There is an oft-cited stanza from the Havamal that cautions us against giving too much.
It is better not to ask, than to sacrifice too much.
A gift always looks for a gift.
It is better unsent, than over sacrificed.
I know Heathens who argue that this is a sign that Heathens are not supposed to bother praying to our gods, or at least that our offerings can or should be small. It’s sometimes put forth as a point of macho Viking pride that unlike some religions, which expect everyone to pay tithes, sheep-like, to the religious hierarchy, we independent Heathens are not so foolish. Mostly that irritates me because I don’t like Christian (or Not-Heathen) bashing. As has been said many times before, “You can be pretty sure you’ve created the gods in your own image when They hate whomever you hate.”
Some Heathens seem to use it as an excuse to avoid giving anything that would cost them much to our gods. Pouring out a bit of what they’re drinking anyway is no big deal to any Heathen I’ve ever met, but going far out of our way with time, effort, or money? Well, some folks think that goes against the idea that Heathen religion is an every-day sort of religion that isn’t about setting a lot of effort, time, or money aside for the gods and spirits, so much as it’s about living a good life according to Heathen values. Whether that’s a sound practice or not I leave to the gods to teach them. If a person isn’t much of a mystic, or doesn’t have much to spare, their obligations are likely quite different from mine, and besides, what seems like no small effort to me may be huge to someone else, and vice versa. I can appreciate an attitude of “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”.
A while back I read an article on Patheos which argues that this can’t refer to gifts to the gods, because the Havamal is advice to travellers, and thus is interpersonal, and besides, there’s no such thing as giving too much to the gods. Now, I’m not sure I agree with that either, since I’ve worked with some very greedy Powers over the years, and one of the challenges of working with certain Powers is learning how to set reasonable boundaries with Them. There are a lot of good points in this article, and I don’t necessarily disagree with the overall arguments the article makes. Still, I think an important point is being missed all around.
I’m not reading Havamal 145 as saying we should be parsimonious in our offerings, nor that such cautions are irrelevant to the gods. The translation above is Chisholm, and I find it tremendously clarifying. Now, I don’t read Old Norse directly, so I am at the mercy of good translators, but this is the only translation I have read that made instant sense to me.
What it says to me is that it’s better to fend for ourselves than to depend too much on gaining the gods’ favor for our well being. Or, to put it another way:
It’s better to make a decision with the information you have, than to harass the gods for answers.
It reminds me of the times, as a diviner, I’ve had to tell a querent to stop asking their question over and over, in the hopes of getting an answer they want to hear.
I’m not sure I agree that it’s better to not ask at all than to ask too much. Really, I think it’s better to ask once, and perhaps to ask for confirmation from an independent source or two if the answer you get back is very drastic. But to not ask at all, or else to obsessively ask over and over and over again, are both bad extremes. Still, if those extremes are your choices, yes, it’s better not to ask. Just because you make sacrificial offerings each time, doesn’t mean They’ll like it – or you – any better.