This is my (very belated) contribution to the last Kemetic Round-table discussion on offerings. Since I’ve been a little bit out of commission, I’m going to try and answer a few old topics, just to get back into the swing of writing. Hopefully I’ll come up with something useful.
Offerings 101: What do I offer the gods? How do I determine what to offer? Can I offer without a patron? Do I need to revert my offerings? How do I do that? What if I can’t?
I’d argue that offerings are a staple in any pagan or polytheistic practice. We build relationships with the gods we wish to know by giving them gifts; in return, They give us Their attention. Thus we build our relationships. It’s a bit like having someone you’d like to get to know over your place for a while, in a way. Generally, you wouldn’t invite someone over without at least having some kind of refreshment to offer, even if it’s just a glass of water. There’s always argument over what is best to offer; people question the validity of offering things like chocolate or cookies, since those didn’t exist in antiquity. Before I even get into the questions here, I want to make my opinion on what to offer abundantly clear: we live thousands of years after the last ancient temple closed. Since then, we have had tremendous innovations in what we eat and how we eat it. There is no reason that, by this time, Djehuty wouldn’t have a taste for saltines, or Bast wouldn’t enjoy Thin Mints. I can’t find a single compelling argument for why the gods wouldn’t want to try new things, several millenia in the future. Tradition is beautiful, but I think it’s critical to avoid stagnating or getting caught up in putting on ancient airs.
That said: how do you make offerings? Like pretty much everything else in Kemetic worship: it depends. I’m coming from a Kemetic Orthodox perspective, so bear that in mind as I contribute my experiences.
What do I offer the gods? Whatever the hell you want, really. Some things are better than others. Water, bread and incense are pretty good staples if you’re really stumped. Pour a glass of water, get a slice of toast, light a candle and some incense and sit down and say hello. Offer Them your favorite dinner – They often appreciate the gesture. Offer Them your daily cup of tea; as long as you have your morning routine, you have an offering. Offer Them a new recipe you are trying (as long as you haven’t totally messed it up). Offer Them the cookie or sweet you always grab when you walk past the pantry. Really — offer Them whatever makes sense in your life.
How do I determine what to offer? There’s a few ways. If you are the kind of person who can pick up on divine messages pretty well: ask. They’ll nudge you. If you feel lost, ask other people you know who honor the same deity. Heck, ask anyone, even if they don’t. Maybe they know someone who knows someone who can give you more information. Google can be your friend, but be careful: there is always the kind of site that tells you Bast is the goddess of marijuana, which might lead you in really bizarre directions. If it seems really weird, I suggest double checking. Divination is also great. If you know someone who knows fedw (or you know it yourself) you can always ask them to check for you, particularly when you’re concerned about a particularly elaborate offering. If you don’t have access to fedw, try the next best thing – ask Them and then flip a coin.
You can also go the route of research, but that tends to be more difficult these days. The offerings of antiquity were clearly given in a culture where offerings were a daily routine in temples maintained by teams of priests. The offering lists include bread, beer, oxen, geese… bread and beer is one thing, but I’m not going to dig up a whole ox. Maybe a nice steak once in a while, but even then, not daily. We live in a different world, we need to be realistic about what we offer.
Can I offer without a patron? Yes. If you don’t have a patron deity (or Parent deity, or favorite god, or whatever) – you can offer to any god you want. There’s no rules saying you can only make offerings to your one single god. In fact, if you don’t want to offer to any deity in particular, offer to all the gods and goddesses, or the collective Netjer. That’s more a Kemetic Orthodox convention of offering, to be quite honest, but I think it is truly helpful. Sometimes I don’t want to offer to a god, I just want to make a general offering of my meal. So I announce to Netjer–the Divine, or the sacredness that is the different gods, all rolled into one collective noun–that I’m making an offering, and the Divine partakes of the offering.
Reversion of offerings, etc… This is one thing I’ve always felt a little funny about. The reversion of offerings is theoretically the process by which Netjer partakes of the offerings, and then passes their essence back to you. I’ve always believed this is intrinsic to the offering process. You offer the food, and in that process there is an exchange; Netjer takes Its portion, and leaves behind the traces of Its presence. In some rituals, there is a formal declaration that Netjer has taken Its portion. I think that is a little more work than most people really need to put forth; it also strikes me as a little arrogant, that we would say “yup, God is done eating now, my turn”. By that argument I sort of put my own thoughts on offerings in jeopardy, though. We can’t ever really know when Netjer is “done” with the offerings. We just have to kind of go with our gut, be reverent, and assume that Netjer generally understands (which It generally does. Generally).