Saturday, 3 March 2012

Pagan Offerings to the Gods

"Evocation" by A Rothaug (b. 1870)
Here follows a list of possible offerings to various divine beings. This list is neither comprehensive nor indisputably correct – if in doubt the following may be acceptable offerings:
  • Food – can be symbolically offered on a plate before an image or symbol of a deity, or burnt in a ritual fire, or left in a sacred location, or hidden in a sacred tree, or thrown into sacred water or onto crossroads.
  • Animal sacrifice by proxy.* You can perform an animal sacrifice by proxy by baking cookies or bread in the shape of an animal and offering this instead. Sheep, pigs and cattle were the most common sacrificial animals in ancient times. However, note that, following the Roman tradition of Numa, bloodless offerings are in fact most traditional. Wheat, salt, salted bread, sacrificial cakes/pastries (eg, see this recipe for Cato's libum), herbs, garlands of flowers, drink-offerings, and then, later, incense and saffron, were the most typical ancient offerings in Rome (Plutarch, The Life of Numa and Ovid, Fasti). We also know that bread, meat, onions and milk are traditional offerings to Germanic deities (Ibn Fadlan). Another substitute for animal sacrifice is to offer wine from a bottle with a cork instead of a screw top. If you discover that the wine is "corked" then this may be viewed as being equivalent to opening up the innards of a sacrificed animal and discovering irregularities (which is of course a sign that the offering has been rejected; thus necessitating repeating the ritual with a fresh offering). 
  • Fire – for a simple or preliminary show of reverence light a candle in a sacred location.
  • Incense (note that frankincense was the most popular incense used in ritual offerings in ancient Rome). For an in depth look at incense as an offering, including issues relating to health, see my post on Incense - Offerings to the Gods.
  • Aromatic herbs (juniper, laurel, rosemary, thyme, etc). 
  • Flowers.
  • Spices, especially Indian spices (ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, saffron, etc).
  • Wine, this may also include spiced wine and honeyed wine. Avoid diluting wine. Note that beer and mead are almost certainly acceptable offerings to Germanic Gods.
  • Milk (especially to Goddesses), but note that there are a range of ethical issues  (eg, see ciwf.org.uk) surrounding contemporary dairy farming which may serve to spiritually contaminate, or profane, the product because it was produced in league with unkind farming practices of which benevolent Gods may disapprove. Taking care to establish that dairy offerings come from ethically run farms (or using a plant based alternative) is recommended but ultimately this is a matter of personal discretion. 
  • Votive offerings. Votive offerings are, unlike the offerings listed above, relatively non-perishable. An example of this would be a gift of pearls to Venus. 
  • Spoils of victory (uncleaned) over enemies (especially to celestial Gods). Including the enemies themselves (to chthonic Gods). 
  • Temples and altars, for particularly elaborate offerings add temple/shrine priests/priestesses and/or designated feast/games days.
Roman rites
If it is possible to find a sacred place outdoors to make offerings this is ideal. Traditionally libations to celestial (of the sky) deities are placed into a fire on a raised altar so that their vital essence might rise to the sky; this ritual should be performed in the day (compare to the Hindu yajna). Offerings to aquatic deities are generally thrown into water. Offerings to chthonic (of the earth) deities are generally poured or placed, using the left hand, into a hole dug into the earth (and then entirely burnt in that place if possible, or buried) while the right hand is held over the fire, or touching the earth, with the palm/s facing down. 

Prayers can be made with open palms (both hands or the right hand only), fingers together and stretched slightly backwards. The palm of the right hand (or both hands) should be facing the presumed abode of the God/s being honoured (eg, the sky for celestial Gods and the ground for chthonic Gods). Hands and clothes should normally be clean (the cleaner you are the better). See this post for more on Pagan prayer.

Note that in the Roman tradition offerings are made to Janus before other Gods, because he is the gateway to the divine, while Vesta, Goddess of altar and hearth fire, receives the last offering (Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods, Bk 2), though Vesta's name may be invoked first at the start of the ritual (Ovid, Fasti, 6.304)The head is usually covered when praying to Roman Gods (notable exceptions to this general rule include Saturn and Hercules, to whom the ritus Graecus applies – note that despite the name the ritus Graecus in fact refers to a style of Roman ritual, which is inspired by, but not identical to, Hellenic rites; it usually involves wearing a laurel wreath and playing music during the ritual), and it may be desirable to face east when praying. 

