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Offerings in Gaelic Polytheism

by An Chomhairle Ghaol Naofa Do not reproduce without explicit permission.

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Published by An Chuallacht Ghaol Naofa. www.gaolnaofa.com Published ! "ebruary # 1$. %hird edition. Copyright & # '(# 1$ An Chomhairle Ghaol Naofa.

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Introduction
Along with prayer0 offerings are one of the easiest and best ways to begin a Gaelic Polytheist practice. %here1s not a lot of study in*ol*ed and gi*ing offerings is one of the most effecti*e ways to form contact with Na Tr Naomhthe deities0 ancestors0 and spirits of nature.1 2fferings are simple acts which ha*e a powerful and complex meaning. 3n this article0 we will ta-e a loo- at the history of offerings0 the *arieties that can be gi*en0 how to handle them0 and how the ta-ing of omens may or may not be appropriate.

Historicism of Offerings
De Gabail In tSida 45%he %a-ing of the ,idhe560# contained within the 1#th century manuscript the 7oo- of 8einster0 pro*ides an interesting account of the beginning of polytheistic practices in 3reland. %he tale follows shortly after the defeat of the %uatha D9 Danann 4D0 i.e.0 5gods56 by the /:lesians 4the Gael;human beings6 in the 7attle of %ailtiu. %he *ictorious /:lesians ha*e now settled on the land of <riu while the %uatha D9 Danann ha*e been forced 5underground5 and remain hostile towards the /:lesians by poisoning their crops0 destroying their mil- and causing unrest. %he =ing of the /:lesians0 >remon0 was then obliged to meet with the chieftain of the %uatha D90 the Dagda0 to discuss arrangements of peace between the two peoples. An agreement was reached in which the /:lesians were to pay tributes of mil- and produce to the %uatha D9 Danann who would0 in turn0 allow them to drin- their mil-0 grow their crops0 and would ensure the peace between the two parties.? %his short tale could possibly re*eal much about how the ancient Gaels *iewed their relationships and interactions with the gods and spirits. At the *ery least0 it pro*ides a useful foundation from which modern Gaelic Polytheists can begin to build. "irst0 it

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3n Gaol Naofa0 we refer to this triad of spirit beings as 5%he ,acred %hree5@ Na Tr Naomh 4Gaeilge60 An Tr Naomh 4GAidhlig60 or Yn Tree Noo 4Gaelg6B they may also be referred to as the D ocus An-D 4,engo:delc60 the 5Gods and +n( Gods.5 "or the sa-e of con*enience0 at times we will simply refer to all these beings collecti*ely as0 5the spirits.5 ,ee@ Cernam Dull0 1De GabEil in t(,Fda01 in Zeitschrift f r !eltische "hilolo#ie Colume 1G0 1G??0 p!?(!H. 3bidB IentJ0 The $air%-$aith in !eltic !ountries0 1G110 p#G1. ? | www.gaolnaofa.com

re*eals that when humans and D are at odds0 it will result in disharmony0 scarcity0 and a possible unfortunate chain of e*ents. %hen when humans and D meet to come to peaceful terms0 both parties enter into a contractual relationship. ContractsKformal mutual agreementsKwere the foundation of ancient Gaelic society. %his is expressed well in a Luote from the Di Astud !hor 452n the ,ecuring of Contracts560 5for the great world is secured;by contracts which are proclaimed.5 $ %his contract between humans and D is honoured *ia a reciprocal cycle of mutual respect and accommodation0 i.e.0 hospitality0 a principle also held in high regard by the ancient Gael 4who e*en enforced strict laws on when0 how0 and to whom hospitality should be gi*en6. "inally0 this tale shows that hospitality0 expressed through the gi*ing of gifts 4in this case0 mil- and produce60 fosters abundance0 health0 and harmony between humans and D 4perhaps representati*e of cosmological harmony as well6. ,uch a relationship compliments the alternati*e epithet for the %uatha D9 Danann0 aes sdhe 4i.e.0 5people of peace56. ,o it is upon contractual relationships and the extension of hospitality that Gaelic Polytheist 5worship5 is founded upon0 and is why the gi*ing of offerings is such an essential component of our relationship with the D ocus And.! 7y ma-ing offerings to the spirits0 not only are modern Gaelic Polytheists honoring our ancestors1 ancient contract0 but we are coming into harmony with the D0 strengthening the bonds between humans and the di*ine0 and thereby ensuring our health and prosperity.

