Exploring spirituality somewhere between the Emerald Isle and the Black Land....

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Polytheism 101: Offerings

The second post in my "Polytheism 101" series will cover appropriate offerings for various pantheons, and what to do with them after they have been offered. I feel I should also note that though this series will be called "Polytheism 101," the ideas and methods shared here can be applied to just about any Pagan path.

While the short answer to the question of what to offer the gods is "whatever you have to give," I'm betting that if you came here, you're looking for a more substantial answer. So here it is, my meatiest, Manwich-iest of answers:

There are three main places to turn to when figuring out what to offer the gods. The first is to look at the region your gods are from. If you follow Hellenic deities, you might want to offer Greek food. If you are Heathen, try Germanic or Scandinavian foods. Second, look to the myths and symbology of the god in question. At a ritual I once held for Sekhmet, an attendee brought some pomegranate infused beer because they read the story in which Sekhmet was pacified with beer dyed red with pomegranates. A cauldron could be given to Dadga or raven figurines to Odin, as those things have mythological significance to those gods. Lastly, as you continue your research, you'll find out what kinds of things are proven (or at the very least, likely) to have been offered in antiquity. From there, it becomes much easier to figure out suitable modern or local counterparts to give, which is especially important if some of these things aren't easily acquired (such as offering venison instead of gazelle meat).

If you are at a complete beginner, following a more obscure god/pantheon, or otherwise at a loss of where to start, there are luckily a number of things that make great offerings to give to any deity of any pantheon. I've found that vegetables, fruit (dried or fresh), water, fruit juice, bread, and alcohol are always a safe bet. As far as items go, incense, flowers, coins, and pretty stones or crystals are also great catch-all offerings. As you gain intuition and familiarity with your deity and their pantheon, it will go a long way in deciding what to give.

As far as the disposal of offerings go, composting or burying them is probably the most common thing to do, though burning or sinking them also works. When disposing of offerings, it is important that you to be mindful of what you have offered and how you are disposing of it. For example, if you offer chocolate, don't leave it lying around in a park where someone's dog could find and eat it, and don't burn an offered item if it could produce harmful fumes. What exactly you do with them may also be determined by where you live; I live in an apartment, so burning or burying anything on the grounds is out of the question, and I'm well out of walking distance from the nearest lake or river, so I just put natural (e.g. flowers, rocks, etc.) and edible offerings under a tree for the wildlife to take. (As I said before, if you are going to do this, be mindful. You don't want to leave something that will make an animal sick!) Just use common sense, and you'll be fine.

The following is a list of more traditional offerings for the Irish, Kemetic, and Canaanite pantheons. I've compiled it from my own research, as well as a bit of personal experience. Hopefully it will serve as a good starting point for you as you continue to build your own practice.

Irish Celtic offerings

Edible offerings: Alcohol is a favorite among the Déithe. Mead, beer, and whiskey are the definite forerunners, though I've known them to enjoy wine or hard cider. Apple juice and milk are great non-alcoholic alternatives. Beef, pork, and salmon are ideal meat offerings. Apples, hazelnuts, cheese, and honey (or pretty much anything with honey in it) are also great choices, though I have found that hearty foods in general tend to go over well with the Déithe.

Incense: Juniper incense seems to be well-loved, as well as cedarwood and sage. I've also had great results with cinnamon, amber, and cedarwood. Basically, anything woody and earthy is a good choice.

Items: Flowers and other natural items, or things carved from stone or wood are great. Weapons, real or miniature, are popular with warrior deities. As humans were sacrificed in ancient Ireland, human effigies are a suitable and powerful offering, though in my opinion, they are best saved for special occasions.

Food offered to the Déithe likely was not eaten, so you may want to avoid doing so. The best way to dispose of any offering to them is to burn, bury, or sink it in a body of water. Man-made items should be destroyed (broken or otherwise rendered useless, as was done back in the day) then burned, buried, or sunk. However, since items won't spoil, I find that it is sometimes acceptable to leave them on the shrine for an extended period of time first. (Devotional jewelery is my exception to this rule; such items I keep and wear indefinitely.)

Kemetic offerings

Edible offerings: As far as food offerings go, it could be said that the Netjeru have simple tastes. Bread, water, and beer are are the most basic, yet most ideal offerings. Beef, milk, onions, dates, figs, and wine are also appropriate. Game such as gazelles was also offered, so I think deer or elk could make a suitable substitution.

Incense: Frankincense and myrrh were commonly offered, and are probably the best choices if you can get your hands on some, though the Netjeru seem to love resins in general. I've also had good results with lotus, cedar and sandalwood, jasmine, and fig. When offering incense, the most important thing to keep in mind is that some brands use dung as a binder. These should not be given to the Netjeru, as dung is considered impure for ritual purposes (for obvious reasons; I mean, it's poo). I've put together a list of pure incense brands at the end of this post.

Items: The ankh, ib (heart), feather of ma'at, and udjat (Eye of Horus) are all things that were offered to in ritual. Jewelery and perfume, or pretty much anything that's pretty will be enjoyed by the Netjeru. For as simple as their tastes in food offerings can be, when it comes to stuff, they enjoy fine things.

Food offered to the Netjeru was eaten by the priests, so if it is up to you if you would rather eat or bury them. Items which were offered were also used by priests, so you can use them yourself, in honor of the god(s) it was offered to, leave them at the shrine, or bury them. Fire was typically used for banishments or execrations, so I wouldn't burn anything that was given to the Netjeru.

Follow this link if you would like to read more about Kemetic offerings.

Canaanite offerings

Edible offerings: Wine, figs, pomegranates, dates, grapes, hummus, olive oil, flatbread, beef, lamb, and goat are some of the best things to offer. Do not offer pork to the Iluma; it wasn't offered in antiquity, and is likely considered inferior or impure. They prefer farmed meat over wild game.

Incense: When it comes to incense, the Iluma seem to share many of the same tastes as the Netjeru. Myrrh and frankincense are ideal, as are other resins and floral scents. Offerings of incense to the Iluma  also carry the same requirement of purity as those for the Netjeru.

Items: Perfume or olive oil infused with essential oils are always enjoyed by the Iluma. Flowers, art, and jewelery make great offerings as well.

Disposing of Canaanite offerings is much the same as with Kemetic ones; priests used or ate what was offered, and you may choose whether or not to do so yourself. The main difference is that Canaanites performed burnt offerings, so burning them is an option.

If you are interested in reading more, this post has an in-depth account of offerings preferred by the Iluma.

Pure incense brands:

Other posts in the Polytheism 101 series include "Building a Shrine" and "Ritual."


    1. Hi there! I remember what I was going to ask you and forgot. Do you give daily offerings/weekly? And do you give offerings of all things: incense, food, drink each time?

    2. I try to give offerings every day, but sometimes it ends up being only four or five days a week. I don't think this is necessary for a beginner, however. If you want to give offerings every day that's great, but really, once a week or so should suffice.

      Typically I give food, drink, and incense, because I'm an over-achiever that way, I guess. :P But there are certainly times when I feel that a smaller offering of only one or two things is all that is needed. Incense is usually what I give if I give just one thing.

      Hope that helps to clarify things. :)

    3. Some other good 'pure' incense brands include Shoyeido and Baieido.