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.

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What Do You Do With Old Offerings?

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

If you build the candy cottage, the children will come.

If you build a temple, people will come and, being pagans, they will, of course, bring offerings.

Offerings belong to the god, which makes them (by definition) sacred. So what do you do with them when they begin to pile up?

With consumables, that's one thing. Libations are poured out onto the ground. Token amounts of food are placed onto the earth (but never directly; they should always be placed on a layer of something biodegradable: leaves, grass, sticks). Food offerings in quantity traditionally revert to the temple staff; part of the god's responsibility to his people is to see that they're fed. (Richard Reidy calls this “reversion of offerings.”)

But the non-consumable offerings, what of them?

As there begin once again to be pagan holy places, the question arises. What do we do to keep our sanctuaries from turning into garbage tips, their altars buried beneath untouchable mounds of faded plastic flowers?

Valuable offerings should be integrated into the temple service whenever possible. For those that cannot—works of art, for example—they go into the temple treasury. In the old days, most large sanctuaries had museums attached. Part of the draw for the pilgrim was to see the beautiful offerings that the temple had received over the years.

Well. But no one really wants to see the 16,000 cheap clay bull figurines that have accumulated down the decades. Still, they're sacred, and they belong to the god, so they need to be treated respectfully. What to do?

The ancestors, of course, had an answer to this question.

The Romans called them favissae (sg. favissa): pits for sacred “garbage.” They're a boon to archaeologists. The accumulated, humble offerings that take up space and aren't really needed receive duly respectful burial on the temple grounds, as they deserve.

Every holy place needs a keeper.

And part of the keeper's responsibility to the god is to see that his shrine stays clean and beautiful.

Not buried beneath a mound of faded plastic flowers.


Miguel Coimbra, Seven Wonders: Temple of Artemis


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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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