Offerings to Gods and Ancestors: The Basics
Why Give Offerings to the Gods?
The tradition of giving offerings to the gods dates back to prehistoric times. We can see the reflection of this in the Bible and other ancient holy texts, as well as through archaeology, cave paintings, etc. It was thought by our ancestors that giving offerings to the gods would gain their favor. Today, people give offerings in a variety of places where religious rites are performed.
As a pagan, you might wonder whether you should give offerings to your gods and ancestors. There is nothing wrong with this, and should actually be a part of your tradition on at least a seasonal basis. Though many pagans claim they don't "worship" their gods or ancestors, they tend to use the phrase "work with" or "revere" their gods and ancestors. So we can view it as more of a friendship or working relationship and so to give an offering to a god or ancestor is simply like making an exchange or a deal. "I'm giving you this in exchange for that." On the contrast, you can also give an offering if you are simply wanting to thank the god or ancestor for their help / support / love, etc. Offerings are not required by gods or ancestors, but they are helpful and appreciated. Think of it like this, if someone you loved gave you a thoughtful gift just to say thank you or make your day, wouldn't you accept it? Wouldn't you be grateful and more wont to bestow gifts upon that person, too? It's the same thing with deities and ancestors.
What Do I Offer My God or Goddess?
Many people get confused on what type of offerings to give to their gods, goddesses, and ancestors. This is not a difficult task and should be a fun part of your practice as a pagan. The key to giving good offerings is to simply be mindful of what you are offering.
Here are some things that can be offered to the gods and goddesses:
- Incense - research what type of incense your god or goddess would like the most.
- Bowl of herbs or flower petals - research what type of herb/flowers your god or goddess might like then leave it on your altar.
- Foods - certain types of foods can be used as offerings to your gods. These can be left on your altar or set aside on your dinner table.
- Drink - a bowl of water or some other form of beverage associated with your god can be left on your altar.
- Candles - you can dedicate a certain candle's flame to the energy of your god or goddess.
- Song - sing a special song or play a special song dedicated in your god/goddess name.
As you can see, there is no major limit as to what you can offer up to your gods. With any of your offerings, you should research what kind your god or goddess would prefer before giving the offering. But, if you don't have a special kind of incense or you can't afford that particular offering, give what you can give. The gods aren't jerks and will understand if you give an offering with pure heart and good intention.
Examples of Deities and Appropriate Offerings
What Do I Offer My Ancestors?
Ancestors are a bit different from the gods and goddesses as far as the types of offerings you give. Obviously our ancestors are a part of our bloodline and look out for you in a unique way, so therefore we should put extra thought into the offerings we give to our ancestors.
If you have an ancestor altar or shrine of some kind, it's best to leave their offerings on their altar. But always do what feels most appropriate to you.
If you are giving an offering to an ancestor that you knew personally in life, think about what that person liked while they were alive. For example, maybe it was your grandfather and you know that he smoked cigars. You can offer a cigar or a bit of tobacco. Or maybe it was your great aunt and she loved tulips, you can offer a vase of tulips to her. Maybe your great grandmother loved caramel candies, leave a few of these on the altar for her. The options are endless and it is really about being mindful and thoughtful of what you are leaving as offerings.
If you didn't know the ancestor while they were alive, and let's say you are giving an offering to your ancient ancestors, think about your ancestors' heritage. Think about where they lived and what was common as far as foods back then. Perhaps a bowl of milk might be appropriate for those who lived in Europe in Medieval times. Or maybe leaving a bit of dried plant matter or herbs that were common to your ancient ancestors in those times. For example, red clover for Irish ancestors, Elder berries for English ancestors, etc.
Follow the guide to the gods' offerings listed above for further ideas as to what kinds of offerings you can leave for your ancestors.
How Do I Dispose of the Offerings?
Many people want to know what they're supposed to do with the offerings once a sufficient time has passed. This is an easy enough question to answer. Do what you feel is best. However, it seems somewhat disrespectful to throw away certain things.
Here's some tips on how to dispose of offerings in appropriate ways:
- Food - if it was vegetable or fruit matter, throw it in the compost or throw it outside for the birds and wild animals to eat. I believe the gods and ancestors would be appreciative of such a gesture.
- Water/Wine/Liquid - can be poured as a libation outside on the ground. Don't drink it after you've offered it.
- Dried herbs and plant material - again, can be given back to nature or used in the compost.
- Trinkets, jewelry, knick-knacks - you can keep these on your ancestors' or gods' altars and switch them out with the seasons (see section below on seasonal offerings).
Never eat food offerings after you've given them as offerings. Their vital nutrients and energy have been drained and therefore will provide your body with zero nourishment. Plus, it's disrespectful to partake of an offering.
Seasonal Offerings and Conclusion
You might find that as the seasons pass you will get the urge to change your altar decorations. This can also include seasonal offerings to the gods and ancestors. For instance, if the summer solstice is on its way, you might want to take down your Spring décor (eggs, rabbits, etc) to make room for summer décor. This can include switching out plants, flowers, bowls of dried herbs and stones all dedicated to the gods and ancestors.
Often when I clean and reorganize my altar, I am thinking of what the gods associated with the coming season would enjoy. This typically includes different stones, dried flower petals and herbs, and even boughs or branches of evergreen trees. Depending on what gods you work with or what branch of paganism you follow, this will influence how you set up your altar and whether or not you change your offerings and altar décor with the seasons.
The choice is ultimately up to you what you want to offer to your gods and ancestors. The key to giving the best offerings is to simply be mindful and intentional of what you are giving. You wouldn't invite an honored guest over for dinner and throw out a bowl of two-day-old leftovers, would you? So treat your gods and ancestors with just as much respect, if not more. Think about what you are giving them and whether or not they would really enjoy it if they were sitting across from you at your dinner table. While I'm sure most of the gods and ancestors are just happy to be recognized after years of being ignored, we still want to be respectful, polite, and thoughtful.
© 2017 Nicole Canfield