I am by no means a Neo-Paganism or historical Paganism expert. In fact, until very recently, I could count the amount of Pagan rituals I had performed on one hand. For those of you not in the know, ‘rituals’ as they are known generically in the Pagan community, are a form of dedication; on par perhaps with going to church for a Christian, or circumnavigating for a Buddhist. I share my spiritual journey as best I can. Not as an expert, but as one now comfortable with the label ‘Pagan’. In sharing, I hope you find resonance with your own journey.
The air is cool and nearly biting. A sweet fug of mild pollution and cigarette smoke traces the surrounding sky.
We’re stood beneath the imposing frame of a mature Alder, and it feels like you could melt into the darkness amongst its dense bush of leaves.
If only Pagan prayers worked like they do in the movies. Then I could commune with the ether of the deity summoned, clamber up the tree in the form of a totem of some sort.
I look over to my girlfriend, who is nursing her chest with her coat, pretending to feel the cold, but probably just using this as an embellishment to her pleas to leave.
“Can we please just leave?”
We both eye-up a pair of ominous hooded figures loitering along the path much further up the hill. Probably failing at inconsipicuously waiting for a deal, I think. My internal playful little monster giggles at my self-assured street wisdom. I probably point this out to her, as a means of zestfully prolonging her discomfort.
I hold up a cold cup of herbal tea above my head and close my eyes.
“Hail to the Goddess Vor.”
The tea is strewn across the bottom of the tree, internally I envision it returning to the earth and the archtype of Vor. An offering internal, played out into the physical world.
Dragged back to the present moment.
My girlfreind gratefully loops into my arm, and we briskly walk away. We debate for most of the short way home whether her name is pronounced ‘v-o-r’ or v-e-r-r-r’ as I pronounced it. Does it make a difference? And would she be irriated at the fact I couldn’t even get her name right? The mood lightens.
Above is an example of a very basic offering, a day-to-day relaity of living as a Pagan. I say basic, as offerings are not, at least in the modern sense, how they are portrayed in the movies. Pagans, as far as i’m concerned, do not give offerings as a way to appease the Gods. In other words, an offering is niether a ‘please accept this gift so that I don’t die a horrible death’, nor is it a ‘give me this so that you will get me what I want’. Offerings are a way of communion, a two-way process, a way of sharing a moment with the divine.
I understand this sounds quite lofty. So, for now, consider this: if a prayer is asking a freind for a favour, an offering is sharing a cuppa over a slice of cake.
This piece, though, is supposed to be focused on why giving offerings to Norse Goddesses could possibly still be relevant to a 21st-century 22-year-old. So, now you’ve hopefully got an insight into what an offering actually is, below find my five reasons why doing this is still relevant to me.
1 — It’s all in the process. One thing I probably should have mentioned above is that offerings in the Neo-Pagan sense are not simply a case of ‘giving something’. In this instance, for example, it meant fasting all day (yes, that wasn’t my favourite part), only drinking herbal tea, and was accompanied by a small ritual beforehand. This focused me physically and mentally on what I wanted to gain from communing with this Goddess. This process, then, is a key reason why offerings are still relevant to me. Many of you will do a similar sort of thing for different reasons.
2 — Offerings are a two-way process. It should be clear from above that any work us Pagans do with Gods are not demands, they are ways of communing, and at most politely suggesting. In Pagan beliefs, depending upon the character ascribed to a deity, they do not always just facilitate things to happen in the physical plain. Sometimes you’ll get an unexpected ‘kick’ in the right direction instead! Thinking about this case in non-spiritual terms, I inevitably wanted to get something from this offering and the time I’d taken to honour Vor. Therefore, by giving up an offering, something changes inside you as well as in the universe. This kind of connects with my first point, but what I specifically mean here is that, like with spellcraft (a topic for another time), offerings make you do something, even if it’s not towards what you want specifically. Do you think i’d have got insight into what I really wanted/needed by just sitting and twiddling my thumbs? Not likely.
3 — Offering is celebrating. Although many other organised religions do make offerings, they are not commonly labelled as such any more. Everybody loves celebrating — who doesn’t love parties and big family meals? Have you noticed how in a lot of religions, prayers, lighting candles, lighting incense (aka offerings) happen in the ‘religion-y’ bit, and then the eating, merry-making etc. comes after? In modern Paganism, we delight in being able to connect with our Gods at the click of a finger. If you believe that your Gods live in the chill of the wind, the song of the sea or the warm stroke of the sun, they’re pretty easily accessible, and this is a fact well worth getting excited about in my view! We see no distinguishing barrier between the celebrating after and the ‘religion-y’ bit. Paganism isn’t something you do solemnly at certain times, it is something you live. Offerings, then, are a celebration (or at least they should be). And I like celebrating.
4 — Sacrifices are archetypal. This case wasn’t necessarily an obvious sacrifice. I wasn’t tossing a prized broken sword into a river like my Pagan ancestors, or giving up a whole bottle of beer (yes I’ve actually offered beer before, and yes, it did leave me thirsty). You will note I did offer up a cup of one of my favourite teas, and starved myself all day. Many offerings to The Gods, though, are sacrifices.* We see sacrifices all around us in culture and stories. The mother always feeding her children before herself, Jesus sacrificing himself for the sins of the world. Interestingly, people also find a sacrifice of dignity very appealing— delve into the world of fifty shades of grey for confirmation of this! Why then, is sacrifice so important to us as humans. Arguably, it is an ‘archetype’ — a symbol deep in the human mind found aross cultures. A lot of Pagan symbology and rituals work with archetypes. Sacrificing something as part of an offering inevitabley does something trippy to your mind, then. Powerful stuff.
5 — Respect. This last one is pretty obvious. I’ve tried to make it hit home that offerings aren’t a case of convincing the universe/deity to give you something, it’s a recognition and respect for the two-way relationship you have, a time to share a special moment. What you do, you become. As a Pagan, I love the universe and all the blessings the Earth gives (And if that doesn’t sound extremely drippy to a possible Non-Pagan then it should!). Taking the time to offer something back, then, and remember that you don’t always need to do an offering for something back in particular, then a sense of gratitude and wonder permeates your day-to-day reality.
So let’s summarise — I’ve made quite a few lofty points so let’s pin my reasoning for still finding offerings relevant into a snappy paragraph. Offerings do the following for me: they focus me (through their process, you sometimes make yourself purposefully uncomfortable on purpose, for example), they make me active, doing something, anything, towards what I want or need, they are an excuse to feel good, they resonate with something deep in my mind, and last (but definitely not least), they make me respect what I believe and find special and sacred.
*I feel, unfortunately, that I have to pop in a little disclaimer here. Popular culture and history itself has done nothing for the reputation of Pagan belief. The horror film staple of witches and other Pagans sacrificing babies and animals in a horrific manner has, for example crept steadfastly into many people’s stereotypes. This is not the case. In some cultures, animal sacrifices do exist, but considering many Neo-pagans are vegans, killing animals, and definitely babies is as abhorrent to them as it is to you. Put those hammer-horror posters back in the top drawer cowboy.