Having endured the darkest winter days, most humans possess an inner longing to celebrate Earth’s turning toward spring. Historically, Irish people have celebrated the quarter year at Imbolc on February first/second. It was, and still is, a celebration of the diminishing of winter’s powers, often associated with Cailleach, the mythical wild woman hag who governs the dark time, and an honoring of the goddess Saint Brigid, who signifies spring. In Western Ireland lambs are born, bright green rushes shine from their wetland habitats, and pewter skies give way to robin’s egg blue.
But here in Maine, early February looks nothing like spring. We are in deep mid-winter. Three-foot-high snowbanks line portions of my long, winding driveway, frigid winds put a hunched-over kink in my walk, and the colors we see are but three: gray, green, and white.
We are in wu wei — expectant waiting — for the hint of spring that I imagine dwells within the tiny, tight buds on lilacs, and in my felt sense that the sun’s intensity returns. Inspired by my ancestors, and by Brigit Anna McNeill, an Irish eco-therapist and writer, I’ve turned Imbolc into an opportunity to bring much-needed nourishment to the more-than-humans in my landscape.
What follows is my version of Forest Offerings, a way to nourish the hungry bellies of wildlife and the weary spirits of humans. Gather a few friends. Bring your snow shoes or hiking sticks. Here we go!
Step 1: Forage through your pantry to gather whatever ingredients you might have on hand that support life in the woodlands. This includes dried fruit, nut butters, honey, nuts, oats, coconut flakes or oil, and cornmeal. (This does not include chocolate, spicy things, or any meat/crackers/bread.)
Foraging is important. We are emulating wildlife by foraging from within our cupboards. Resist the urge to “go buy ingredients” if you can. The mere act of foraging through my kitchen to find ingredients for forest offerings reminds me of my mom’s proclivity to craft something sweet for us eight kids from what appeared to be slim cabinet pickins. (She’d waltz into the family room, with a plate of chocolate frosted graham crackers or toast with butter and sugar. These simple love-offerings tasted like the Queen’s delicacies.)
Step 2: Chop your ingredients into small pieces that can easily be formed into a ball.
Step 3: Combine all ingredients to a consistency that allows for shaping into balls. I melted some coconut oil and used honey for binding agents.
Step 4: Form into rough-shaped balls and place on waxed paper. They may be hard to keep together, so a few minutes in the freezer will help solidify.
Step 5: Gather your favorite “little red riding hood” basket and set out into the woods.
As you approach your landscape, use your senses, including your intuition, to guide you. Be open to new spots to place the offerings, not just the ones you frequently visit.
Do you notice a spot where deer have crossed? Or the bulging leaf-nest of a squirrel’s home high up in a white pine? Place an offering nearby. Perhaps you are aware of a winter flock of chickadees. Will they lead you somewhere? Allow Awe & Wonder to be your companions as you meander through the wood.
Step 6: After placing an offering, whisper a word or song of invitation to woodland creatures and gratitude to the Most Generous One, our Mother Earth.
Step 7: When your basket is empty, turn your attention inward. Notice your breathing, your pulse, your mood. Your heart may be attuned, as mine is, to something greater, richer, and necessary in life. It is the dance of reciprocity.
May the blessings of Goddess Saint Brigid be upon you.