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Posts Tagged ‘offerings’

Yesterday I decided to do some decent cooking for the first time in a couple of weeks. I had everything I needed to make a quick ‘n’ dirty version of seafood au gratin with that frozen imitation crab stuff and a proper beef stew.

Putting the faux crab au gratin in the slow cooker was easy, but when I got into the beef stew, everything started to go wrong. One of the two packages of beef I bought had gone bad. I knocked over the bottle of wine–thank goodness, it was well corked. I cut up some red potatoes and raw carrots, once the beef and mushrooms were going strong, and pieces of vegetable were flying off the cutting board. Now, I am the farthest thing from Julia Child with a knife in my hand, but this was ridiculous. Things weren’t just popping off the cutting board onto the table, they were diving for the floor.

As I was bending over to pick up yet another wayward chunk of carrot, I suddenly said aloud, “The gods are hungry. You haven’t fed them in a while.” And it was true. If I cook something that takes a bit more effort than just opening a jar or a can and heating stuff up, I usually offer a portion the first time I eat it. I hadn’t done that for a while. I promised aloud that I would give them some of this stew, but I still had a few more mishaps to get through before my food prep was done.

When I was ready to eat the beef stew last night, I poured wine for the Powers and for myself. I lit candles and incense. I served Them a bowl of stew, then myself. The stew was delicious, one of my best efforts, and I felt a sense of appreciation and blessing flowing from the Powers.

This is how I understand sacrifice. It is not giving something up, or giving it away. As environmentalists say about trash and recycling, there is no “away”. An offering or a sacrifice is given to the gods, and/or ancestors or spirits, who are here in the world with us. But what we offer is made out of things that the gods have given us already, before we asked. The Romans said, “Do ut des,” I give that You may give, but they might also have said, “I give because You have given”.

The Christian theology of the Eucharist actually helps me out here. God gives wheat and grapes. Humans make bread and wine, which is then offered to God. Bread and wine becomes God’s flesh and blood. What gods and mortals give one another is always given back. It’s an exchange, a cycle. It’s animals breathing out carbon dioxide for the plants who breathe out oxygen for animals. It’s flowing water that doesn’t stagnate because there’s always fresh water coming in while old water is going out.

However you may feel about controversial topics like animal sacrifice, the exchange of gifts between gods and mortals, the seen and the unseen, is not optional. It’s just the way things work. Not to make offerings is like taking a deep breath and holding it, and thinking you’ll be okay like that.

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When the music starts playing, the dancers wait to feel the beat. They find the rhythm and then move into it. As the dance progresses, the rhythm moves into the dancers; it inhabits them and they inhabit it. At first you may have to think about what to do with your arms and legs, your head and feet, but the goal, the joy of the dance is to move beyond that self-consciousness and be the dance.

I’m starting to get a taste of that in my devotions: I think I’m in the beginning stages of grooving on the rhythm. Things have slowly crystallized into a daily practice and some customs for festivals.

The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is greet my cockatiel, Rembrandt, and uncover his cage. I then proceed to make a pot of tea, sometimes with my bird’s “help”, sometimes not. I start my breakfast with a bowl of cold cereal and milk. Before I sit down to eat, I pour a small bowl of milk and put it near my potted plants, saying, “Good morning, house spirits. Here is your milk.”

By the time I have finished my cereal and am thinking about some protein, my tea is ready. Before I I drink my own and have something with eggs or yogurt, I pour a small cup, fix it with milk and sweetener, and offer it to the ancestors. My most important ancestor is Mom, my maternal grandmother, who drank tea and passed her preference on to me. I have pictures of her, my grandfather, my dad, and some other folks on my desk now as an ancestor shrine. I say good morning and ask them to be with me through the day.

When breakfast is done, it’s time for my morning writing. About twenty years ago, I started doing Morning Pages as recommended by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way. I have done them on and off ever since, but in the past year I shifted from longhand writing to using 750words.com. (I got tired of using up notebooks only to store them and eventually throw them out or recycle them.) Before I start writing, I light a candle from my stove with a prayer to Vesta, and light incense as an offering to the gods. I make a brief request for blessing with my offering.

Because I am weird, and because I lived for a long time with a spouse who always had to leave for work before I did, showering and dressing are the last item in my morning routine. After I am dressed for the day, I pick up a small piece of amethyst and say a short prayer to Antinous composed by PSVL. The amethyst goes into my pocket as a reminder; I also sometimes carry prayer beads or a scarab bead I bought at a museum store. Then I put out the candle and start putting together my lunch.

On a normal day, that’s pretty much it. I sometimes make another incense offering in the evening. If I actually cook something for dinner, in a way that goes beyond just heating up food, or I order something delivered, I put a small portion on a plate and offer that to all the powers. If I indulge in ice cream, which I do more often than is good for me, I usually offer some of that, too.

