Regular and consistent spiritual practice is the core of any religion. This is especially true of Paganism, which is a religion of doing rather than a religion of believing. In this month’s Conversations Under the Oaks, I got several good questions on spiritual practice and so I’m going to address them all here.
1. What are some good ways to have a daily Pagan spiritual practice?
The best way is to pick one thing and get started. Meditation, prayer, offerings, greeting the sun and the moon – pick one thing and then do it every day for three weeks.
Doing one thing every day is better than doing three things every other day and much better than doing five things whenever you decide you feel like doing it. Start small and build from there. If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up, but do understand why you missed it and what you can do to not miss it next time.
After doing that one thing every day for three weeks straight, add something else. Continue this process until it feels right. The goal isn’t more – the goal is enough.
This post from 2016 on Beginning a Devotional Practice may be helpful.
2. How can one gauge what a specific deity might want in offerings, if there isn’t much information on what Their followers did in ancient times?
Particularly when you’re starting out, it’s important not to overthink this. Offerings of food and drink are near-universal in polytheist traditions. With some exceptions, if you like it and you would serve it to your human guests, Gods and spirits will find it acceptable.
As your practice deepens, and especially as your relationship with a particular deity or spirit grows, you’ll start to get an idea of what they prefer – and what they don’t. Talk to other devotees, and especially to priests and those who’ve done extensive work with them.
But mainly, make offerings, with whatever you have to offer.
3. I usually offer food stuff, so I clean off my altar within a couple of days and lay it by a tree. What if you wanted to offer something like a toy, that you can’t burn and it would be polluting to leave in nature? You would want to remove it from the altar some time to leave more offerings I would think. Throwing it away is terrible symbolically.
I completely agree that throwing away offerings is terrible. Offerings should never end up in the trash, or even in recycling (much of which ends up in landfills anyway). If you don’t know how to properly dispose of it, you should seriously consider whether or not it’s an acceptable offering.
Our ancestors often deposited offerings in bodies of water. I’ve done that before and will do it again, but throwing a manufactured item in a lake would probably be considered “dumping trash” rather than a sacred offering.
But our ancestors also buried offerings, sometimes ritually breaking them first to insure they couldn’t be used in this world again. That’s one of the ways we know something about what they offered – they were hidden in the ground, or preserved in a bog.
If I felt compelled to make an offering of something that couldn’t be burned and shouldn’t be deposited in water, I’d bury it.
4. Have you found a reason to work with specific non-deific spirits, i.e. the Dead or Landspirits?
Very much so. Both the ancestors (of blood and of spirit) and the spirits of the place where I am are part of my daily cycle of prayers. I make offerings to my ancestors weekly, sometimes collectively and sometimes to those whose names I know. I make offerings to them and to the land spirits as part of most rituals I do. It helps to stay in contact with the ancestors – our most accessible spiritual allies – and with the neighbors who share the land where I live.
I make offerings to the land spirits when I travel to new places – it seems polite to introduce myself. The laws of hospitality say visitors should not show up empty-handed if they can avoid it.
I especially work with them on matters where we have common cause: with the ancestors for healing for myself or for sick relatives; with the land spirits on environmental and weather concerns.
If by “specific” you mean named spirits, I’ve only done that with ancestors who either I knew in this life, or whose names I’ve been able to discover through mundane research. I can occasionally “see” individual land spirits, but I’ve never really been able to interact with them one on one.
5. Do in-laws count as ancestor spirits? One of my husband’s grandparents recently passed away, and I was thinking of including her in my ancestor interactions and offerings.
In my daily invocation of ancestors, I say “hail to my ancestors of blood and ancestors of spirit, you whose child I am and on whose foundations I build.” Ancestors are not just those whose DNA we carry – they’re also those whose practices and ideas live on in us. At the very least your grandmother-in-law helped make your husband who he is and he’s a huge part of your life, so she is your ancestor even if you never knew her. If you did know her, she’s even more your ancestor.
It is good and right – and necessary – to honor the recent dead. Our mainstream society tells us “funerals are for the living” and ignores what we need to do to tell our recently deceased loved ones that we will still love them, but that it’s OK for them to move on. It is good to make offerings to those who have died, to speak to them, and to remember them.
But it’s best if we give them some time before we start asking them for favors from the other side. They have a huge transition to make, and while time runs different in the Otherworld, it still exists. People who know more about these things than I do tell me it’s best to give someone at least two or three years before calling on them for anything other than messages of love and well-being.