks the advent of Lá Bealtaine, it was considered unlucky to cut anything from thorn trees or to bring any part of them into the house except on Lá Bealtaine for fear of offending the Aos Sí. Seasonal altars are often decorated with blooming thorn this day because, for most, it is the one time of the year when it is not considered ill luck to cut the tree.
Holy wells are frequently visited on Lá Bealtaine. Well-veneration is a custom that still survives in the Celtic lands, and is believed to be a holdover from pre-Christian times. Many of these wells in Celtic lands have (or once had) thorn trees growing beside them. The well is traditionally approached before dawn and circled three times sunwise, while uttering prayers for health, prosperity, and healing. After these prayers are made, clooties (strips of cloth, often torn from the clothing of the one making the prayer) are tied to the branches of the tree, or a silver coin tossed into the well, to bring about the good wishes.
Traditionally in Scotland, a Lá Bealtaine bannock was made with oats, milk and eggs, mixed by hand and touched by no steel. One piece of the bannock was darkened with charcoal and whoever received this piece then had to pass three times over the bonfire to carry away any ill luck that might befall the community. Early greens might be picked as part of the ritual meal, to celebrate their return which would have been even more important in times when fresh greens were simply unavailable in winter. Some CRs choose not to eat bread or other baked goods for this ritual as a memory that grain might be scarce at this time of year.
Rowan equal-armed crosses were made and hung over cattle byres to protect them from the Aos Sí and other spirits who were abroad at this time, as the passage between worlds is easier on Lá Bealtaine, much as it also is at Oíche Shamhna. Water from holy wells was, and still is, sprinkled on people and animals to bless them.
At dawn on Lá Bealtaine, young women would gather dew and wash their faces with it to bring beauty and youth. The first water drawn from a well was additionally believed to have the power to bring healing and maintain ones youth.
Unlike most of the Neopagan community, CRs dont celebrate Lá Bealtaine with Maypoles. This tradition isnt Celtic, but was imported to the urban areas of Wales, Scotland and Ireland at a fairly late date from England, and never reached the more rural areas. A tradition practiced in Scotland and Ireland that has even found its way to Newfoundland is of decorating a May Bush, and often fierce competitions were held to see who could produce the most festive one. This was a way of celebrating the greening of the foliage, and the sign that life was returning to the land. This custom seems to have survived in an altered form in parts of the Irish and Scottish diaspora, most noticeably the Northeastern US, in the tradition of decorating trees with hanging Easter Eggs and other spring symbols at the beginning of spring.
What do you do for Lúnasa?
In the US, some CRs celebrate berry season as a Lúnasa (Lá Lúnasa) or Tailtiu rite, around the beginning to the middle of August (depending on the weather each year) when the berries are finally ripening. In the Pacific Northwest, the festival is marked by the ripening of the blackberries, while in the Northeast, blueberries are usually the festival fruit.
The chosen day or weekend is spent going out to pick wild berries then having a feast where each dish contains berries in some form berry vinegar in the salad dressing, berry sauce on salmon or chicken as a main dish, and berry pies or muffins for dessert. Berry offerings are given to the Deities and land spirits. Berry jam and pie fillings are made and preserved, berry vinegar is started, and sometimes berry wine as well. This fits in well with the Lá Lúnasa traditions of Ireland and Scotland, where berrying was part of the seasonal festival. Its a great communal activity that can involve an entire extended family from the youngest children to the elders, as well as any interested friends and neighbors. It also lives out a regional connection to the land as a local calendar point.
Lá Lúnasa/Tailtiu is also hurricane season in some areas. Some CRs on the east coast of the US include offerings of first fruits, favorite foods and poetry to the Cailleachan (Storm Hags) or Lugh, asking Them to please spare our homes, crops and loved ones from the late-summer storms. Gentle rain on the day of the festival is traditionally seen as Lughs presence, and a good omen. Similarly, gentle winds, or high winds that manage to announce their presence without harming anyone, are seen as the presence of the boisterous Cailleachan. Other CRs feel that no wind at all on the festival is an even better omen, as it means the Cailleachan are busy elsewhere and too preoccupied to accidentally destroy the ripening crops.
Among the ancient Celts, this was a time of major assemblies, when rural peoples would journey to gather with distant neighbors for trade and celebration. This has survived in some families as the tradition of holding family reunions in August, or using this time for travelling to visit distant relatives. However, given the constraints of modern work schedules, especially among those who no longer farm, the reunions have in some cases been moved to a more convenient summer holiday, such as (in the US) the Fourth of July weekend.
