Updated: Sep 11, 2020
Picture the scene. You’re a new polytheist, or you’ve been a polytheist for ten years and you’ve just gotten in touch with a new deity for the first time. Either way, it’s the beginning of a new relationship, and you’ve got to start somewhere. As is commonly the case, you’ve decided that a pretty good place to begin is to put an offering for said deity on your altar or your windowsill or wherever you’ve decided to put offerings. But when you go to get said offering, you realise that there’s one teensy weensy itsy bitsy little problem… you have no idea what to give them.
With the rise in eclectic polytheism - which I am here defining as witches who are polytheists but do not follow a single strict path or a reconstructionist avenue for their practice - it can be difficult to find a definitive list of, say, “What to Give Loki as an Offering”. You can approach this problem in one of those ways: either you ask about and put a list together yourself from what other people have suggested to you, or you decide that it isn’t. A problem, I mean. Personally, I tend to lean towards a little of column A, and a whole bucket-load of column B.
When you don’t know what a good offering would be, asking around is a pretty good place to start. Depending on who you ask and who the deity is, you’re going to get very different results, which is where you have to do a little bit of filtering. For example, to take the earlier example of Loki, it’s safe to say that the majority of the suggestions you receive will be UPG - unverified personal gnosis. This is because although there are thousands of people who worship or work with Loki in the modern era, we have no surviving resources to suggest that he was worshipped in the Scandinavian pre-Christian era. So there aren’t going to be any ‘traditional’ suggestions, except for ones perhaps generic to the Norse Pantheon.
At the other end of the scale you have a deity like Apollo who we know was worshipped, and quite prominently so, by the ancient Greeks. You’re going to get a reasonable mix here of traditional suggestions - ones that would have been made to him in a historical basis, as found in primary and secondary sources, and historical non-fiction - and UPG. In my experience, the Hellenisimos community is made up of a pretty reasonable split of modern and reconstructionist practitioners. But this wasn’t meant to be a lesson in different online communities, so moving on for now…
So, now you have a little - or a very long, depending - list of things that you could give your deity. What do you do next? Do you give them every single thing on the list? Do you try and work out what the ‘best’ thing is, or the most valuable, or - or a hundred and one different variables you could choose from? My recommendation, and the way that I tend to look at it, is to consider a couple a personal questions that only you can answer:
Why am I making the offering, and/or how serious is the offering to me?
What is your gut telling you that your deity is going to like best?
Let’s look at a deity that I work with quite heavily; Odin. Recently, I have worked with a very ecstatic version of Odin, one who will come at me with an axe just because he wants a brawl and to see if I’m on the ball and paying attention to signals, and who is generally a lot more active than he has ever been with me before. So in asking the first question, what springs to mind is that there has been a shift in my work with him. In the past, I’ve been semi-famous for giving him poptarts and I do happen to have a box of those in my cupboard, but I’m getting the feeling they’re not suitable at the moment. On the other hand, he isn’t calling for an offering right now, so I’m not making a physical offering. But what he is calling on is for me to put some work into the deal we made, which was for me to learn. So I’m studying, because my gut tells me that right now, he’s more interested in me fulfilling a devotional act and showing him that I’m serious about my end of our bargain.
This is one of those posts that rambles a little bit, I’m afraid. Because that leads onto another question: does an offering have to be an item? Very much no. It’s a bit of a cliche, but you’ve probably heard the phrase “it’s the thought that counts” and unless you are going for a very strict historical practice, that is 100% true. Do you want to burn a candle for your deity, but you can’t afford them or you’re not allowed them where you live? Electric tea lights or even the flashlight on your phone will do the trick. Not able to afford to buy an offering in the current global climate? Then do something. I often sing along to music, and sometimes I get the feel that my deities are listening in and I consider that an offering, too. And if you have physical issues which mean you can’t do a physical act, then that’s fine too! A lot of people make moodboards or online e-shrines for their deities and those are just as valid as any other method.
In conclusion, what you offer to a deity is entirely down to you, and nobody can tell you that you are doing it right. If you research, ask your deity their thoughts, look inside yourself and consider your own limitations, then whatever offering you come up with is going to be accepted by your deity. And if you come to the conclusion that giving an offering doesn’t work for you or who you are, period, then not giving anything is fine too. You know your relationship with your deity better than anybody else, and you know what makes up the greater scope of your practice. There’s no wrong way to be a polytheist. That’s what makes talking to other polytheists so interesting.
What kind of offerings do you give your deities? Do you have any UPGs? Where do you draw your inspiration from? Let me know in the comments or @ me on social media!