For several years now, a group of women from different spiritual backgrounds in the South of England has been engaged in the honouring of Artemis; as a group in a sacred grove in Kent, and as individuals in their own homes. Part of the ritual tradition has been the offering of votives, and this post will consider aspects of the practice in action; such as the reasons behind the uses of votives, the chosen forms, their creation and the offering process.
Many members of the group had already had an established relationship with the offering of votives via the Goddess tradition of Glastonbury. Without deviating too far into discussion of what occurred here, people were used to offering clouties (ribbons / cloth) at sacred places, such as the foot of the Tor, the Holy Thorn and the Chalice Well Head, as well as occasionally offering natural votives at sites; a ‘Greening’ crown for the God of the Land on the Ogham stone, small crystals or shells / votive candles at other sites. As well as this, occasional offerings in biodegradable unfired clay were made; for example, at Beltane, small phalloi and yoni offerings, filled with wild seeds, were offered at sacred sites (often tucked into clefts in the land or trees). Other, more durable items, such as ‘hanging goddesses’ were also left in special places.
An unspoken, but practical tradition in some of these places, where a build-up of natural offerings occurs, is that the votive offerer might then take home some pre-existing offering (shells, crystals, feathers etc.) from the site in exchange (a gift back from God/dess), the offering having been empowered by its duration there.
Away from Glastonbury, the group also made garlands for a Sea Blessing on the Kent coast, which were also votives to the Mother of All Waters, traditionally blessed between Summer Solstice and Lammas. These garlands were gifted to the waters following ceremony.
The creation of all votives is done in a mindful and prayerful way (as in the creation of any sacred art, such as icons). In a group context, when creating garlands or clay votives, sacred chants are often sung, or sacred stories told. The prayerful presence of the creator is bound into the votive itself. The votive in general is given in an act of ‘thanksgiving’, usually accompanied by gratitude for any perceived blessings, while also adding any further prayers for any help needed. Some of the clouties of Glastonbury are written on with prayers that can be read, fluttering on the wind like the Buddhist prayer flags; disseminating the prayer far and wide (usually for some form of healing).
Following in the above traditions, and also drawing on Ancient Greek form and function in religion, the Artemisian circle has also used votives in its practice. Generally speaking, natural offerings are made in the outdoor spaces, to avoid any contamination of the area, and to disturb it as little as possible (particularly in public woodland). Occasionally the biodegradable clay has also been used – such as in the offering of little ships (made by the children in the group), to symbolise the Greek fleet at Salamis and its victory, celebrated at the Mounikhia festival, where Artemis shone her full moon on proceedings. While the little ships are created and offered, the story of Salamis is told, and the aspect of Artemis Soteira (Saviour) is invoked in terms of deliverance (from any irksome state in the worshipper’s own life). The releasing of leaves or petals into running water that carries the ‘unwanted’ away and purifies is a good accompanying ritual.
In an alternative to the ‘thousia’ (animal sacrifice) of ancient Greece, animal votives are offered in clay, but do not remain in the woods. Following their dedication in the grove, they are returned, considered ‘empowered’, to the private altars or gardens of the individual. A recent project has entailed photographing animal forms around the British Museum (particularly of the Archaic / Classical periods), and reproducing them as far as possible as votives for Artemis. Small animal-shaped perfume bottles are re-used in the Lammas-tide ‘kharisteria’ (thanksgiving), by being filled with seeds and honey – this is in thanks for the abundance in our lives.
In the act of offering the votive, the objects are processed into the sacred space, then the group solemnly observes each individual gifting process. The votive is taken to the altar, which the devotee kneels before. In the act of giving, an acknowledgment of the sacred relationship between the Divine and the spirit soul occurs, and a Way is opened between the two.
Following the essence of the timeless quote from Bhagavad Gita 9.26,
If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.
it is clear that the attitude of the giver is of primary importance in the offering of any votive. One approaches Deity with an open heart, gives the gift, and rests in the moment of one-to-one connection. Metaphysically it is understood that this connection is never lost, but the act of votive offering, and in any ritual making or worship, is to achieve mystical communion mindfully and purposefully. The permanence of the votive, wherever it ends up, bears witness to that moment of sacred communion and the particular vows or prayers made through it.
by Frances Eley