Types of Offerings
As read in De Gabail In tSida0 mil- and produce were among the offerings gi*en unto the D. 2ther offerings that were gi*en in ancient times include corn 4as in grain not maiJe60 weaponry such as swords and shields0 Mewellery0 artistic crafts0 meat0 first fruits0 alcoholic libations 4mead or ale0 for example60 and animal 4and possibly the occasional human6 sacrifice. %hese offerings were often deposited in offertory pits or dry wells0

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/ac8eod0 &arl% Irish !ontract 'a(0 1GG#. D ocus And0 also gi*en as D ocus An-D 5gods and non(gods5B 5non(gods5 is being used here to refer to any powerful spirit that is not necessarily a god or goddess 4i.e.0 ancestors0 land spirits0 heroes0 etc6. Dithe a#us Andithe in /odern 3rish. $ | www.gaolnaofa.com

burned in sacrificial fires0 thrown into ri*ers and la-es0 or placed near sacred standing stones. 3n the more recent0 sur*i*ing Gaelic fol- traditions0 mil-0 butter0 cream0 caudle0 bannoc-s and ca-es 4especially on the holidays60 water0 poetry and song0 honey0 coins0 berries0 clootie rags or ribbons0 and candlelight are offered to the 5Good "ol-05 or fairies0 and placed near wells0 on or near sacred stones0 in trees or shrubbery0 or left outside the household. /odern Gaelic Polytheists ha*e often found that spirits 4especially the 5Good "ol-56 appreciate offerings where some degree of human wor- has gone into transforming raw ingredients into something new@ ba-ed goods0 butter0 and e*en modern things li-e coffee and chocolate0 that our distant ancestors did not ha*e0 but that some spirits seem to li-e us to share with them now. Con*enient offerings to -eep on our persons include things that tra*el well0 such as haJel nuts in a baggie in a poc-et. Ihile non(traditional offerings may be well(recei*ed0 and we would encourage you to be responsi*e to the the *aried tastes of particular gods0 spirits0 and ancestors0 there are some -inds of offerings that we feel should be a*oided. Gaelic Polytheists in North America0 for example0 may be tempted to ma-e offerings of tobacco0 white sage or maiJe to the local land spirits based on some 4often misinformed6 ideas about 3ndigenous practices. 3t is often the case that these offerings are made without a proper understanding of the ceremonies and local *ariations in*ol*ed. At best0 this -ind of ignorance undermines the point of ma-ing such offerings in the first place. At worst0 serious offence may be caused to local spirits0 as well as to our neighbours and relati*es who hold such ceremonies sacred.N
N As a co(writer of the re*ised *ersion of this article0 =athryn0 as the primary writer;editor of collecti*ely(authored !) $A*0 would li-e to apologise for0 and clarify0 this potentially(misleading statement that was made in The !) $A*@ 5Ihen offering to the local land spirits0 some people practicing C) in North America may also include offerings of tobacco0 maiJe0 sage0 or other nati*e food or plant items0 depending on the traditional li-es and disli-es of these spirits and what they seem to be reLuesting of us.5 4C) "AO@ 2fferings6 Ihen a co(author submitted that phrasing0 =athryn too- it for granted that non(Nati*es would not offer those things without consulting with Nati*e >lders. ,he now realises that non(Nati*es who actually consult with Nati*e ceremonial people are the exception among those interested in Celtic )econstructionism0 not the rule. Ihile some Nati*es use some of those things in some regions of North America0 in other regions and situations those offerings would be inappropriate or e*en offensi*e0 depending on who they are offered to and how they are handled. As we noted in The GN $A* 4pNH(NG60 unless you are being directly ad*ised by >lder ceremonial people from the Nations;%ribes in your area0 you should ne*er attempt to incorporate aspects of 3ndigenous ways into your practice. Ie ha*e spent decades discussing this with ceremonial people and >lders from many Nations0 and the wholehearted consensus is that you should do ceremony in the ways of your own ancestors0 as long as it doesn1t commit an offence against the local spirits 4see following section on alcohol0 for instance6. Additionally0 no one person0 of any ethnicity0 can gi*e you permission to do a ritual or offering in the way of their tribeB not unless they ha*e been empowered to do so by their entire community. Nati*e religions are ! | www.gaolnaofa.com