Germanic rites
We do not know for sure what the intricacies of Germanic rites were historically, but it may be that worship was more likely to be conducted outdoors. Tacitus records that the Germanic people generally "judge it not to be in keeping with the majesty of heavenly beings to confine them within walls", and that instead they "consecrate woods and groves" (Germania). In the Hyndluljod a shrine that pleases Freyja is described as a "high altar of heaped up stones ... reddened ... with fresh cattle-blood" (Elder Edda). Ibn Fadlan describes the Rus place of worship as an outdoor place with "a great wooden post stuck in the ground with a face like that of a man". Around this post were long wooden stakes driven into the ground which had "little figures" in front of them; these were said to be the God's wives and children. Ibn Fadlan stated that a Rus man would bow before the great post, describe who he was and what he wanted divine assistance with before leaving food offerings (bread, meat, milk, onions and either ale or mead). Once the prayer had been answered the man would return with a grander offering in the form of slaughtered sheep or cows, after removing some of the meat to eat with his companions the rest was set before the great wooden post and the heads of the animals hung on the wooden stakes. When night fell and dogs came and ate the meat the pious man took that as a sign that the God had accepted the offering (Ibn Fadlan).

In his Corrector, Burchard of Worms describes Heathen rites that were apparently common in Germany in the early 11th century (Burchard's purpose was to set a standard form of penance for common sins):
“Have you gone to any place to pray other than a church ... to springs, rocks, trees, or crossroads; and have you burned candles or small torches there to venerate that place, have you brought bread or some other offering there, have you eaten there, or sought anything there for the health of the body or the soul [cited in Shinners (ed), Medieval Popular Religion, at 442-443]?
He also speaks of offerings of knots, bread and herbs, over which incantations are uttered before being hidden in a tree or thrown into crossroads. Burchard's contemporary in England, Wulfstan, wrote that offerings to Odin were made at crossroads and on high hills (cited in Boenig and Emmerson, Anglo-Saxon Spirituality, at 136).

Intent and expectations
Just because one has made an offering does not mean one has obtained a favour. The Gods are not merchants, or prostitutes who sell their favours. They favour whoever they will, and we cannot bribe them to do anything; they likely have little use for our offerings in any case. Offerings signal both our understanding that we cannot get something for nothing as well as our respect for their divinity. Ritual offerings are a means of (attempted) communication, or even a divine conversation, and never a payment for services bought.

For more inspiration, see this page on sacrifices in Roman religion, this post on Germanic divination (Runes) and this Hindu article on prasada (divine food offerings).
Divinity
Suitable offerings**
(God of sunlight, truth, prophecy, health, music, archery)

Celestial

See the Germanic Sol / Sunna. 
Nine popana (pastry balls made of soft cheese and flour), nine cakesnine phthoes (cakes that shrivel when cooked; perhaps like pastils), incensewine, laurel (include crowns of), honey cakes, cheese cakes, parsley cakes, corns, cedar, calendula, wheat

Animals: nine female lambs (burnt whole), nine she-goats (burnt whole), 
bull, ox with gilded horns, white goats

Note: offering in nines may be particularly appropriate; fruit and flowers are traditional Hindu offerings to Surya (Hindu God of the sun and of healing)
Bacchus (may be equated with Liber Pater)
(God of viticulture, wine, masculine fertility, spiritual ecstasy/freedom, as well as delusions and madness)

Chthonic

See (possibly) the Germanic Freyr. See the Hellenic Dionysus.
Honey, honey poured on cakes/pastries, ivy, grapes, wine

Animals: goats
Bona Dea
("The Good Goddess", associated with fertility and the protection of women generally. The title is possibly an honorific for a universal earth Goddess such as Fauna, Terra, Tellus, Ops or possibly even Magna Mater or Vesta)

Chthonic

See the Germanic NerthusSee the Hellenic Gaia. 
Magna Mater: incense, violets, small change, herbs, white cheese

Tellus: spelt cakes/pastries

Animals: heifer (Magna Mater), pregnant sow burnt whole (Tellus)

