Will the spirits be offended?

Many times over the years Catholics have come to me wondering what to do with old, sometimes damaged, religious objects they no longer want. Maybe it’s just old palm from last year’s Palm Sunday, or maybe it’s a rosary broken into three pieces, or maybe it’s a saint’s statue with the head broken off. All of these things, what the church calls sacramentals, become part of our religious environment. And sometimes they take on a much bigger role, almost like something magical.

For Catholics I’d say just be respectful in a minimalist way. If it’s an old statue, wrap it in an old rag and smash it with a hammer and then put it in the rubbish. That’s better than throwing it out with old watermelon rinds and beer cans after a summer picnic.

The Buddhists seem to have similar qualms and anxieties about disposing of old objects used in Buddhist spirituality, e.g., old spirit houses or holders of various kinds of offerings. Near many wats (Buddhist pagodas), especially on the back side, people dump old spirit houses, household shrines for ancestors, and other devotional objects–not wanting to offend the ancestors or spirits but also wanting to get rid of no longer useful objects.