Other traditions practiced by the ancient Celts at this festival included horse races, especially races in which the horses would swim some of the distance raced. It was also the time when the lambs were weaned from their dams, a custom which was suppressed in many (but not all) areas under Christianity due to its pagan associations, and replaced by different methods of weaning. Another common custom related to the time was the contracting of temporary marriages, which could be dissolved at will until the following Lá Bealtaine. Further, the festival as a whole was a time of significant sexual competitiveness among women (and possibly men), with much trickery recorded (such as one instance where a woman hired a clown to publicly tear the wig off of a rival at the Tailtiu fair). Among CRs, Lá Lúnasa begins the preferred wedding season, which lasts through to Oíche Shamhna.
You talk a lot about these practices, but can you describe them in more detail?
In CR, spiritual practices vary among different groups and individuals, but the common thread is that they are based on the Celtic lore and upon our best interpretations of how we can apply traditional methods of ritual, meditation, prayer, divination and other devotional acts to our daily lives. Different people take different paths on the road to spiritual development. The spiritual practices of some CRs are focused very much on the contemplative, the mystical, while others pursue a path based more on outward activity. Some prefer to work mostly alone, while others find their calling in community celebrations. Many endeavour to discover or develop a personal path that balances these approaches.
Folks walking the warrior path often find that martial arts practice is a meditation for them, and devote a part of their workout space to an altar to the Deities of combat and weaponry. Some might also study arts like blacksmithing or the making of bows and arrows as a part of their devotion. For some, horsemanship also comes into it, and their work with the animals is a part of their spiritual practice. Work with dogs and hunting may also play a part for some people, especially if they identify as Outsider/Fianna. Many on the warrior path may also see working or volunteering in law enforcement, fire and rescue, emergency medical services, search and rescue and other similar services as an expression of their spirituality.
For those who follow a healers path, the growing and preparation of healing herbs is often a part of spiritual practice. Prayers and offerings are made at planting and harvesting, and tending the growing plants is in itself an act of worship and meditation. Whether the herbs are grown in fields or window planters, the connection with the land and the spirits of nature offers a satisfying way of devotion to healing Deities, especially Goddesses like Brighid and Airmid.
CRs in general are encouraged to get outdoors and be in contact with the natural world. Those of us who live in cities will often go camping or go out for day hikes to meditate in wild places. We find that such practices recharge our emotional and spiritual resources, bringing us into deeper contact with the Deities and particularly with the spirits of the land. In places where camping and fires are allowed, offerings are often given to the sprits and Deities via the fire, vigils are held and prayers are made. Pilgrimages to the sea are not uncommon for those living further inland, especially if there is a connection to sea Deities like Manannán mac Lír or Fand, and offerings of food, flowers or drink are often placed in the water or poured out into the sea for Them.
The filí (poets) of Ireland postulated an energy structure in the body, consisting of three internal cauldrons. These cauldrons were Coire Goiriath the Cauldron of Warming, Coire Érmai the Cauldron of Motion, and Coire Sofhis the Cauldron of Wisdom. Many folk who are working on modern filidecht in an Irish or Scottish CR tradition find this a useful model for meditation and healing work. Further information about a CR perspective on this material can be found in Erynn Rowan Lauries Cauldron of Poesy article. It includes a preliminary translation of the text, commentary, and ideas for breathing exercises as well as thoughts on the path of CR Filidecht. An edition of the text in Irish, along with a later, more complete translation in English by Laurie is also available.
Many of us do divinatory work, usually with ogham, an early Irish alphabet. Divination or omen-taking is often a part of larger rituals and the making of offerings, so that we can get some sense of the attitude of the Deities, ancestors or nature spirits toward the work that weve done. The study of ogham divination and other omen-taking practices forms and informs many of our approaches. Dreamwork and the cultivation of vision are also an important part of personal practice for many of those on the more mystical end of CR.
Almost anything in a persons daily life can be ritualized and surrounded with the sacred. Preparation of meals can be a sacred task. Cleaning the house can be approached as both a meditation and a spiritual cleansing a physical and spiritual act of glanadh (cleaning, clearance). Welcoming a guest with food and drink is practicing the sacred act of hospitality, and is a concrete example of virtue in action. Study of history and lore is a devotional act to Deities of knowledge, eloquence and wisdom, like Ogma and Brighid.
Spiritual practice is not limited to things set apart from daily life. Daily life is a spiritual practice.
Offerings seem to be a really important part of all those rituals. How do I make offerings?
Offerings are a very important part of CR practice. They are made on all the major ritual occasions, and are frequently made in small, private rituals as well. Some people make daily or weekly offerings to their house spirits, ancestors or Deities as a regular part of their devotional practices.
