Though we may each approach the Gods through the lens of sometimes very different traditions, devotional practice remains constant among them as a means for us to forge strong relationships with the Gods. What devotional practice looks like for each of us will look different—as it should. Our relationships with the Gods must be personal, reflecting the time and effort spent to know Them intimately. Just as the way you know your best friend will be different than the way their parents know them, so, too, will your relationship with a particular deity be different than the relationship someone else will have with that very same god. However, across traditions and among the many, varied relationships that exist with Them, a foundational part of devotional practice is that of making offerings.
What is an Offering?
There are no limitations to what we can give the Gods. Our love and our service—through worshiping and honoring Them—is no small thing. But, humans are peculiar creatures and so often we can feel like our actions and efforts aren’t enough. This is where regularly giving tangible offerings can help us to overcome the doubt that tells us what we’re doing isn’t enough or isn’t good enough. That doubt does not speak true but it can still be a powerful thing to overcome.
So, when we have a need, when the doubt is strong, when we long to feel a connection with the Gods more clearly, or when we simply wish to do something to show our love for Them and do something for no purpose but that we care and are thankful for Their presence in our lives, we can make an offering.
These offerings can be simple things: a glass of clean water, wine, or liqueur; a plate of fresh fruit, home baked bread; a bowl of honey or raw meat; smoldering incense and flickering candles; fresh flowers, greenery, or herbs gathered from the wild or your garden. While each deity will have Their own preferences (after all, They are people just like you and I) a good starting point and generally well-received offering is a glass of red wine. If you don’t drink, consider how keeping a nice bottle of wine on hand for your Gods can show your interest in Them and willingness to go out of your way for Them.
But, what we give doesn’t matter so much as the emotion behind our giving.
Why do we Give Offerings?
When we make an offering to the Gods, we create a connection between us and Them. And that act of giving is a declaration that that moment is important, the actions we are taking are important, and the Gods to Whom we give are important. It affirms our desire to know Them better within our minds and hearts. Each offering we give makes it easier to give again and to establish a regular and consistent devotional practice. This helps us to become disciplined in our practices.
Yet the single most important reason why we make offerings is because of Them, because the Gods deserve our praise, because of Their continued presence and aid in our lives, because of the power They hold in shaping and maintaining order within the cosmos. We give out of awe, we give out of love, we give out of gratitude.
How Frequently to Make Offerings
Unless you are part of a tradition which has standard days for making offerings, you have a lot of flexibility in how often you make offerings. However, a consistent practice of making offerings to your Gods and acknowledging Their presence in your life will help you to forge deeper relationships with Them. It will help you to better see Their hand at work in your life and receive further blessings. It also more clearly shows your love and care for Them and your desire to truly know Them rather than just “believing in” Them.
If there are any traditional or historical feast days for your Gods, these are times when you should especially be making offerings to Them. Other times that may be appropriate are when you find yourself facing challenges in life and could use a little back up. Also appropriate are the Pagan holidays as found in the Wheel of the Year. Many of these holidays possess only the barest of traditions and meaning, which makes them well-suited for adaption to a devotional practice, especially as the equal spacing throughout the year will afford greater consistency to your devotional practice.
It’s also appropriate to make an offering whenever you feel moved to do so. Are you receiving little signs and synchronicities throughout the day? Spend a few minutes at your shrine making offerings to the Gods to check in and see if They have any messages for you. Did you have an unexpected bout of good fortune? Make time to include Them in your joy and thank Them for any part They likely played in it.
Creating Space in Which to Give
Part of our reasons for making offerings is also a desire to feel the Gods more strongly in our lives. Yet, to feel Them, They must be present. And for Them to be present, we must make space for Them in our lives. One of the simplest and clearest ways that we can demonstrate and delineate that space for Them is through the creation of a shrine.
A shrine is a permanent space created for and dedicated to a Deity or a group of Deities. It is a place to hold images of Them, such as statues and paintings, as well as being a place at which to make offerings. In considering that we call Them into our homes through our worship, the presence of a shrine is a part of good hospitality: it’s having a comfy and beautiful chair ready for your cherished guest.
What your shrine looks like will depend upon the Gods for Whom you create it, as well as on your own preferences. It needn’t be complicated or filled with devotional objects. A simple shelf with a single candle that you light when you make offerings and communicate with your Gods will suffice. Ability to buy beautiful things is not a hindrance to worshiping Them. Again, it is the emotion behind our actions, it is our love and gratitude that move us to make offerings that is the true gift. So if your shrine is a single candle on a windowsill, with a pretty stone you found while walking and thinking of Them, that is enough. Fill your offerings with love and trust Them to tell you if They require more of you.
