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I tend to associate the act of giving things to the gods as the “next step” on anyone’s religious path. It’s one thing to say that you are a devotee of X deity or a specific pantheon, but it’s still a realm of theory. It’s easy to debate that theory, both with yourself and with others until you’re blue in the face, without having anything concrete to back it up. You’ve read all the books; you’re hip to the lingo; you follow all the “proper blogs” everyone has recommended; you’re down with it. But in my experience, it was only once I began to actively do in the name of the gods I was working with that I began to feel as though I were an established practitioner. Everything, to me, prior to that was just something that I could wipe off easily from a chalk board. When I went to the next level by actively providing things to my gods, I realized that I had carved a message into the slate and going back would be a hell of a lot harder then.
When it comes to providing offerings, I think what to offer is probably the most popular question asked.
I honestly think the more important question is less about what and more about who, if anyone. The thing is that most people, when it comes to offerings, they’re ready to explore the next step, but it usually means that they have a specific deity in mind, usually termed as the “patron deity.” While I don’t necessarily discourage the practice of feeling the need to have a patron deity, I don’t necessarily encourage it either.
By focusing all of their newbie excitement and willingness into a single deity, perhaps one who may not even be interested, they are willingly excluding themselves from other deities who may be interested. We’ve all heard about deity collectors – those “weird” people who “collect” deities on the regular, such as myself – but I think what people are neglecting to take into account is that those who “collect” deities as often as I do is why the hell some of these deities are approaching established devotees when there are whole avenues of newbie blood available.
I think, too, that by giving an all-encompassing offering to all deities within a pantheon, the person in question will be better able to establish themselves as someone serious about this polytheistic life. I have always maintained that it was the act of giving an offering on a daily basis that established me on this path – it was the ability to do that daily rite, day in and day out, that gave me the ability to feel like I was actually living my religion, which was important to me. By moving forward with not having a specific deity in mind, they’re leaving themselves breathing room before the fun begins and a relationship begins to become fully formed.As to what is to be provided to the gods, most often people get stuck here. Personally, I always recommend the more tried and true offering methods as shown in ancient Egypt to start off with. According to every offering related picture ever created in ancient Egypt, things like bread, flowers, figs, wild game, incense, cool water, water fowl, meat hanks, grains like wheat and barley, onions, lettuce, and wine were all used as providing offerings to the gods. Any of these items can be provided to the gods without worrying too much based on legitimacy. Since this comes from historically attested sources, you can’t really go wrong with using any of those.
(Obviously, I’m not going to recommend that you place a pair of live ducks or go and hunt down a deer to give as an offering to the gods. Unless that’s how you roll, just don’t do that.)
Another form of measure is to decide how modern the food product is. I can show that you won’t find a bag of Doritos or a can of Arizona on any of those offering images depicted in ancient Egypt. If possible, it’s always a good idea to stick to as historically accurate an offering as one can get when first starting out. Offering junk food, like chips or overly processed foods is okay, but it’s always best that the beginner go with as natural an offering as possible. There’s no need to have to defend oneself against the “you’re doing it wrong” brigade and again, you know that you aren’t entering the realm of UPG, so therefore, won’t have to defend yourself to anyone who feels like saying anything.
As time goes on, however, and a level of comfort is established in the act of providing offerings, then I highly recommend branching out of the established patterns the ancient Egyptians have set for us. We live in a modern world and I am a very vocal person when it comes to providing a more modernized practice for the gods. This will include items like chocolate, soda, Doritos, and ice cream. While I don’t think it’s a good idea to give these things every day, I think it can be an added bonus or a sort of treat to provide on “big occasions,” such as festivals and feast days or to celebrate something big that you accomplished [for or with your gods].Some more modern offerings that I can and do give to my gods include chocolate. I will also give shots of vodka and diet Coke to my gods. I’m not sure if the ancient Egyptians had cheese (and I’m too lazy to give it up), so I’ll give that in lieu of milk. All of these things are things that I ingest regularly (to a degree) and so, in my eyes, by giving them as an offering to my gods, I am actively sacrificing something to provide it. Even though I will revert it later, it’s still hard to just plunk it down in front of them and not immediately gobble up that chocolate square or drink down that perfectly chilled glass of diet Coke.
