I recently had a fantastic conversation with my husband. We were doing our weekly grocery shopping, and I was browsing the candy aisle for something to offer in shrine while idly discussing the options with hubby. Our conversation prompted him to ask why I choose to offer foods I enjoy to the gods, over things that They like, but I don’t.
From my husband’s understanding, it makes more sense for a priest to sacrifice their own enjoyment and make offerings that the gods prefer. For example: I don’t particularly care for red wine, but I know Sekhmet Herself likes it very much. For the sake of my husband’s argument, let’s say that it is Her favorite offering, above all other things1. Her enjoyment of red wine would therefore take precedence over my preference for other offerings She enjoys less, such as pomegranate juice or beer. The fundamental assumption here is that the purpose of making an offering is to provide the gods with something They like, to make Them happy. It’s a reasonable assumption, but it oversimplifies what an offering actually is.
Offerings do more than just satisfy the gods with the things They like; they create an exchange between devotee and deity. Making an offering requires the expense of time, effort, and energy. The devotee chooses the offering, prepares it, engages in the offering ritual (however simple or complex it may be), then partakes of the offering, thus sharing it with the deity. All of these steps are as much an offering as the food or drink itself. The deity partakes not only of the Unseen essence of what is offered, but also the energy and time spent in making the offering. The devotee not only receives the blessing of the deity by partaking of the offering, but develops their relationship with the deity through this exchange.
If the purpose of making offerings was purely to give the gods Their favorite stuff, then it would make sense to prioritize what the gods like rather than trying to compromise. Making an offering is more than just giving a god something They want. In reality, negotiating what will be offered is a part of the process, and contributes to the meaningfulness and appropriateness of the offerings. It is an exchange of time, thought, devotion, and effort (and sometimes money, though I find the gods often include that under effort already).
Time is spent choosing the offerings, preparing them in advance of the ritual. Thought goes into choosing an appropriate offering to share, which both god and devotee can enjoy — as well as the logistics of making the offering. (Will I offer loose tea leaves, or brewed tea? Raw meat, or a cooked meal?) Devotion prompts the desire to make offerings and spend time in ritual with the god, to show appreciation or ask for help. Effort goes into finding, preparing, and purchasing the offerings. Our work provides the money we spend; our research the knowledge of where to find what we are looking for; our physical energy the act of getting up and going out to get it.2
Next time you make an offering, consider these four factors. I have often made “simple” offerings and felt guilty for not doing more. When you consider the offering from a holistic perspective and acknowledge the time, thought, devotion, and effort it takes to arrange, even the simplest offering can feel elaborate.
1. I have no reason to believe that Sekhmet prefers red wine over any other red beverage — but in my husband’s example, there would be a “favorite offering” which would take precedence over all other offerings. So we will pretend for a moment.
2. This is why I find that what I call “macaroni art for the gods” is so well-received — that is, rough or clumsy-looking offerings made in earnest, like a piece of macaroni art made by a small child lovingly hung on the refrigerator door by their family. It takes time, thought, devotion, and effort to make these kinds of offerings. A first attempt at baking bread or a simple devotional necklace can be as effective as store-bought, if done sincerely.