One of the most common questions that I ever saw on the forum I used to belong to had to do with offerings. (The other most popular tended to be, “what path do I follow?”) I knew from the get-go when I started the PBP that when I hit “O,” I was going to say everything that I ever said on that forum to the newbies who were asking questions. This isn’t because I think my responses are the best or anything. For all I know, they’re actually the shittiest responses ever, but I think my shit don’t stink and I have a blog, so… The thing is that I remember older members of that forum complaining about how newbs always asked these questions and it was “irritating.” While I’ve made commentary on how I feel about older pagans being jerks to newbs just because they can, I’m not going to get into that here. What I’m going to offer is a stream-lined and simple question-and-answer session that people can reference to others who are asking these questions. That way, they don’t have to get irritated by these newbie questions
and I get more hits on my blog.
Who do I leave offerings for?
One of the things that I know I tend to forget when I’m bumbling around and doing my thing is that not everyone is “lucky enough” to have a patron. I can think of a couple of pagans who either have asked for patrons and never received one or who do not work in that type of frame-work. In these cases, then who would you leave offerings to, if you wanted to leave them at all? Let’s not forget that some people just want to check out the whole pagan-sphere and so, they want to cultivate relationships with various gods. In those cases, it comes down to preference and what you think is in your best interest. Have you always had a fascination with a certain pantheon of gods? Or maybe there was always just a single kind of god that you thought was pretty much the cat’s meow? There you go. You can start leaving offerings for those god(s) in question.
However, not everyone wants to cultivate a relationship with a god the way that I have a relationship or some of my pagan friends have them. They want to be “free range” in the gods department. So, maybe the offerings you leave should be based on ritual only, moon phase only, or whatever holiday you think is nifty and is coming up. Then again, you may not like that idea either. And that’s okay, too. You can leave offerings to animals, the fairies, plants, sprites, or whomever you so desire. Really, the who doesn’t matter so much. If leaving offerings is something that you are inclined to do, then experiment. For those who are free range, you have a wealth of gods (from Greece and Italy to Japan and the Americas) to look into. You have a wealth of nature spirits and fairies and elves and all of that to look into. Shake it up!
Where can I leave my offerings if I don’t have an altar/shrine?
Space is one of those commodities that most pagans don’t think about when it comes to worship. I have exceedingly finite amounts of space. I’m lucky enough to have three areas where I can clearly place a table or a little mini-shrine to a god or to the dead or whomever I so desire. However, I’ve seen smaller apartments and so, I know that space is one of those things that a lot of people have a hard time contending with. So, maybe you don’t have a shrine to leave these offerings out. Okay, so where do you place them, then?
When it comes to leaving offerings for any of the lwa that I may want to honor, I’ll leave them out on my kitchen counter. I make sure that the space in question is clean and empty. I then place the offering in question in that space for however long I feel is necessary. (I tend to limit this to a day since my counter space is as limited as the rest of my apartment.) That way, I have it out and I know that it’s visible, but it’s also in a spot where I won’t forget about it to clean up after the fact. In regards to nature-based spirits or fairies, many people tend to leave their offerings out-of-doors, either on a patio or all of that. When I revert my offerings (more on that in a minute), I tend to lace them around a base of a tree. This way, I know that they’ll be taken up by nature spirits and fae, but also any local wildlife that’s looking for a quick meal.
What do I leave as an offering for the OTHERS™?
Here is where simple answers fly out the window and research becomes part and parcel to what you want to know: whatever you are leaving should be based upon the tradition you are following or the tradition of the god that you are offering, the fae you are offering to, the nature spirit, the Deadz, the lwa, the whomever. So, for example, I am both Kemetic and Voodoo in my practices. So, when it comes to leaving offerings, I had to look up what kind of things these gods and spirits would prefer to receive on a regular basis. Of course, you could leave this entirely to your gut instinct and that may see you through, but if you’re even remotely thinking about practicing a recon path, then you have to look into the research. And really, if you want to cultivate a relationship with these OTHERS™ then you should probably look to what they’re used to receiving instead of going to your local convenience store and getting them a bag of potato chips and a diet Coke. If you were on a first date and that’s what the guy/girl brought for you to eat, would you really want a second date?
Maybe picking up books isn’t in your budget or you live with your parents, though, and bringing home books about this kind of thing isn’t a good idea. The Internet is at your fingertips and looking for information may take some time, some questions, some frustration. However, this is the nature of the path you’ve chosen: frustration is part and parcel to it just as much as joy and happiness. But, it is fairly easy once you get the hang of what kind of Google-fu search terms you should look into. (I recommend the name of the entity in question coupled with the word offerings for simplest.) And of course, you can always leave me a comment here and I’ll do my best to find out what it is you need help with. I have no problem helping – but I won’t do your work for you.