Note: note that some ancient rites involving Bona Dea apparently excluded men; however transexuals (male to female) may be particularly appropriate persons to carry out rites in honour of the Magna Mater
Ceres
(Goddess of agriculture, esp. fertile grain crops)

Chthonic

See (possibly) the Germanic Freyja or Gefjun or Nerthus. See the Hellenic Demeter. 
Incense, salt, spelt, cakes/pastries, wine, ears of wheat (especially first samplings), salted bread, oak leaves, wine, honeycombs mixed with milk, crown of wheat (corona spicea), crown of oak, poppies, violets, hyacinths, myrtle

Animals: sow (especially the entrails); sheep; piglets

Note: avoid using iron or steel in rites to Ceres (however bronze is fine). Offerings may be optimised if premised with nine days of fasting and abstinence. It is advisable to dress in white. A sacred flame burnt in Ceres'/Demeter's shrine in Eleusius in celebration of her mysteries (see Seneca) so this could be an aspect of her worship
Diana
(Goddess of the moon, the hunt, wild animals, wild places such as forests, groves and mountains, virginity, easy childbirth – in contemporary times she has also become associated with witchcraft and feminism)

Celestial 

See the Germanic Skadi. See the Hellenic Artemis. 
Incense, pine tree, locks of hair, cakes/pastries of cheese, honey and/or parsley, cypress, pine nuts

Animals: deer, blood of wild boar, cattle, 
white she-goat

Note: it is advisable to be dressed in white when making one's offering
Dii familiares
(household deities; guardians of the home and family, including the Lares and the Penates)

Chthonic

See the Germanic Tomte / Nisse.
Food plates

Lares: food plates, honey, honeycomb, honey cakes/pastries, grapes, garlands, wreathes of wheat, crowns made of flowers, corn/grain (wheat, barley and/or millet), rosemary, myrtle, coins, precious personal items

Penates: incense, wine, barley bread, grain meal, salt, cakes/pastries, food, milk, violets

Animals:
 lamb (Lares & Penates), calves (Lares), pigs (Lares), cow (Penates), ewe (Penates)
Faunus
(horned God of flocks, woodland, fields, animals, sex and fertility)

Chthonic

See the Germanic Freyr. See the Hellenic Pan. 
Wine, sweet and fragrant herbs,incense, peony

Animals: goat, sheep,
Hercules
(God of strength and perseverance)

Celestial

See the Germanic Thor. See the Hellenic Herakles/Heracles. 
Incense, aconite, henbane, herb Robert. Opopanax, white poplar, water lilies

Animals: piglet
(God of beginnings, endings, transitions and doors)

Celestial

See (possibly) the Germanic Heimdall.
Incense, wine, cakes/pastries (strues)

Animals: ram, lamb


Note: t
he writings of Ovid and Cicero suggest that Vesta should be addressed first in Roman rituals, while Janus, because he is the gateway to the divine, receives the first offering and Vesta receives the last.
(Goddess of married women, pregnant women, women giving birth and motherhood)

Celestial

See the Germanic Frigg. See the Hellenic Hera. 
Incense, wine (esp, x 3),cakes/pastries (esp, x 3)silver gifts, blue flag iris, saffron, wine, silver, wild fig, cypress tree, orris root

Animals: cow (burnt whole), cattle (especially white), ram, sheep, suovetaurilia (ewe, sow, and heifer)
Jupiter (or Jove)
(God of the sky, storms, lightning and thunder)

Celestial

See the Germanic Thor. See the Hellenic Zeus. 
Incense, cinnamon, wine, cakes/pastries (fertum and far; esp. when made with wheat and salt),fruit, gold & silver (presumably for Jupiter's temple or shrine), golden thunderbolt, cassia, meat, beans and greens, cinnabar, fluorite, holm oak, beech tree, laurel, pine, white poplar, vervain, onions, leeks, hair, scaled fish

Animals: bull (burnt whole), gelded sheep, ox, white heifer, ewe-lamb,  suovetaurilia (castrated sheep, pig and ox)

Note: offerings of white bull and ox with gilded horns are especially appropriate
(kindly/protective spirits of the dead, esp ancestors - contrast to Lemures and Larvae)

Chthonic

See (possibly) the Germanic Elves.
Incense, wine, salted corn/wheat, bread/wheat soaked in wine and violets, fresh milk, roses, violets, black beans

