I love the idea of offerings. The notion of reciprocity between humans and gods. The idea of a cycle where they give to us, and we give to them, and through this exchange, Creation is propelled forward and maintained. I love offerings.
However, there was a time when I hated making offerings.
Yep. You read that right- the person who loves to talk about making offerings and why offerings are so awesome used to loath giving offerings.
The thing about most discussions regarding offerings is that most of the time, no one bothers to bring up situations where offerings are not possible, such as cases of dietary and living restrictions. What if you can’t eat gluten? What if you’re under the drinking age, or can’t drink (for whatever reason)? What if your household doesn’t allow for public displays of offerings? Or you don’t have any sort of location where you can leave offerings out?
Offerings in these kinds of situations can be a nightmare. They can be challenging and frustrating – and for some folks, they can stop your religious practice in its tracks. So how do we deal?
The short answer is- work within your capacities. No one is going to be judging you based off of what you offer or how you offer it. Although some people have tried to imply that the only offerings that amount to anything are the offerings that meet their arbitrary standards, the simple truth of the matter is- the only person whose standards matter are the very gods or spirits you are offering to. And usually when you have limitations, these entities understand. It only seems to be our human counterparts that don’t get it.
Limitations: Location, Location, Location
One of the most common offering questions I get is “how do I offer when I don’t have a formal space to offer in?” It can be a real pain to figure out how to do offerings when you’re trying hide the fact that you’re giving offerings at all. I had that issue when I lived with my parents a few years ago. I had my own room, but no privacy- as my parents didn’t seem to understand the concept of knocking (imagine your step-father walking in, and asking why you are leaving a plate of food in front of statues…). Their schedules and my schedule often conflicted, and there was never a guarantee that I’d have even 5 consecutive minutes without being interrupted.
Making offerings was a real pain.
The best work around I have found for this is to offer your meals. In the same way that Christians say grace over their food, you could also offer up each meal you eat or make to the gods before you eat it. It doesn’t have to be complicated. I usually would mentally let them know that the food was there for them to consume, and to thank them for the food as I was bringing my plate to the table. I’d often concentrate on my cup, or the wall, or moving my food around before I ate it- to give me enough time to say what I wanted to say before I dug in. If anyone asked, I’d tell them I was spacing out and no one was the wiser to what I was doing.
Limitations: Gut Problems
If there is anything I understand, it’s having problems with eating. My stomach quit working on me about 4 years ago, and offerings have been a challenge ever since. When your stomach takes a nose dive into “hell no”, you end up having to do a lot of trial and error with your diet. I’ve taken just about everything you can imagine out of my diet over the past four years- yeast, eggs, potato, gluten, fructose – you name it. And because one of our “staple” offerings contains a well known allergen in it, it became increasingly difficult to figure out what to do. Not to mention that when you can’t even figure out what to feed yourself, figuring out what is acceptable to feed the gods becomes even more stressful.
I’ve also heard stories where people fear that the gods will be upset that they won’t offer things like alcohol or bread. Truthfully, I’ve never heard of a single situation where a deity came down and yelled at someone who is a recovering alcoholic for not offering them a beer. I’ve also never heard of a deity that came out to yell at someone with Celiac disease for not offering them enough bread. Again, I do believe it is only the humans that get upset over these things being missing from the offering plate.
For situations where your gut is saying “hell no” to a set of offerings, I can offer a few bits of advice.
One: offer what you can eat. Just because it’s not historically attested doesn’t make it a bad offering choice. Again, offerings are about reciprocity, about gods giving to us and us giving to gods and all of us maintaining ma’at and Creation. Offering things that are staples to your diet and staples in your life are good choices, even if they’re modern.
Two: offer things that are not food items. It’s an often overlooked notion that you can offer stuff that isn’t food. You can offer incense, you can offer jewelry and flowers, you can offer artwork, writing, dancing or drawings, you can offer actions. Don’t let your offerings be limited by food.
Three: offer heka-laced fake food. My use of Re-ment and food replicas was borne purely out of my stomach’s fickle nature. I was so frustrated that I couldn’t offer anything to the gods (because I wasn’t eating, either) that I decided this method was better than no method. Heka is an important aspect of our religion, and I think it’s certainly worth exploring the use of replica food in your practice if you’re having problems with obtaining edible food products (or other offerings) for the gods.
At the end of the day, do the best with what you’ve got. Limitations can be frustrating, but they needn’t put your practice in a standstill. Don’t be afraid to try new things and offer new and interesting stuff. I’m sure even the gods get tired of beer and bread, and smile when something new and different shows up on their offering plate.
And above all, don’t stop trying. Sometimes our greatest limitations can open us up to new experiences that teach us the most.