Anyone that works with gods or spirits knows that making offerings ends up becoming a large part of regular practice. Offerings are one of the main methods for the living to make contact with and maintain relationship to the inhabitants of the otherworld. Making regular offerings creates a bond of reciprocity between you and the spirits you work with or the gods you are devoted to. Because these connections that we make with the unseen are relationships, ongoing two-way connections that are not unlike friendships, they must be maintained and nourished for them to be lasting and effective. Giving offerings to your otherworld allies is one of the primary methods that you, as a spirit worker, can directly interact with them Offerings are a very basic form of hospitality. Sometimes they are a simple courtesy to a guest in your home, sometimes a gift given for a gift received. They can be used to entice a spirit to give you aid or appease an entity that you might have offended. Offerings can sometimes be seen as the currency in the economy of otherworld relationship.
So what makes a proper and effective offering, and how can you be sure that the offering that you are giving will be appreciated and accepted by the entities that you have made the offering to? I think that the answer to these questions are determined by a variety of factors such as who you are making an offering to and for what reason is it made. In my practice I approach this question on an individual basis, each offering thought out and chosen for each specific instance. For me, this is never an easy “one size fits all” type of endeavor. You can find if you seek them out, a variety of books that will tell you the types of items best used for making offerings to a variety of gods and spirits. While these books can be helpful as general guidelines, they lack the most vital ingredient in this practice, your personal relationships with the various beings. What I’d like to offer you here is a different way of looking at the question of what offerings are proper to make in your own practice, a guide to evaluate and choose appropriate gifts for the non corporeal beings in your life.
In order to choose a fitting offering for a deity, your first step is to spend some time getting to know them. Each one has a distinct and unique personality and most have varying degrees of lore connected with them. If you are taking the steps to foster a relationship with a deity, the first thing you must do is get to know that deity. Dig into the stories and learn about the cultures that are associated with them. Try not to over romanticize the mythologies and societies that are attached to the deity. What you are searching for are the more mundane details in what we have learned about ancient cultures. What people ate and drank. What the aesthetic of their artistic style looked and felt like. The society’s values and ethical code and how that relates to their religious practice. As you delve into this cultural tapestry, you will start to get a better understanding of the nature of the deity, what they like and what they don’t like, their associations and taboos, their fundamental essence. As you are learning about this deity, start spending some time in daily meditation with them. Introduce yourself, be respectful, and state your intentions. One of the best ways to learn what a god or goddess would like as an offering is to ask them. Don’t expect an answer your first time and learn to deeply listen for their voice. Daily meditative practice is a cornerstone of any type of relationship with the divine,
Food and drink are always a good place to start for offerings. Find gifts for your spiritual allies that are familiar to them or that resonate with their being. For example they are associated with northern Europe, oat and oat cakes, dark beer or ale, cream, butter, whiskey or mead are often good choices. If they are associated with Mediterranean regions wine is almost always a staple. When you are working with ancestor spirits you must once again think about what might be familiar and liked by them. If the ancestor spirit is someone who you were close to or knew personally, the choices become easier. As an example, one of the main ancestor spirits that I work with is my grandmother. She was the person who raised me and I have always had a strong connection with her. If I am leaving offerings for her I just have to look to what II know about her likes and dislikes. My grandmother had a glass of scotch every night, so scotch is a perfect offering to leave for her. It is something that was enjoyed by her in life and appreciated by her now. If I am making a recipe that I learned from her I will always take a small plate and leave it on my ancestors altar for her. Favorite foods, drinks and other pleasures such as tobacco or desserts are perfect for providing hospitality to our beloved dead.
An alternate idea for choosing an offering is to make active offerings, offerings that require an action or effort. As a priest of the Morrigan I have a martial practice that I have been doing for twenty years. For years, my fighting practice has been given as an offering to her. The way this manifests itself for me is that before every fight in a tourney or every battle during a war, I take a moment to speak to her, to thank her and to offer my efforts to her. I have found that she strongly responds to this type of offering . My connection to the Morrigan has shown me that one of the things that honors her and gets her attention is to push yourself past your limits, to strive for valor. As an active offering to a god or goddess that is associated with hospitality, one thing you can do is to feed or aid someone in need. I was recently asked by a friend visiting Dublin, what a good offering would be for the Dagda. After some thought I told them that they should go buy a homeless man a meal and a drink. Let their “knife be greased and their breath smell of ale”. The Dagda responds to his children being shown proper hospitality and kindness. For a god of poetry write a poem, for a god of the wild spend an afternoon cleaning up a wild area, for a goddess associated with horses volunteer at a horse rescue organization, for a god or goddess of justice, take a stand for equality and social justice in the world around you. Be creative and take an action that is a suitable offering to the gods or spirits that you are working with. These types of active offering are also suitable as offerings to ancestors and descendants. We do our ancestors honor by doing great deeds with the lives that they worked to give us, and there is nothing more suitable as an offering for those that come after us as making an effort to make the world that we leave them a better place.
Make a variety of offerings to the non corporal beings in your lives. Sing to the land spirits, offer the dead food and drink at your table, make your life be an offering to the gods. Take time to recognize and acknowledge our unseen allies and show them the same respect that we show to the lives and the natural world around us. Share a drink with your grandfather, tell a story to a crow, give a homeless person a blanket. Let your offerings honor and reflect those that you are making the offerings to. Let your practice be sincere and thoughtful, an act of true hospitality.