Animals: 
ewe, pig, black bull-calves, black sheep, black puppies, blood of sacrificial animals

Note: as for Lemures (fearsome dead/hungry ghosts) - see Ovid's Fasti book V, 9 May
(God of war, military valour, warding off hostility)

Celestial and chthonic 

See the Germanic Tyr. See the Hellenic Ares. 
Spelt, bacon fat, meat, wine, cakes/pastries (strues and fertum), peony, iron items, armour taken in battle

Animals: suovetaurilia (sheep, pig and bull), bull, ram, boar



Note: 
it is preferable to include iron in rites to Mars; women were excluded from at least some ancient rites involving Mars (see Cato, On Agriculture)
Mercury (or Mercurius)
(God of financial gain, trade, travel, communication, eloquence, cunning, athletics, deliverer of spirits to the afterlife/psychopomp, deliverer of dreams)

Celestial and chthonic

See the Germanic OdinSee the Hellenic Hermes. 
Incense, milk, beans and greens, dill, marjoram, myrtle, cypress, crocus, helleborus niger, mercury (herb)

Animals: ox, horse and goat
(Goddess of intellect, wisdom, education, craftsmanship, artisans, war (strategy), medicine, doctors)

Celestial

See the Germanic OdinSee the Hellenic Athena. 
Silver giftsolives, olive oil, rosemary, yarrow

Animals: ox cow with gilt horns, cow, 
white cow, virgin female calf, lamb (preferably white), suovetaurilia (sow, ewe, cow)

Varro records that goats are not a suitable offering to Minerva
Neptune (or Neptunus)
(God of all forms of water, horses and horseracing)

Aquatic

See the Germanic Njord or Aegir. See the Hellenic Poseidon. 
White wine (poured into the sea), blood, silver, incense, beans and greens

Animals: bull (especially the entrails) and horse 


Note: offerings of white bull dressed in dark blue ribbons are especially appropriate
Pluto (or Dis Pater)
(“rich father”, also known as Orcus (punisher of broken oaths), God of the underworld, riches, fertile agricultural land and mineral wealth), and his consort Proserpina
(underworld Goddess; a life-death-rebirth deity)

Aquatic and chthonic

See the Germanic Hel. See the Hellenic Hades and Persephone. 
Wine with wormwood  (artemesia absinthe), masks of human faces, black poplar

Proserpina: pennyroyal, myrtle, black poplar


Animals (for both deities): black animals
(Goddess of the triple crossroads, the stygian night and magic)

Chthonic

See (possibly) the Germanic Freyja or Gullveig. See the Hellenic Hecate. 
Garlic, hemlock, mandrake, rue

Animals: dogs


Note: offerings to Trivia are best made during the deepest hours of night at three way crossroads; alternately, utter prayers over the offerings before throwing them into crossroads; 
uttering prayers three or nine times is recommended.
(Goddess of love, relationships, pleasure, beauty, charm and fertility)

Celestial and chthonic

See the Germanic FreyjaSee the Hellenic Aphrodite. 
Incense, wine, mint, myrtle, roses, garlands, glistening morsels of meat (ie, fatty morsels of meat?), pearl, sweet scented flowers, thyme, opium poppy, scandix pecten-veneris, gold necklace and jewellery  

Animals: doves, horned ram, bull. Note that a high altar of heaped up stones reddened with "fresh cattle-blood" is described as an offering pleasing to Freyja in the Elder Edda.

Note: it is advisable to be dressed in white when making one's offering
(Goddess of hearth fire and home, protector of the home and of the family that lives there)

Celestial and chthonic

See (possibly) the Germanic Thor. See the Hellenic Hestia. 
Food plates, incense, violet, laurel, juniper, wine, meat

Animals: ewe and wether 
(castrated goat or ram), sheep, ass

Note: Ovid says Tellus and Vesta are the same Goddess, thus offerings to Vesta may be the same as those to Tellus (eg, pregnant sow burnt whole). The writings of Ovid and Cicero suggest that Vesta should be addressed first in Roman rituals, while Janus, opener of the way, receives the first offering and Vesta receives the last.
Victoria
(Goddess of victory)

Celestial

See the Germanic OdinSee the Hellenic Nike. 
Incense, laurel wreaths

Animals: cow
Vulcan (or Volcanus)
(God of beneficial and hindering fire, smithery and volcanoes)

Celestial and chthonic

See (possibly) the Germanic ThorSee the Hellenic Hephaestus. 
Incense, boughs, offerings that are red in colour (eg, cinnamon, red clover, peony) and/or offerings (symbolic of life) thrown into a bonfire?

