The Crow’s Nest: Honoring the Dead with Offerings at Samhain

The Crow’s Nest: Honoring the Dead with Offerings at Samhain October 16, 2017

Pagans around the world are preparing to celebrate Samhain, one of the most popular Pagan holidays of the year. Samhain marks the beginning of Winter and the Dark Half of the Year. The tradition of presenting the Dead offerings during this time is an ancient one.  What is an “Offering”? Why even give offerings in the first place? What constitutes an offering? Let’s take a closer look at the subject of offerings.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin, From Pexels, Public Domain Image.
Photo by Artem Beliaikin, From Pexels, Public Domain Image.

What is an offering?

Dictionary.com defines “Offering” as:

“Something offered in worship or devotion, as to a deity; an oblation or sacrifice.”

Archaeological evidence tells us that humanity has been making offerings to the Dead since the beginning of our existence.  People from various cultures and religions all over the world today still give offerings on a regular basis. The origins of offerings is ancient and rooted in Pagan Traditions.

“Pagan” is a broad term under which many traditions, beliefs and practices are included. As such, offerings and the reasons for them among pagan practices today vary widely. Offerings can be a way to “honor” the Dead or as a part of “Ancestor Worship”.

Offerings can be given throughout the year for various reasons and purposes. Samhain is an excellent time of year to explore what kind of offerings may be appropriate for the Dead in particular. The next section highlights some of the most popular forms of offerings.

Types of Offerings

Candles

Lighting a candle is one of the most popular forms of offering. The light of a candle signifies a light in the darkness. Candles lit this time of year to honor the dead and can be one of the simplest and powerful of rituals. The type of candle used is up to the individual. Vigil candles are glass-encased and meant to be burned over a specific period of time. I burn a vigil candle each night from the first day of October until the first of November as a part of my own practice. Votive candles are also a popular choice. I do recommend, no matter what type of candle you choose, to “dress” or “charge” the candle with oil and/or herbs before burning it. And please remember never to leave a candle burning unattended.

Herbs and Flowers

Dried herbs and flowers burned as an incense is a popular way to honor the Dead. Fresh herbs and flowers placed on an altar dedicated to the ancestors is appropriate. Rosemary, mint, mugwort and heather are commonly used as offerings to the Dead. Marigolds and Chrysanthemums are in season during this time of year and excellent choices for fresh floral offerings.

Food and Drink

A Meal is central to most Pagan celebrations. A portion of the meal is often set aside as an offering. Fruits associated with the dead and Samhain include pomegranates and apples. Liquid offerings can consist of alcoholic beverages, juice or water.  A few tips on food and drink offerings: Set aside the first portion of a dish or drink for the offering. When selecting fresh fruit or juice, try to source locally and organic. Use well or spring water. Select a good quality alcohol. Do not eat or drink the offering. Dispose of offerings by fire or placing outdoors and letting nature take its course. Be mindful of any laws or ordinances in your area, if fire or placing outdoors in not an option, simply place the offering in the trash.

Non-traditional Offerings

Offerings do not have to be material in nature. By offering our time and effort in service to others, we can honor those who came before us. Volunteering at local a charity is a wonderful offering. Designing and holding a ritual or crafting a magical object are other options for honoring the Dead this time of year.  The possibilities are endless.

Choosing the right offering

Selecting the right kind of offering may seem like an intimidating task.  Determine your intention in regards to the offering. What goal do you seek to accomplish by making an offering to the Dead?  Remember that reverence is an essential factor.  I encourage everyone to learn more about offerings and how you can utilize them in your own practice. A safe and Blessed Samhain to everyone!

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