For many years now I have done my annual offering ritual. I do it after Yule, before the snow has left the land. It has evolved over the years, the timing becoming more specific. It’s almost always after Imbolc when the sun has begun to feel warm. I do it during the day, when the sun is high. It’s become more than just the offering now that I have a permanent sacred area outdoors. It’s now the waking of the shrine and the land, and it was surprising how well it worked.
I don’t talk to the children about rituals and offerings much, it bores them. So the kids had no idea that I had ritually woken the land when they came to me the next day with tales of hearing the fairies all weekend. They told me that they could hear them in the woods and could see the evidence of them, but hadn't seen them. I was taken on a walk along with various children who were and were not mine on a sunny Sunday morning to tour the various fairy sites around the yard. Those fairies have been busy. I was told a war was brewing. Most parents would just toss that news aside, with a mildly reassuring pat on the head, but I take that sort of thing as a bit of news. It is a data point with which to understand my world more fully.
The ritual itself was fairly simple. I walked out with my crane bag and my staff, my cauldron, ogham and some simple offerings of milk, whiskey, and salmon. I also had incense that I had made and my knife.
I walked to every shrine and altar and lit incense. I follow a spiraling pattern that eventually leads back to where I started. It is my own personal labyrinth of spirit. I don’t always choose where and what altars are made. People have come to the land and built shrines, some have come from many miles away. I tend these shrines, improve upon them, and think about how to build new ones. I give them offerings and talk to the children about them. Our land is an anchor point for a local ley line and has a history for decades as being a place where people might be found dancing naked, at least according to the neighbors. I wonder if they are happy or sad that the current occupants are just as odd as the previous ones.
So I lit the incense and felt myself slipping into trance. I sat in front of the Land Spirits altar when I was done, and kindled a fire upon it. I gave offerings and burned more incense and the piece of salmon for my bear spirit friend. I slipped deeper into trance watching the wind whip the flame. I took out my knife and cut the side of my hand. I let a few drops of blood drip on the white snow, made brighter by the returning sun. Only once a year do I do this, and I’ve been doing it for a long time now. It’s primal magic, not druid, not witch, no labels. Just the gods and I.
I saw the light and the dark and the line that divides them. I thought about the black and the white and how they are not different and yet they were. The shadows cast by the sun turned the thawing earth a rich dark brown, almost black. I sat and meditated as I do each year when I do this annual offering. I held my staff and rocked and sang. I asked for a vision for myself. This year the vision was surprisingly simple. No complicated instructions, no strange task to fit into my schedule. Simple words.
“You do the work. Keep doing the work. Know that you will fail and do the work anyway.”
Those are not the words I would have chosen to hear. Honestly, that’s one of the signals that I use to know when I have stepped outside of my own wisdom. When the spirits say things I would not say I listen closer. This is the moment when some might lead into a conversation about how dangerous it is to listen to the voices in your mind. We all know that conversation. It is the source many fine tales told in novels and around a cup of coffee. But it is not this conversation, because these words held wisdom.
“Know that you will fail.”
What do you do with that? In my case, I gathered up my ritual gear, and wandered back inside, with my hound dog leading the way. I ate the breakfast I cooked beforehand and felt a little dismal, to tell the truth.
It wasn’t until later that the wisdom unfolded like a flower in the sun. I was talking with my husband and I shared my experience. I told him my hard truth. He looked surprised and said, “That’s not a bad thing!” he said every time you go into a competition you have to be ready to fail. Every time you sit down at a poker table you have to accept that you could lose it all. Failure is part of the game.
His words spun me. My perspective changed drastically in that moment, like that moment when a wad of folded paper becomes an origami crane. I let that thought sink into my consciousness as I fell asleep, and I woke up with a feeling of freedom. No longer did it matter if I succeeded at what I was doing. That wasn’t the point. The point was to do it. It’s a lot easier to do a thing when you’re not afraid at the same time.
Could that voice have said to let go of fear? Sure. But it wouldn’t have had the same kind of reorganizing effect on me. I was given the gift of freedom when I was given assurance of failure. It’s weird, I know. But when your goals are of the save the planet, live in harmony, build a new religion sort, failure is a real option. It feels okay to say that. We live in times of global warming, extinction, and peak oil. That shit is real. Accepting failure as an option is only sensible. But it doesn’t stop me from planting my seeds, teaching my children, and writing these essays.
The gods gave me a gift of perspective. In return, I do the thing they ask. I do the work.