Wondering About Offerings

There are two main questions to ask when planning a public ritual:  what do you want to do and what do you want people to take away?  For this year’s Imbolc ritual, what we wanted to do was pretty clear – render due honor to the Goddess Brighid.

But part of the magic of public ritual is planting seeds for future growth:  introducing people to concepts, practices and beings they haven’t seen before or haven’t noticed before.  While I didn’t give the question of takeaways much thought during composition, I’ve been wondering what might come of introducing the practice of making offerings to deities.

I wonder if sharing food and drink with gods and goddesses will encourage hospitality in our everyday lives?  One of the main reasons for making offerings is to be polite to our honored guests.  Think about how many people are calling on Brighid at this time of year.  If she takes time out of her busy day to visit our circle, the least we can do is offer her something to drink.

Likewise, are we hospitable to our human guests at our circles?  Or do we ignore them while we talk to our friends?  Do we render due honor to the people we come across in our daily lives?  Or do we act as though they’re just there to serve us?

I wonder if giving offerings to deities will connect us to something bigger than ourselves?  Many of us came to Paganism from a religion that told us we’re depraved wretches.  As Pagans, we rightly reject that idea, but has the reclamation of our inherent value caused us to focus too much on ourselves?  Can making offerings turn our focus outward to the work of our gods, the needs of our communities, and the needs of the other species with whom we share the Earth?  Will giving promote compassion?

I wonder if sharing food and drink will make a deity more recognizable to us?  One loud voice in our culture insists there’s only one god, while another loud voice screams there are none.  It can be hard to hear the call of individual gods and goddesses over these two groups shouting past each other.  But we can pick out the voice of our lover or child or friend in the din of a crowd – can greater familiarity make it easier for us to hear the call of Brighid or Morrigan or Lugh?

I wonder if reviving an ancient ritual practice will inspire interest in our ancestors?  Offerings don’t just honor the deities to whom they’re made, they also honor the ancestors who regularly made such offerings in earlier times.  Can our offerings connect us to our roots and help us understand where we came from?  Will they show us how we benefit from the work of those who came before us?  Will they encourage us to learn the stories of our ancestors and tell them to future generations?

I wonder if making a sacrifice (from the Latin sacrificium – to make sacred) will help us see the sacred in other parts of our lives?  In our Imbolc ritual, ordinary milk became something more when shared with Brighid.

Our ordinary work provides the necessities of life.  Having those necessities in turn makes it possible for us to serve others, to explore the universe, and to create art.  Can we find the more in the ordinary?  Can doing what must be done become an act of sacrifice rather than an act of drudgery?

I wonder if one spiritual practice will spark an interest in other spiritual practices?  If we find making offerings to be meaningful and helpful, will we also begin a practice of prayer?  Or meditation?  Or observation of the skies?  Will we begin devotional reading and listening?  Can we begin writing?

Daily practice is the spiritual equivalent of training for the athlete or rehearsal for the performer.  It’s how we reinforce our core beliefs and values in a world that frequently is at odds with both.  It’s how we create and maintain relationships with our deities, ancestors, and the natural world.  We don’t have to practice all these techniques, but I wonder if each of us could add one thing to our spiritual repertoire this year?

I wonder.  I don’t have enough information to speculate, much less to know… still, I wonder.  Seeds have been planted, but not every seed that is planted sprouts.  Not every sprout grows to be a hardy plant.  Not every plant bears fruit.

But some do.

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  • One personal hangup I have about making offerings to the gods (even though I go ahead and give offerings anyway) is the feeling that I’m “wasting” perfectly good food and drink on a being that either doesn’t exist or doesn’t need food.

    I know this comes from my atheist upbringing in a Christian-dominated culture. Atheists don’t believe the gods exist, and Christians don’t believe in giving their god offerings like that.

    I would imagine that if you tried to introduce that concept to people, you’d get much the same response from many of them. “Why are your pouring out good milk while there are people starving in the world?”

    I’ve heard of some pagans going ahead and eating the offered food themselves, others think that’s taboo. I’ve also heard of pagans making offerings of volunteering or giving to charities instead of physical offerings. Sometimes I wonder if that’s a better way to go.

    I don’t know. This is something I’ve struggled with myself. Like I said, I do actually give offerings, poured on the ground, or left out for the fat opossum that lives in my yard to eat, but every time I do that, I have this nagging voice in the back of my head saying I’m wasting food.

    • John Beckett

      Amanda, ancient Greek sacrifices were essentially community barbeques – the meat did not go to waste. Egyptian offerings were placed in front of the statues of the gods, who did not physically consume them. They were later eaten by the priests.

      There are times I pour libations on the ground. There are other times I place an offering on my altar, leave it there for a while, then eat or drink it myself. One is when I feel called to give up something for a greater purpose, the other is when I feel called to share a meal or a drink.

      Food is inexorably wrapped up in emotion – as my waistline will readily attest. If making food offerings doesn’t feel right to you, make other offerings. I doubt your gods will mind, and if they do they’ll let you know.

      • Thanks for the reply. I do sometimes eat the offerings myself. To be honest, it depends on how expensive/special the food is. On the big holidays, I usually buy some sort of locally-raised, pastured, organic roast, and that’s the centerpiece of the holiday feast. All of it ends up eaten by me and whatever family and friends I have in attendance. Except I still see it as a sacrifice, because it’s definitely a special treat. (My waistline also tells me I’m not in danger of starving any time soon, but my checkbook often seems pretty slim.)

        Sounds like that would be similar to the ancient Greek sacrifice.

    • Jibrael

      In the Hindu tradition, food is offerred to the Gods, and then shared by all present. The Hindus I’ve celebrated with say that this represents reciprocity: we give to Them, they give to us, then back and forth. Whether or not the Gods are “real,” this a potent act with deep meaning. I usually follow this in my personal practice, unless I’m working with spirits from traditions where it is taboo, such as Vodou or offerings to the Fae Folk.

      But on the subject of offerings in general: the Hindu tradition of bhakti (“devotion”) is something I feel Neo-Pagans can learn from. There is more to devotion, in that tradition, then only food offerings. Devotion to the Gods is an intentional orienation of everyday life, including sometimes the most ordinary of acts. If offering food rubs someone the wrong way, then I encourage them to look at other ways to show devotion (as was mentioned in the above comments). My two cents 🙂

  • Patrik

    Years ago, when I took a class in Religious History, we learned about a type of sacrifice called Convivium sacrifice, which is a meal shared with your god(s). I haven’t been able to find a reliable reference to this term elsewhere, but I am aware that the practice exists. This was put in relation to the Communion sacrifice, where the god(s) is(are) symbolically eaten. This sharing of food seems to be precisely what John describes in his reply.

    As always, it’s a good idea to try to find out what practice your god(s) seem to prefer, but when it comes to food offerings I would suppose that it would be popular with at least some of the Pagan deities…