One of my favorite things to write about is offerings. This is probably because in my practice, offerings are one of the most important aspects of being a Kemetic right after the whole living in ma’at thing. I feel that offerings are a great way to help bridge the gap between the Seen and Unseen and is paramount in helping to develop a relationship with the gods. The nature of giving offerings, and why they are so important, was summed up well by Shafer:
Offerings symbolized life and order (ankh and ma’at), and as life and order they were consubstantial with god. That such a large proportion of them consisted of food makes their link to life force clear. Texts speak of the animal’s thigh and heart as awakening life and transmitting life force to the god. … A god was not immortal in the absolute sense; a god’s life force needed replenishment. Of course, the life force that was returned to god in offerings had previously come from god, the source of life force. … The circular flow of life from god to king/Egypt to god and back again prevented the cosmos from winding down. Offerings were more than gift giving; they were reciprocal creation. (Temples of Ancient Egypt, Shafer)
Offerings can seem really daunting at first, and for many years of my practice offerings were a very difficult thing for me. I’m sure almost everyone that thinks about offerings envisions plates overflowing with loaves of bread, meat and fruit and other rich, expensive foods. You know, feasts fit for kings, not the small meals we likely have day in and day out. However, offerings don’t have to be that complicated. For this round of KRT, I want to talk about some of the things I’ve learned about offering over the years.
What to Offer
The first question that always comes up is “what do I offer”. My answer to that has become “offer what you can”. “What you can” can mean a lot of things, and that’s exactly why its worded that way. Someone who makes a lot of money can probably offer more high end stuff than someone who is living paycheck to paycheck, but neither set off offerings is better or worse than the other, so long as each devotee is offering what they can with sincerity. If all you can afford is a plate of rice and beans, well that’s what NTRW is getting, and I’m sure they appreciate you considering them even when your money is tight.
The most basic staple for offerings in antiquity was water and bread. Most everyone subsisted off of these two things- rich and poor alike, and water is a must-have in the desert. So if you’re not sure where to start for food offerings, start there. Simplicity has its own beauty to it, and you can’t go wrong with bread and water. If you need a more thorough list of offerings that were used in antiquity, I recommend this guide here. But don’t feel limited to this list. These items are “safe” items that you can use without fail for just about any Netjer that you come across, but you can certainly branch out and try other things as well.
However, offerings don’t only have to be about food. You can just as easily offer time and other things to the gods in their name and honor. Once I realized that I could offer my time and my energy to the gods, that’s when offerings became much much easier for me. So many discussions about offerings focus on the food aspects of things, but the gods also need more than food. They need time and dedication. They need us to uphold ma’at on our end, within the world around us. They also appreciate thoughts and devotional acts such as dancing, music making or art creation. There are so many ways to give offerings and devotion to the gods, don’t limit yourself to just food.
Also, don’t limit which deities you offer to. You don’t have to necessarily have a long term relationship with a deity to give them offerings. You can offer to all of the NTRW at once, or you can offer to a specific set of deities, or to one deity at a time. It’s entirely up to you. In antiquity, it was common for a set of offerings to make the rounds to multiple shrines within the temple complex every morning, so offerings are pretty flexible.
How to Offer
Figuring out how to offer to the gods is really a personal matter. Some people are very ritual based in their offering structures, some aren’t. Neither method is more correct, and it really comes down to what works for both you and the gods. Most daily rites have an offering section in them, as almost every ritual would involve an offering of some kind. However, you can offer outside of a ritual setting, which is what I normally do. Typically, I will lay the plate down in front of the shrine and tell the gods that it’s there and that I will be giving them 5 minutes to gobble it down. And after the 5 minutes is done, I eat it whether they are finished or not because that’s how I roll. Again, figure out what method works best for you and your relationship as it is no one else’s business about how you give offerings.
For offerings that aren’t food related, it can be a bit more challenging to figure out how to make sure your actions are offered properly. For many of us, there is little concern about formal offering rites for actions, and the most structured example I can think of occurred when I would bake bread for Aset. I’d pull out her small statue and light a stick of incense before it as a means to let her know that I’m doing something for her, but most of the time I don’t do something that involved. Typically, I will let the deity know at some point in time that I’m performing an action for them. It’s usually something that is mentioned in passing during one of my weekly check-ins I have with the gods. “Oh hey, by the way, I’m doing this for you next week” or “hey, I did this thing that made me think of you”. Sometimes it doesn’t even get that involved for myself. Many of my actions are taken with the gods in mind and I never make mention of it to them. Sometimes, offerings and actions are about doing what needs to be done, and less about letting the gods know ahead of time. You may find that this method doesn’t sit well for you, however. Experimenting with methods will help you to figure out what works best for your practice.
Reverting your offerings was always the part that frustrated me the most. For those who don’t know what reverting your offerings means, it is a formula that exists at the end of nearly every temple ritual we have on record where you take the offerings from the shrine space and consume them. Offerings are reciprocal nourishment and it is considered to be polite to consume the offerings that you give to the gods.
This can get really frustrating if your stomach doesn’t like anything, or if you have special dietary restrictions or other considerations to make (or if you’ve made a meal for the gods only to find out it tastes horrible). There are ways to work around reversion problems, though. In the case of food, you could try using model food instead of real food, or you could give someone else the offerings to eat instead of eating them yourself. If neither of these is an option for you, look into seeing if you can try other offerings that aren’t centered around food. You could try offering only liquids (such as water, tea, juice, or coffee), incense, flowers, or other actions (see the list linked above for more ideas) instead of food. That way, reversion is not even a factor.
The reversion process can be complicated or simple, depending on your needs. Reidy states that the typical reversion process often utilizes the phrase “O (name of NTR), your enemy withdraws from you!” (Eternal Egypt, pg 233). And Tamara Siuda lists this phrase as being commonly said before offering reversion (Ancient Egyptian Prayerbook, p84):
hotep Netjer em shabu her imenti her iabty
“May the god(s) be satisfied with [the] repast/offerings from the right to the left”
When I want to revert my offerings with some formality, I will thank the gods for their attention and influence in my life. I wish them well and hope that the offerings went over well for them, and then I take the plate out of the shrine box and go eat whatever is there. And on days when I don’t really care about being formal, I will take the plate without a word and go to town.
Offerings are a really in-depth type of topic, and it can be challenging to cover everything there is to know about offerings in one post. The beauty of offerings is that there really is no right or wrong way to utilize them in your practice. You can easily start with something small and try new things as you become more secure in your practice, and eventually offerings will be no problem. And even after years of giving offerings to the gods, there is always something new to try and more to learn about the offering process and its impact on your practice.
To see other responses to this prompt, please check out the KRT Master List.