Tag Archives: offerings

Art and the Altar

What do you offer? While I very much like candles and incense, I’m conscious every time I strike a match that fire is part of the problem at the moment. Humans need to burn less, and burning things as an act of reverence or prayer makes me deeply uneasy. But, what do you do with an altar if you aren’t burning things?

I’ve been experimenting with having an altar space for some months now, and trying to figure out how to do that in a way that makes sense to me. I’m interested in the way altars can function as spiritual instillations – I see plenty of photos online of the sacredness people create by making beauty. Changing what’s on an altar to reflect the season, or a festival, or a specific focus can clearly be a lovely thing to do.

I’m short of space. There is nowhere I can keep things that could be on the altar – either it lives there or it doesn’t. I do bring in seasonal finds, but that’s occasional and it happens when it does. I’ve tried liquid offerings, but I can’t leave them out – I’m clumsy and bump into things, and also there is a cat who at some point is going to get himself to the top of the bookcase.

I’m currently experimenting with the idea of making art for the altar. It’s something I can do at need, for whatever reason occurs to me. I can use it to reflect seasons and festivals. It is an offering of time and care, and it means trying to make something of beauty. It’s a lot cheaper than buying things to put on the altar, and paper doesn’t take much storing.

My first serious attempt at this was a set of three roses for Valentine’s Day. I’m not much into the hetronormative romance as performance. I don’t like commercialism around this day or any of the other social festivals. But, I also had a lot of other things going on and I wanted to honour the idea of love, and this seemed like a way to do it.


Offerings and Dedications

Moving on from No Sacrifice, what does a modern Druid do? I’m going to wave a couple of concepts here today. Offerings are something I have strong opinions about, and where my take does not match what I’ve seen Druids and Pagans generally doing. So, this is not authority, it’s my banging on about personal preference. Obviously, if I convince you all of my superior argument, that would be lovely, but I’m not expecting anything of the sort!

Offerings and dedications are things that we might do for gods, or spirits, that are also things we do for ourselves. Not unlike giving a gift or making a vow to a human companion, we do it for the joy of doing it, and for the subsequent strengthening of bonds, and knowing it will encourage them to feel benevolent towards us. It’s a friendly exchange, it’s not supposed to hurt.

I have an animist world view. I think everything has spirit. Not all pagans are animist and that’s probably key for how you think about offerings. It confuses the hell out of me when people turn up at rituals with offerings that basically consist of having uprooted a bit of spirit from where it was living and plonking it down in front of another spirit with a ‘there you go’.  Wildflowers from the hedgerow, feathers and other gleanings are popular. What makes this ours to give? When some of your own creativity has gone in the mix, it makes a degree more sense. What does the spirit of a tree need with a few fragments of sea shell offered to its roots? (seen that done). Why do all the dark places need offerings of tea lights? Often, the offerings become litter, or there’s a pile of stuff for the celebrant to take away and sort out at the end. Think about what happens to your offerings, after you leave them behind. Also think about what the spirits you were offering to might have a use for. I’d rather take water to plants in times of need, or, more usually, take in a dustbin bag and clear up the litter. Making a temporary altar out of what is in the space, an improvised art working with what lives there, seems a far more fitting offering than a thing bought in a shop or uprooted from where it was happily being a spirit of place in its own right.

Dedications, especially those made in ritual with human witnesses too, are ways of offering ourselves to the gods. They also serve to reinforce community bonds and help us develop in shared intentions together. Pledges to greener living are good. If one person says ‘from now on I shall grow all my own herbs’ other people may be inspired to have a go too. If the newbie dares to say ‘I’m going to recycle, diligently’ recognising that they are just starting out on a path, we can cheer them along. We dedicate to reducing consumption, to better sourcing, to making more of our own. We dedicate to living in more creative ways, giving more, being compassionate, upholding the values of a specific deity. During rites of passage, we dedicate to each other, as partners, parents, welcoming life in, waving it goodbye. We may dedicate as teachers, celebrants, bards – these human roles can be put before the gods too. These are things we can offer to the gods, to ourselves, to our communities and our planet. By formalising that intent into a ritual statement, we strengthen it.

Such efforts as these are not simple, one sided things. We are not giving something away for nothing, and it is not simply an activity which costs us. We are interacting with other things – divine, human, aspects of place, of our own lives. In this kind of undertaking we may be recognising all kinds of relationships. We make them conscious, choose how to conduct them, offer our intentions. By offering we affirm, we inspire others, we share the journey we are making. By offering, we nourish those around us, and when we hear their offerings and dedications, we can be inspired in turn. This is about how we craft our own lives, how we understand ourselves in relation to all things. It creates a focus.

When I make an offering or a dedication, the goodness of that action for me is something I am always conscious of. This undertaking will make my life feel cleaner and more honourable. This will strengthen me, give me purpose, focus me on the work my hands need to be doing. This will invite my community to support me in a new venture, to see me in a new way. This will keep me straight, I’ve pledged in public and will not lose face by then failing to follow through. But equally, if we just did it for personal reasons, it wouldn’t be worth much, and so these dedications are also for the good of the land and its other inhabitants, to honour the ancestors, to guard the future generations and so forth. The reality that everything we do is connected to everything else becomes clear, and that’s essential Druidry in itself.