To take in blessings.

It has been a fascinating week to be a reader of pagan and polytheist blogs, to say the very least. I’ve watched the little tornado of regrettable blog posts and cringe-worthy off-handed statements be made about offerings to the Powers and how people make them and what sacrifice looks like or what this person thinks it should look like and it’s been very, very enlightening.

I went digging through comments and blog posts until I found what appears to be the eye of the this tiny disaster—someone made a bit of an error. In one paragraph, they stated that, should you be called to/by an Egyptian Deity, you should look to the Egyptian religion in antiquity to see what the cultural context of that Power’s worship was like. I can get behind that, as that’s what I do with my Powers.

The error came in the next part, about making offerings. They detailed that, when you make offerings, you always, always leave them out for 24 hours and then pour them out on the earth. The error is in the dissonance between their statements—go seek out your Gods in their cultural context and do as that context dictates, but leave offerings in this manner because it is the only acceptable way to do it. If we go to the cultural context that many of our Powers come from, which means digging into historical records and lore, this is inaccurate at best and absolutely offensive at worst.

When this topic started getting some play in the blogosphere, I did a little digging out of curiosity, because my experience both in looking at primary sources and dealing with my Powers has been very different than ‘pour it out on the earth’. I cracked open Google Scholar and opened up the academic databases I have access to via my college and found numerous sources that detail the consumption of offerings to Deities and Divine figures in just about every pantheon I could think of. I wasn’t surprised at what I found, but I was surprised to see so many folks falling on the side of their own created practices as The Right Way when they often write quite extensively about how what essentially boils down to reconstructionism is the way that the Gods need and want to be honored.

Devo wrote an excellent overview of what food and drink offerings looked like antiquity in Egypt and the Grumpy Lokean Elder detailed what Northern-oriented lore has to say about folks eating the offerings made to their Gods, so I’m not going to dig in on that—they have provided a ton of really good resources and I’m not going to replay that.

What I will note, though, is that consuming the food offered to the Holy Ones is a practice held in modern religion, too. The most stunningly obvious example that I am surprised has gotten ignored so thoroughly in this larger discussion is the practice of prasad in Hinduism. Prasad involves the ritual offering and placement of consumables—food, drink, incense, etc—and sometimes other items like clothing or jewelry before a God, usually in front of Their icon or on Their altar. Once the God has had the opportunity to enjoy the offering as much as They would like, the consumables are distributed to be, well, consumed by those in attendance. Some families do this with every single meal.

The catch here is that it would be considered incredibly offensive and very inauspicious to turn around and pour those offerings out or otherwise dispose of them. Not consuming prasada is considered a slap in the face to the God you are honoring—you are essentially rejecting communion with Them and denying Them the opportunity to care for you as you care for Them. Prasada literally brings the blessings of the Divine into you. Pouring the prasada onto the ground or doing some other manner of ritual disposal is discarding those blessings.

There’s also the practices that happen in many African Diasporic Religions. At many fets, tambors, kanzos, and ocha celebrations, there is an immense amount of food cooked for the Lwa or the Orisha. If you’ve ever been to one of those occasions, or at least seen pictures, you know how heaped the altars [and the surrounding floor and chairs] end up. Every Lwa and Orisha have Their favorite foods, there are often foods that are prescribed for the specific celebration or service, and there is always other food and drink that is placed as a love offering.

It is pretty much a Thing that, after the Lwa or Orisha has had Their fill, which usually means at the end of the service or celebration, the attendees eat. After the Fet I went to in November, I got on the train with a big to-go container filled with goat and fruit and cake because it would be an affront to the Lwa NOT to feed the attendees the food They had been given.

There are many reasons for this, but a big one absolutely applies to the discussion at large. African Diasporic Religions are, unsurprisingly, filled with people of color. In the United States, it is a documented reality that people of color are often much less financially well off than their white counterparts. By distributing the food or the prasada—after all, many Hindus are Indian and India is a country with an incredible experience of poverty—the Powers, via the actions of the community, are ensuring that everyone has at least one meal that day, or that weekend, or that week.

The community, by consuming the offerings given to their Powers, is perpetuating the worship of their Powers as well. If a person who has to choose between spending twenty dollars on gas or a dollar fifty on bus fare that will bring them to the service and buying a meal that day knows that they will get fed by the community, they will go and their presence will bring even more blessings to the community. Needs get met all the way around—the Powers are fed by our presence and devotion and we are fed and sustained by the food They bless.

