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Question of the Day: What to do with Offerings

This is going to be a fairly short and sweet post. I’ve been getting the same question via email again and again –and it’s a good question, don’t’ get me wrong---so I figure I should probably answer it. Lately everyone is asking me what to do with offerings be it to the ancestors, the Gods, or the house spirits once you’ve put them out.  

It really is a good question the answer to which I tend to take for granted as a given. It’s not though and since most of us don’t grow up (yet) in families that make regular offerings, there’s no reason that we should automatically know what to do with them. There’s so much about religious traditions and culture that we learn by observation, experience, and osmosis as we grow after all, and we’re not yet at that point as a community. I think in time we will be, but for now, thank the Gods for books, blogs, and teachers!

That being said, here’s what I was taught about disposing of offerings.  Ideally, one can do any of the following:

1.       If you have a bit of land, you can designate a space to put the offerings when they’re ready to be disposed of.

2.       Burn them in a sacred fire.  

3.       Bury them.

4.       Throw them in running water (get the river spirit’s consent first).

Now, for those living in apartments or suburbia USA, this isn’t too practical. What I usually do, and what is perfectly acceptable (at least I’ve found it so) is to dispose of used up offerings in the trash. I treat them like I would the remnants of a dinner for an honored guest. Liquid offerings go down the sink.  If it’s possible to compost anything, that’s even better.

There is a deep practicality in the particulars of polytheistic practice. Honoring the dead, honoring the land and house spirits, honoring the Gods are things that mature, responsible, adults do.  It’s a normal part of growing up and taking one’s place as a productive member of the community. In this sense, there’s nothing esoteric about these things. Making offerings is a fundamental and essential part of polytheistic spiritual practice. It’s what cements and helps keep one’s spiritual relationships active and clean.  It’s a normal, everyday kind of thing and so, we may infer the practical particulars.

Those are my thoughts on the matter at least. I’d love to hear how others handle this question.

Last modified on

 Galina Krasskova is a Heathen priest, author, and Northern Tradition shaman. She holds a Masters degree in Religious Studies and is currently working toward a PhD in Classics. Galina is the author of several books including “Essays in Modern Heathenry” and “Skalded Apples: A Devotional Anthology to Idunna and Bragi.”
(Photo by Hudson Valley photographer Mary Ann Glass.)

Comments

  • Anomalous Thracian
    Anomalous Thracian Tuesday, 11 December 2012

    Very good topic, Galina. I like how you point out the practicality of these practices -- that is essential. "Tradition serves life, life doesn't serve tradition", is a practical way of viewing these things. (Which is not a statement against sacrifice or discipline in your practice at all, but that the primary concerns around polytheistic spiritual and devotional engagement should be results-oriented: this is all *very real* and not just theater, and therefore consequence and such are factors.)

    How I handle my offerings depends on the context of Who they were presented to, and for what purpose. Many of my primary gods within the Thracian tradition would traditionally receive their offerings (whether they were prepared food, fresh kills, or material goods/crafts) into the earth or a hole in a stone cave. As such, the primary place for this sort of offering in my Temple is a recessed area built into the floor which is adorned in red cloth and filled with assorted material offerings (money, gems, jewelry, crafts, dried flowers) while a central bronze vessel receives liquid/prepared-food offerings. The bio-hazard stuff (in the vessel) is later emptied into a designated "sacred compost" in what passes for my outdoor garden area, beside the yews. If I had the land-use option for this, I would have a covered hole dug in the yard for this, but I do not own land.

    For animal offerings (e.g. ethically slaughtered livestock) I offer the blood as is appropriate for the one receiving it, and then (unless otherwise instructed through divination) prepare the meat of the animal as a meal which I share with my House, my ancestors, and the pertinent gods and powers. My temple is designed with slaughter (up to the size of a large ram) in mind; the skins, bones, etc of a sacrificial animal may be saved as offerings/relics/tools for the appropriate gods as well. This includes chicken and rooster skins, which I preserve. Very little goes to waste.

    I also keep an elevated altar space (on a small marble-and-wood surface) for general spirits not otherwise honored or permanently "housed" in the temple; in other words, the spirits who might be there as guests accompanying a human client, etc. On this I have a vessel of plain water for Them; think of it as the water-bubbler in a waiting room. This I refill daily and dump the excess down the kitchen sink; it is more a refreshment/snack than an offering, and though given with respect it is not quite the same as pouring libations and so forth. Various altars and shrines within the temple also have their own offering bowls/cups, and these are each treated with individual rules: some, especially those with coffee, have their cups rinsed regularly and replaced, and where the left-overs get dumped is irrelevant. Others (whiskey, vodka, gin) are left to evaporate a certain amount before being refilled or rinsed as needed. I rarely dump liquor down the drain because it can just sit without "spoiling" and they don't seem to mind if I just top it off regularly. For red wine and things like that, rinsing is important, as the sugars and fruits build up and get messy, and cleanliness is an important detail.

    Material offerings are either left in the main area (described above) or on specific altars and shrines as appropriate to the purpose of leaving them.

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