The Offerings of Man, the Obligations of Gods

I approach my home shrine in the morning and prepare my offerings.

Into three small, porcelain sake glasses, which were given to me by my stepfather, I pour a small bit of sugar, oats, and oil. These were the foods that made the most sense to me, although I’m not sure why.

Whether I’m clothed or naked, I drape a stole over my shoulders. The stole it green and white, and was made by hand; made by a woman I met at a metaphysical fair in the fall of last year. She gave it to me as a gift after I purchased a longer red one. She told me the stole was a traditional rose pattern, and she felt I should have it. There was just something about me, she said.

I remember that moment when I drape the stole over my bare shoulders.

I light the charcoal which sits at the middle of my altar, and wait for it to turn red before placing into the concave center a few pieces of something fragrant. This morning, frankincense and myrrh.

Some things I will never leave behind.

Using a prayer from Ceisiwr Serith’s book, A Pagan Ritual Prayer Book (Weiser, 61), I purify myself by saying,

“From all that I have done that I should not have done, may I be purified.”

I dip my finger into the water, and raise my hand to touch my forehead.

“From all that has come to me that should not have come, may I be purified.”

Again, the water.

Sometimes I slip into saying, “For all that I have done…,” and doing so makes the prayer feel more Christian, more connected to sin. That isn’t the point of this prayer. Purification, in the way that it is approached here, is not unlike washing one’s hands before supper. It is done because there are things which one brings to the shrine that are best cleaned away before doing the business of worship.

The prayer ends simply,

“May I be pure, may I be pure, may I be pure.”

One need not believe in a god who washes away sins to see and experience the power in that language.

Then begins the ritual; the Core Order of Ritual (COoR), to be exact. My druid tradition is united, in large part, by an agreement about practice, and the COoR is the center of the practice.

I perform the ritual in silence, pouring the offerings out into a cauldron as I recognize the gods, who remain somewhat a mystery to me, the ancestors of blood, spirit, religion, tradition and place, and all that exists in spirit on this land.

I do all of this in the morning in order to affirm my place in the cosmos, or at the very least to try to get a better sense of what the place might be. I do this ritual to affirm my relationship with the Kindred, these aspects of the great mystery to which I belong, of which I cannot fully explain. I do all of this not to win the favor of the gods, but more to practice sincerity in my relationship to them; to practice honor, to practice reverence, and to practice hospitality and generosity.

Regardless of whether the gods can hear me, or if these bits of food are of any use to them, I perform this daily practice so that I might come to better experience these qualities I cherish. My daily practice is simply me holding up my end of the relationship.

I show up. That is all I can do. The rest is up to — what — fate? Grace? The will of the gods?

Ian Corrigan said in his response to my last post,

“I make a good sacrifice, using my limited mortal means, and the gods grant a blessing that while it might seem disproportionately generous is simply the obligation of their station. This is grace of a sort, surely.”

Obligation… what an interesting word to use in this context.

I wonder —

Do you feel that by making a “good sacrifice” you enable the gods to perform the “obligation of their station?” Or, do you have different language for what the gods do? If you have a daily practice, do you perform your ritual in order to win the favor of the gods?

Why do you show up at your shrine?






28 responses to “The Offerings of Man, the Obligations of Gods”

  1. […] not too long ago Teo Bishop was musing about offerings and daily practice and our relationships with the Gods…. which has me thinking about my own regular […]

  2. […] with reverence and clarity to the gods in my heart, to all that is seen and unseen. I need the drama, because that’s a part of who I am.For you, it could be as simple as standing in the morning […]

  3. Lamyka L. Avatar

    Every morning after I wake and every night before I’m too unfocused/tired I pray at my altar. The prayer is a statement of gratitude. I never say for what or why, because let’s face it: there’s always something for which to be grateful.

