The halcyon days of July are traditional times for major pilgrimages to Celtic sacred sites, especially in Ireland. In bygone times, the long days and warm weather of late July made traveling easier – the roads were less muddy and people on foot could bed down at night under the summer stars on their way to holy wells and sacred stones. More significantly, late July heralds the start of the quarter-day festival of Lughnasa, when the early Celts traveled to special places, especially high hills and holy wells, to give thanks to the gods for the ripening crops.
Offerings and Libations
Traditional offerings to the spirits of the land are grain, ale, or milk. At a number of old Celtic sacred sites are stones that form natural altars. In Ireland, they are called balláns meaning ‘little bowls,’ while in Scotland, some are called ‘dobby stanes’ or ‘gruagach stones,’ the gruagach being a genius loci, or spirit of the place.
Libations of milk fresh from the cow, custard made with eggs, or ale were poured into the hollow. In other places, people sprinkled grain in the form of bread, cake or porridge straight onto the earth.
When I am traveling in Ireland, I always carry a spare chunk of soda bread; in Scotland, a packet of oatcakes. These are easily portable and a local food source from crops used as offerings in the past.
In the rainy season in California where I used to live, I liked to hike out to a beautiful old oak under which wild chanterelles grow. Before filling my basket, I would leave an offering to the tree whose plentiful fallen leaves enable the mushrooms to grow – usually a granola bar or apple from my backpack! Sprigs of heather and posies of flowers are also good offerings, but bring your own bunch or a garland, rather than picking the wild ones. Leave only offerings that are biodegradable, or will be appreciated by wild birds and animals.
When you approach a sacred site:
Circle around it three times in a sunwise direction.
Silently ask permission of the invisible guardians before you enter. If it feels like you have permission to proceed, enter quietly and find a place to sit or stand.
Close your eyes and take some deep breaths to calm body and mind.
Open your eyes. Greet the genii loci and make your offering. Speak words that come from your heart, or use a simple rhyme (spirits enjoy child-like rhythm and song!) like the following:
“Powers of the living Earth,
Hear me as I greet
Sky and stars above me,
Earth below my feet.
Old Ones, Ancestors,
Water, stone and tree,
Shining Ones, Faery Folk,
Lords of the Sídhe:
Please accept this offering, given in love. May your kingdoms be preserved and protected forever.”
Spend as long as you like in communion with the place. Listen, smell, touch and drink in its special atmosphere. If you are lucky, you will receive a response, either as an inner voice or image, or in the movements of wind, clouds, leaves, birds, or animals. The more often you can frequent a place, the easier it is to develop a relationship with the indwelling guardians of the living Earth.