Making offerings is a very simple thing on the outside. It would seem to be just a matter of placing food and drink on an altar, or leaving these things in an outdoor location that you consider sacred or connected to Deities, ancestors or land spirits. In truth, its a more complicated thing and involves both energy and intent. Offerings are not just food or drink, but can also be creative works that youve made, or performance of poetry, music, or other arts. Sometimes candles or incense are lit as a part of the offering. Food and drink, though, are the most often used items, and are most consistently available to anyone in any region.
Traditional food offerings include milk, butter, mead or ale, baked goods, oats, hazelnuts, rowan berries, apples, and other items frequently mentioned in the tales and lore. Meat may also be part of an offering, and salmon is frequently given as an offering by those seeking wisdom. Water is also a common offering, particularly if it is water from a sacred spring or holy well that was collected ritually during a pilgrimage to a sacred site. When offering to the local land spirits, some people practicing CR in North America may also include offerings of tobacco, maize, sage, or other native food or plant items, depending on the traditional likes and dislikes of these spirits and what they seem to be requesting of us.
When preparing the offering, its good to offer prayers to the Deities and spirits that youll be giving it to. This helps you focus your attention on Them and on the sacred intent of the creation of an offering. A ritual cleansing or saining of the people and the items involved in the offering is often done in preparation for making offerings. Food and drink can be placed in a vessel used primarily or only for making offerings. It doesnt have to be anything fancy or expensive, but it should be something that you consider beautiful as well as functional. For offerings into fire, the food and drink will be put in the flames, but the vessels would be kept unless you place the offerings in wooden vessels that you intend as part of the offering or sacrifice. Offerings made outdoors dont have to be left on plates or in containers. Liquid offerings are usually poured out as prayers are offered. Outdoor offerings should be given to the earth or placed in the water with care, however, just as offerings made indoors are placed on the altar with care. Offerings are never to be simply tossed on the ground like trash.
The offering of alcoholic drinks is somewhat controversial. It is clear from the Celtic lore that many Deities and spirits may appreciate offerings of mead or ale. However, those of us living in the Americas are conscious of the fact that many First Nations peoples feel it is taboo to pour alcohol onto the earth, as it is seen as a poison. A compromise found by those who still choose to offer alcohol is to only offer it when it can be poured into flames and consumed by the fire.
The actual making of the offering should be accompanied by prayer or poetry dedicated to the Deities or spirits. The words dont have to be fancy, but should be from the heart. Some people like to make their offering prayers in Gaelic or the language of their Deities, while others speak the prayers in their own native languages. For some folks, its important to make offerings with traditional words or a similar verbal formula each time, and they may compose offertory prayers that are used each time an offering is made. Others find it more appropriate to make each offering with words inspired in the moment and in fitting with the purpose of each individual offering.
The attention of everyone present during the offerings should be fixed on the task at hand, without side chatter going on. Offerings are a vital part of our social and spiritual contracts with the Deities, the ancestors and the spirits. To make an offering is to extend hospitality to those entities, to open ourselves up to communication with them, and should always be done with reverence and respect. Offerings may be made in thanks for services that the Deities and spirits have given, or as a regular part of your daily or weekly practice. They may be made as part of a larger ritual, or as special requests for assistance and favor in times of need. When making offerings as part of a request, remember also to make offerings in thanks when that request is granted.
Offerings indoors on your altar might be left overnight or for a few hours, but should then be taken outside and given to the land whenever possible. Offerings to the Deities and spirits should not be eaten afterwards. CR belief has generally been that the toradh (substance) of ritually offered food and drink has been consumed by the spirits, and that to consume that which was given to the Deities and spirits is subtly harmful to the living. This was also a part of early Scottish and Irish belief and, due to this, offerings left at the doorstep were usually watched to see that the family cats and dogs didnt get into them. If you have a fireplace, woodstove, or other place to make a fire, its also quite acceptable to burn the offerings after theyre removed from the altar.
In cases where offerings are made at large public rituals in urban settings, it may not be practical to put the offerings outside immediately afterwards, for health and safety reasons. Leaving offerings in the alley behind a building will feed the rats and not make your neighbors happy. In cases like this, food and drink can either be kept temporarily in a storage container and later placed in a park or in a flowing stream, or with proper acknowledgement and prayers it might need to be disposed of in a dumpster. That option, however, is a last resort and should only be done when there is no chance of taking the offerings to leave them in a natural setting. Bearing this in mind, when planning an urban, indoor ritual, most CRs will make sure that a trip to the park afterwards, at least for the officiating clergy, is incorporated into the schedule.
After offerings are made, many CRs do divination to see if the offerings were accepted. This may involve taking an omen from the surroundings, or drawing an ogham fiodh to gauge the response of the Deities and spirits. If the omen or divination is unfavorable, it is wise to consider making other offerings and refocusing your intent. In this way, offerings are a time not only for speaking to the Deities and spirits, but also for listening to Their messages to us.
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