Now, maybe leaving food and drink isn’t something that you can get away with. (As I said, there are some pagan practitioners who live with parents who are not amenable to the path they’re walking.) The gods understand that humans have restrictions via social conventions or familial respect. So, maybe, libations at the feet of a statue isn’t something you can easily get away with. How about actions and services? There are a number of pagans that have gone out and actively done things – volunteering, going into a work associated with a certain deity, etc. – as a form of worship and offering to their gods. For example, I go out and I donate blood in Sekhmet’s honor whenever she pushes at me to do so. I know another pagan who dances for her gods. I know another person who works as a librarian because of who their patron deity happens to be. So, when you’re thinking about offerings to your gods/spirits/whomever, let’s not just think of this as a simple line, but a three-dimensional box. If your intent is there, why wouldn’t the gods enjoy actions and services as a type of offering as well?
Some other kinds of offerings can include prayers, hymns, candles, incense, gold, and other items. I give Papa Legba keys and pennies whenever it crosses my mind. I give Hekate a fresh bowl of salt every week. I give Sekhmet and Hetharu glasses of water when I first wake in the morning, but they also get candles lit in their honor and incense cones lit in their honor. It doesn’t necessarily have to be you going out to volunteer or feeding them a piece of fruit in the morning. I know a number of pagans who write hymns for the OTHERS™ that they work with or are in service to. In Kemetic practice, incense is like the be-all, end-all in offerings. And in the ancient tradition, incense was offering during every meal. A simple thought of, I light this to honor OTHER™ and then lighting an incense stick or a candle can mean just as much, if not more, than the offering of a six-course meal. So, when it comes to leaving offerings for the OTHERS™, again, let’s not think about this as a simple line but a three-dimensional box.
But, what about taboos?
This is a tricky question. There are certain taboos that other pagans claim in the name of certain gods. For example, my patron is Sekhmet and there is a number of pagans who claim that offering her blood is a “serious no-no.” I’ve discussed this in another entry, but I can tell you that when I donate blood in her name, I have never once heard anything but content from my goddess. And I can think of at least one other Sekhmet kid who donates blood to her on her altar instead of going to the Red Cross. And again, that particular pagan has never once been told by her patroness that she shouldn’t be doing that. And… In certain traditions in Kemetism, giving Sutekh/Set lettuce is considered a taboo because Heru’s semen was placed on the plant in question, Sutekh ate it, and so therefore, he suddenly hates his once coveted favorite dish. I know of at least two Set kids who give him lettuce in some form or another, and they haven’t been struck down. So, when it comes to taboos, we should probably take these with a grain of salt. (Of course, I can only comment in regards to the Kemetic gods on this since I haven’t finished branching out and learning what I can in a Greek, Roman, Norse, or Celtic arena… yet.)
But, there are some taboos that you shouldn’t ignore. Let’s talk about the lwa for a minute. In the voodoo tradition, you do not drink or smoke whenever you are giving an offering to Damballah. This is a respect thing but also because he will not abide by these two aspects. I’ve read that if you are in service to Freda, then you do not want to have sex near her shrine. (I can’t remember the reasoning for this.) When you’re working with the fae, chances are they’re not going to want you to leave them an offering of something made of iron. If you’re working with a specific animal totem and you want to leave them offerings, you probably wouldn’t want to leave them pieces of that particular animal in offering. Some of this is pretty much “no duh” and obviously. Others, not so much. And that’s where research comes to hand.
So, when it comes to certain types of taboos, some of them you can flaunt and some of them you can’t if you want to continue to maintain the relationship in question. The best advice on when you know that it’s okay versus when you don’t know is to network with other pagans who work with the OTHER™ you want to cultivate a relationship with. So, in my case, I could tell you about Sekhmet and I could point out some other blogs of Sekhmet kids. In the case of Sutekh, I could point out where to look for information. And of course, you can always leave a question here and I’ll do my best to see that you get the information you desire, either from my fingertips or the fingertips of someone more knowledgeable than I. (And again, remember, I won’t do the work for you, but I’ll sure try to assist as best I can!) As time goes by and you cultivate the relationship more and more, you’ll quickly learn what is and what is not acceptable in the eyes of the OTHERS™ you’re working with.
Why am I leaving these offerings?
This is one of those subjects that I’ve come to see not a lot of pagans talking about. Why are we doing these things for the gods? Is it just, in the Kemetic fashion, to feed their kas? In a manner of speaking, yes. This didn’t actually click into my head until I started working with the lwa, actually, but when it comes to leaving these offerings, we’re giving the OTHERS™ the energy to manifest in our lives, via the god-phone or miracles wrought or just feeling their presence. In offering these libations and food offerings, these actions or services, these prayers or hymns or incense or whatever, we’re giving them the food necessary to manifest in our lives. So the next time you leave something for the fairy or the gods or the spirits, think about how it is you are feeding them so that you can continue to cultivate the relationship that you so desire.