One of the biggest adjustments for new pagans, especially those coming from a Christian background, is the concept of physical offerings. For a lot of people, it seems strange to give a physical gift like food to a non-physical being. For others, the concept of food offerings seems primitive or backwards. For these reasons, I think it’s important to address why pagans make offerings before you go any further on your pagan journey.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: food offerings are not primitive or backwards. Pagans know that the gods don’t literally eat the food we offer them. Offerings are a way to deepen your individual connection with a god or spirit — it’s not so much about what you give, but the act of giving that is meaningful.
Think of it like sharing a meal with a good friend. Throughout history, eating together has been an important part of the way humans form and maintain social relationships. Even today, our weddings, baby showers, birthday parties, and even funerals usually contain a shared meal. Food offerings allow us to share this kind of bonding with the gods and spirits that are important to us.
This is not a practice that is unique to paganism. Many people, from many different belief systems, offer food to spirits on various occasions. Food is used as an offering to kami in Shinto, and to various deities and spirits in Buddhism. Hinduism even has a special name for food offered to deities — prasada. In Día de los Muertos, a Mexican Catholic festival honoring the dead, food offerings are set out to entice the beloved dead to return and visit their living relatives.
Even the Christian practice of communion can be viewed as a type of food offering. When a Christian priest consecrates the bread and wine, he or she symbolically offers them to Jesus. The Christian belief that Jesus inhabits the offering and is then taken in by the parishioners who eat it has direct parallels in pagan worship.
Likewise, when pagans offer food to their gods, the gods symbolically and spiritually receive it. One common belief among pagans is that the gods consume the spiritual essence of the offering. They are “fed” or given power not only by this essence, but by the religious ceremony surrounding the offering.
Protocol for food offerings varies from one pagan group to the next. In some systems, such as Kemetic paganism, the worshiper offers the food to the god(s), allows them time to consume its essence, and then eats the food as a way to ritually share a meal. In other systems, like Heathenry/Norse paganism, the worshiper takes the first bite or sip of the food, then gives the rest to the god(s) — again, this allows the worshiper to bond over a shared meal with their deity. Some systems, like Religio Romana, give the gods an equal portion of the food being shared by worshipers. Still others consider it extremely bad form, or even taboo, to eat something that has been offered to the gods — in these cases, the worshiper does not partake of the offering at all.
When planning an offering to a deity, it’s important to know what the guidelines for food offerings are in your chosen religious system, as well as the historical protocol for offerings to that deity. An offering to Athena will look very different from an offering to Thor.
Some deities or pantheons also have taboos against offerings of certain foods. Some gods cannot be offered meat, while others require meat as part of a sacrifice. Some gods do not receive alcohol well, while others prefer it. It’s important to do your research ahead of time to avoid offending your gods — or their other worshipers. (When we talk about specific pagan paths, we’ll talk about the protocol for offerings in those systems.)
Food is a common choice for offerings partially because of the social implications of sharing food and partially because it’s convenient. However, it isn’t the only option for an offering, and I personally think it’s a good idea to switch things up now and then.
Non-food offerings may include physical gifts that are related to a god and their domain, such as offering a bouquet of fresh flowers to Persephone. They can also include devotional acts such as donating to a charity that shares your god’s values, growing plants that are sacred to them, or writing a devotional poem or song. I find that devotional acts are especially meaningful for me, as they typically require more time, effort, and thought than physical offerings.
Some pagan groups, especially those with Celtic influences, hold the belief that something being offered to the gods must be destroyed so that it can never again be used by humans. For example, in ancient times a sword or spear being offered to an Irish deity would be twisted out of shape before being given to the god(s). For modern pagans, this might mean burning the only copy of a poem you wrote. The concept is the same — once something belongs to the gods, it is no longer meant for human eyes or hands.
Offerings are an important part of pagan worship because they emphasize the importance of reciprocity. Pagan worship is about building relationships, and relationships require effort, thought, and care from both parties. The process of choosing the right offering and planning a ritual around it can be incredibly powerful and can help you feel closer to the gods.
- Where the Hawthorn Grows by Morgan Daimler
- Irish Paganism by Morgan Daimler
- Wicca for Beginners by Thea Sabin
- Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham
- The Way of Fire and Ice by Ryan Smith
- Following the Sun by Sharon LaBorde
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