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.
There are two things I really love about the New Vesta tradition. The first is the way it bridges the distance between the ancient world and the modern world. The second is the way it helps strengthen family solidarity. And one of the simplest ways it does these things is through mealtime offerings or libations.
Even in antiquity, Vesta – goddess of the home and hearth, and symbolized by a flame – was a bloodless religion. Instead of making a living animal sacrifice, ancient Roman families sprinkled mealtime offerings of loose salted flour or wafers (called mola salsa) into her sacred flame that burned in their household hearth. Libations of wine or olive oil could also be made into her flame.
One of the things that strikes me about pagan holidays is the way that they're all implicated in one another. Yule doesn't just sit enshrined in its own golden halo at the end of the year, touching nothing else. As both the end and the beginning of the solar year—and indeed, the whole of the coming year in microcosm—it reaches back to the previous growing season and harvest, and forward to the coming ones. They say that the Yule you keep affects the year ahead. That's why it's so important to eat rich and ample food during all Thirteen Days. The Devil promised a would-be witch in hunger-stricken 17th century Lowland Scotland, “Thou shalt eat every day as [well as] if it were Yule.”
A few years back a neighbor popped in for some reason or other during the Yuledays. “Beautiful tree,” she remarked. “Not the least bit Christmas-y.”
Well, no. It's covered with blown-glass fruits and vegetables. Every ornament's a prayer.
I always say that you can't pour a proper libation if you're afraid of splashing your shoes.
It was Sparky T. Rabbit's Memorial. I had waded into the Mississippi up to my waist to release the death-ship with its garlanded standing picture, the flowers, the grave-gifts and the bowls of barley, ash, and ocher. As I pushed the ship out to catch the current, from the shore our friend Sirius poured out the grave-libation into the River. Because it was behind me, I couldn't see the libation being poured, but I could hear the voice of it as the wine kissed the water. I knew that Sirius was pouring out a full bottle of wine, but the pour just went on and on and on. I could have sworn that that bottle held three times the usual amount of wine.
I suppose I should weigh in on the offerings and consumption of said offerings. I give Loki a fair amount of food and drink. He enjoys the extravagant gesture, but having spent time starving in a cave (still starving, since time is not linear for Him and everything is happening, has happened, will happen) He doesn't really care for the wasting of food in my personal experience. Furthermore, my ancestors, particularly the ones who lived through the Great Depression, would have a coronary if I dumped lots of food regularly. If I have an excess of food, or more of a meal than I can eat, there is always someone who is hungry in my local community.
I have one exception to this: alcohol. I feed Loki more booze than I could ever consume (or should). So that gets poured out when He's done with it. It's likewise for other Deities that I offer alcohol to as well.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing ancient items that I have come across recently is the Strettweg Chariot, sometimes called the Strettweg Wagon. While researching the pre-Christian chariot burial of an ancient woman for my first blog post, I found this unique vehicle. The central figure is female; she towers over those assembled around her. The true meaning of this item is lost to time, but that won't stop us from discussing the tantalizing possibilities that the Strettweg Chariot offers up to the mind.
Highlighting the history of women and our connection to feminine concepts of Deity is the central purpose of this blog. While I won't always focus on items from the ancient past, recovering the role that women and Goddesses have played throughout time often means turning to the pre-Christian era. That is the time period that this artifact hails from. The Strettweg Chariot rested in a grave of cremated ashes for over 2,500 years. It was buried sometime in the 7th Century B.C.E. in what is now Austria and has come back into human hands to proclaim its mysteries.
Back on my own blog, I asked my readers what they would like to read from me. I was wondering what they came back for and if I was somehow not filling a void I hadn't even thought of. As it turns out, my readers were pretty happy, but they would like to hear more about my personal practice. I can understand; I am not good at talking about that, so I rarely do. As a result of that feedback, I made two videos about Hellenic basics: preparing and using khernips, and pouring libations.
For both these videos goes that the way I do it, may not be the way everyone does it. It's the basic steps that matter most. So without further ado: here's a video of me preparing and using khernips, and below, a video of me pouring libation. Sorry about the quality, my phone seems to have some trouble focussing. I promise any future videos will be stable.