    Obligation for Hawaiians doesn’t translate well for us. We all have our own Kūleana whether that’s us as humans, ʻAumakua (Ancestral Guardian(s)/Spirit(s) ), or Akua (God/Gods). Kūleana is a statement of fact that we all have responsibilities as well as respectful responsibilities to those with which we interact. The difference in languages makes this harder to answer than people might think because there is no debate or discussion–it’s just understood as common sense. Whether you are being respectful to those who are your Elders or those who are your Akua doesn’t not matter–they both deserve respect and respectful actions with regards to their treatment. I’m sorry if this doesn’t sound right in English.

    That being said, sometimes it IS possible to coax an ʻAumakua or Akua into doing something for you. Kamehameha the Great when on retreat from a battle passed near a flowing volcano on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi the opposition was hot on his heels & the lava so fresh their footsteps left impressions (which can still be seen today). Kamehameha Nui was caught in open ground with the lava flow heading straight for them. He prayed to Pele and cutting a lock of his hair threw it into the lava to burn saying to her “Save my men & I from your flames and I will be your devoted servant and give you all due sacrifice.” Pele’s lava flow curved around Kamehameha and his men and burned his pursuers to death beneath her flow. Many other examples of this can be seen. The Akua aren’t there for our whims, They (at least Hawaiian ‘Akua) want to be there for us. They are our older Mothers, Fathers, Brothers, Sisters, Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins.

    With any Family, however, it won’t always be up to one party but both parties to work together or not.

  4. Autumn Aelwyd Avatar

    Lovely reflections, as for the last question, I honor the gods, wights and ancestors because I wish for them to be a part of my life, that is all that I expect in return, that they simply be a part of it. As I result I am blessed with inspiration in my art, music and liturgy as well as peace with my surroundings.

  5. Elinor Prędota Avatar

    Teo, this is a wonderful post. So much to contemplate.

    My own main altar is my body, and the Gods I make offerings to are my own Godself and God Herself, through That, through the sharing of energy. I make occasional offerings to the local Sidhe, but that is more politeness and seeking to maintain a good neighbourly relationship (with a certain element of self-defence!) than anything. Although having said that, they have certainly helped and protected me when I’ve needed it.

    There are deities with which I have a particular relationship (Angus, Bride, the Cailleach, Blodeuwedd and others), but I don’t make daily offerings to them. Reading your post makes me think it might be a good idea to do so.

    I sincerely miss having an Ancestor altar. (Long story as to where it went.) If any powers relate to your phrasing of ‘Kindred’ (which I *love*), it is These; and Who or What else deserves more thoroughly my daily sacrifice of time, resources, food, water, and offerings of affection, gratitude and love?

  6. Jay Avatar

    A couple of years ago, while praying to the gods for health for my dad, I had a direct experience of this reciprocity of which so many of us are speaking, what is referred to as Kharis in the Hellenic tradition. I lit a candle for my dad and made an offering of incense to the gods, and in so doing I felt the healing energies move through me via the incense smoke and into my dad through the candle. The offering acted as a bridge, a conduit, for the healing energy (divine grace?) to cross over into our realm.

    Now this is not to say that the gods are unable to manipulate and influence our world on their own cognisance, but I really do believe that for most things, for most of the time, they need us to keep that bridge open, in order for them to better interact with us.
    So that is part of what I’m doing when performing my daily devotions – I’m keeping the bridge open.

  7. Jenni Hunt Avatar

    I come to neopaganism from a Roman point of view, and one of the central tenets of Roman religion is the idea of DO UT DES — “I give so that you may give.” Note the subjunctive voice — “so that you MAY give.” Yes, it’s a reciprocal relationship, but it doesn’t obligate either party.

    I think of my relationships with the Kindreds much like a voluntary client-patron relationship in republican-era Rome. One would visit the home of one’s patron on a daily basis, prepared to ask a boon or to grant one if one is able. When I greet my household spirits and patrons each morning, I offer incense as a gift, and each day I begin this way strengthens our bond much as if I were visiting the home of my patron in ancient times. If I have particular needs, I add additional prayers and offerings to that end.

