Living an active pagan practice can involve many things, from reverence of nature to moments of introspection or meditation. Yet there is one aspect of the devotional practice of paganism that seems to confuse many folks and lead to a wide and wild range of recommended practices, items , processes and more. So to take a small step back, it’s worth taking time to talk about the basics of making offerings in spiritual relationships
What is an Offering?
As with many things in life, sometimes it’s beneficial to call for a definition. Definitions are not just stogy phrases or justifications. They are the first step on the path from confusion, to comprehension.
The definition of an offering is then “a thing offered, especially as a gift or contribution.” To take this from generic to something more specific to our pagan path we may need to consider our new definition as follows:
“An offering is something given with correct and appropriate intent, to generate connection within a spiritual relationship which we are called, and choose to connect and engage with.”
Offerings could be seen as gifts, but it’s worth clarifying that a gift we do not personally value, has no value in the giving. It’s also worth noting that not all spiritual relationships involve offerings or a transactional exchange, but some require it. So when considering our first step in offerings we need to acknowledge that they are always a matter of choice.
Types of Offerings
So hopefully we have a clear definition of offerings but the next thing that many people find challenging with offerings is what to offer. The scope of this question is of course huge as anything that one values can be offered so instead we will try to talk about things in the following categories, items, perishables and intangibles.
Items are physical things which you dedicate to the deity, and then either wear or use in their honour, or break in this world so it ‘dies’ and goes to them in the Otherworld. The most widely recognised form of these ‘votive offerings’ is grave goods or items that have been deposited in some sacred place like cast in a river, lake or bog associated with the spiritual relationship.
Perishables is the most widely used form of offerings as many practices give food or beverages either as part of a specific act of shared consumption, or allocated to a sacred or reserved space for the spiritual relationship. These items degrade over time and as such the offering is in the energy of the item, until it degrades.
Intangibles then are the form of non physical offerings. For many people, labours of creativity or exertion are dedicated to the spiritual relationship. The offering is in the expenditure of energy towards some goal or purpose. Many people take up volunteer work, physical or mental training, self development efforts such as therapy, or the creation of a praise poem, piece of art, a song, or a prayer that speaks to their spiritual connection.
How to Give Offerings
As you might expect we at the Irish Pagan School work to answer a lot of questions when it comes to growing one’s spirituality. So though we have covered the basis of the what, it only really becomes practical when we talk about how to give an offering.
Again though there are many variations to consider it almost always comes down to these three considerations, place, time, and especially intent.
Place is of course the ‘where’ aspect of offerings and that where needs to be in keeping with your spiritual relationship. Its important to think about the locations where you in some way experience your connection. This could be an exterior space in your environment, or some place of dedicated internal space ie. an altar. Be aware of the impact of your offerings on the place in question and it is best practice to routinely inspect and connect with the place itself as much as your spiritual relationship there.
Time can have a variety of impacts on how and even where we make offerings. From seasonal cycles, sacred cycles, lunar or other celestial cycles there are many timely moments that can impact our choices when it comes to making offerings. Even our own personal cycles, habits and routines need to be considered as we consider the ‘when’ elements of making offerings. There are some important moments in the year that are linked to some deities, Imbolc for Brigid or Lughnasa for Lugh are easy examples, so it’s worth exploring the information connected to one’s spiritual relationships to ensure we are making good use of these times.
Intent could be seen as one of the most important elements of this part of our process. Regardless of the where and the when which can help frame or support an offering to a God or Goddess, if there is no specific will used in the moment of offering, then what is given is without purpose, and can therefore have limited value to our spiritual relationship. The intent doesn’t have to be some grand gesture, it could be as simple as holding a thought of gratitude in our minds as we make our offering, but some consideration needs to be included in this process for offerings to be of benefit to our spiritual relationships.
Why Give Offerings?
We have covered a lot of information on the what and the how when it comes to making offerings and though you may already know enough to get started there is one very big consideration that should not be missed. The ‘Why’. The three main forms in which we find the ‘why’ of our offerings are tradition, commitments, and obligations.
Tradition is an established practice which may have been built upon historical, cultural, or spiritual practices from any number of generations. Exploring the origins of a tradition is important to developing a greater understanding of how the practice connects to the spiritual relationship, but may also include prebuilt elements of ‘where’, ‘when’, and ‘how’ these offerings are made.
Commitment is what we consider as a personal arrangement, or promise based on some agreed exchange within a spiritual relationship. The uniqueness of this type of ‘why’ is important to be aware of, as though it may motivate one person’s practices, it might not be considered a good fit for others.
Obligations form a different element to our considerations when it comes to the why of making offerings to pagan Gods. If commitments are considered personal to a spiritual relationship, then obligations could be seens as a duty or onus that is carried not by one person but by a collective. Most commonly obligations fall to some few individuals within a tribe, tuath, or collective but are made on behalf of the group in its entirety. The function of these types of offerings is rarely for personal matters and should not be considered lightly.
The Part that Comes After
As promised this post has been rather basic in some regards but it is only from a clear understanding of these concepts that we can truly build a specific and powerful practice. Taking time to consider all of these elements as we make offerings can take any casual practice to a much deeper and fulfilling level of interaction and exchange within our spiritual relationships. The next step in that process is yours.
Answer the following questions for yourself and define your expectations in a clear manner from the outset.
- What is it I offer?
- Where does my spiritual relationship feel strongest?
- When does the offering have the most impact?
- What is my purpose for this offering?
- Why am I making this offering?
Now there is one more bonus question that we haven’t covered but everyone should really consider if they choose to make offerings. This is something that is rarely considered by some and can, in some cases, lead to challenges further down the line.
- How does my life change from engaging in a practice of offerings?
A spiritual relationship should be considered in the same manner as other relationships. It should be based on some foundation of communication, respect and reciprocity. Anything else is not balanced and might not be in our best interests.