If there’s a festival, I try to do more. I’m following the calendar of the Ekklesia Antinoou,which includes Greek, Roman, and Egyptian deities as well as dates specific to the lives of Hadrian and Antinous. This gives me something to work with, as Lupus often posts poetry for the festival and commentary upon it. I offer food, tea lights, incense, wine, and poetry, sometimes music. I decided a while ago that rather than trying to make friends with all the gods, all at once, I would use the festivals as a way of getting to know the deities and initiating a relationship. This has so far worked very well; I feel I made a strong connection with Flora and then Vesta during the Floralia and Vestalia. I’m particularly interested in the Roman deities and their festivals.

In addition to the daily and festival stuff, I read polytheistic and other blogs, translations of things like the Homeric Hymns and the Orphic Hymns, books on Buddhism. Some kind of study is always part of religious practice for me. I’m also trying to establish a sitting meditation practice (something which which I’ve never had much success).

The most interesting thing, for me, the best thing, is that my practice is passing my personal tests for determining whether a spiritual practice is working for me. Am I writing? Yes, quite a lot–fanfic, poetry, this blog, my Tumblr. Am I handling everyday stresses well? Yes, I am. Is my default position kindness to myself and other people rather than anger, irritation, impatience, self-criticism? Pretty much, yes. No fits of anger over tiny issues or panic attacks at every bump in the road.

The dance may get more complicated, more demanding as it goes on, but right now, I’m really enjoying just grooving to the beat.

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Antinous the Lover

 

You do not have to wait to be chosen.

It is not necessary to be chosen by a god to worship a god. It is not necessary to be a priest, witch, druid, clergy, oracle, diviner, or any kind of specialist in order to worship a god.

Paying cultus to gods, spirits, and ancestors is normal. It may have been forbidden fifteen hundred years ago, it may be unfashionable and strange, but really, like walking and running, it is quite natural. Like breathing, it works if you do it.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you,” says Jesus in the gospels. He is speaking to his disciples, his special students. Put that out of your mind. It doesn’t apply here.

Antinous is my god and my gateway to acquaintance with other gods, spirits, and ancestors. He did not choose me; I chose him. But what is important is that Antinous welcomed me.

I am welcome in his presence, among his worshippers. I am welcome to his help and blessings. I feel at home with him. It seems kind of odd at times to be an ostensibly heterosexual middle-aged woman devoted to Antinous, yet I do feel I fit in.

There have been so many times and places in my life when I did not fit in, when I did not feel welcome, when I tried to cultivate someone’s friendship and good will and was ultimately rejected. To feel welcome with Antinous touches me deeply; it is a source of comfort, strength, joy.

If you are attracted to a god, a pantheon, don’t wait to be chosen. Do some research and find or compose some respectful prayers. Bring food, water or wine, pleasant incense and candles to burn out before an image. Pray and present offerings. Be consistent, be patient. You may well find that the door is opened for you and the gods welcome you in. And that can feel very good.

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Has anyone else had this experience: Become involved in devotional polytheism, start cooking and cleaning more regularly?

I have an ambivalent relationship with housekeeping, though probably no more so than most women of my generation. My grandmother, born in 1899, held a factory job for over forty years, keeping it through the Depression while my grandfather took whatever short-term jobs he could get. My mother made a conscious (and resentful) decision to be a stay-at-home mom, but most of the actual mothering I got came from my grandmother, who retired when I was about four years old. I used to wish my mother would get a job and go out and do the things she loved; even in retirement, my grandmother remained active. (Yes, I have ancestor work to do.)

So I’m an indifferent housekeeper and a lazy cook. But I feel lately this constant nudging–I think of it as nudging, a tactile experience–to cook better meals and to clean up the apartment. To do the dishes and wash my hands before I make offerings for the evening. To cook something so that I can share a small portion of it with the numinous ones. Part of it is an expectation that if I’m going to invite the gods to visit me, by prayer and offering, then I ought to provide a pleasant place for them to visit, as I would for any guest. And part of it, which seems to be coming from the goddess Vesta, is a sense that “I’m worth it”; I deserve a clean, pleasant environment for my own enjoyment, and my home deserves my attention. There is not some higher value for which I can rightfully ignore dirty dishes or a backed-up toilet. No one else is going to do it for me.

And now that my backed-up toilet is fixed and my bathroom is finally clean, I am going to take a thorough shower and then make some offerings. Ave Vesta!

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I’ve quoted this poem many times on this blog. I think I am finally beginning to understand what it means.

You do not have to be good. You do not have to be special. You do not have to have a god-phone, or a shamanic crisis, or a great epiphany.

You do not have to be a witch, a psychic, a sorcerer, a mystic, a shaman, a spirit-worker, or anything in particular, to approach the gods. You only have to be human, and willing, and courteous.

Bring an offering. It can be a cup of pure water, a tea light, a stick of incense, a portion of your meal. Pray aloud, using respectful words.