2ut of respect for the people and spirits of the land in North America0 ' we in Gaol Naofa ha*e especially ta-en to heart the reasons why we must adapt any offerings that could in*ol*e alcohol. Ihile some of our members and relati*es in the Celtic Nations may offer alcohol by pouring it on the ground or into a sacred fire0 this is not done in North America. At least0 not if one wants to be in harmony with the local nature spirits and other 3ndigenous neighbours. >xtensi*e0 long(term discussion0 experience and interfaith collaboration with Nati*e relati*es0 friends and >lder ad*isors has resulted in the consensus that offering alcohol that way is not an acceptable practice for North America. %o pour alcohol on the land or in the waters is to poison the >arth. Additionally0 some of the spirits in the Americas can be *ery different from those in the Celtic Nations0 and offering alcohol on the North American landbase can call forces you really don1t want to be dealing with. 3f you li*e in America or Canada0 yet feel *ery strongly that your Gaelic deities or ancestors want alcohol from you0 and will accept no substitutions0 some will offer a small cup on their indoor altar0 and lea*e it there to e*aporate o*er time. Ihile understanding that people are going to do what they do0 no matter what we say0 we encourage other Gaels to as- some serious Luestions about whether alcohol is really necessary in their li*es.H
communal and family(based. %he right to spea- for the community can only be granted by the members of that particular community. /any non(Nati*es ha*e tried to say that one0 usually anonymous0 usually dead0 Nati*e ga*e them permission to do things that actually fly in the face of that community1s traditions and protocols. 3n real Nati*e communitiesKand yes0 they ha*e phone and 3nternet accessKe*eryone -nows who the ceremonial people and >lders areB e*eryone -nows e*eryone1s relati*es. 3f someone claims a Nati*e person ga*e them permission to do a ritual or ceremony0 but won1t name a legitimate Nati*e tribe and in(person community whose members will *ouch for them0 they are either woefully ignorant0 were decei*ed by a fraud0 or are consciously trying to decei*e you. 3n the rare cases where a non(Nati*e may ha*e been gi*en permission to participate in some Nati*e things0 if they were taught traditionally they would -now that they shouldn1t be telling other non(Nati*es about it0 and certainly not ta-ing it upon themsel*es to gi*e Nati*e ceremony or ceremonial permissions to other non(Nati*es. Again0 that sort of beha*iour is a clear sign of fraud. Ie also must note that people who were not raised in a traditional community are rarely eLuipped to -now whether the spirits tal-ing to them are Nati*e0 whether those spirits ha*e their best interests at heart0 or e*en whether it is the spirits or their own imaginations tal-ing. %herefore0 it is *itally important to not only compare your perceptions to what is -nown in the lore0 but also to the consensus of experienced members of the community. 3n this way0 we ma-e sure that we are hearing the spirits0 and not our own wishful thin-ing. 7eware anyone who claims to tal- to 3ndigenous spirits who ne*er tal-s to 3ndigenous people. =athryn apologises for letting that unclear wording wind up in The !) $A*0 and as-s readers to help clarify this issue when they encounter any misinformation or misrepresentations that may ha*e resulted from that collecti*e writing proMect. =nown to many Nati*e peoples as %urtle 3sland. 3t1s not Must Nati*e Americans who ha*e chosen to prioritise sobriety as part of their spiritual path. A number of us with 3rish heritage ha*e also assessed the damage alcohol has done to our people0 and chosen to li*e a sober life. "or those of us who maintain sober households0 altars0 and spiritual practices0 we ha*e felt no lac- of attention or appreciation from our gods for this choice. "or some of us0 the sacrifice of abstaining from alcohol is a #eis and thus is N | www.gaolnaofa.com

