What do you do with old offerings when you live in a city? How do you dispose of offerings properly without littering? How do you make offerings in an apartment?
I am a pagan in a city…New York City to be precise. I have a lot of buildings around me, a few trees surrounded by sidewalk, and a thirty-minute subway ride to the nearest park. And I have struggled with disposing of my offerings in my apartment for a long time. But I’ve learned a thing or two.
Drown, Bury, Burn…With a Little Luck
If you’re like me with very limited access to the natural world, no space to make offerings in private, and no actual property (yay, apartments!), you have a hard time taking the normal advice of drowning, burning, or burying an offering.
In fact, for some it may be completely impossible. If so, read on to the next section. However, I suggest to my fellow urban pagans that we get creative. With time, I realized I DO have ways — if limited — to do all three of the typical types of offerings.
Drowning: One thing NYC has a lot of is access to saltwater. Three of the five boroughs are surrounded by the Hudson or the Atlantic Ocean. I am fortunate in that I can walk to the water in a short amount of time. However, I want to stress that only certain offerings, which are eco-friendly, are good for drowning in our modern world.
I have given back shells and sea glass that I’ve found or bought. I would also feel comfortable giving quickly dissolvable, plain food stuffs (like a small offering of oats) or perhaps the herbs I grow or dried leaves I find on the sidewalk. I generally find that offerings to drown should be limited, but nonetheless, I have the ability to drown an offering.
Burying: In NYC, the maintenance of the sidewalk is up to the building or apartment owner. In front of my apartment building, there is a small railing with about two feet of dirt between the wall and the sidewalk. There are already shrubs, flowers, and bushes in this small bit of land. I could bury something small in the area in front of the entrance to my stairwell (I live on the third floor). I have indeed once buried a tablespoon of butter there in an emergency situation with the Good Neighbors.
While I cannot make large offerings to bury, and cannot change the landscape without permission from my landlord, I am able to bury a small offerings if needed. I may also point out that depending on what you bury and how much space you have, you will need to wait for the offering to decompose before you’re able to bury something there again.
Burning: I am fortunate enough to have a balcony connected to my apartment. This is great for keeping plants, but I also realized I could do something else. Our landlord left a small grill that she rarely used and which we were also allowed to use or throw out if we wished. The grill is maybe 12 inches high by 24 inches across, and it is best used with charcoal. For a long time, I had it stored and didn’t think twice about it.
Then I realized it could be used for burning small items. (While I admit I use tea lights at my altar, the flames they produce are too small to even burn a small piece of paper with something written on it.) If your landlord did not conveniently leave you a small grill, you can simply ask if it’s alright with them and purchase a new one. You could also use a gas stove to burn small items, but please be safe and use caution around open flames. But I think this grill is great for burning small offerings, and if something doesn’t burn completely, I can still dispose of it with my favorite urban goddess, Cloacina.
The Goddess of the Sewers, Cloacina
Some may not think of it, but the ancient polytheists did have at least one large city with similar problems as us modern city-dwellers. I’m talking about the polytheists of ancient Rome.
Rome needed a large sewer system to help maintain cleanliness in the city (although it didn’t maintain cleanliness in the river). And, as polytheists do, they gave the sewers to a deity in order to protect these sewers and keep their systems functioning. We know there was even a shrine to Cloacina at the Roman Forum.
Whenever I make an offering of food or drink at my home alter, I end up calling Cloacina and pouring it down the drain or throwing it in the trash. I ask her to deliver my offerings and take what she needs of the offerings as well.
If nothing else, this gives me a ritualized way to dispose of my offerings, by giving them to the care of a goddess. You could also say a prayer over them before throwing them out, essentially asking the powers-that-be that the offerings get to the beings you called in ritual. There’s also an argument to say that once offered, you can simply throw out the offering or even eat it yourself, as it has already been ritually used. However, this generally doesn’t sit right with me, ergo I call Cloacina.
Other Ideas for Apartment-Appropriate Offerings
There are a few other ways you can give offerings in an apartment. I like to think of these as ‘apartment-sized’ offerings. I can keep a tea candle lit in a secure holder for a few hours (with supervision). I can also give an offering of incense — I especially like to use the mini incense sticks — or I can give an offering of perfume. Here are some other ideas:
- Give a shot of 100 proof (50%) alcohol. This is great because the alcohol will evaporate into the air. A shot glass full of alcohol takes about a week to evaporate. (Also, this is best done in a glass container.) For more on this, see one of my favorite pagan blogs.
- Give something intangible, like a song, a poem, a dance, or a prayer. A performance of some kind is most definitely an offering. (And best of all, there is nothing to dispose of after!)
- An act of good. Akin to performance-as-offering, you can do acts of community as an offering. Most kinds of volunteering or donating of items are giving your time and possessions to others. You simply need to dedicate this work to a certain spirit to make it an offering.
I have two specific examples of ‘an act of good,’ which may give you ideas. First, I spent a summer giving water and picking up trash for the Good Neighbors. This was a recurring offering where a large part of my offering was an offering of time and labor. There was a tree on my block that had bushes, sapling branches, and weeds growing all around it. It felt magical to me, like the fairies had made a little home for themselves there. Every week, I picked up trash around that tree and gave a water bottle full of water to the fairies. They even gave me a gift for it.
The second example is a donation. I have now donated my hair twice to Children With Hair Loss. (I’m sure the witches reading this are shrieking, right now, but hang on.) One of the goddesses I regularly revere is the Norse goddess, Sif. In the Eddas, Loki steals her hair and is forced to give her a new head of hair made of gold. Scholars believe this story shows that Sif was a goddess of grain and harvest.
Before I packed up my donation, I have laid my shorn hair on my altar and called Sif, so she knew this was an offering to her. I have also asked for her protection of my hair, and may in future do some proper magic to ward my hair. In any case, I’m not too worried about a wig-making non-profit hexing me through my hair. In short, you can donate all kinds of things, and you can make them important personal offerings by using lore or what you know about a spirit.
It can be hard to be an urban pagan. It’s hard to feel isolated from the spirits. It’s hard to stress over something as integral to this religion as making offerings. But we are modern people, and as such we must find ways to explore and develop our paganism in this modern world.
I have found the two easiest methods of dealing with offerings as an apartment-dweller in the city are 1) calling on Cloacina before giving the offerings to her, and 2) giving water or hard alcohol and letting it evaporate at my alter. I find one of these two will cover your bases for large offerings at seasonal holidays or a quick ‘thank you’ offering when needed.