I have written before about how I usually consume food offerings made to my Powers. I can’t afford not to. When Sekhmet made known Her desire for a large feast for a celebration, She and I had to come to an agreement as what She wanted [and deserved] was more than what my grocery budget was for an entire pay period. I told Her that I was more than happy to squeeze my paycheck and make it bleed a little to get Her what She wanted, but I absolutely had to be able to consume it or I was not going to be able to eat for the next two weeks. She agreed quite readily and easily, as I was pretty certain She would—how She asks me to sacrifice has nothing to do with material things, as I don’t have a lot to offer in that department, and historically Her priests have consumed what was given to Her. I ended up buying everything that She asked for and ate kamut and cucumbers and fruit and bread and homemade cheese for the next two weeks. It was a period of incredible blessings for me—eating sacred food does something to you—and I am grateful that I was able to provide Her what She desired.

I have eaten meals for the Mister before as well, and that has other purposes than only consuming blessings. If I put food in my mouth that is dedicated to Him or I am eating at His behest, I fully believe that He can taste it through me. He has ownership and access to my head, so it’s not a trial for Him to slip in and use my taste buds. He also likes to watch me eat and he also likes me to take care of myself by making sure I eat enough which, at times, can be a really big challenge. While He appreciates the occasional meal laid on His altar and the pieces of chocolate and sweet things I give Him with His whiskey, they are only tangibles and, when I’ve had to throw up my hands and say ‘the best I can do is some prayers and a glass of water’, He has been happy with that because He knows my heart.

There are times that I don’t consume offerings, though. Notably, I don’t consume anything offered to the Dead. Papa Ghede’s rum is not drinkable by those of us that are still in our bodies and His food is decidedly His. He and I have an agreement that I will offer Him food when I can afford it, which is not very often. I don’t consume food given to my beloved Dead because They do things with it that leave it rather unpalatable, but I could get past that easily if it wasn’t for the fact that it is Dead food. In my practice as a living person, I do not take Death into my body in that way.

I can tell you all of this, but, as I write, the big glaring reality comes shining through: It doesn’t matter what my practice is, because it is MY practice. It has nothing to do with you in the least and it does not change, mold, or break your life at all. If I offer Sekhmet lobster and She decides that I am a useless shadow of a priest because I offered Her the ocean’s equivalent to a cockroach, that is between me and Her. It doesn’t affect you or change your practice or do anything for you except maybe make you wince in sympathy if I decide to write about how I gave Her an offering that made Her question why on earth She has invested Her time and energy into me and how I am now setting out to make reparations for my offense. My practice is me-centric and, if the Powers decide I am doing it wrong, They’re going to bring that to me in one way or another. It won’t be your problem, nor will you have to make extra offerings to make up for my misstep or do a damn thing besides maybe that wincing and, if you are feeling schadenfreude-y, maybe a giggle or two at my expense.

That’s where my confusion on this whole thing comes in—why does anyone care enough to spend time typing out missives about how doing things in any other way but <way> is wrong and offensive. So what if it is? It’s not going to rain down on your head unless perhaps you willfully sat me down and gave me inaccurate information while knowing better. I mean, who has time for all of this, honestly? My devotional practices are rather simple in comparison to some of what I’ve read of folks who identify as reconstructionists in this debate and I honestly wonder, if they are doing what they describe, how on earth they have time to get on the internets and tell folks who are poor that eating what has been blessed by the Gods is wrong. If I, a moderate spirit-worker and priest, cannot spare the time to pound out missives on everyone else’s pracices, how do they spare the minutes? I am not being snarky—I am generally curious.

In all, there is a three-part solution to this discussion that is pretty straightforward:

  • If you are a reconstructionist or are interested in religious practices of antiquity, do your research and do as directed.
  • Ask the Holy Ones how they would have you deal with Their offerings, if They want offerings from you at all.
  • As I tell my paycheck job clients in practically every other breath, focus on yourself. Your practice is yours and you have your reasons for doing things in whatever manner it is that you do them. If you’re getting caught up in what other people do, you’re probably missing something important.

In another post in the very near future, I’ll look at what I give as offerings as a poor polytheist and priest. Until then, may you be as filled with joy and blessings as the cup or glass that you may fill for your Powers is. So be it.

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~ by Alex on December 23, 2013.

10 Responses to “To take in blessings.”

  1. I enjoyed your post, I found it reassuring and concise in the midst of everything. I often find little extra of our food or drink to offer to the Gods, but when I can, I offer freely. Sometimes it is only some fresh water and a prayer, but like you said, They know our hearts.