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Handling Offerings
Gaelic Polytheists ma-e ritual offerings for a *ariety of reasons and occasionsKto express gratitude0 to ma-e a reLuest0 to commemorate an e*ent 4birth0 marriage0 death0 graduation0 house warming0 etc60 to celebrate the seasonal Luarter days0 to forge and honour an ongoing relationship with the spirits0 or to simply demonstrate honour and respect for the D ocus And. 3tems gi*en as *oti*e gifts can range from those traditional obMects listed earlier to modern commodities li-e coffee and chocolate ca-e to any sacred act dedicated to the D ocus And. %o gi*e an offering is to extend hospitality0 so an offering should be accommodating to the deity or spirit one is offering to. "or example0 the Dagda is -nown for his great appetite and fondness of porridge0 G so a large bowl of oat porridge or meaty stew would be an appropriate offering. 2gma is -nown as an eloLuent orator0 therefore he may appreciate a piece of well(written de*otional prose. An offering is accompanied with a prayer0 song0 or poem that praises and than-s the deity or spirit or expresses the reason or occasion for gi*ing the offering. 3n Gaelic tradition0 words0 especially in poetry0 are said to ha*e powerful spiritual Lualities that can influence reality0 and when gi*ing gifts and offerings they express intent0 and gi*e essence and meaning. 1 %he offering is then placed where appropriate or upon the household shrine or an indi*idual altar dedicated to a specific D or spirit. "ood and drin- is usually left to sit on the shrine for a couple hours to a day 4or o*ernight6 and then disposed of. Disposed offerings should be gi*en to the land through burial or simply placing them upon the soil. %hey can be burned as well with the ashes being sprin-led upon the earth. "ood and drinofferings should not simply be thrown into the trash afterwards. %his is a bit more challenging if one li*es in an urban en*ironment or on a college campus. 7ut these places also ha*e par-s0 and scheduling regular trips to the par- or other outdoor location is also important for practitioners of a lifeway that is rooted in the natural world. 3f one is

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ta-en *ery seriously. %he porridge the Dagda would ha*e eaten would ha*e contained lots of meat and ha*e been more li-e a *ery oaty0 stodgy stew0 rather than a brea-fast sort of porridge we1re used to. ,ee@ N: Chonchobhair0 1Cornerstones of Iisdom@ Poetry0 Permanence and Iildness in Gaelic Polytheism01 +ritten )i,er0 Colume ?0 3ssue 10 ,ummer ,olstice # 1#0 p! (!?. 8oughlin et al0 1Prayer in Gaelic Polytheism.1 ' | www.gaolnaofa.com

absolutely incapable of disposing of offerings through fire or gi*ing them to the land0 we encourage you to find some way to compost themKthereby feeding the earthKrather than Must throwing them in the garbage. ,ome who are facing this challenge -eep offerings they ha*e remo*ed from an indoor altar in a separate bag or container and then properly dispose of them when able. 2nce a *oti*e gift has been ritually offered to the D ocus And0 it should not be disturbed as messing with what is theirs could easily offend or anger them. %here are tales of people becoming ill or e*en dying from disturbing offerings. 11 2fferings of food and drin- are said to ha*e their toradh 4GAidhlig0 5substance56 consumed by the D ocus And0 so it would then be unhealthy 4and disrespectful6 for a human or any other li*ing creature to consume such offerings once they1*e been dedicated.1#

