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.
How to Pour a Proper Libation
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.
And that's the right way to pour a libation.
Inexperienced libators tend to make two common mistakes.
The first is the timid pour. Outdoor version: I don't want to splash, I don't want to make a mess. So I'll just crouch down here to the ground and pour it out so that nobody can see it or hear it. Indoor version: I'll rest the lip of the bottle on the rim of the libation bowl so I don't splash the altar cloth. There, done, nice and tidy; nobody saw or heard a thing.
Wrong. Libation is conspicuous consumption. Better yet, it's conspicuous waste. Nobody would pour out a perfectly good bottle of wine without even tasting it. On the face of it, libation is an act of waste. This is what removes it from the ordinary and makes it a special act that draws in sacredness. Sacredness inheres in the non-ordinary.
Let us see the incomparable amber of that mead as it pours, twisting and catching the light, feeling the pang of regret that we ourselves will not taste it, making our prayers as it flows (for “the avenues of communication between ourselves and the gods are most open during the making of offerings”). When the poets speak of libations, they always call them “sparkling.” Let that flow catch the light of the gods as it rills out, beautiful.
And let us hear that rich, rippling, silken sound as it lands. This is the voice of the libation. A libation should speak, and our ears should hear it. This is a sacred hearing, a music. A proper libation should sing.
The other common libational error is the dump. Pour, splat, there: take it. Whew, that's done. The grudging, nasty pour.
No, no, no. It's foreplay, it's sex. You don't do it to get it over with: you do it to enjoy the process. Let us enjoy the sight, the sound, and the smell of it. Think slo-mo. That's how Sirius managed to fit three bottles of wine into one bottle's worth of pour.
(Of course, there's such a thing as a too slow a pour. Drip, drip, drip. Making the gods--or humans--wait is never a good idea, in my experience. )
And even: keep that flow nice and even. Not stuttering, not stop-and-start, not blurp, blurp, blurp: smooooth. There's art to pouring a beautiful libation. And we pray better when we pray beautifully.
So: stand up straight (but for gods' sakes, don't block the sight-lines), thrust out that arm like you mean it, and give us that long, slow, steady, smooth arc of beautiful, sparkling, sacred, conspicuous waste.
And that's how to pour a proper libation.
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