While I’ve worked with the seeking of and cultivating of imbas for many years, I had never done the traditional imbas forosnai ritual, as I could not do a go-around of the traditional offering as recorded in Cormac’s Glossary, the most important academic study of it being Nora Chadwick’s 1935 article of the same name in Scottish Gaelic Studies (Vol. IV Part II). The rite begins with the chewing of either raw dog, cat or pig meat, as an offering to the “idol gods”. Cat or dog, ethically is out of question (and of course illegal too) and no matter how my mind tried to trip around it the very considerable health risks of raw pork is insurmountable. Nor could I get behind the concept of doing an offering simply in thought; I find doing things physically has much greater impact. Another alternative is chewing sacred fungus or plants (Erynn Laurie sees descriptions as coded of such, probably Amanita muscaria).
So I was very intrigued to read the alternative offering that Christopher Scott Thompson came up with based on an old tale called “Does Greth Eat Curds?” This is all in Thompson’s book A God Who Makes Fire: The Bardic Mysticism of Amergin, which I highly recommend for anyone interested at all in filidecht. So what are the ingredients of the alternative concoction? Well some of the ingredients are difficult to get. They are curds, leeks, garlic, onion, blackberries, sour (crab)apples, and sloe (blackthorn) berries. I found it impossible to procure sloe berries, even dried locally, and ended up getting them from Poland via Ebay. Crabapples proved impossible: I looked in my local Russian markets where I have seen them but they are not in season at this time so I ended up substituting a bit of a regular apple. Curds include farmers cheese and quark (a traditional German staple) and cottage cheese could work as well, as a choice that could be found anywhere in the US.
Since it took a lot of effort to gather up the ingredients this all contributed to the ritual in my estimate. And then I chose to go to a remote wilderness location, feeling intuitively guided to do the rite in a place with very obvious chthonic connections, specifically within a volcanic geography, and near the shore of a caldera lake on the Medicine Lake shield volcano. The ritual site was surrounded by lodgepole pines, the high altitude Pinus contorta. While I hadn’t planned on it I ended up meditating in an ‘ice cave’ earlier in the day, a lava cave whose deeper portal was partially ice-veiled and from which the melting ice very audibly dripped into a pool of water.
It was fun preparing this chthonic food, and I consider this the first part of the ritual. It certainly is an odd recipe, but it isn’t intended for the human; the food is chewed upon and then spit into the offering bowl. (The offering I made was for Brigid the Poet.) Thompson says not to swallow but honestly I found that impossible. But it helped me to enter a very different mindset. There is also a drink offering to Brigid, I chose a simple honeyed organic milk (I used half and half to give a richer and more traditional heavy bodied milk). One could use mead or some other libation instead.
Thompson has an interesting discussion of a chthonic Brig, Great Bríd of the Horses, who fits well with my some of my experiences (and explained a few things) of Brigid the Poetess and whom I invoked in my rite. He associates her in Indo-European terminology with the mare goddess. In a late Scottish folktale she appears with a red-eared mare in a tale about Sénchan Torpeist.
Offerings made and induction chants chanted, then I retreated into my tent for an incubation. The imbas came, it came fast, challenging and vivid, and as always with such experiences I will be continuing to process and digest it for a long while, I suspect.