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We hear a lot about libations in various Pagan traditions. A libation is simply an offering of a liquid, poured out in either a casual or formal ritual setting. A casual example would be the nights my friends and family gather around the fire out in our orchard to celebrate the seasons. Once the fire is lit, I pour out the first bit of my drink (usually homemade mead) in thanks to the spirits of the land, my ancestors and the divine in general. A more formal example might be the pouring out of wine onto the ground or into a bowl during a Wiccan Sabbat ceremony as an offering to the Lord and Lady.
The word ‘libation’ often conjures up the image of an alcoholic beverage being offered – wine, mead, even beer in some contexts. But any liquid can be used for libations. I offer water to the land spirits where I live every morning. It is, after all, the liquid that is the base of life on Earth. We can be pretty sure the ancient Minoans offered wine and perhaps beer as well, in keeping with the spiritual and cultural traditions of the ancient world. But I think they also offered milk. Yes, you read that right. Milk....
Back east last weekend for the non-pagan holidays with family, I was met with a dilemma. As the family writer, I'd been asked to speak at the Easter table. Me, the pagan.
Religiously, we're all over the board (= table—e.g. "bed and board"—from the time when they set up trestles and boards for meals; the boardroom, of course, is the room with the table). The Passover seder at my cousin's had been the night before. In this, we're no more than a microcosm of the American demographic. In a generation or two, there will probably be Muslim family members at the table too. Good old America. The separation of covenstead and state is one of the best ideas anyone's had in the last 500 years. Secular governance has probably done more than any other factor to break down old ethnic and religious tensions, and I say: Gods bless it.
I decided that in this instance discretion constituted the better part of valor, so I read aloud John Updike's Seven Stanzas at Easter (you can read it here). Although it ends weakly, the poem addresses, from within its own Christian context, the same larger issues of science, religion, and language with which every living tradition must wrestle in our day. Updike's conclusion: The only mythology worth having is a literal mythology.
We live in private worlds mostly of our own creation, and though you may take that metaphorically or metaphysically, in this case I mean the physical conditions around us. I would wager that most of you that are reading this blog live in homes where you have the power of day and night by clicking the lights on or off. You, or someone associated with your home, probably controls the seasons of your home through heating and/or air-conditioning. Water comes to you through a faucet, and the roof keeps the storms at bay. If you so choose, and you have the coin to pay with, the fruits and vegetables of almost any climate and season can be brought to your plate. Unless you are in dire straits or have chosen an ascetic life, these domestic powers are generally taken for granted. Not that long ago in the grand scheme of things, they would have been seen as marvels to be only found in Fairyland or in a wizard’s keep. All magick has a cost, even the very tame magic that is brought about by wires, plumbing, and pistons. Although it is true that our creature comforts have economic, political, and ecological costs, it is one of the costs to our psyche that this blog will explore....
"A goddess!" I exclaimed, as I approached a large rounded feminine figure in the National Museum of Ethiopia.
"No!" A man's voice echoed throughout the room.
When he noticed people's glances upon him, the museum guide lowered his voice: "That piece is a very, very old", he said hesitantly. "It is pagan. She comes from the Oromo people, the largest ethnic group here in Ethiopia."
I could not peel my eyes off the figure. The unexpected discovery piqued my interest.
"Does she have a name?" I asked hopefully.
Instead of answering my question, the guide told me about Ethiopia's most famous woman:
There are countless books which will tell you the right way to do your initiation. I’ve read a number of them, both for covens and for solitary. None of them spoke to me.
Normally I’m a simple, as little fuss as possible, type of person. Once I felt I was ready to declare my beliefs, I decided to do a ritual – full out, go for broke ritual. I had it typed up, planned out, everything was going to go PERFECT....
My Coven was tired.
We had been busy--for years, actually. Between leading public rituals and attending festivals, there was a mess of parties thrown by other Coveners. Several members were performers of different kinds and had shows. A couple of people started teaching locally. Then there was our standard working group time. Like "good" Coveners, we traveled to the festivals together, attended the parties, formed cheering sections at the shows and dutifully attended the classes our members led. We somehow still found the time to offer rituals and work as a group, but not a lot. I felt badly offering Coven homework when we were already such a busy group....