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.

Gratitude

What are you thankful for in this religion? How are you blessed?

My gratitude for my religion is vast and complicated. I am grateful for the relationships I have forged; for the experiences I have had; for the opportunity to honor the gods and serve as Their priest.

I am thankful, because I came to this religion as an adolescent, still developing my sense of self, my moral code, and my way of thinking about the world. Growing into adulthood in this religion has helped to shape who I am and how I approach the world.

Above all else, though, I think I am grateful for the attitude towards gratitude that I have learned through this community. Hemet (AUS) places a great deal of emphasis on gratitude in her teachings – gratitude to the gods, to the ancestors, to our teachers. The first prayer I offer to my gods each time I enter my shrine is “thank You”.

(Forgive the slightly disjointed ramble; I am trying to exercise the philosophy that it’s better to write poorly than not to write at all.)

Photo by Simon Maage on Unsplash

Money – it’s a drag.

Thanks to Pink Floyd for the title inspiration. 😉

Money is a fraught subject, especially when it comes to donations to religious organizations. Most polytheists and pagans are converts from “mainstream” religions, where collection plates are passed around during services each week, and tithing from one’s paycheck is to be expected.

We are also taught by concerned friends and family that we need to beware of groups that seek our financial contributions. We are warned away from religions that require numerous financial donations, because they could be dangerous cults.

And culturally (at least in the West) we are taught that one should never spend money without getting something in return.

A request for donations from a religious group, therefore, can feel like a major affront. What will I get in exchange for my donation? Is this the start of a sinister series of attempts to drain my bank account? This is just like my Christian church, isn’t it.

Let’s be real. Any organization incurs operational costs. If the organization has a website, that’s a cost right there — for web-hosting and domain registration and general upkeep and maintenance. Does the group have insurance? That’s a cost. Does the group own property? That’s another cost. Is the group tax exempt? Does the group employ an accountant or any other external vendors to help manage operations? Does the group pay any full-time clergy or staff?

It adds up fast.

So what do you get in exchange for your donation? You get all the services and resources that you enjoy as a member of your organization. Sure, nobody is going to turn you away if you don’t make a contribution, but the costs are still going to be there.

How can you tell if a donation request is genuine or an attempt to steal all your money? Well, is the group pushing you to go beyond your means, or are they asking for a donation of “whatever you can contribute”? Is the group trying to sell you on expensive retreats or equipment that you can’t afford, and then questioning your dedication if you don’t buy in? Is the group open to you whether you donate or not? A dangerous cult will push you beyond your means, and ridicule you or shun you when you can’t exceed them. A group that is asking for donations in earnest will encourage you to give what you can on a regular basis, and be understanding when you can’t.

Is this just like your Christian church? Maybe. Part of the reason Christian churches do so well is that there is an expectation that members will make contributions to the operations of the church. Many churches and parishes have financial support from a central leadership — and many pagan or polytheist groups are the only one of their kind, so they lack that support.

Don’t be hasty to judge a group for asking for money. If you participate in a group, and you have some cash to spare, consider making a donation towards the services you receive as a member. It’s not rude, or money-grubbing, or sinister to ask your members for money. It’s reality!

The House of Netjer is asking for money. We are asking our members to make whatever contributions they can to the operations of our temple. If you are a member, and you can make a contribution of even $5, it can go a long way. (Does anyone else remember that commercial with Roma Downey for some children’s charity — “With your $5 and your $5…” — just me? Right, then.) And if you can’t spare $5, then don’t.

Even if you aren’t a member, if you believe in supporting organized polytheist religion, you are invited to contribute. We may not honor the same gods, but we do well when we support each other.

Hand Crafted (1)
Click here to make a donation.

Welcome back to W’ab Wednesday

Note: this post contains opinion, not doctrine of any kind, and is intended as thought-provoking contemplation rather than instructional writing.