“Do ut des,” the Romans famously said: I give so that you may give. It might also be said: “I give because you have given.” The powers give blessings. Humans give offerings. It’s an exchange, a cycle, like the water cycle, or the conservation of energy and matter.

While I was writing this post, my pet cockatiel came to sit on my shoulder. He gave me a long serenade of clucking and whistling, pressing his face to mine and lifting his wings in a heart shape. This was nothing but a demonstration of his affection for me. We have been flockmates for fourteen years. I hope it does not seem blasphemous to say that if we can bond with animals through giving them food and drink, satisfying their needs for touch and companionship, and appreciating the ways they show us affection, we can bond with the gods in much the same way, sharing our food and drink with them, showing our reverence and devotion as best we can, learning from one another.

I don’t see visions of the gods. I don’t have voices talking in my head. I do feel things. Very subtly. A feeling of presence and of approval. A feeling like being nudged, or steered, or perhaps led in a dance. I never learned to follow as a dancer, but I think I am learning to be led in the dance by the gods. I am learning to let the soft animal of my body love what it loves.

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Terra cotta plaque depicting the Penates.I was making the offerings one day this week when it hit me: Yes, I *am* a priestess.

“Priestess” is a title I have shied away from in my paganism. It was too intuitive, too psychic, too witchy, perhaps too femme. I’ve often joked that if my husband and I were Wiccan, *he* would have to be the High Priestess because he’s the sensitive, intuitive one, the one who sees past the Veil. In some approaches to Tarot, his name equates numerologically to the Judgment and High Priestess Trumps, but mine to the Moon and the Hermit. He is the psychic, the visionary, the mediator; I am the solitary, the wanderer, the way-shower.

But as I lit the candles, poured out water, and lighted a stick of incense, as I do everyday at the hearth (the fireplace is gas, but the mantel is original to the building), I realized yes, I am a priestess. Not as a servant or mediator of a particular deity, not as a minister to a community, but simply as The Woman of the House, the senior adult female (albeit the *only* adult female), and the person in the household who does these daily rites. I represent my household and my neighborhood, where I work as well as live, where I eat and shop and sleep.

For me “druid” is the name of my path and practice, not a role I undertake for others. I don’t lead group ritual, divine for clients, or teach classes on druidry. I don’t belong to any order or organization. For a long time I have seen my writing, as a blogger and as a writer of fiction, my singing, when I was doing it liturgically, and my day job, too, as my druid work: Providing the community with knowledge, inspiration, stories, ideas, and beauty through speech and song. But I am at last starting to see those daily offerings as more than my personal devotion, but as something I do for others, and from my hearth, my household, who knows where that work will spread out?

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If you’re a science fiction fan, you may remember a show from the 1990s called Babylon 5. B5 was a bit like The Lord of the Rings in Space: A five-season show with a narrative arc that ran through the entire series, with a strong thematic interest in religion, politics, and the intersection of the two. One of the recurring motifs was that the main characters would, at key points, be asked certain questions by the powers behind the scenes: Who are you? What do you want? Where are you going? In the short-lived but intriguing sequel, Crusade, two other questions were introduced: Whom do you serve, and whom do you trust?

Recently some things have happened that have posed a new question for me, one that might be as important for me as those questions in the Babylon 5 universe. A dear friend of mine was being threatened by her estranged spouse, and my husband and I felt threatened by him as well because we were helping her. She had done all the right mundane things to take action against him, but it wasn’t stopping him from invading her privacy and damaging her property. Finally I had enough of this bullshit, and I did something I have never done before: I called on a deity for help, to protect our friend and us and restrain the malicious ex-spouse. As part of my request, I made an offering that required some time, money, and effort to assemble and present, well beyond the usual candles, incense, and water I offer to the spirits.

As we waited to hear whether the warrant for crazy spouse’s arrest had been executed, I kept asking myself, What will I stand up for? What motivated me to do magic now, when there have been so many situations when I haven’t?

When I was studying the New Hermetics, I successfully did workings to resolve financial difficulties, find a new job, and move house. At the same time, while I set goals to “lose weight” and “write more”, those goals never turned into specific workings with measurable results. I did many other less goal-oriented practices that resulted in greater self-knowledge and self-understanding, and overall, training in Hermetic magic convinced me that my mind could be controlled and directed to self-benefit rather than self-sabotage.

I’ve only just started to rebuild my often difficult relationship with my deities. I have said little about them here–probably that old-time Anglican reticence operating–but that is going to change. As of this afternoon, crazy harassing estranged spouse is in jail and has been since Friday night, when the warrant was issued and my initial request went out to the otherworld; he’s been denied bail, and he’ll probably be in jail for about a month, as a court date won’t even be set for two or three weeks. It’s no wonder that when I fired up a coal, burnt some incense, and prayed again this morning, I got a distinct response of, “Just shut up, it’s okay.” And it was.

Hail Catubodva, battle raven, crow goddess, who accepted my offering and intervened when I called on her. I, Mam Adar, thank you in the presence of my readers.

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