Transcript for Tipping One Out: Using Libations for Connection
Nelufar v/o (00:06):
Hi, it's Nelufar here. I am a journalist and I'm on a mission to find out what spiritual connection looks like when you live in a secular world. Welcome to Ritually. In each episode of the podcast, I try out a new spiritual or wellness ritual, and this week I'm gonna try out a ritual that could help us feel more connected to Mother Nature. And all we need is a cup of water. In a moment you're gonna hear my guest for the show who believes:
Leah Penniman v/o (00:46):
The language of the universe is actually the language of exchanging food and gifts and material things like every river takes rocks into it and minerals into it. And by pouring libation and making offerings, we speak that universal language.
Nelufar v/o (01:02):
And a special mention to Matt, my boyfriend, who makes it clear
I do not feel connected to Mother Earth.
Nelufar v/o (01:10):
But before that I wanna explain why, why I'm doing this ritual now. I really need what this ritual is offering because I feel overwhelmed by all the terrible things going on in the world. Maybe you can relate. One of the ways that I try and cope with this feeling is by doing something about the issues I care about. I'm an investigative journalist so I go out and I report. But after I do an interview in a war zone or I host a documentary on a really heavy topic like human trafficking, I'm completely empty. I'm on a mission to see if connecting spiritually to the dirt itself can help me feel more grounded. My producer, Sarah, knew exactly who I needed to speak to about this and put me in touch with Leah Penniman.
Leah Penniman v/o (02:10):
So my name is Leah Penniman. I use all pronouns and I am the founding co-director and farm manager at Soul Fire Farm, which is a black, indigenous and people of color led community farm in Mohican territory. That's upstate New York. USA.
Nelufar v/o (02:27):
Leah is a farmer, a black food justice activist, an educator, and a campaigner. Ritual is at the heart of her work. And she's gonna guide me through a special ritual to help me connect with the earth. I felt a connection with Leah, even though we were speaking across an ocean. Like me, she believes in science, but also in the spiritual.
Leah Penniman v/o (02:49):
I was a biology, environmental science major. I love graphs and charts and math and data and technology. Like, why does that then preclude seeing the earth and all the universe as mysterious, magical, beautiful, sovereign, conscious. Like to me those things are completely compatible and even mutually reinforcing.
Nelufar v/o (03:11):
Leah got into farming when she became a young mom, growing fresh fruit and fresh vegetables for her family. She started attending conferences on farming and she found that she could count the number of people of color in the room on one hand. Leah says she's part of a returning generation of people of color who are reconnecting with their ancestral relationship with the land. A lot of black Americans left farming behind when they moved away from the south, hoping to escape racism and the ancestral trauma of slavery.
Leah Penniman v/o (03:42):
There is a whole generation coming up who realizes that you know, our grandparents and great grandparents having fled the rural south for good reason also left an essential part of our culture behind that we wanna go and pick up and carry forward.
Nelufar v/o (03:55):
So Leah founded Soul Fire Farm, a community where black and indigenous people of color can learn about farming and forge a relationship with the land. Leah practices the Yoruba religion at home with her family. Yoruba, a blend of indigenous beliefs, myths and legends, proverbs and songs. It's also the name of an ethnic group in West Africa. Leah's family also practiced Judaism and she's drawn inspiration from both of these traditions to anchor her work.
Leah Penniman v/o (04:28):
A lot of the work that I do is part of a very specific charge and specific instructions that were given to me by my teachers in Ghana who are the Queen Mothers. Manya is the word for queen mothers in Krobo. They are the environmental stewards. They are the people who take care of orphans. They resolve conflicts for folks. They protect the sacred groves. They, they're the griot, they keep the history alive and are pillars of the community fortified by their spiritual charge. They're my mentors and teachers.
Nelufar v/o (05:10):
So I'm really hoping you can help me understand what you're saying through a ritual. Something that I can embody and live and see through your eyes. I might think it's all rubbish or I might think it's absolutely life-changing. Either way, can you help me try and connect to the earth in the way that you have through spirituality, through ritual?
Leah Penniman v/o (05:30):
Absolutely. So this was something that I was thinking very carefully about in preparation for the conversation because you know, something I'm so sensitive to is cultural sovereignty and cultural appropriation. I always, always encourage people when it comes to rituals and spirituality is to investigate our heritage and learn what are the ways that our folks have been connected to the earth, connected to goodness connected to justice, and to try that on. So in thinking about a ritual that was shareable, I'm picking one that is pretty universal across the African diaspora and pretty widely shared. And it's the practice of libations, to like pour a liquid onto the ground as an offering to the earth.