    That said, it now occurs to me that I don’t often “listen” to see if they need anything from me. I used to do a quick divination each day, but I’ve falledn off that habit. I guess I need to restore it and possibly add a few moments of “listening” meditation. Thanks for helping to remind me of the other half of our reciprocal relationship, Teo. 🙂

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      The tense does seem important, Jenni. Thank you for sharing that central tenet, and for elaborating on how it plays out in your practice.

      As I responded to another person on this thread, there seems to be a need to hold the tension between our *doing* and our *listening*. The two work together, and both seem quite necessary in the development of a healthy practice.

      I hope that in your listening, you encounter the gods in ways that bring a new richness to your life, Jenni.

      Thank you for being a part of this conversation.

  8. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus Avatar
    P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    Just something interesting I notice, Teo: you said you make those food offerings into three sake cups. In Shinto, the daily offering to the enshrined kami (whether at a major shrine or at a kamidana in one’s home) are water, rice, salt, and sake–but the water, rice, and salt are the real “essentials” of it. Sugar, oats, and oil are a kind of modern/European equivalent, perhaps, so that works out nicely!

    Contractual obligation is the name of the game for most systems of ancient polytheism, particular Celtic ones. If humans held up their end of the bargain, then the gods were obliged to do so as well; and if they didn’t, just like humans who broke contracts, they could be “taken to court,” as it were, via whatever means one had depending on one’s station–distraint (i.e. fasting against them) if one was a regular person, satire if one was a fili/poet, or direct attack if one was a king. Since the gods gave these arts and skills to humans, it is right that they respond to them; and since their realm, the síd in Irish, is synonymous with “peace,” there should thus be no dissent nor cases against them, and thus they are obliged to hold up their ends of the bargain even more. Similar things are found in other Indo-European cultures as well.

    Even though some may think it impious, and that the gods are not here to serve humans, it is expected that they will be in a contractual relationship with those humans who have made it their practice to dedicate themselves to them and to have those bonds of “clientship” (or céli in Irish, in which you may recognize one of the elements of the phrase Céli Dé) in the Celtic context in particular. That doesn’t sit well with many modern devotional polytheists, unfortunately…

    The gods may not be able to answer all of our prayers, but their presence in our own lives should be equal to our presence before their shrines and in their service, I think. And, thus far, my own experience is consonant with that understanding.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      You, sir, are a wellspring of knowledge!!

      Thank you for this comment, Sufenas. I’m so grateful that you read my posts and contribute to this conversation.

      Peace and blessings to you!!

  9. Colby Glen Avatar
    Colby Glen

    I have been reading this blog for some time now, your questions and insights have always burrowed deep into my thoughts;so many of your questions and experiences so closely mirror my own. Never more than the past few days though. I’ve considered myself a pagan for several years now, i know for certain that i believe some things: immanent deity, animism, the literal presence of our ancestors. I’ve always wanted to Practice my beliefs, but I’ve been adrift in the vastness of pagan books that seem more intent on freedom than function. I’ve tried a ritual here and there, but it never resonated. Your the first pagan I’ve read that emphasized doing rather than simply feeling.

    Reading your posts about your daily ritual and the questions you have over the last few days has been a remarkable experience. I’m unsure how exactly to put it to words but i think you’ve shown me a vision of myself in your own reflections. Or rather, a vision of what I’d like experience. There’s a deep wisdom there that i need to explore, so i took the leap and joined ADF tonight. I look forward to start my journey down the dedicants path, and seeing how it feels beneath my feet.

    I just wanted to thank you for all the care and time you put into this blog, and ask if you had any advice for a newcomer to the path. Or perhaps a good first read while i wait for the Path to arrive? I’ve got nice long train ride to and from work every day 🙂

    1. Jason Hatter Avatar
      Jason Hatter

      Actually, if you log into the web site, you can download the Dedicant Manual either as a PDF or in Kindle/Nook format if you have an e-reader…no need to wait for any membership packet, if you can read one of those while travelling!