    I look forward to seeing your upcoming posts about this topic 🙂

  2. Reblogged this on Wytch of the North and commented:
    A very sensible and thoughtful response to the food offerings controversy, providing links to text evidence for tradition-specific offerings (including the Northern tradition, courtesy of Grumpy Lokean Elder on Tumblr) as well as straightforward suggestions on how to assess your own situation if you’re still unsure. In my own case–if anyone’s interested–when we were at our very poorest back in Philadelphia I routinely gave half my evening meal to Odin for a long while until He made me stop. (His half was eventually left outside where the neighborhood cats would find it.) These days, He often gets a bit of whatever I am having, and always of whatever I am drinking, but if I purchase a drink offering or prepare a meal especially for Him, He usually insists I share it with Him. On the other hand, offerings I give to the Queens or to my other gods and spirits are generally for Them alone; when I prepare our feast for Queen Anne on Her day, she gets Her own special portion which is left out for Her and not shared by us (although we do partake of the rest of the feast, after She has been served). There are a thousand ways of offering to the gods and spirits, just as there are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground. Pick the one that works for you, your tradition, and your gods.

  3. This, this this right here. I normally don’t step into these kinds of issues, but when I saw the “inner city ghetto” comment, my eye started twitching. I certainly don’t get too thrilled when someone tries to tell me about my own culture. As you say, diaspora traditions have a certain way of doing things. Stupidly I stepped into the breech – not that anything I said would change anything, as people Must Be Right On the Internet, but because I couldn’t allow myself to allow such racist commentary to go unchallenged. It happens too often in the pagan community, and I couldn’t let it slide this time.

    But at the end of the day, the only requirements any of us have if we are those who propose to fall spiritual paths, is to follow ours and do our work. There’s a lot of “preaching” lately, from usual suspects, about what Should Be Done. But I rather like Beth’s comment above “There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” It’s a pretty sentiment, and worth reminding.

    Well written, well said.

  4. This entire thing started because Tess was answering a question. That is why these things are being discussed: there are not enough teachers, and a ton of people asking questions and looking for good information. What is missing from this post, and a lot that have comments on how Tess is wrong, completely miss what leads into where many think she is being discordant, mistepping, wrong, etc.

    “This is why context is so useful. If you can’t seem to find any context, if you can’t seem to find any help, if you can’t seem to find any way to address the deities who have called you, a)ask around even more—aloud, in public or private forums, to people, and b) you can try this:”

    Her entire point from here on in is that if you do not know the context this is what you can do. If you don’t know what the God or Goddess comes from the idea that you should not eat their offer as a matter of course seems like prudence to me. I would rather be told later “Hey, it is okay to eat my offerings.” rather than “Hey, why are you eating my offerings?”

    • Agreed. As I read the original post, Tess was advising people who are being “tapped” by an *unknown* deity. She believes that IF you do not know the accepted tradition (yet), the safe thing is to leave the offering and not consume it. When you have found out what the most acceptable procedure is for that particular Power, then, of course, you follow that. This might well involve eating all, part, or none of the offerings.

    • …then why was she answering a question that did have context? Her post was /in response/ to a question about Serapis. Many Kemetics have pointed this out as it happened on FB. Why didn’t she cut out that question entirely, when it wasn’t actually a vague one?

      • I can’t hope to speak on that for Ms. Dawson’s behalf, but as I see it, such as question is a teaching moment when expanded and made much more vague than the original pointed question was. The question show posted is a question I have gotten quite a number of times, especially from people who are not mystics, can’t hear the Gods clearly, and don’t usually get or have a lot of experience parsing omens.

        Rather than addressing just the question of Serapis, expanding the question to unknown Gods in general makes sense to me, especially since she prefaced it with understanding the Gods’ context if you can.

      • Sorry, but we’re just going to disagree. Be generalized or be specific – we’re seeing how her attempt to blend the two didn’t work. Clearly, by the hurts it’s caused, it didn’t work.

      • *shrugs* Okay, we’ll disagree here.

    • Context is great, but Ms. Dawson did not provide her answer in a context of what she was recommending as her own practice, or the practice of her reconstructionist practice–she provided it as The Thing To Do and spoke from a place of authority and continued to speak with that authority when challenged with viewpoints and historical record. She further went on to make some really poorly thought out off-the-cuff statements when she certainly could have said nothing or something more productive. Instead of providing direction based on opinion, she could have laid out a variety of practices, suggested the querent investigate what resonates or what they receive direction to do, and left it at that.

      Mistakes and misjudgements happen–I’m sure Ms. Dawson is as human as the rest of us–but the response to critique, no matter how it is delivered, failed miserably here.

      The issue isn’t that there are no teachers–there are plenty of teachers who have great CVs–but it is an issue of relation, how we speak, and what we are actually saying with our words. This isn’t a new issue, but this current dust-up is further illuminating those things that aren’t very pretty to look at.

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