W’ab Wednesday is a series I started for writing about purity. To recap, in brief: I am a lay priest, or w’ab priest, in Kemetic Orthodoxy. In this context, the word w’ab translates to “pure”, “purity”, or “to be pure”. My job is to be a ritual technician, and a large portion of that means maintaining something called “ritual purity” — meaning, a state of spiritual and physical cleanliness in which the highest rituals may be performed.

Ritual purity isn’t a requirement for worship of the gods. Prayer and offerings made without ritual purity still count. So why bother?

To state the obvious — the gods don’t live where we do. They live in the Duat, while we live in the physical world. When we pray or make offerings, we are trying to communicate from one world into the next. The more ritually pure we are, the more effective our interactions with the gods and the Duat will be. Impurity — things like physical dirt, Unseen dirt, distractions, etc. — is the static that interferes with our communication.

This is partly why I believe so strongly in the concept of purity as a continuum. We will never have 100% effective communication to the Duat as living humans. The more we can shed the dirt of everyday living, the closer we can scoot to operating at full capacity (which will vary from person to person).

When doing State rituals, like the priests’ rite or certain holiday rituals, we want to be sure there is as little “static” as possible — hence the requirement for more purity. There is bigger heka here, so it’s easier for the static to get in the way. Informal offerings and casual candle-lightings are harder to mess up, so the purity requirement is much lower.

What the heck-a is heka?

I am often asked to write about heka1. The problem with me writing about heka is that I really don’t do much heka. My heka work is limited to prayers, offerings, and the occasional execration. I ignored these requests for a long time, until I remembered that I happen to be good friends with one of the most powerful hekau2 I know: Abby (secular name) aka Ubenet (Shemsu name). She was more than willing to talk shop with me for my blog, and so we spent a while talking about her experiences and her advice for new hekau.

If you like what you read, Ubenet offers charms and more at her Etsy shop, Wire and Roses. I can personally attest that her charms and heka are both beautiful and effective!

Sobeq: So first of all – what would you call your kind of heka/magic, if you had to label it?

Ubenet: Hmm, that’s a good question. Bricolage, maybe. Bricolage is a word we stole from the French that basically means “putting stuff together from whatever’s available”. I mix together stuff I’ve learned from all kinds of things with intuition and just sort of… do stuff.

S: Where do you draw your techniques from?

U: I’ve learned a lot from books on ancient Egyptian stuff, hoodoo/rootwork, and modern witchcraft. Those are probably my main influences, plus whatever I run across on the Internet that resonates.

S: If you had to break it down into percentages (which could be difficult) what would it be?

U: [Laughing] That is indeed difficult! I feel like my sensibility is always Kemetic — I’m always deciding that I have the authority to do this thing, so I will do it. But the actual mechanics vary – yesterday I was more on the modern witchcraft side, when I made a charm for myself out of gemstones, for example.

S: What do you mean by “I have the authority to do this thing, so I will do it”?

U: It’s like, I realize this thing needs doing, and I’m going to step up. I’m my Parents’ daughter, so I can use the power They gave me.

S: Gotcha. How do you decide which approach is going to work best?

U: That’s a good question! Intuition, I guess. Sometimes it’s just like, “This needs to be a bottle spell,” or “This needs to be embroidered,” or “This needs to be a charm”.

S: Do you think there’s any tendency for certain kinds of magic to trend towards certain kinds of spells?

U: If it’s something short-term that I think needs to be near the person, it’s likely to be a charm, and if it’s something long-term that doesn’t, it’s likely to be a spell bottle. If it’s short-term and doesn’t need to be near the person, usually it’s a candle spell, and if it’s long-term and does need to be nearby, it’s embroidered. Actually, I hadn’t really put that together before!

S: It sounds like those are your go-to spells! Bottles, charms, candle magic, and embroidery.

U: Yup! Oh, and I forgot the dragons I make – those are like a combination of bottle spell, embroidery, and charm. I put a wad of herbs wrapped tightly in duct tape (for washability) in the stuffing.

S: Nice! What’s the process of prepping for a spell like for you?

