Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth
In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.
Unlike the ancestors, modern pagans for the most part have little experience of temple worship. Here's an important bit of lore on the topic from someone who has been making twice-daily temple offerings for nearly 30 years.
"A gift for a gift” is the main theory underlying the practice of the temple offering. One brings the offering to the deity in the deity's place, and offers it. Some offerings—flowers, incense, and lights, say—remain with the god. (They then become sacred, something that belongs to a god.) Others—generally food offerings—are then returned to the worshiper, the god having partaken of his portion. This sharing of the sacred with the god constitutes a deeply intimate form of communion.
There's another difference between food offerings and non-food offerings. Generally food offerings are laid on the altar before the god for the duration of the offering, while the non-food offerings are “waved” before the god in offering as part of the worship.
Those of you who know Hindu religious practice will be familiar with this ceremony: it is called in Sanskrit âratî (Hindi arti). An oil lamp, incense, and a flower (and sometimes other things) are moved in circular motions before the god. (After the puja, the lamp circulates among the worshipers so that they may “take the flame.”)
During my first visit to a Hindu temple, it was clear to me that the pujari was moving the offerings in a particular pattern, but I couldn't tell what it was. I watched the movements closely and, when I returned home, tried it out myself at my home altar. The pattern shown above I have found to be both utile and beautiful. It is the pattern of offering that I use to this day.
When later I asked a local pujari what pattern he traced while making the offerings, he told me that in Hindu usage, one “writes” the syllable Om in the air with the offering.
Om is a word with deep meaning in Hindu theology, so this makes sense. Om, however, is not ours. To make our offerings in the shape of Om would be wrong, a theft.* For the past decades, I have continued to use the pattern shown above. Here's why.
The pattern is called the lunisol (“moon-sun”). Its basic meaning is Sun and Moon in Union, but of course the symbolic meanings radiate out from that center: eclipse, sexual union, and conjunction of the unlike are only the beginning of it. Since the act of making the temple offering is itself an act of union, between god and worshiper, this is entirely apt. The gesture unites Above with Below, There with Here, Vertical with Horizontal.
I start the lunisol at the center-point of union between Sun and Moon, circle deosil once along the Sun-line and, having returned to the center-point, continue to the left along the upper arc of the Moon-line. There I pause briefly, sweep right along the lower arc of the Moon-line, pause again, and return to center. Repeat. General practice is to repeat either a set number of times, or until the song ends, whichever comes first.
A gift for a gift. You who read these words do me the honor of gifting with your time, your attention, and your consideration of my ideas; this, then, is my offering in return. Try the lunisol offering in your own practice, and see how it works for you.
*A theft because it strips the symbol of its conceptual context and re-situates it in a contextless environment. This is the difference between a cultural borrowing and a cultural theft.
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