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Compost and Natural Fertilizers: Practical Offerings to the Land
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It seems like more and more, I see Pagans obsessing over their offerings to a ridiculous level. Not that I donít think an offering or sacrifice should be undertaken willy-nilly, but to only offer that exclusive, high end wine to the exception of all else seems silly. I feel that offerings should be heartfelt and personalÖ not something to worry and fret over, something you enjoy doing because itís good and you can.
Recently, I was on a Pagan forum (alas, my main source of Pagan fellowship) , and the topic of offerings to the land spirits came up. I immediately chimed in, suggesting eggshells and banana peels and fruit skins. But the next post, in response to mine, chided how disrespectful it was to offer my trash pile as an offering.
Trash pile? I felt somewhat insulted on behalf of my compost heap. I just couldnít see how anyone would confuse composting with garbage. Garbage is, well, disgusting and useless while compost is a pillar of a bountiful garden. With composting, you know what goes into it; you know what chemicals the matter is emitting as it decomposes; you know how those chemicals affect your plants.
If my peppers are looking a little droopy, I know the potassium in banana peels will help them to perk right back up. Calcium in eggshells can be a great help as well, giving fruits and veggies stronger flavors. Natural fertilizers and insecticides such as coffee grounds and tobacco leaves also have many of the same qualities as composted material; you know whatís going in and on your plants.
Animal fat and meat, some of the things that make garbage so unattractive, are horrible additives to a compost heap. They can completely mess up the chemical balance of the pile, negating the affects of the other chemicals, and attracting unwanted animals and insect that could potentially damage the plants. On the other hand, animal dung, especially chicken and cow manure, is oftentimes a great and highly effective fertilizer, since it has already broken down much of the organic matter the animal consumed and began transforming into its chemical compounds. Though the smell makes it fairly impractical for those of us living in urban and suburban areas, Iím not too far from farmland, and can see its effectiveness in a few short minutes.
The idea of pouring libations on the ground is a touchy point for me. If it is on the floor of a building, a sidewalk or road, or any other hard packed surface, then I am usually fine with it. But alcohol is poisonous to the ground and garden, and would thus not be a suitable offering choice. So while we may offer up a flagon of mead to the Gods on Samhain, pouring that mead on the ground may just anger the land spirits and cause them to sicken.
There are many tales about how offerings to the Fae are rendered unfit for human consumption after they have been received. The idea is that the essence of the offering is taken by the faery to the Otherworld and all that is left is a husk, with none of the nutritional substance of the thing left. So if I am going to give something up that I will never be able to use again, why not give those things that I have already utilized fully?
Did not peasants leave the crumbs and pieces of food that were meant to be eaten, that had fallen, on the floor, believing them to be for the faeries? They were certainly getting their use out of the food. Food is a necessity, and the garden, as a supply for that food, is a practical element. My mind sees offerings that donít directly help the garden (or that can cause harm to it and me) as completely impractical, and impractical things have no place in my practical garden.
My garden is my sanctuary, my sacred space, even though itís tiny and cramped, and no one else knows of its importance. The land spirits that watch over my garden are also very important and dear to me as well. Offerings to them help to ensure their continued health, goodwill, and help in my gardening.
When the land is sick, the spirits are sick, and the plants wither. But when I do something good for the plants and the land, like adding compost and fertilizer, I can almost (at times I do) hear the spirits singing and rejoicing. The interconnection between it all is just so amazing, so awe inspiring, I am stunned every time I re-realize it. There is a great and beautiful cycle going on, and I am part of that.
Offerings are also meant for the Ďoffererí, in a way. They show the Gods and spirits our dedication, and in return we hope for something back from those we offer to. In using compost as an offering, we are giving back what the land has given us, and in return hope for more bounty from the land. If we neglect the land and the plants, they will wither and die, and we will be left without.
Our vested self-interest is beneficial not only to us, but to everything around us as well. Not only do natural and organic fertilizers and compounds keep the land healthy, they keep us healthy, and it is that self-preservation that keeps the cycle going and everything in its place.
It is nearly midnight as I write this, and my bed is calling to me, and tending my garden is one of the furthest things in my mind right now. But tomorrow morning, when that sun comes shining in (and it will be early) , Iíll get out of my bed, go downstairs, and brew myself a huge pot of coffee in my amazing 12 cup coffee-maker. And when Iím done with that first cup (or three) , Iíll collect my coffee grounds, wander out back into my little suburban yard, and dump those grounds all along the base of my plants. Iíll sit out there for a while, hoping to hear those spirits of land rejoicing, and knowing my gift was good.
Location: New Philadelphia, Ohio
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