Regarding Omens
,ome people ha*e suggested performing some sort of di*ination after an offertory ritual to see if the offerings ha*e been accepted by the D ocus And.1? ,ome may say this is a theological contradiction0 claiming that if humans and the D are bound in a contractual relationship of reciprocal hospitality0 then they ha*e no choice but to accept our gifts in order to honour their side of the agreement. Dowe*er0 e*idence points to the ta-ing of omens being common within Gaelic tradition. "or instance0 on 8A "hPill 7rQghde in ,cotland0 signs were loo-ed for to see if 7rQd had *isited o*ernight. %he absence of a sign entailed that she had been offended by the offerings left for her0 or perhaps for the past actions of the household0 and so she had stayed away. /easures were then made to ma-e it up to herKMuniper was burnt within the house and a coc-erel was sacrificed.1$ 3n 3reland0 also on 8R "h9ile 7r:de0 signs of 7r:d1s *isit were loo-ed for as well. 2n
11 IentJ0 The $air%-$aith in !eltic !ountries0 1G110 p??. 1# IentJ0 The $air%-$aith in !eltic !ountries- 1G110 p$$.!. 1? NicDhAna et al0 The !) $A*. An Introduction to !eltic )econstructionist "a#anism 0 # '0 p11 . %he practice of ta-ing omens after offerings came into practice in Neo(druid groups li-e AD"0 and were probably added into the AD" ritual format by 3saac 7onewits. 1$ Carmichael0 !armina Gadelica0 Col 10 1G 0 p1NH. H | www.gaolnaofa.com

the e*e beforehand0 a bed would ha*e been made for her to sleep inKout of rushes and fabric0 and 7r:d1s crosses would ha*e been made to hang in the houseKand she was then ceremonially in*ited in by the household. %he following morning0 if there were signs of her ha*ing slept in the bed it was said that she had *isited and gi*en her blessing on the household. 2therwise it was thought that 7r:d had been delayed on her Mourney0 and the crosses that had been made the night before were hung outside so that she could bless them that e*ening instead.1! Another example from ,cotland spea-s of offerings being made before mo*ing into a new home in order to see if the spirits of the place accepted you. A bed was made and food left out0 and if the food hadn1t gone by the morning0 it was often the case that the house would remain empty and the people would find another place to li*e. 2therwise0 the new occupants would be in for disaster and unhappiness.1N %hese traditional precedents show that the D don1t Must automatically accept whate*er is gi*en to them. 2ffence can hinder our contractual relationship0 o*erride any other attempts at hospitality0 and damage our chances at building ongoing relationships with one another. %here is really no sense of obligation on the part of the spirits to automatically accept our offerings. %here is always a chance they will refuse what is being offered0 especially in instances where the person ma-ing the offerings is playing a bit too fast and loose with their ideas of what the D might li-e. %he abo*e instances of loo-ing for omens are generally specific to household0 seasonal obser*ances. /odern polytheists who ma-e offerings as a part of more freLuent practices may fa*our using o#ham or obser*ing signs in nature0 and gifted ceremonial people can tell what the spirits want without using much in the way of props or tools. 1'

Conclusion
As we can see0 offerings are a *ital part of Gaelic Polytheist practice. %hey are a

1! S Duinn0 The )ites of /ri#id. Goddess and Saint0 # !0 p$H($G. 1N >*ans(IentJ0 The $air% $aith in !eltic !ountries0 1G110 p'!. 1' 7ut0 as we always stress0 people need the chec-s and balances of healthy community0 and training in their gifts 4if they ha*e these gifts6 in order to be sure they are not Must hearing their imaginations or suffering mental illness. 3f someone is not able to hear the spirits accurately0 they will need to rely on some physical method of omen(ta-ing. G | www.gaolnaofa.com

large part of what bonds us to Na Tr Naomh. %he important things to bear in mind are that studying tradition will always help you -now how to do it well0 as will learning from more experienced members of the community. Ihile good intentions and a clean heart will not always ma-e up for offences0 approaching Na Tr Naomh with respect and affection will go a long way towards ma-ing offerings a meaningful and fulfilling part of a Gaelic Polytheist practice. Part of the respect we pay to the spirits is coming to them prepared@ ta-ing the time to learn about them0 about their li-es and disli-es0 so that we may be good friends and relati*es rather than attempting to proMect our wants and preferences onto them. Coming to them with self( respect means we li*e our li*es with honour0 we endea*our to do our best0 and offer our best0 so we can be proud of who we are0 while humble in -nowing we are part of a whole0 of a community of humans and spirits. %hrough offering hospitality to the spirits0 by offering them nourishment and recei*ing nourishment in return0 we strengthen our bonds in this world and the otherworlds.

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