Alternatives to a Toast Pt 1 Libation

This past week our beer club met on November 1st which is All Saints Day.  Although I don’t usually bring much religion into our meetings I thought it was appropriate to take ten minutes at the end to share a little bit about the history of Libation and then for us to do a Libation ritual of our own.

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downloadFirst some background.  The ritual of pouring libation is found in many other cultures and religions.  Its origins are lost in antiquity but it is referenced in Judaism (Genesis 35:14 and Isaiah) and classical writings of Ancient Greece (The Baccae).  It is still practiced in Japanese Shintoism and in African, Afro-Caribbean and African-American communities, to name a few.  Libation takes many forms.  In Russia and surrounding countries it is an old tradition to pour vodka onto the grave of the deceased.   In the South American Andes, it is common to pour a small amount of one’s beverage on the ground before drinking as an offering to Mother Earth. In the United States pouring libation is a part of many Kwanza celebrations.

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So what is it?  Quite simply, Libation is the pouring out of a liquid in the honor of an ancestor or less frequently, a deity.  Libation acknowledges the contributions of those who have gone before, recognizing that without their contributions, the present community would not exist.  While always done with reverence, it is not usually a somber liturgy.  Rather it is meant to express an attitude of thankfulness and often done with a spirit of gladness. Various liquids are used ranging from water to coconut milk to gin.  Prayers are usually offered as part of the ceremony, the congregation repeating a common response.

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It is no coincidence that we use drink rather than food for this purpose… liquid is what today-040animates us, it binds us together, it purifies and renews us.  That which fills our cup reminds us of so much that is primordial and powerful… it is water, which in both science and religion is understood as the universal source of our life… it is the life force that is carried by our blood and when, as is so often the case, our cup contains alcohol it is joy and celebration, particularly when we drink with those who are near and dear.

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Therefore libation is much more than a simple toast.  The ritual of pouring libation is an essential ceremonial tradition and a way of giving homage to those who are no longer with us. This small act of sacrifice gives thanks and acknowledges that we would not be who we are without them.  They are not simply remembered but are in fact invited to be active participants with us. In this way their memories are not only recalled… they are considered to be present, still an essential and vital part of the community that pours the libation and drinks in their honor.

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When we raise a glass to pay homage to all the people who enriched our lives but now are no longer with us, it most appropriate to think of this act, not simply as a toast to their memory, but rather as an act of libation, one that not only honors their memory but also reminds us that they will forever remain a part of who we are.

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We then took the remainder of the beer we had not drunk and made sure all of our glasses were charged.  I then led the group in the following ritual:

 

A Litany of Libation

Leader:  Almighty God, creator and giver of life, we come before you this day in humility and gladness.  In thanksgiving for all the blessings of this life, in particular for the lives of those we love but see no longer, we pour out this libation in their memory.

Leader:  In thanks for the time we shared together

People: We pour libation

In thanks for the friendships we formed

We pour libation

In honor of the gifts they gave us

We pour libation

In honor of their contributions to our world

We pour libation

In honor of the families they have left behind

We pour libation

As a pledge to live our lives as a fitting legacy to their memory

We pour libation

Amen

We then remembered the names of those we love but see no longer as I played Warren Zevon’s, “Keep me in your Heart” from my iPod.  At the conclusion of the song we drank to their memories.

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The service concluded by going out to the grave of one of our deceased members and silently pouring the libation onto his final resting place.

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Although our group was made up  of believers and non-believers, in it seemed a fitting way to end our meeting and to pay tribute to our family and friends in a way far more meaningful than a simple toast.

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