Pouring libations is a very Pagan act. When folks say "how can I live my faith every day?" this is the answer. Pour libations. It is a simple act that takes moments, but means much. The act of pouring libations is simply pouring out a liquid into a container or onto the ground, but the ritual is one of sharing and gratitude.
Pouring libations is almost universal.
In ancient Greece libations of wine were poured to a phial for the Gods at the start of every feast and poured onto the sacrificial victim before a sacrifice and then again on the ashes of the fire. The act of pouring libations was symbolic of a reciprocal agreement between the people and the Gods. Libations may also be poured for the dead or the ancestors as we see in the Odyssey, these are poured on the ground.
In ancient Rome libations of wine or scented oils poured onto an altar or honey poured over special cakes as part of the beginning sequence of events for many religious observances.
Libations were also poured onto tombs for the dead and some tombs even had special tubes so that one could pour libations right into them. In China, libations of tea or rice wine are offered at tombs for the ancestors. Libations of water or palm wine are poured on the ground in some African traditions during invocations to Gods and ancestors.
Some South American native tribes traditionally pour a few drops of any beverage they are drinking onto the Earth as an offering to Pachimama. Many Buddhist ceremonies close with a water libation ceremony that is then poured into the Earth for their Earth Goddess, Vasudhara.
In Shinto tradition, a simple cup is kept on household altars to receive libations of Saki or water which should be changed daily.
How to Pour Libations
Libations are traditionally alcoholic beverages in many cases but as you can see from these examples they vary. You can suit your libations to the tastes of the one(s) you are pouring them for; If I were pouring libations on my grandfather's grave I might pour coffee or chocolate milk. Or suit your libations to your tastes, sharing something that you like. My husband pours libations of his favorite beer when the Gods give him a good turn. He drinks one, he pours one - in celebration.
Vegetable oils- especially those infused with fragrant herbs, wine and other alcoholic beverages, milk, honey, and water drawn from your own well or spring are all acceptable. I like to dress my libations up a little bit- mixing milk and honey or wine and honey or mulling wine or cider to make it extra special for the Gods.
Libations may be poured at the beginning or end of a ritual or as part of a specific ceremony somewhere in the middle. For example, you may wish to pour libations to the four directions if you are beginning by calling quarters, or you may wish to pour libations as part of a "cakes and ale" type ceremony in the middle, or pour libations at the end as you thank the Gods and ancestors for hearing your prayer.
You may also choose to pour libations at the start of meals as a sort of "grace" to give thanks and share your bounty with the Gods.
Libations to the Gods should be poured into a designated receptacle. A cup or bowl set aside for the purpose will do. You can keep this bowl right on the kitchen table for dinner libations or on your altar for more elaborate ceremonies. After your ritual, or the next morning, you can empty the bowl outside. Or you may wish to pour your libations over an outdoor altar. You can also pour libations into a ceremonial fire or bale fire, just be ready to hop back when it flares up or steams.
If you are pouring libations to your ancestors or to Gods of the Underworld, they may be poured on the ground.
Simply pour a little of your ritual liquid into the designated receptacle while stating that you are pouring out a libation in honor of whoever and then, assuming your libation is palatable to humans, take a sip for yourself so that it is a sharing act. Acknowledge that you have this stuff because the Gods are good to you and thank them being so kind.
You can pour out libations of the first few drops of any bottle of olive oil or other quality cooking oil you open in honor of your Hearth God/dess. The first few drops of any bottle of wine, water, milk, honey, etc.
Libations are an act of gratitude and communion. They help us stay connected to our Gods (and ancestors) and help us recognize the value of the things we have. Small rituals added to our daily lives keep us connected in a hectic world where holy days often fall on work days.
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