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7. What offerings do you make in your tradition and why?
I’m answering this one for my personal practice**, which is a gestalt of several traditions. Still, I think that’s fair, because Heathen values are ultimately very practical, and a lot of what I do comes down to, “If it works, go with it. (If it doesn’t work, fix it.)”
Just about anything can be an offering in the right context. The two big questions are:
A: What are the preferences of the individual or group to whom the offering is being given?
Obviously this must be answered on a case-by-case basis. I know very few gods or non-object spirits that don’t like some kind of food or drink, and the occasional craft project or act of service, but I wouldn’t suggest pouring sea water on your computer to honor the wight attached to it. My previous car (now Lon’s car) preferred flowers on the dashboard for her standard offering, with occasional feathers and other found objects. My current car prefers Starbucks lattes and mochas, unfortunately. I really need to find a better way to feed her.
As for the Vanir, well, all the Heathen gods seem to like Mead quite a lot, with other alcoholic beverages also being popular, which may explain why pouring an alcoholic drink into a horn and passing it around a circle of people is the most common Heathen ritual form around, followed closely by feasting. Again, food is popular, especially fish or, among the Vanir specifically, Pork. Nobody is surprised to learn the well-confirmed modern gnosis that Freyja likes chocolate.
But it’s not really within the scope of this series to give listings for all the Vanir, much less all the gods I’ve honored in my personal practice.
A better question here is…
B: What is the purpose of the offering?
This is also contextual, obviously, but the two major categories are Celebrational and Transactional.
What and more importantly how I make an offering depends on whether the Power I’m offering it to is being given this in the general course of the relationship, or as fulfillment of a specific obligation.
Let’s take the example of chocolate and mead for Freyja.
The most common offering context is a relatively casual, celebrational one. If I’m giving Freyja chocolate and mead because it’s a Vanic Conspiracy meeting in honor of Freyja, then we’re going to pass the horn full of mead and the plate with chocolate around the circle for everyone to share in Her honor. If it’s a discussion of Freyja, that’s generally all I’ll do. If the meeting includes actual ritual and invocation of Her, I may also set a bite of the chocolate aside for Her. We always also pour out a bit for the Tomte (house spirit), and any remains go to the landspirits outside.
If, however, I have promised Freyja a bottle of mead and a bar of chocolate as fulfillment of some obligation She placed on me, or as payment for something specific I am requesting from Her, I will only share the chocolate and mead with human bodies if She indicates that’s what She wants. By default, a transactional offering belongs exclusively to the one being paid. The bottle of mead and chocolate bar will sit on Her altar until or unless She indicates that She wants me to do something else with them. If they go bad or dry up before any such instruction or opportunity for more direct offering comes along, they will be disposed of without anyone else having taken away any part of them. That’s rare – usually at some point She’ll instruct me to bring them to a particular ritual to be shared around.
There’s a special case that bridges the gap between these two categories: If it’s a possession trance ritual and Freyja chooses to come down on one or more of the mediums in the room, then the offering mead and chocolate can be given directly to Her regardless of the mode or reason for the offering. She almost always then shares it with everyone else in the room, either by instructing the one serving Her to do so, or by carrying it with Her and offering it to whoever She interacts with.
Even so, there’s a slight difference here between the Celebrational offerings and the Transactional ones. If it’s understood that the thing being given is being given as Her personal due, She’s less likely to share it than if it’s being given as Her due as a guest in the hall. Hospitality is everyone’s due, and is thus shared around. Such is the case with feasts and horn-passings, and not with personal gifts or transactions.
All of this is to cover things that can be shared, especially food and drink. Permanent objects are handled a bit differently. Obviously there’s the whole category of shrine art objects, which are basically placed on Her shrine and belong to Freyja for as long as She wants them. Those are only moved from shrine to altar and back unless She has instructed me to give the object to someone else (even then, usually for their own Freyja shrine) or to dispose of it.
For functional object offerings, however, there are again two major categories of how they can be handled, that correlate perhaps loosely to the two above. If I have a necklace for Freyja, it could be a necklace I wear any time I wish to honor Freyja and think about Her, or it could be a very special necklace only worn when I am working as a Freyja priestess and medium offering my body for Her use.
Really, we can give just about anything of value to the Gods. The point is the respect we are demonstrating in the behavior of making the offering. Any objects, whether shareable, consumable, functional, or not, then belong to the God, and shall be treated according to its owner’s preferences. Services should also be offered according to Their preferences. It happens that we know from experience what those preferences tend to be in common contexts, but an openness to doing something different than usual if prompted is part of making an offering.
Check out Lon’s answer: The Other Half of the Story
** I always pause a bit after seeing “in your tradition” to ask myself what is meant by this. Does this refer to my personal practice? What we do in the Vanic Conspiracy? What I learned in Hrafnar? What I’ve observed in the larger Heathen community? The extended Pagan community? What about the stuff I learned in the Umbanda House?