Leah Penniman v/o (06:14):
It can also be an offering to the ancestors. It can be an offering to a tree. And it has manifested in so many ways. Like in the diaspora, for example, when a person dies, you often see at their funeral, especially in, in urban and black communities, folks doing what's called ‘tipping one out’, so pouring a little bit of alcohol onto the street by a memorial that's been made by people who loved the person. In the simplest form, what you can do is use some water. It can also be alcohol, it could be juice, but offering thanks to the earth and then pouring on the ground. And I'll say a bit about why, you know, why actually pour a gift. So the language of the universe is actually the language of exchanging food and gifts and material things like every river takes rocks into it and minerals into it. Every celestial body through its gravity pulls space dust to it. Everything eats, whether it's drinking sunlight or eating other organisms, everything eats. And so that is the universal language of life. And by pouring libation and making offerings, we speak that universal language.
Nelufar v/o (07:36):
Okay, should I do that? Maybe like in a park? I don't really have a garden or much in the way of green space in my house. Should I maybe say something? Is there a particular time?
Leah Penniman v/o (07:48):
It could be anywhere outdoors.
Leah Penniman v/o
It can be any time. You can say thank you in your own words. There's no particular way. And as long as it's on the ground, even if there's pavement between you and the ground, just going outside and pouring out of a cup or a vase, you know, some of whatever liquid you choose and saying thank you, that is the ritual of libation.
Nelufar v/o (08:10):
That's really wonderful. I will absolutely take on the challenge.
Leah Penniman v/o (08:14):
Let me know how it goes.
Nelufar v/o (08:15):
I will do, I will do. I had my assignment. The ritual of libation exists all over the world. From Egypt to South America. It's used to honor and connect with spirits, ancestors, dead relatives, gods and earth. It's a common ritual in African and African descendant societies, especially for the Yoruba and Ibo people. So, inspired by Leah, I was gonna use libations to connect with Mother Earth and take this ritual on the road. I also had an unwitting companion with me for this one. My boyfriend. Matt and I were headed off for a month-long road trip through France and Italy. Listen, I, I needed this vacation. I've been working almost nonstop and it was time for a break. And except for, well, this one little work related thing I was gonna bring along with me. I was curious about the libation ritual and at the same time, perhaps even a bit skeptical? Would pouring water onto the ground really help me connect spiritually with the earth? Day one of the ritual and the road trip started off in my hometown of London as I went outside and stood on some wet gravel.
Ugh, this is not feeling very spiritual at all.
Well, I'm outside and that's the best that I could do. The weather's slightly drizzly, although it's sunny skies above. I feel a bit lackluster doing this. I'm not really in some sort of zone or feel very connected after everything Leah said. I feel as though I'm disconnected from my surroundings, because I am completely surrounded by concrete. So the idea that I'm actually gonna feel anything here, I'm not gonna lie to you, I feel a bit stupid stood out here doing this. But, it's day one. Challenge accepted. I just realized I haven't even thought of what I'm gonna say. Uh, hold on. Lemme just put my phone down. Okay. And, um, uh, yeah, the water's coming from just a reusable water bottle that I have. So this is by no means technical. Okay. Here goes, um, to the land and earth below me, to the small bits of plants that are around me. Maybe I should touch a leaf. Okay, there, I'm touching a leaf. Um, I hope that as I pour this water…oh it's got all over my feet. As I pour this water, um, as an offering to you, I hope you accept it. And, um,
2, 3, 4, trying my best to connect with you, earth, soil, ground, terra ferma, and feel something, anything. I feel nothing. I don't feel connected to any of this at all. Can't even see the sky properly cuz there are so many high rises here. I'm just gonna drink the rest of this water. Yeah.
Nelufar v/o (12:12):
So yeah, this is probably the most disconnected I've ever felt to a ritual. Theoretically, it all sounds so clean cut, right? Create some time for the ritual. Make space in your life for it to take place. Allow yourself to feel the emotion and finally feel the connection to the oneness. I needed to stop expecting instantaneous results. The next day we vava voomed from London to our first trés trés chic city: Paris. The next morning I took my first stroll out onto the streets of Grand Paris. I happened upon a beautiful tranquil fountain in the middle of a gorgeous, gorgeous square. I saw dappled sunlight shifting with the sound of the swishing tree branches. And as I walked over, it felt like someone had closed the curtains on all the noise of the city. What a perfect place to pour that day's libation.