Animals: small fish thrown into fire, possibly also red animals?


Note: invoking his name three times and making offerings in threes is recommended


"The Wheel of Fortune" by

E Burne-Jones (1863)
Postscript (2012): additional notes on appropriate sacrifices to deities not mentioned above (the following offerings are all sourced from Ovid's Fasti):
  • Doves are a traditional offering to Adonis (God of beauty and desire).
  • When making an offering to Flora (fertility Goddess of flowers and spring, also associated with sexual licentiousness and prostitution) it is traditional to wear brightly coloured clothes.
  • Incense is a traditional offering to Fortuna (Goddess of fortune and luck).
  • Geese are a traditional offering to Isis (Egyptian Goddess worshipped throughout the Roman empire as an ideal mother and wife, as well as being a patroness of magic and the downtrodden).
  • Cocks are a traditional offering to Nox (Goddess of night).
  • Rosemary, pine, laurel, millet cake/bread and milk are traditional offerings to Pales (God of shepherds, flocks and livestock).
  • Incense is a traditional offering to Pax (Goddess of peace).
  • Donkeys are a traditional offering to Priapus (rustic fertility God of livestock, fruit plants and gardens).
  • Dogs, sheep, incense and wine are traditional offerings to Robigo (Goddess of wheat rust, a fungal disease affecting grain. Robigo can therefore protect crops from wheat rust).
  • Garlands, cakes, corn, honey combs, wine, lambs, sheep, suckling pigs are traditional offerings to Terminus (God of boundaries) (wear white when sacrificing).
Postscript (2014): the cow is recorded in several contemporary books on Roman polytheism as a traditional offering to Salus, Goddess of safety, health and well-being (see eg, Beard et al, Religions of Rome: Volume 2 at 73 & Rüpke, Religion of the Romans at 151).

*As for an actual animal sacrifice - this is outside my area of knowledge. However I can say that in ancient times it was often the case that animals, who came forward peacefully and without signs of distress (this implied acquiescence was considered crucial), would be sacrificed/slaughtered in honour of a particular God, the entrails would then be burnt as a specific offering and the flesh eaten by the party sacrificing - thus a meal was shared with the Gods. In an age where many people owned their own livestock, and slaughtered and butchered the animals themselves, blood sacrifices would have seemed a lot more natural than it does for contemporary city dwellers such as myself. The mass slaughter that occurs in industrialised abattoirs today simply did not exist in the ancient and medieval period, so the ethics of killing animals between then and now are distinctly different - what goes on in contemporary slaughterhouses is a world away from the much less frequent and highly ritualised animal sacrifices of pre-Christian Europe. Personally I do not feel right about animal sacrifice (just as I do not feel right about human sacrifice) but as a meat-eater I cannot bring myself to engage in the hypocrisy of condemning it. I tend to think that if someone is going to sacrifice an animal they had first better (a) know how to kill an animal compassionately and respectfully, (b) research ancient rituals surrounding animal sacrifice thoroughly, and (c) ensure they adhere to the laws of their nation when they carry out the sacrifice (I once read about a group of people who stole a goat and "sacrificed" it - they did not know what they were doing and the goat's death was prolonged, cruel and not in the spirit of ritual animal sacrifice as properly carried out in ancient times; they received criminal records for their efforts). 

**Initially the sources for this list came from assembling information gathered from other websites. Subsequently (in 2013) I removed that material and sourced mostly from my own reading of Ovid's Fasti, as well as other ancient sources such as Cato, Livy, Virgil, Petronius, Tibullus and Horace, as well as a fantastic list put together by M. Horatius Piscinus (available via the Cultus Deorum Facebook group); M Horatius Piscinus has his own wonderful blog at patheos.com. Note that offerings in the table in bold have been personally verified by my own research. 


Written by M. Sentia Figula. Find me at neo polytheistRoman Pagan and on Facebook

2 comments:

  1. Thank you so much! You are brilliant! I love you! Thank you so much!!!

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