    2. Teo Bishop Avatar

      I’m humbled by your message, Colby. Thank you so much for sharing this with me. I’m grateful that you’ve been a regular reader of the blog, and I’m so glad that you’ve seen something in my experiences that resonates with you so deeply.

      There is an interesting balance between *feeling* and *doing*, and I find it interesting that my words have spoken more to the *doing* side of things. I’ve always considered myself to be more rooted in the former. That being said, I think it is through the investment in my own practice — the *doing* — that I’ve become more grounded, more able to navigate the complexities of my emotions and my experiences of mysticism.

      I’m excited for you. I’m excited that you’re excited, and I hope that you can nurture that feeling as you move toward the first steps of the DP. As a person who has spent a great deal of time working through his thoughts about the program, and who has begun to understand its immediate relevance in his life, I can safely say that you at the beginning of a transformative experience.

      Do I have any advice? Trust your own experience. Know yourself. The DP provides you with tools and information, but ultimately it is only through your experience that you will grow into your own Druidry. Do the work, and the work will change you.

      If you can get your hands on a copy of “The Solitary Druid” by Robert “Skip” Ellison, I’d highly recommend it.

      Peace be with you on your journey, Colby. Feel free to reach out to me if I can every be of service to you.

      1. Colby Glen Avatar
        Colby Glen

        I’m not certain feeling v doing was the best way to word it, but i couldn’t think of a better way to express it at the time. I was thinking about the “whatever works” sentiment that lies beneath most of the pagan books I’ve read. The focus being on the result -both during and after the ritual- rather than on the act itself. I feel like that discounts the value of the acts themselves.
        The greeks had a concept called ‘Kairos,’ meaning Time, specifically non-linear time. Kairos is the idea that certain events stand independent from the linear progression of Chronos, and that they exist perpetually, accessible with the proper force. Thus, liturgy, as an act repeated countless times throughout history allows us to commune with those who came before in a literal way.
        Its a concept that has always resonated very powerfully for me,. It’s not that i don’t think feeling isn’t important. I just think that not placing proper reverence towards the ‘how’ of what we do cheapens the whole ball of wax.

  10. Rob Henderson Avatar

    I say “reciprocity” or (among ADF types) “*ghosti-“. “Grace” doesn’t really enter into my practice in any definition that I know of, but I don’t know that I’d go with “obligation” either. I’d like to think that either my gods or I can choose to end the relationship if we really want to. Maybe I should write about that, oh wait I did. >8)

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thank you for sharing that post, Rob. That’s an interesting situation you found yourself in.

      I find this sentence to be very interesting:

      “I told Bríd that I wasn’t going to finish the offering song I’d started writing for her unless we had a successful Brídeog the next year, and if she wanted it written that she’d better convince some folks to get off their asses and do it.”

      To make those kinds of demands, to take the “If you want me to treat you well, you better do what I ask of you” approach, feels less to me like an invitation of hospitality, and more like a kind of emotional blackmail. I think if someone said something like that to me, I might question whether or not I wanted to be in relationship with that person.

      I wonder if treating our offerings as a kind of bartering chip is truly an effective way of building and maintaining relationships with the Kindred, or if there is another, less demanding way of approaching the practice.

      1. Rob Henderson Avatar

        There probably is a less demanding way of doing it, and I’m never going to be the person who works out what that is. Or uses it, most likely. >8)

  11. Silvio Moacir Avatar
    Silvio Moacir

    For many years I have performed a daily ritual to honor my beloved Goddess when I wake up, sometimes a bit later but I like to light candles, burn some incense sticks, ring a silver bell, put an offering of water and something made of flour as bread or biscuit. Then I do three bows in front of my Altar and say a prayer asking Goddess and Gods in general to look kindly upon me and mine and I give thanks for one day more! To me it’s important to recognize the Gods part in my life. When I do my rituals I’m honoring the Gods and recognizing the mystery in this life.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thank you, Silvio, for sharing your experience. I’m glad that you’re a part of the conversation here!

