I just looked at the calendar…if I was working for the college still, I would be looking at Spring Break right now. It feels like the entire last year has been an extremely long, extended Spring Break.
I was reading through a handful of Facebook posts from friends, and there was a post written about offerings to the Gods. I didn’t reply because I thought it would make a better blog post. Well, we shall see if that thinking was misplaced, right? 😊 The good part here is that I am finding writing prompts from a lot of other places than just my over-thinking mind. So, let’s just take a jaunt into this arena, shall we?
In the Beginning
When I first started to toddle along on my Pagan path, the idea of offerings was alien to me. Whenever it was presented to me, it had a similar feeling to the symbolic Last Supper rites within the Catholic mass. Just presented in a different way. Since I didn’t really want anything like the Catholic faith in what I was trying to accomplish on my own Path, offerings were simply not a part of what I did in those years. I do joke that I am a lapsed Catholic, but the reality is that this is where my childhood was set – thanks to my parents. So, with that symbology firmly ensconced in my head, the gesture of offering food and drink to the Gods felt almost like a reversal of the process to me. Looking back, I can see where my mind placed an unwarranted and unnatural perspective to all of this, but this is where my head took me.
This process was not helped by an extremely healthy dislike and disgust for the Christian faiths by the Pagans that I was working directly with. While this is a thought for a different post, it is an example of how so many aspects of our chosen Spirituality overlap into various areas of our belief. My unwarranted knee-jerk reaction to offerings can be slightly attributed to this type of collateral thinking.
Trying to Understand
As you can see, my approach to the idea of offerings was poisoned from the well, so to speak. However, as time wore on, my derision towards the concept of offerings was slowly being challenged. Like any new Pagan, as time marched slowly through my life, I started looking for new positions around the fire where I could sit. I found other Pagans to discuss Spiritual matters with. From these perspectives, I found more books and authors to read. These brought me to different perspectives of offerings, and a new light in which to observe and relate to the concept.
Now, you might view the above paragraph and think it took me a short period of time to contemplate the changes in my attitude towards offerings. That, simply, is not true. The above paragraph encompasses a period of close to two decades of my life. For me, my understanding of something happens over time. Changes to that perspective move at a glacial pace. Much like my emotions, I cannot change my thinking like one turns a faucet on or off. I’m just not built that way.
In the beginning, I had seen offerings as something that was an empty gesture – made for the benefit of others. Sort of like a Hollywood movie moment. Over time, I started to see offerings as a moment where one would share what they have with the Gods, or the Spirits of a Place, or the Spirits of Ancestor. The gesture is made in gratitude, and in hospitality. In essence, an individual or group presenting the offering is accepting the Gods, the Spirits of Place, or the Spirits of Ancestor as guests to the rite. These guests are being accorded the hospitality that one would provide to any other individual that had been invited to the rite.
To be completely open and honest, this is not a conclusion I came to quite a while ago. In terms of my thirty-plus years on this Path, this is a recent development for me. Quite a while back, I attended the ADF Texas Imbolc Retreat, presented by Hearthstone Grove. This is where I encountered a very real representation of making offerings to the Gods, the Spirits of Place, and the Spirits of Ancestors. Experiencing the heartfelt presentation of others to their Gods helped me immensely in understanding the entire concept as it is practiced by both individuals and groups. I cannot put enough gratitude towards all the people I have been with at the various Texas Imbolc Retreats, who have helped me understand what offerings really by what are about, through their actions.
Comprehending What Others Offer
An aspect of offerings that I have found to be somewhat controversial is what exactly to provide as an offering. I have found that there are many ways to interpret what is “proper” and what is not in an offering, dependent on the individual asked. I have seen a lot of items provided as offerings at various rituals. Incense, oils poured on fires, alcohol poured on fires or on the ground, water set in a bowl at the edge of the ritual area, food stuffs of many types tossed into a fire, effigies of various types placed in the fire, and so many others. Each is usually provided with some perspective of justification as to its usage in this instance. Some of the perspectives I understand. Others, not so much.
Probably the most difficult part of this is to not be judgmental over what others offer. One participant popped Rolo candies into the fire as an offering, which I thought to be somewhat odd. A short while later, I came to understand that while it certainly was odd, the individual was offering something that they would consume to the Gods. They were sharing their bounty (or their version of it) with the Gods, just as if they were serving a guest with a portion of the harvest. I had similar misgivings when I first saw individuals pouring whiskey and other alcoholic drinks into a fire as an offering to the Gods. But the aspect is similar. You share with the Gods what you would share with any other guest.
Part of what I needed to realize was that was being offered by the individual was something that mattered directly to them. They were not just offering something that they picked out for the occasion, but something that held an everyday meaning to them. For all I know, the individual offering the Rolo candies was offering something that was an everyday comfort item to them. Thus, the candies were not a sacrifice of some sort, but rather an item being shared with the Gods. While sacrificing an item as an offering is a real thing, the sharing of an item has an air of hospitality to it. And that is certainly a topic for another post.
What I Have to Offer
What follows is my own understanding, perspective, and justification as it applies to my own daily Path.
As I said before, I came to this aspect of offerings late in my Path. Being a diabetic, I do not drink much. I might have two or three beers over the course of a year. Maybe, I will add a glass of whiskey to that total over the same year, but usually not. My heavy drinking days are long behind me. But I do keep a bottle of Irish whiskey (Bushmill’s, of course!) to make special offerings with. When a fellow OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering member passed on, I left two gold-dollar coins and a shot of whiskey at my backyard circle for his crossing. This is precisely what I purchased the whiskey for – offerings of a special variety.
But alcohol is not the only thing I have used for special offerings. When my two beloved girls, Gizmo and Kaylee, contracted cancer and I took them to the vet to be put to sleep (a grace considering the amount of pain they were both in), I felt two saucers of heavy cream out at the circle, along with a shot of the Bushmill’s. The cream was for my girls. The whiskey was for the Spirits of Ancestor, a thank you for helping my babies cross the Rainbow Bridge.
My usual offering comes in the forms of water and birdseed. The water is a symbolic gesture of life and is always the same water that I would drink. As the Water Protectors in the Dakotas reminded us during the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests – “Water is Life”. The birdseed is a thank you to the Gods for the daily inspiration that I have in my daily life. Plus, the birdseed attracts the birds to the backyard, which keeps the ‘Bird Channel” going for my two youngest cats, Raven and Gabby. 😊 But the thank you to the Gods is done by providing for the wildlife that is here in the area. While I live in a rural-ish area, I do live in what looks like an everyday suburban neighborhood. The animals were here before we were. They still need to eat too.
I give my offerings for a lot of reasons, but primarily as a reminder that I am still alive, and as a thank you to the Gods for looking after me. A strong bout with pneumonia, a high-blood sugars diabetic episode which had me in a coma for a bit more than a day, and this entire COVID pandemic – I have plenty to be thankful for in being alive.
Offerings come in many forms and are given for a variety of reasons that are as expansive as the Universe itself. I have reasons for the offerings I provide. Some Pagans may feel the need not to provide offerings, considering these to not be a part of their daily practice, or even feeling that these are not necessary. I can completely grok that. I have been there too. There is not one damn thing wrong with that. However, if you are contemplating adding the idea of offerings to your daily practice, take some time to figure out what you want to do. I didn’t discuss the “hows” of giving offerings because I feel that figuring out the wording, gestures, and ritual aspect is best left to the individual. How you talk to the Gods, the Spirits of Place and your Spirits of Ancestors will be as different as you and I are. That’s a good thing too. Because when it comes down to it, how you practice your beliefs – should be up to you.