There's a statue made of gold and white marble. It's a beautiful fountain. I see the people around just eating their lunch and just taking in the lovely sight and playing on their phones or whatever. Okay, I think I'm gonna put the water directly in the fountain. Okay. I make an offering
To the earth where the food that I nourish my body with is made where the water that I enrich myself with runs through.
I make this offering to connect with the earth in whatever shape form that it might take. Whether it's pavements, grass or fountains like this. You know, looking around, I notice that everyone's doing what I'm doing just in a slightly more muted, quiet way. They are nourishing themselves, whether it's with food, a good book, or just looking at a beautiful water fountain slap bang in the middle of Bastille in Paris.
Nelufar v/o (14:46):
It didn't take very long for the city to swallow me up and burst my little bubble of tranquility, but I felt something there. I really did. Day one felt like I was just pretending to do the ritual, but this time I was able to tune in a little bit more. The next day we were plowing through France and Paris was in our rear view mirror. And my boyfriend, he was beginning to suss out that I was turning this vacay into work-ation. He'd seen me preparing to pour water out on the ground and he asked me what I was doing. This kind of thing was as far from his vibe as is possible. Unfortunately, he was also standing as far away from the mic as possible. So he's a little hard to hear. I'm sorry about that.
I was doing a ritual to connect to Mother Earth.
Oh my. How is the mother?
Nelufar v/o (15:41):
Do you feel connected to the earth, Matt?
No, I do not feel connected to the earth.
Nelufar v/o (15:47):
Do you think that driving through France, the 900 kilometers that we've driven something close to 12 hours, 11 hours, and seeing all the farmland and seeing the beautiful expanses and the rock formations and the canyons and the volcano, seeing all of that, do you think that's made you feel a bit differently?
Um, I feel more connected with the earth when I do live in Central London. Not to say that I feel connected with the earth.
Nelufar v/o (16:13):
Yeah, I'm trying to break through that. I feel as though, because I'm looking for that connection, I'm finding it more and more. With the wind blowing in my hair and, uh, the mic, sorry. We drove on for about 11 hours to the southern coast of France. I'd had a nice moment at the fountain in Paris. But in all honesty, maybe Matt was right. Was I trying to force something sacred that really wasn't there? But then while we were driving to the cote d’azur, something changed. I remember the story that Leah told me about a teenage boy called Dijour Carter who came to her farm right? At first he was too scared to even approach the land. He was afraid of bears. He was afraid of getting his shoes dirty. But suddenly he decided to take his shoes off and he wasn't afraid anymore. He told Leah:
Leah Penniman v/o (17:15):
He said to me, when my foot touched the earth, it felt my grandmother come up through my foot to my heart. And she had passed when I was young and I had forgotten. But when I was small, she would garden with me and put a worm in my hands or a bug in my hands, tell me it was okay. And I didn't think I had anything to do with this place, with farming with the earth. And I'm realizing now that I have everything to do with this place.
Nelufar v/o (17:44):
And then in the south of France, I had a moment a little bit like Dijour’s. I've traveled across France and now I'm in - very close to the Cote d’azur and I can see trees and green and beautiful different shapes of nature and wilderness in front of me for as far as the eye could see. And so I'm gonna take my shoes off. I know you can't see this terrible radio, but I've taken my shoes off and I'm walking on the grass and I'm gonna do this offering barefoot. Okay? Facing directly in front of me, as I pour this water, I want to feel connected to this earth that made me. As I face to my right, I want to know how I can give back and how I can be part of my surroundings. As I pour this water behind me, I make an offering to the earth to nourish her as she has nourished me. And as I pour to my left, I connect with her. I feel her underneath my feet, the dirt and the grass and the bits of sand. I feed it all. Thank you.
I was paying attention and taking the time to do something new. Pouring out the offering of water was symbolic. Yeah. But it was also an experience that I was connecting to. Leah was asking me to look outward at the entire expanse of this world and try to see the wood that made up all the trees.
