Offerings are tricky things. As a druid, I believe in the power of offerings, sincerely made, to strengthen the bond between a spirit or a god and the person who presents them the offering. The offering is, in some ways, almost purely symbolic: the gods do not need the offering to survive, or anything so simplistic as that. The offering is, instead, a way of symbolizing hospitality and welcome: as we invite the gods to our rites and, at times, ask their aid, we also greet them with the hospitality of our respect and devotion, which we often symbolize through the giving of material goods. (Though of course we can show this devotion through intangibles, as well: a song of praise, a prayer, an action undertaken mindfully.)
At a rough glance, it would seem as if exact offering is immaterial. Neopagans of many stripes have compiled lists of particular offerings that seem to please particular gods, but there’s usually an escape clause of sorts, along the lines of “and offerings of grain are almost always acceptable.” It almost seems as if offering is a rote transaction, a sort of divine quid pro quo. And further, the gifts we present to the gods are often related to their usual domain or activities: grains to god/desses of the earth, flowers to a god/dess of growing things, milk to a god/dess of animal husbandry, etc. At first blush this is especially ridiculous: we seem to be offering the god/dess’s own gifts back to them. How crass!
And yet, looking from a slightly different angle, the entire interaction takes on a very different character. The grains we give are cultivated, harvested, processed by human hands. The milk comes from cows bred and raised by dairy farmers, a product of millenia of co-evolution with the animals that produce it. Even flowers gathered in a field have been selected by a worshipper who chooses among all the growing things those which are most worthy of delight and joy. Instead of a mere regifting, the offerings we give to the gods are signs of a complex system of receipt and return, a web of generosity that flows from the Kindred to the people, but also from the people to the Shining Ones, to the Ancestors, to the Spirits of Nature. Even when the offering is a generic “offering of grains which is almost always acceptable,” it is made holy by the earnest devotion of the offerer.
In preparation for Imbolc, I’d like to pass on a recipe. Imbolc is a principal feast of Brigid, goddess of many things. In addition to being associated with fire (of healing, of craft, of poetry, of the hearth…), she is associated with the coming of Spring. Scholars aren’t sure of the exact etymology of Imbolc, but some theories connect it to the time of lambing, or of milk. Both of these possibilities stand out for this seedcake: it has a good deal of butter, the human transformation of milk for longer preservation. And it’s full of caraway seeds, whose flavor here isn’t the spice of a deli rye, but instead mellows into a sweetness that presages the coming green months. May Brigid be honored by its baking, and may its taste in your mouth remind you of the return of warmth and life, even in the midst of cold winter.
Seedcake for Brigid at Imbolc
Adapted from “Simple Seed Cake” in M.S. Saille’s A Kitchen Cauldron, as reprinted by The Goddess & The Green Man
4c all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 c butter, cold
3 Tbsp caraway seeds
1 1/2 c sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 c water
Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or two knives (or rub it in with your fingers) until the butter is in small bits, no larger than a pea. Add the caraway seeds, sugar, eggs, and water, and stir to combine.
Divide batter between tins and bake 45 minutes, until browned on top and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
Cool in tins 10 minutes, then cool completely on wire racks.