5 Ways Your Offerings Hurt the Environment (and Five Easy, Eco-Friendly Alternatives!)

5 Ways Your Offerings Hurt the Environment (and Five Easy, Eco-Friendly Alternatives!) August 7, 2018

Pagans love the environment. Yet some of the most common offerings are damaging the environment we honor as Divine. Here are five common offerings that can hurt the planet, along with five easy, eco-friendly alternatives.

1.) Leaving coins in trees

For the love the gods, don’t. Do. This. On our recent trip to Ireland, we came across several thorn trees in which people had stuff coins the trunks. These coins will kill the very trees you’re trying to honor. Actually, don’t stick anything in trees–not stones, not little bottles. The tree will grow around them, but then the tree will die. Plus, smaller animals burrowing in the hollow of the tree may have a harder time nesting with your offerings in there.

If this is a fae offering, they’re not going to take kindly to your offering if it kills the trees they hold sacred. Don’t make the fae angry. You wouldn’t like the fae when They’re angry….

Offer instead:

Your own wishes and prayers, spoken to the tree. Singing is great–trees seem to like singing. You can also collect the coins, stones, or other things left within the tree. Do not keep them. Donate the coins to a cause that protects the environment and deposit the stones a stream.

2.) Pouring milk on plants–especially trees

Yes, the fae and some other spirits like milk, too. But again, they won’t like it if it kills trees. The picture below shows the damage fungus has done to an Irish thorn tree because of people pouring milk on its limbs as an offering.

Image courtesy of Treasa Kerrigan

Water is considered by many traditions to be the purest offering. Pouring water at the roots of a tree is a wonderful gift. If you must leave milk, pour it into a bowl and leave only for a day or two. The energy and intention will be left behind.

3.) Throwing non-native flowers, fruits, or vegetables outside

As we begin the harvest holidays, it’s natural–and right–to want to give back some of our bounty. But don’t throw offerings not native to your local environment into the woods, fields or otherwise. Insects from imported flowers may be lurking inside, seeds can travel, and invasive plants can overtake native ones. Anyone who has ever battled blackberry bushes (hello me with stigmata-style gashes and twisted ankles…every damn summer) knows what a pain invasive fruits can be–and my complaints are small compared to the damage invasive plants can do to farms and forests. Remember, birds can eat the offerings and carry the seeds far, causing damage way beyond where you’re likely to notice.

Leave instead:
Native flowers or vegetation. If you’re not sure, a quick Google search in your area or a stop at a local nursery can help. If you can’t get a hold of native produce or flowers, leaving non-native offerings in a bowl inside your home is absolutely fine.

4.) Meats, cheeses, chocolate

You may assume that animals of the area will enjoy them and for the most part, you’ll be right. That the problem. Leaving human food for animals can bring wildlife closer to residential areas, risking death or injury by cars, domestic dogs, or otherwise. Leaving them further out in the wilderness doesn’t solve the problem. A few years ago, a contractor left a deli sandwich on my friends’ property. The meat and cheese spoiled and their dog ate it, nearly dying. The incident cost thousands in veterinary bills, which paled in comparison to the dog’s suffering. The same could happen to a wild animal–even an endangered one such as a wolf or a bear. Plus, we all know the danger of dogs eating chocolate. Your neighbor won’t be happy if your offering sickens their pet.

If your Gods demand meat, cheese, or chocolate (many do!) and you must do your ritual outside, hold up the offering as a symbolic gesture. Consider eating the offering afterward, or share it with friends, co-ritualists, or other guests. For thousands of years, humans have eaten meat offerings for their Gods and we’re all still kicking. If you cannot eat the offering due to allergies or personal prohibitions, leave it a plate inside your home for a time, discarding in the garbage, later.

5.) Leaving anything plastic anywhere but in the recycling

No, the Gods will not understand if you toss a plastic bottle full of desires for transformation into a river. No, they are not more likely to bless your endeavor if you hang its effigy with a plastic ribbon on a tree. Plastic is literally killing our planet. Birds can eat bits of your offering and die. Plastic ribbons tied to tree limbs will eventually kill the limb and possibly the tree. Streams and rivers lead to oceans and we don’t need any more plastic in the oceans. 

Use cloth or cotton to hang your intention outside. If your offering requires throwing something into the river, use paper, native fruit, or a combination.

Our environment is in trouble, but all hope is not lost. Taking small actions not only add up, but they connect with the spirit of worshipping the Earth as Divine. Start with your offerings, and see how far your ecological intentions spread to other parts of your life.

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  • James

    This has always been a huge thing for me. I have a hard time leaving offerings outside unless I k kw it will break down.

  • Brian Smith

    Might I suggest an alternative? You should leave your perishable offerings outside overnight, and THEN consume them.

  • Falkor Rotharison

    Soooo… how is it not disrespectful to say “hey, i got this for you to enjoy… so I’m gonna go eat it with my buddy and throw out the rest.”

    Or better yet, “I thought you might like this, so I’m gonna show it to you and then take it home like cosmic keep away. Have a good one!”

    Does this make sense?

  • Raja Marimuthu

    There are many better alternative to protect the environment for the future generation, support and try to use it to save the Mother Nature

  • We have a wishing willow. We tie a ribbon with a wish on a branch – loosely – at Beltane. The ribbons are removed and burned at the next fire festival. We also cast our negativity into a basket of peanuts on entering Circle, but leave out the nuts for the wildlife to partake and dispose of the negativity elsewhere. Sometimes the wildlife eat the basket too!

    I don’t even like throwing coins in a fountain. Putting them in a tree makes zero sense! Dairy products get offered in a ceramic offering bowl.

    The problem with non-native plants is that the problem of offerings is minuscule compared to herbs (read weeds!) in our gardens. My mugwort has gone from a single plant to almost a cash crop, while borage just takes over (we won’t talk about bee balm or mint…). This is a hard one for me, as I think it is better to grown my own herbs than buy them. Especially when I like them fresh….

  • Falkenna

    Well, it *is* exactly what our ancestors did with animal sacrifices for millennia.
    Even if we don’t kill it ourselves, we can still dedicate the life to the gods by ritual and express gratitude for the provision of it.
    For liquids or other food substances, pour or leave a VERY SMALL libation if you must, on open ground away from trees or sensitive plants. This symbolism is what most of the traditions I am aware of do anyway.
    As with all things magical and spiritual, it is what is in the celebrant’s heart that matters most.

  • Barros Serrano

    The Hindu use of “prasadam” is like that… the food is on the altar, consecrated to the deity, “eaten” by the deity so that as an offering it is then imbued with spiritual significance, and then is eaten by the humans. Very nice ritual.

  • J Verdant

    Is there a source for the idea that coins embedded in trees will kill them? Not that I would do that, but it sounds related to the false urban legend that copper nails can be used to kill unwanted trees.

  • Richard Wachenheim

    My concern is people currently using tea lights that are in a plastic holder instead of a aluminum one. The heat that melts the tea light wax also melts the plastic a bit and also the plastic holder is not recyclable. The aluminum foil holder is recyclable as well as any unburnt wax (to make new candles) the metal piece that holds the wick is also recyclable. Thanks for your informational article. I will be passing it on to our Treibh.

  • Shawneen Bear

    My prefered offering is steel cut oats, the oats are rendered incapable of sprouting but the nature spirits can still readily consume them, and they have a nice heft to them.


    What about soy or nut based milks, like cashew or almond? Would that damage the trees? And instead of pour it directly on the tree, what about near it, like the patch of dirt closest to the roots?