Nelufar v/o (19:47):
By now, we were in the third week of our road trip and I'd been doing the ritual whenever I felt called to. We looked weather worn and a little scrappy living out of the trunk of our car. But I have never felt more free, more content. Yeah. I know it sounds a little sappy, but it's hard to capture the extent of this realization that pouring water into the dirt gave me a sense of humility. Leah told me that libation was a universal ritual because we are all connected to the dirt somehow. I really felt that. As we crossed into the beautiful town of Menton, France, heading towards Lake Lecco in northern Italy, I felt we had entered a different reality.
There's a river in front me, you could see the rain skitting off the top of it. There's a bridge. The cars going by with their little red lights turned on as they rush home to avoid the rain. And then directly in front of me, there are mountains and mountains and mountains and the layers of sky are painting them all various shades of green and gray and black. And I'm sat here listening to the rumble of the thunder and the beauty of the purple streaks of lightning that light up the air.
And I am completely captivated by the scenes in front of me. I don't think I've ever been so comfortably moved by nature in all my life. It's just wonderous to hear the grandness. And I know, I know I sound like some cliche, but you know what? These moments do exist. And I'm having one. All the time that I've been making this podcast, I've been trying to connect with nature on a one-to-one level. I didn't realize that I am a part of her. That it doesn't matter how much we try to extricate ourselves and build walls. We are nature and what we choose to do with that and how we choose to express that and control it and contort it to fit our world, that's the choice. I don't wanna feel connected to nature anymore. I am nature. We are one and the same. And that divide is what's been troubling me. Because I feel like I have to bridge over this disconnection when actually it's in me all along.
I was expecting this ritual to transform me. The reality was a little more subtle, but it was just as powerful. Practicing this ritual of libation was a great way to try and connect to nature and do something which made my red trip feel a little bit special and spiritual.
Nelufar v/o (23:03):
That is all we have for this episode, but there's so, so much more to unpack here. So why not become a Brazen Plus subscriber? And join me for the extended version of this interview with my guest, Leah Penniman, who reminds us:
Leah Penniman v/o (23:17):
The Lands was the scene of the crime, but she was not the criminal.
Nelufar v/o (23:25):
So, are you going to poor libations to connect with the earth? Let me know if you do and how it makes you feel. Connect with me @Nelufar on Twitter and TikTok and follow us on Instagram @TheRituallyPod. And if you're enjoying listening to us, please do me a favor and rate and review and subscribe. Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest Ritually updates. We've got the link in our show notes. And we have a bonus listener episode coming up. And I wanna hear from you. What do you think of the series so far? Are there any rituals you've been doing or that you think I should look into? You can record a voice memo and send that over for us to listen to or just write down your thoughts and I'll read them. Our email address is Ritually@projectbrazen.com. You can also record a voicemail on our website Ritually.fm. I'd like to say a massive, gigantic, giganormous thank you to Leah Penniman for coming on this episode. And of course, my beloved boyfriend, Matt. And you can find Leah online @leahpenniman and @SoulFireFarm. Check out Leah's book, Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farms Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land.
Nelufar v/o (24:46):
Next week on Ritually, I'm sitting down with the Pre-Raphaelite Goddess in Dungarees -that is, Jen Cownie to learn all about the ritual of tarot. Is it all that it seems?
So this card suggests to
Nelufar v/o (25:01):
You that I should be in therapy.
This card is where you're coming from. I think this is a place that…
See you then!
Nelufar v/o (25:08):
This has been Ritually with me, Nelufar Hedayat. This podcast is written and co-created by me and Sarah Kendal, who's also our series producer. We produce the show in partnership with Brazen. Susie Armitage is our Story Editor. Troy Holmes is our Audio Editor, Mixing and Sound Design by Claire Urbahn. Our theme tune is by Amaroun, and our original music is by Jay Brown. Executive Producers for Brazen are Bradley Hope and Tom Wright. At Brazen, Mariangel Gonzalez is our Project Manager, and Lucy Woods is our Fact Checker and Head of Research. Charlotte Cooper is our Marketing Consultant, Francesca Gilardi Quadrio Curzio and Nour Abdel Latif are Podcast Strategists. Megan Dean is Programming Manager and Ryan Ho is a series Creative Director. Our cover art is designed by Julien Pradier. For more from Ritually, head to the Brazen channel on Apple Podcasts. There, you can subscribe to Brazen Plus for ad free listening and exclusive access to bonus episodes. If you'd like to learn more about the series, check out our website, Ritually.fm.