Environment, life, Neodruidry

Silvering the Well

One practice that’s part of my tradition involves “silvering the well.” This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like — making an offering of silver to the well.

The well, in this case, is a vessel of water (taken from three different natural sources). Outside of a ritual, it’s just a bowl. During a ritual, it becomes something more. It’s a representation of the primordial waters. It’s the healing cauldron, the sacred spring, and the sea of Manannán mac Lir. It’s representative of Water as an element, and the past from which we all spring.

The thing is, silvering the well is more complex than it seems. To people who’re used to ceremonial magic, it probably looks pretty simple. You have a vessel to serve as your well, and you make an offering to it. Silver goes in, boom.

There are also multiple different approaches to making this offering. One involves purchasing (or upcycling) small silver or silver-plated beads, which are then offered to the Earth once the ritual is concluded. Another uses a dedicated silver object which is designated as the offering anew each time, then taken out, dried off, and saved for the next ritual.

I spent a lot of time teasing out what this part of the process means for me. I’ve always understood the word “offering” to be a kind of euphemism for “sacrifice.” When you offer something, you no longer have it. Even if you don’t necessarily get rid of it (like dedicating an altar sculpture to a deity), it isn’t for you to use anymore. In this context, it makes sense to use small offerings of pieces of silver, requiring you to sacrifice the time, money, and energy it takes for you to get more when you run out.

On the other hand, international supply chains make the ethics of buying literally anything incredibly dubious. (I mean, a hobby store got caught trafficking antiquities, for crying out loud.) Even if it wasn’t, making an offering of small pieces of new silver involves mining silver (and possibly other base metals, for silver-plated objects) and then offering them to a place they didn’t come from. In less confusing words, you’re taking valuable material from one part of the Earth, and putting it somewhere else. Sure, silver isn’t exactly blood diamonds, but it’s still something that stuck in my mind like a fishhook. How do I know that the material for these “disposable” pieces of silver didn’t come from child labor, or a mine that dumps poison into the waters of the very people who have to work there? Could I justify offering something to the primordial waters, knowing that it might be poisoning the water?

(The environmental chemistry nerd in me isn’t even going to get into rainwater, leachates, and their effect on the soil, or I will be here all night.)

Eventually, I managed a compromise. I found a coin collector who had a stash of silver Mercury dimes. They weren’t suitable for collecting, since they’d been heavily circulated and were worn nearly smooth by time. I bought one, and this is my offering. I give it to the well, and the letter of the ritual has been fulfilled. The well is silvered.

Fulfilling the spirit of offering comes afterward. The coin itself is almost collateral — it’s a token of a promise, the symbol of an offering rather than the offering itself. Once the coin has been removed from the well and dried off, I make the sacrifice. Each ritual costs a monetary donation to a water charity — from the Water Protector Legal Collective, to Ocean Conservancy, to Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, to one of the many other organizations working to protect people’s access to clean drinking water, remediate water pollution, or preserve vital wetlands. Failing that, it costs an afternoon of cleaning a beach or the banks of one of the smaller local waterways.

What does this mean for other people? Probably nothing. It’s just something that sat in my mind for a while, and a practice that I put in place years ago. Maybe it’ll have value for others, maybe not. Either way, I thought it might be worth writing down.

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