U: I figure out what I want to happen, and then it depends on which direction I’m going. If it’s an embroidery spell, I make it into a sigil and pick colors; if it’s a charm, I pick stones that either have associations that match what I want, or I look at the stones I have and see which ones are going “pick me, pick me!” If it’s a candle I’m dressing myself, I find herbs with the right associations or that are going “pick me, pick me!” and make a list and putter around finding where I put them.

S: Do you do any sort of ritual work or purification beforehand?

U: Sometimes, if I feel like I need to, but usually it’s more like the energy is building up in my hands and I need to use it or lose it.

S: Timing is everything!

U: [Laughing] Yup!

S: Have you ever had something go awry while working a spell — either with the execution of the spell (i.e., spills, things on fire) or with the magical results?

U: Sometimes when things go “wrong,” it’s actually telling you something. I lit a crucible of courage candle for my friend when her son was dying. The label burst, and the glass broke, and that night he died. When I saw that it had gone kaboom, my first thought was “none of the pieces hit Fritz3, did they?” (they did not), and my second thought was “it’s going to be tonight”.

S: Are there any indicators that tell you a spell is going to go well or be particularly effective?

U: Sometimes it just feels good! Like, there’s usually a sort of “yes, I have done a thing” satisfaction, but sometimes it’s more like “yes, I have Done A Thing”.

S: Do you ever find yourself going “against the book” so to speak, because it’s what your gut tells you?

U: Sometimes! I have a habit of using nutmeg to represent myself, which is not in any book, but I’m from Connecticut4. In hoodoo, nutmeg is used for luck, especially for gamblers. Most people wouldn’t be like, “ah yes, a nutmeg, this symbolizes My People”.

S: Was there a point in your magical practice where you realized “yes, this is thing I am skilled at?” For example, there’s people who can cook, and then there’s chefs, and I feel like as far as heka goes you’re the latter.

U: Oh wow, thank you! I don’t know, I think I realized I was competent when somebody told me that something I made them made them feel better, and then it’s been sort of steadily increasing.

S: If you had to give advice to someone who was just starting out, what would you say?

U: I would say, do things! Try different things, read about different things, and see what makes your heart go “yes, that’s right” or “no, that’s not right, it should be like this instead”, and then do something with it.


Footnotes:

1. magic
2. magician
3. Ubenet’s hedgehog familiar
4. See this link for background on the connection here.

Seasons and Gods

My gods seem to have an arrangement. In the summer, when the air is thick and humid and the sun is an unforgettable presence in the sky, my Mother comes forward. She teaches me about healing, about mercy, about justice. I feel Her wrap Her arms around me as the heat presses against my skin and the sun beats down on my shoulders. It feels like a dance, spun with red linen and turquoise, gold and lapis.

Slowly, as the heat wanes, She retreats and my Father comes forward. As the trees turn burning red and shed their leaves, He starts to whisper in my ear. He teaches me about magic, and authority, and the power to move effortlessly between any two places or roles. He is as crystal clear as the frigid air that starts to show my breath; strong and steadfast, the silence space between the mountains.

I am always my Mother’s child, and I am always my Father’s child — but as the seasons shift, so do They. Perhaps my Mother follows the Wandering Eye myth cycle, being distant at the winter solstice. Perhaps They just want to make things easy on me. Perhaps I’m the one making the division. Who knows? There are some things I just… don’t question, when it comes to the gods. 😉

An affirmation for all the working devotees.

You are allowed to be busy.
You are allowed to have days when you glance at the shrine and realize you won’t have a chance to revert the offerings you left to sit overnight.

You are allowed to make your worship time a few quick prayers on the way to work in the morning.

You are no less for being distant because life has other demands. Remember that even the priests in antiquity could work part-time. 

I firmly believe that if Netjer wanted us to spend every waking moment in worship and devotion, there’s a good chance we wouldn’t be in the Seen world. 

Remember your shrine. Remember to go to work, to make dinner, and to do your laundry, too. It’s all about balance.