  12. Lo Avatar

    In many, if not all Mesoamerican traditions, it is very much a reciprocal relationship that humans have with gods. They don’t need us in a grand, universal sense, but rather they need us if they are to properly help us be part of the world that they maintain. I’ve been saying for a while that my relationship with them feels like an intern with several bosses; I have my responsibilities to carry out, as do they. We all need to keep our duties and promises, god and mortal alike.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thank you for the comment, Lo, and for providing such an interesting way of looking at a reciprocal relationship with the gods. We all have our responsibilities — I can get with that.

      Perhaps what we’re undergoing, then, in our daily worship is a discernment process about what those responsibilities are. How, I wonder, have you come to understand what *your* responsibilities are to the gods?

      1. Lo Avatar

        Thanks for the reply. :]

        Your question, I think is pretty obvious, depends on the person (and no, that’s not a cop-out answer!). But in all seriousness, different paths rely on different sources: from UPG, from tradition and academic scholarship. Some of us are happy being told what the bargain is, and following that. Others go directly to the gods and ask. (There’s a good discussion going on about this at The Cauldron.)

        As for me, personally, I’ve read that traditionally, with the old Mayan culture, that there most definitely was a covenant; between kings and the life-giving deities, between the farmers and the lords of the fields and the rain. I think it can be boiled down to sacrifice– reminiscent of the heathen concept of “a gift for a gift”.

        Interestingly enough, I’ve heard from some Aztec recons that it is perfectly acceptable to curse and get angry at the gods for failing to bless you, and even cease worship of them if they didn’t do as promised.

  13. Sophia Catherine Avatar

    I’ve seen bloggers (and suchlike) get very upset over the idea that there might be any kind of barter-style relationship between us and the gods. But when you take it out of a modern capitalist framework, and into something we’re less familiar with, based on honour and duty and commitment, it starts to look less demanding and more truly reciprocal. I like that Star names it ‘noblesse oblige’ – that concept, too, is probably far removed from the reality, but it speaks of something that might be a bit closer.

    Why do I show up at my shrine? That’s an excellent question. I’ll have to give it some thought. Any answers I could give off pat would be inadequate. Thanks for making me think – again!

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Reciprocity is complicated, I think, especially when you’re in relationship with something that can feel so abstract as a god or a spirit. My belief is that they are not simply abstract, but that belief doesn’t necessarily make the practice any more clear. I like that you’ve pointed out that our opinions about reciprocity and relationship are affected by our socio-economic framework, and it makes me wonder if the *real reality* of the gods is something that fits any of our cultural frameworks.

      I look forward to knowing more about how you approach your shrine, Sophia, should you wish to share. Most importantly, I’m glad that you’re spending time in contemplation!

      Peace to you!

  14. Michael Putnam Avatar

    Teo, thank you again for another great post!
    In response to your questions at the end, I believe that making a “good sacrifice” is not about enabling the gods, or even trying to win them over. To me sacrifice is all about asking the gods to not forget us, humans, in their own daily lives and rituals. They are a greater set of being than we and thus, to me, we do not have to “enable” them nor do they have any more obligation to us than we do towards the ants (which is far from none but equally far from everything). As for my own ritual set, though I fail to do it daily, usually I wake up and, while making my coffee, I look out my “nature TV”, my sliding glass door, and look over my yard, my garden and birdfeeder. I make sure that the nature spirits have sacrifice in the form of seed and water. Often before work I step up to my Hindu murti alter and offer them prayer and sacrifice and, as I leave, I knod to my hand carved Odin that watches my front door. Nothing formal, nothing truly ritualized, but that’s my relationship with the gods. Peace and Blessed Be /|

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, Michael! I’m glad the post resonated with you, and I appreciate you sharing your insights into what sacrifice might mean. Your practice, while simple, seems completely valid to me. There’s a way in which allowing our acts of worship to interact with our ordinary lives allows us to truly “walk the walk.”

      Again, thank you for your comment. I’m so glad you’re a part of this dialogue.

  15. Star Foster Avatar

    Noblesse oblige of the gods? Fascinating thought!