When it comes to offerings, obviously, the most commonly cited things are food. But in ancient Egypt, sweetly scented oils and incense were often provided to the gods. Nice smelling things were very important to the ancient Egyptians and so, these things were provided to the gods. Based on what I can find historically speaking, some of the more common incense blends were kapet (which is most often known today as “kyphi”), frankincense, and myrrh. Scented oils included scents perfumed with lilies and roots of iris.
(When searching for a good incense blend, I will often look for something that is organic. The ancient Egyptians abhorred bodily waste and most often, modern incense is made with urea. While I don’t hold too much with ritual purity, which can vary from practitioner to practitioner anyway, I do attempt to find incense blends without urea within them.)
Offerings can include non-historically attested items, as well. Usually, when it comes to giving things that aren’t historically accurate, it depends highly on the deity the item is being offered to. I have a knife blade on my altar to Sekhmet since she is a deity of warfare and bloodshed. The knife type isn’t something found in ancient Egyptian annals, but the concept behind the blade is. I have offered pink quartz to Hetheru, which is not attested to in my research on her, but it’s a pretty item and she is definitely a deity of “the finer things in life.” I have a rock with the word “magic” etched in it that I gave to Aset when she and I began working on strengthening my heka together.
None of these are things that, on the face of it, would have been given to the gods in the temples. It’s possible these smaller items would have been given in family shrines in the home, if these types of items existed back then. However, these are all items that make sense to me and are specifically entrenched in my UPG. As time goes by, a newbie will begin to create their own UPG that perfectly encapsulates the relationship(s) they are building with their deity(ies).
The final form of offering is to do things for the gods. Since most ancient religions are orthopraxic, I think it makes a perfect kind of sense to get up and go in the name of the gods. Sometimes, actions that I choose to provide to the gods are specific to that deity – I am cleaning for Hetheru as a household deity; I am singing and laughing with my son in the kitchen to Bes as a fun-loving and child-protecting deity; I am execrating my enemies for Sekhmet as a justice deity – but sometimes, they are all-encompassing actions to all the gods on my steady, but sure progress to live in ma’at.I think that most people will get a little more nervous when they decide to offer actions to their gods, mostly because they’re not sure about how to go about it. Do you announce what you’re doing? Or do you just do it? Won’t it be weird if you just say that you’re going to do something for the gods? But won’t they already know what you’re doing? Personally, I used to announce that I am doing X for a specific deity just to ensure that they were listening. As time went by, however, I found that it mattered less and less if they were listening because I was going to do the thing anyway. While I reflected later that I had done that thing for the deity in question or possibly mulled over whether or not they liked that thing, it didn’t matter at the time of action if the deity was aware of that. All that mattered was that I was doing it and upholding ma’at in my own little way.
And above all else, upholding and maintaining ma’at, no matter how we define it ourselves, is probably the greatest action that can be given to the gods. It is to them that ma’at is upheld with their actions and it is our ability to assist them with our own actions that it continues. Even if cleaning the bathroom for the gods doesn’t seem like you’re upholding ma’at or even if it doesn’t seem like a suitable offering to the gods, it actually is. It’s something you are doing. It is maintaining your household. It is a part of your life, for good or ill. No matter how big or how small the task may be, if you decide it’s an action offering, then it’s an action offering and so be it.
When it comes to offering foods to the gods, we always talk about reverting the offerings. In ancient Egypt, the priests would disseminate the food items out to the people of the temple and eat them down. This is most often what Kemetics are discussing when we mention “reversion of offerings.” It’s one thing to sacrifice a food item to the gods and quite another to just throw it away afterwards. Sometimes, it may be a part of the offering to feed the birds with bread offered to the gods, but especially for those of us on a very strict budget, we can’t just throw food out because it was the gods’ food first.
However, sometimes, even the idea of offering food on a regular basis can be kind of dicey because of strict budgets. Another work around would be to offer meals that you are eating to the gods. This way, you don’t have to feel like you need to leave something out for “long enough” so that the gods take their fill before you whisk it away and devour it yourself. Offering what’s already going into your stomach also provides you with the ability to hide what you’re doing if you are living in an environment where you have to practice your religion on the down low.
Getting right down to it, the things to provide to the gods will vary from practitioner to practitioner. Whether or not the offerings are overt or quietly; whether or not they are done each day or once a week; whether or not they are provided with play food (like dollhouse food items) or with real food… it all depends on what works best for the person in question. And of course, the only way to find out how it will work out for each one of you is to give it all a try.