A Framework for Making Offerings
The following is a basic framework that can be applied when making offerings to any deity. It does not come from any one particular tradition and can be modified however you see fit—especially so if your Gods ask you to do so. May it help you to cultivate a deeper relationship with the Gods and to know Them better.
Before you approach your shrine for Them, purify yourself. This can be done though a traditional or preferred means. Purification with smoke is a simple, versatile, and very effective purification method. You can use incense or a sprig of herbs—which herbs should be chosen based upon their attributes, associations with the deities you’ll be honoring, or the uses that herb communicated to you.
It is the action of the smoke passing across your body that performs the purificatory function. Waving a stick of incense in the air in front of your body won’t achieve anything. Allow the smoke to pass over every inch of your body. Pay special attention to your hands, feet, and genitals.
Assertion of Purpose
Approach your shrine and light any candles for your deities. Light them with purpose. Feel the energy rise within you, feel the air change about you as you dedicate this moment and this space to Them. You may recite poems or hymns to Them or you may speak freely, allowing what words may come from your heart to spill from your lips and call the Gods’ attention onto you.
If you are unsure where to begin, you may recite the following or similar wording, substituting “traditional attribute” with an epitaph for that deity, such as “delighter in arrows” or “mighty thunderer,” repeating for each deity to Whom you will be making an offering:
“Hail, [Deity], [traditional attribute]. I stand before your shrine, to praise your name and give thanks for your presence in my life.”
Making the Offering
Hold your offering in both hands before the shrine as if you are handing it to someone directly before you. As you hold the offering, again call to that deity, saying Their name, any relevant epitaphs, and informing Them of your offering. You may speak freely or say the following words:
“[Deity], [traditional epitaph], I offer you this [type of offering] as a sign of my love and gratitude for your assistance in my life, for making the way forward smoother, and for reminding me that I am never alone with you by my side.”
You can build upon this as you see fit, including as many deities as you will be making offerings to and even listing specific things the Gods helped you with for which you would like to show appreciation. Be sure that you have one offering for each God, not one offering for multiple deities.
When you finish speaking, place the offering upon the shrine.
Moment of Reflection
Now stand or sit quietly before the shrine. This is a moment of pause, giving space for the Gods to communicate with you, should They choose. You may close your eyes or leave them open, meditate or sit in quiet contemplation. It is advised to hold yourself in a spiritually receptive state, holding no expectations of receiving any messages or even acknowledgment as this can close you off from recognizing those messages, should they come.
Disposing of Offerings
Ideally, your offerings should be left in place at least over night, giving the Gods time to fully appreciate them. Some offerings, such as fresh flowers and herbs, can be left until they wilt or become dry and brittle. Food items should absolutely not be allowed to remain so long that they begin to mold.
Once removed from the shrine, solid items, such as food and plant matter, can be burned, buried, or placed in the trash if there are no other options (you won’t offend the Gods). Liquid libations can be poured out onto the ground, poured into a hole and buried, or poured down the drain if no other options exist. It is advised not to dispose of libations by giving them to potted plants.
It is hoped that this framework for making offerings, however simple it may be, helps you to find ways to further invite the Gods into your life. Devotion needn’t be complicated and it certainly doesn’t have to look a certain way. If your actions are guided by your heart and the words of your Gods kept in mind, any sincere action you take to honor Them will be enough. It will show your love, your gratitude, and strengthen the bonds between you and Them.
May the courage to do the work to build deep relationships with Them, to know the Gods well, and honor Them always come easily to you.
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At the heart of Paganism lays devotion to the Gods. Yet information on approaching and honoring the Gods continues to be decidedly lacking within Paganism and polytheism. Which Gods should you approach first? How do you do so respectfully? What does an altar to the Gods look like? What type of offerings are best to give and what the heck do you do with them afterward?
Developing Divine Relationships will provide you a firm basis from which to begin devotional practice. This course will help you to begin a relationship with a God or Goddess, or, should you already have a relationship with a deity, help you to make that relationship substantive and transformative.
Through 6 weekly lessons focused on growing closer to the Gods and practical devotion, you’ll develop a framework for your devotion and create a spiritual calendar, providing you with direction and a firm foundation for your spiritual practice.
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