When I started thinking about this topic, I was reminded of this post I read last winter–its an interesting perspective. Personally, I don’t think any one person (or even group of people) has the only legitimate rationale for a specific practice or belief–though, as I’m familiar with the author, I’m not surprised by the opinion or the manner in which it was stated.
As someone that doesn’t necessarily believe that the gods are “actual, living beings, beings that are self-willed with active agency” (to quote the link above), I still make offerings. I make them because they are my sacrifice, my symbol of humility to those powers and forces that are greater than my tiny and cosmically insignificant self. I make offerings as a sacrifice to those powers that are represented by the symbols of godhood (whether or not they are actually gods), and I do it with just as much seriousness and belief as someone that does believe that the gods are “actual, living beings, beings that are self-willed with active agency.” I don’t really care why or how someone else decides to make an offering to the gods (or to anything else for that matter), nor do I feel that I am in a position to know what is actually in their mind and their heart as a result of their experiences to judge them for “doing it wrong” .
With that in mind…lets talk about offerings.
An offering is a gift. More specifically, its a sacrifice given ceremonially as a method of worship (though this word is a whole debate unto itself as well). While there are probably lots of ways that one could think about a sacrifice, I like these two.–as something that is given up, and as something that is made sacred by the act of offering it to the gods. While I pretty much have a routine to making offerings at this point in my practice, when I started out (or, I suppose if I would change it up and add someone new), I tried to think about whom the offering would made to, the context in which it was being made, the physical offering (as a noun) item, and the physical offering (as a verb) action.
Considering the offering recipient–What deity or deities are you making an offering to? What are they the god of? Do you already have an established relationship with this deity? What are traditional offerings from mythology/lore? If unknown, what symbols are associated with this deity?
Considering the reason for the offering–Are you seeking to curry favor or ask for something in return? Is this an offering of thanksgiving, or of adoration and devotion? Are you seeking to make an acquaintance or a connection with a particular deity?
Considering what to offer—What offerings have traditionally been given to them? Have you made offerings to them before? How were they received? Do you feel compelled to leave any less traditional offerings, and if so, how do you think they will be received? Is the offering going to be food stuff? Is it something you can even get ahold of or make to offer? And, for a practical consideration, is it something that is either damaging to the environment or to one’s health (allergies, etc can be a factor–I was once at a ritual that involved burning herbs in a fire as an offering, in which someone was allergic to the particular herb and ended up having a dreadful asthma attack)?
Considering the act of offering–How do you plan to make the offering? Is it a solitary action, or a group one? Indoors, outdoors, in a shrine, at an altar, in a sacred spot? Is it going to be left in a public place, or in a secluded one, or is it a privately owned place? What sort of offering will be left behind (whether it be somewhere in urban, wild, or in between)? If the offering is a consumable, what are you going to do with it afterwards (if its being left outside, will it interfere with wildlife)?
Some people prefer to just improvise and go with their intuition. I’m down with that, some of the best rituals are improvised and intuitive, and making an offering is certainly a religious ritual. I’ve seen and done some beautiful impromptu offerings.
I’ve seen some very poorly thought out offerings as well. In addition to the aforementioned burning of allergenic herbs as part of a group offering, I’ve seen an offering made via balloon (I’m not entirely sure whom it was make to, why, or what was offered)…which is pretty much just pollution, not to mention (living by the beach) a good way to kill marine life. While I’m sure that the offering (I’ve also heard of spells and other rituals involving balloon releases) was probably planned with sincerity and good intentions, I’m fairly sure that “Endangered Sea Turtle Killer” was not the way in which the individual wanted to get the attention of whatever spirit or deity they were making an offering to. One rather popular method of offering involves leaving out food as an offering–its traditional and its functional, but practically speaking, one ends up feeding wild animals as well, and there are plenty of reasons why this isn’t a good idea (there are also some lovely alternatives to this practice that I’ve come across, which will might make a nice post for another day if I ever get to it again).
When I make an offering (whether it is improvised or not), I try to make sure that it:
- Is not food (or if it is food, it will be consumed by people or made indoors or will be done in such a way that it does not interfere with the local wildlife).
- Is quickly biodegradable (particularly if being left outdoors) or recyclable (or that it isn’t a *thing* at all) and isn’t likely to be perceived as litter
- Is valuable to myself (if its something cheap or effortless for me, why on earth would it be a good offering?) or is something that took time, effort, and energy to craft (actually, crafts made of natural products that can be used by nature are one of my favorite offerings)
- Is respectful of the land where it being offered and the cultures that have made that landbase their home (for me, this means alcohol is not an acceptable outdoor offering)
- Is likely to be received well by whomever it is being offered too–I like to start with myth, lore, or tradition (I consider these to be a starting point, not an ending point!), but I’m not adverse to UPG
There seem to be a couple of “schools of thought” regarding offerings…I’ve seen some people say that you should give what you feel is right for the deity, others that you should give what is indicated as preferred for that particular deity as stated in their mythology. I’ve seen some people say that money is a worthy offering, or something that is purchased, because it represents time and effort…while others would vehemently disagree. Personally, I think that flat-out work itself is a fantastic offering, one that seems to be preferred by my genus loci (trail clearing, planting, beach clean-up, etc), but I know several people that would cry foul at that idea.
All this squabbling seems much ado about nothing to me. Offerings are as individual as we are, and as our relationship and experience of divinity is.
What about you, what do you offer? How you you make an offering? Do you have a preferred offering? To whom do you offer?