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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Offerings and sacrifice

   One of the key aspects of practice as a recon is the idea of offerings and sacrifice. It comes up in discussion on groups all the time, both people discussing what the ideas mean to them and also talking about what constitutes an acceptable offering or sacrifice.
     For myself I define a sacrifice as the giving to a Power something precious and valuable – often irreplaceable -  and I see an offering as the giving of something special but not unique. Put another way I see a sacrifice as a gift while an offering is more of a sharing. These are purely my own definitions of course; if you look both words up in the dictionary you’ll see the meanings are essentially identical. When the subject of sacrifices comes up people usually think of animals, but other things like jewelry, silver, and weaponry can also be sacrificed. Offerings might include incense, flowers, food, candles, drink, a gift of skill like a poem or anything along those lines. I make offerings very regularly but I have only once made a sacrifice; I sacrificed a sword to the waters for the Morríghan. Sacrifices, to me, are a pretty big deal which is why I’ve only ever made the one. Offerings can be intense and important as well, so I always trust my intuition to help me decide what to give.
     Everyone has their own opinions on when and why to make offerings, and make no mistake some people take it very, very seriously. Everyone, even if they follow a similar path, can have different views and expectations on this subject, but I think it’s always important to trust your own gut. Let your own connection to deity – or whoever you are offering to – guide you. Whatever path you follow you’ll get a feel for what offerings are considered usual to give in different situations and it’s always good to ask around if you aren’t sure, but in the end you’re the one offering it so it’s your decision. Sometimes you may feel that you shouldn’t give an offering – the Havamal says “Better no prayer than too big an offering” (verse 146, Bellows trans.) – and that’s alright too.
     I think that an offering should come from a genuine place; it shouldn’t be a bribe or an attempt to buy an outcome from the gods, at least not in my view.  There is certainly the aspect to offerings where they were seen as something to be given when asking for something, but still, I see this less as a “payment” if you will and more as an exchange of energy, “a gift for a gift” (Havamal 146, Bellows). After all when you pay for something you expect a specific result and making an offering, or sacrifice, doesn’t guarantee anything, but on the same hand it’s generally considered polite to offer something when asking a Power for anything. When I make offerings at seasonal rites they are not given to ensure something so much as to give thanks for what I already have been given and to honor the Powers. It is said that the ancient Druids believed that their ceremonies contributed to the perpetual act of creation that kept the universe going and I can see that as well, how offerings keep reinforcing the bonds that hold everything together.

    Basically, much like prayer, I make offerings because I want to not because I feel like I have to; they come from a place of connection and caring not obligation.
    This is all just my thoughts on what sacrifices and offerings are, I’m sure most people will have their own opinions on the subject…

1 comment:

  1. An interesting perspective.

    I tend to understand the difference between the two in terms of function, more than anything else. An offering, as you say, is very much like a gift, and fosters a reciprocal relationship between us and the gods, ancestors and spirits of place. Gifts, of course, can differ in value and so the offering of a sword would be significantly worth more, than say an offering of foodstuffs.

    A sacrifice, on the other hand, is a microcosmic act of renewal, mimicking the primordial sacrifice which resulted in the origin of the cosmos. Of course, this is all rather hypothetical and considerably reconstructed through a number of threads in any number of disparate medieval texts coupled with broader IE motifs, one of which you touch on near the end of your post; that being the natural state of the cosmos as being in entropy, and in need of renewal.

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