Pagan Blog Project: Offerings

A few weeks ago I was invoking East for an esbat when I let the word “worship” slip. “Join us,” I think I said, “as we worship and make magic.”

Since my coven works within the Reclaiming tradition, we make up most of our invocations on the fly. I was just saying what came to mind. I didn’t think anything of it. But later that night, one of my coven-mates brought up a gentle objection to the word. “We don’t worship,” she pointed out. “We work with deities, not for them. They’re our partners, not our bosses.” Everyone nodded, although no one looked at me. It’s possible no one else even remembered the invocation. Still, I felt embarrassed.

I completely understand why Witches and Pagans shy away from words like “worship.” Worship is a Christian thing, right? It’s what you do if you’ve been brainwashed into thinking you’re powerless and flawed. It’s what you do when your god is an authoritarian dictator, easily enraged, thirsty and desperate for praise. Right? That’s what worship is. It’s unhealthy. It’s degrading.

So then why did the word come to me in my invocation? And why don’t I regret saying it, even after my coven-mates took issue?

A few days ago Jason Mankey published a post on Patheos about The Wind in the Willows, and its portrayal of Pan as “the Friend and Helper” with an “August Presence.” He quoted this well-known and beautiful passage:

“Rat!” he found breath to whisper, shaking. “Are you afraid?”

“Afraid?” murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. “Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet—and yet—O, Mole, I am afraid!”

Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.

To me, that sounds like a very different kind of worship: an act performed not out of a sense of obligation, but out of reverence and awe and love for beings much bigger and older than us. When we forget that sense of awe and see deities only as partners–or, as I see far too often, life coaches and personal cheerleaders–we not only cheapen and probably offend them, but we diminish the benefits we get from working with them.

I’m not afraid–and yet, O, I am afraid! is a feeling I know very well. It’s a beautiful kind of fear. It’s a sign that your animal instincts are picking up on the presence of A Very Big Thing. At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I would even go so far as to say that if you’ve never felt even a tiny bit shaken up in the presence of a god, then you have never truly perceived that god.

It’s that reverence that moves us to give offerings to our deities.

When I ask a god for help with magic, obviously I try to give them something in return, if I feel it’s appropriate. (Some deities and ancestors just like to help, and it feels wrong to pay them off.) A glass of wine. Some flowers. A homemade cookie. It depends on the deity and the magic. But I try to give something.

Most of the time, though, I give out of the sheer joy of giving. I try to give milk to the Morrigan semi-regularly by pouring a jar of it into my garden. When I’m out in nature, I sometimes arrange some stones or flower petals into a circle as a hello. (The first time I did this, I soon came upon a bigger circle of stones on a part of the trail I’d already passed. I hadn’t heard any signs of other people around.) Giving gifts feels good. I marvel at the feeling of peace and contentment that comes over me when I tip that jar into the soil or place that cookie on my altar.

And when I think of giving offerings, I think of bigger offerings, too. I think of offerings of service. I think of myself as an offering. I have told my gods that I will do their work. I haven’t gotten an assignment yet, but I wait and try to be patient.

Sometimes I destroy my offerings: I bury the cookie or throw a piece of bread into the fire. Other times–say, if I’m offering something I’ve harvested from my garden–I’ll leave it on the altar for the god to eat and then take it and cook it for dinner. I go by intuition.

Our relationships with our deities are allowed to be complex. We can be supplicants one day and partners the next. Our minds are as flexible as our gods, and they can hold multitudes.

May your offerings bring you closer to the gods you love the most.

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2 thoughts on “Pagan Blog Project: Offerings

  1. Kali Quicksilver says:

    FINALLY! Somebody who understands what SHOULD be at the heart of worship. You summed it up perfectly – “an act performed not out of a sense of obligation, but out of reverence and awe and love for beings much bigger and older than us.”

    Worship is a way to show honor and respect, not necessarily submission and piety. Thank you, thank you, thank you for taking a stand to point this out. I think a lot of it is so many of us come from Christian/Abrahamic religions where the idea of worship takes on an entirely different meaning than what it could and should mean for pagans, etc. I think being able to tackle this kind of thing goes a long way in being able to really embrace a “new” path when you’ve left the old one behind.

    • Asa West says:

      Kali, thank you for your kind words! I think we’re all so steeped in the Abrahamic religions that it’s extraordinarily difficult to untangle ourselves from their influences. Even parts of religion we tend to take for granted–for example, the idea that our deities love us and want us to be better people–should be interrogated. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong; it just means we should question where those ideas are coming from.

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