On Offerings.

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.

KRT: The Road Less Travelled (and Red Jellybeans)

When your practice leaves the beaten path: what happens when the gods throw you for a loop? What do you do when the gods present you with a situation that doesn’t seem “normal” for a Kemetic? How do you handle things when your practice wanders off the map?

I feel like “off the beaten path” is where I live my religious life. So what if I’m a priest in an organized group of Kemetics — my gods spend an awful lot of time insisting that interacting with Them is more important than reading about Them, which means I get most of my information from personal experiences. If you have faith in the system and believe that the rituals I’ve been taught safeguard against the presence of other spirits hijacking the spotlight (which I do believe), then the only thing to be careful of when interpreting what the gods have to say is my own subconscious influence — which is admittedly tough. When in doubt I Think, Divine, and Talk about it.

Think about it: Question what’s being said. Does it sound like wish-fulfillment? Are there any red flags?

Wish-fulfillment would be something that meets our exact wants and needs; it may therefore be coming from our subconscious, rather than from the gods Themselves.

Red flags would be suspicious requests — ones that ask us to harm ourselves or others. Sekhmet does not want you to offer alcohol if it is a trigger for you; if you feel She is asking you to give Her beer and you have a history with alcoholism, it may not really be Her asking.

Sometimes it’s tough to tell the difference; the gods can ask us to inconvenience ourselves, or to take actions that may feel like they will hurt us but will lead to growth in the end. If you’ve thought it over and you still feel uncertain — that’s okay! There are other ways to confirm or validate experiences.

Divine about it: Use Tarot cards. Use fedw. Use some mode of non-verbal, deity-to-person communication to see what the bigger picture is. Be direct and specific when you divine. Ask, “Am I right in hearing You say you want me to offer You pumpkin pie?” Using a binary form of divination is really helpful here. Tarot can be really broad, and sometimes you just want a yes or a no. (Disclaimer: many binary forms of divination are more complicated than they appear at first glance — you may not actually get a clear answer here. It can help, however, and if you feel too conflicted about trusting your own instincts, it is worth a try.)

Talk about it: Never underestimate the power of a good conversation. Talk to someone else who honors the same gods, or who is trying the same things as you. They may be going through a similar situation. They may be able to tell you whether it sounds like you’re doing something dangerous or inappropriate. Even if they can’t confirm whether your experience holds any legitimacy, they can at very least let you know whether you are about to hurt yourself or someone else. And sometimes, just voicing concerns can help sort them out.

When all else fails: If you think about it, divine about it, and talk about it, and you’re just not sure what to do — go with your gut, but proceed with caution.

In most things we do, it isn’t going to matter whether what we are doing is 100% historically informed. I don’t believe the gods are going to be violently offended if we create beautiful rites to honor Them that deviate from antiquity. I don’t believe there’s much we can do to screw up the balance of ma’at, if our heka is a little bit funky; it might not be as effective, is all.

I do, however, believe that the power of our religion comes from our connection with the gods.

If offering red jellybeans to Sekhmet connects you both — do it. The gods have many forms and many manifestations. They have more kau and bau than we can imagine. Perhaps the form of Sekhmet Who manifests to you prefers red jellybeans; perhaps She will use them later on to help you learn or figure something out. But if we spend all our time trying to decide whether that’s what She really wants, we are missing out on the chance to build a connection with Her. Even if that connection begins with offering red jellybeans and finding out that She really hates them.

Once upon a time, when I was a wee baby Kemetic making my first offerings, Tumblr was a gleam in someone’s eye and LiveJournal reigned supreme. I offered Sekhmet orange juice, based on my own gut feelings. It seemed to make sense – She’s a solar goddess, oranges and citrus fruit are associated with the sun, so obviously She would want orange juice. I went with my gut. She hated it. I could feel the Divine side-eye bearing down on me from my dorm room altar. Next time, make it something stronger, She mused loudly in my head. Did I die? Did She smite me? Nope. She helped me. And after that, I did not offer Her orange juice.

Obviously that wasn’t very far off the beaten path — in fact, since I wasn’t even really on a path at the time, I don’t think it really counts as off the path at all. The point I want to make is that it isn’t deadly to make mistakes. Going off of our own instinct can lead to some really beautiful experiences. Some of the best religious experiences I have ever had have come from nothing else besides trust in the messages from the gods. We are, after all, only human. Being wrong once in a while won’t kill us, but missing out on something great because we are afraid to be wrong can make us miserable.

Offerings.

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).

RPD Feast!

With permission from The Powers That Be, here’s some pictures of the feast at Nekhen Ib Imau-sen. Offerings included a bouquet of hydrangeas, daisies and mums, cranberry-pomegranate juice, Jack Daniels whiskey, Ghirardelli’s 86% dark chocolate, a special cupcake, and a white tea blend with rose, jasmine, peppermint and chamomile.

Tea as an Offering

One of my absolute favorite offerings to make to the Gods is tea, especially loose-leaf tea. It’s very easy to portion out a cup of tea or a teaspoon of tea leaves, and I find the act of drinking tea to be particularly soothing and meditative. I have quite a few different kinds of tea, mostly caffeine-free herbal tisanes or teas that are naturally low in caffeine (such as white tea, for example). I generally prefer to offer tea leaves before making the tea, because then the tea doesn’t get cold. They do make candle-powered tea warmers, but my current shrine space isn’t quite large enough to accommodate a whole teapot yet.

I find that a teaspoon of tea in a small glass bowl works great as an offering alongside a libation as a simple offering, and can be a good way to enhance a more complex offering without adding too much clutter of space. When your shrine area is on the smaller side (as mine currently is), making the best use of your space can be crucial.

Tea is not a very traditional Kemetic offering, but I’ve found it to be well received. The biggest problem I’ve had offering it is that I need to use the tea leaves promptly, or else the Gods start to get irritated. They are not keen on me letting the offering sit until the next morning, which I have done an embarrassing amount of times.

With Wepwawet, heavily spiced teas tend to be favored, while Sekhmet-Mut prefers teas that are red in color or contain citrus or hibiscus. Both seemed to like chai and silver needle white tea. The biggest downside to offering tea is that in the warmer months, it’s not nearly as appealing to drink as in the winter. But many teas also taste great cold, so making the tea into iced tea is also an excellent option.

It’s taken me quite some time to find offerings which suit my tastes, my Gods’ needs, and the amount of space I have for both storing and making offerings. While tea is my favorite, I hope to share some others I’ve enjoyed along the way as well. 🙂

Ways to Honor Wepwawet

When to honor Wepwawet:

  • Ask Him to open the Way to new opportunities when you are seeking a job or place to live.
  • Carry a token of His with you when you need luck – in a casino or while playing games of chance.
  • Offer to Him to open the way for words and creativity when you are facing writer’s (or artist’s) block.
  • Pray for His blessings on your travels when you have a journey to make.
  • Go to Him to facilitate communication between you and someone you have difficulty speaking with.
  • Ask Him to shut out harmful influences from your life.
  • Pray to Him before other gods or spirits to open the way between the Seen and Unseen for clearer messages.
  • Offer to Him before divining to open the way for divinatory answers from the Unseen.

How to approach Wepwawet: Light a candle and some strong incense (cedarwood, patchouli, musk, amber). Present your offerings – simple ones are fine – and pray in your own words, from the heart. Divine for His message for you if you wish. Keep your eyes open for His presence in your life afterwards, as He will often make Himself known through chance or coincidence.