Out of all the questions new Pagans have, it is offerings that always seem to have the most questions. So let’s talk about those today.
First of all, what is an offering?
Offerings are basically physical or non-physical items that are given to a deity, spirit, or other entity. Commonly, food and drink are given to these entities but offerings can also take the form of incense, candles, stones, flowers, etc. Basically, if it fits on the shrine and you give it to the deity, it’s an offering. But offerings don’t always have to be physical items. I know many people who give their writings, exercise, community service, and other actions to their gods and spirits in devotion and love. Song and music are also common examples.
Why do we give offerings?
Well, for starters, many people do it out of love. They give these things freely to serve the gods and spirits – literally. Some believe that offerings “feed” the entities, especially in the case of food and drink, and this helps them have a presence in the physical world.
Some also do it as a form of prayer or with prayer. By giving an item or action, it strengthens their relationship with the deity – at least, theoretically. Sometimes the gods ignore them.
There are many reasons to give an offering to one’s gods and spirits; these are but a few. But offerings of any kind, even something as simple as a few words of thanks and the lighting of a candle, can work.
How does an offering differ from a sacrifice? Why give sacrifices?
Sometimes people argue over this but I think of offerings as the “low-key” of the two. Sacrifices hurt to give. You must be giving something of importance away for it to qualify as a sacrifice.
But why give them? If a sacrifice hurts, why do it?
In 2011, I watched a man burn a $50 bill, a small wooden box that held a great deal of value to him, and the last of his first batch of mead he had ever made, all in sacrifice to Tyr. He did it out of love but also because he felt they were small ways to strengthen his relationship to his patron god. Tyr, in the myths, sacrificed not only his hand but his word in the binding of the great wolf Fenrir. This man, in his way, mirrored that sacrifice at the fire that day. So why make sacrifices? Because they are important; they show the gods our devotion and our gratitude for their place in our lives.
Of course, your mileage may vary.
How do I make an offering?
This differs from practice to practice. Sometimes offerings are burned or buried, other times they are left out for a time and then thrown away. In Kemeticism, offerings of food and drink are reverted or consumed by the practitioner(s). There is no waste in the desert.
In my practice, I have simply lit a candle and some incense and offered my breath and my words. Offerings don’t have to be hard or take a lot out of you. Don’t overthink it. It’s better, I believe, to make the offering than worry over whether it’s “worthy” of the gods?
Are there things I shouldn’t offer to the gods?
If you were on tumblr about a year ago and involved in the Pagan community there, chances are you are aware of the “Spongecakegate” incident. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, last September an individual posted a photo of a spongecake offering they had made to Loki. Some people took issue with it as the cake was storebought and they believed unworthy of the gods. It sparked a large debate over what constitutes a “proper” offering to the gods.
Listen. I don’t particularly care what you offer your gods. You want to offer a spongecake to Loki because it’s what you can afford with your time and energy? Go for it! You prefer only organic foods on your shrine? That’s great! Good for you. It’s your practice.
How do I know if an offering has been accepted?
Well, dear reader, I honestly can’t tell you. Sometimes it varies. If the candle burns out mid-prayer, does that mean the gods are annoyed with you? Maybe. Or maybe the candle wick just got a little screwy. Light it again (or don’t) and keep going.
Left a food offering outside? Did it disappear pretty quickly? Chances are your offering was accepted. If you check on it after a week and it’s still there, you may want to rethink your approach, or your relationship.
Comments On Outdoor Offerings
There are some things one should keep in mind when making outdoor offerings. First of all, there are some foods that are fine for us humans but toxic to animals. Please do your research before making food offerings outdoors! Don’t be responsible for animal deaths due to your own ignorance.
Additionally, if you do a ritual outside and you’re using plastic and manmade items, please clean up after yourself. Leave no trace is a camping saying; leave it better than you found it is another. Take a leaf out of their book and adopt it to your practice. Even if you’re not a nature worshiper, leaving bits of plastic where an animal can eat t and choke is not a good idea. So clean up after yourself when you head out.
Finally, if you’re thinking of leaving a manmade item outside, please reconsider. Animals will pretty much attempt to eat anything and much of it will damage or kill them. Again, leave no trace.
These are just a few things to keep in mind if you’re first starting out with offerings and confused on what to do and why. It is, however, not a comprehensive guide by any means. If something was not covered here, feel free to leave a comment below.
If something I said is wrong, please let me know and give me a source so I can learn more myself.