Recently many of my spiritual Sisters and I have been discussing the nature of the Gods and the relationship we humans have with them. Many people in the Pagan and Polytheist communities feel that offerings and sacrifices must take place in order for the Gods to love us or that we must give them something in order for them to love us.
I was involved with a discussion where someone well known in a certain Recon circle replied with ROFL to a fellow Polytheist who considers herself Hellenic and Roman saying that her gods love her no matter what and despite not giving offerings.
Beyond the place that leaves me feeling that the Roman Virtues were far from upheld in that moment with those four capitalized letters, it got me thinking on my own personal home practice. While I could light incense, fires, and give offerings upon rising and laying down at night, it doesn’t happen and likely won’t. I’m a mother of a toddler. In my small home, I have little room to build multiple shrines. My lararium is downstairs; our only bathroom is upstairs. Typically by the time I go to the bathroom in the morning, my daughter is up and moving. Morning prayers rarely get said.
Do my household gods, dii Penates and Lares, love me any less for this fact? Would they love me more if I were to give myself a bladder infection and ignore my duties as a mother for them? They would not.
Saying otherwise would be, in my opinion, teetering dangerously close to superstition – That we must appease our gods through grand gestures and offerings. Was it not Varro who said The Gods do not want sacrifice, their statues even less?
Did he not also say The religious man reveres the Gods as he would his parents, for they are good, more apt to spare than to punish?
If, then, the Gods are like parents, then they are capable of unconditional love – For that is the true nature of being a parent. And while I understand all too well that our mortal parents may not have been there for us due to abuse, death, illness, or any number of unfortunate situations, I do not believe the Gods fall to such human conditions.
I believe the Gods love us unconditionally. Perhaps sometimes they dislike a person for their own reasons, but I believe there is still an underlying love there to be held if the person is still out walking around in the world.
My mortal parents love me no matter what I’ve done or do. I do not feed them. I do not make offerings to them that are beyond my means. A few times a year I give gifts, though typically I get a very sincere “You didn’t have to do that” response when I do. They understand that financially I’m unable to do these things quite often. This, too, is my relationship with the Gods. Even being on a devotional path with Apollon, he prefers other forms of offerings than food and libations; he prefers I don’t make a ritual out of my honoring him.
I feel that the greatest offering we can give the Gods is attempting to consciously model the virtues and ethics of our religions. As a person who practices mainly as a Roman polytheist these days, the Roman Virtues have been a framework with which to conduct my character for years. As an Apollonian, I attempt to live by the Delphic Maxims. I am by no means perfect, but when the time comes to reign myself in for whatever reason to align with these guidelines I remind myself that I am doing this to bring honor to my Gods…
Because I feel that honoring the Gods, and not simply worshiping them, is not so simple as burning incense or offering prayers praising and asking for something in return. While the Roman framework of ritual will help a person come into contact with the Gods more quickly, I find that my life is directly touched by the Gods with or without formalized offerings.
Instead my offerings come in the form of my daily life. I have been urging others to live a fully dedicated religious daily life for years now, and I will continue to do so. While I garden, I talk to the spirits and gods of the plants, the soil, the land around me. I offer a few strands of hair if feeling very moved to; otherwise I make watering the plants and composting into the soil and offering. While I clean, I bring myself into a mindful state and talk with the household gods; I offer them my time and the essential oils I use in my homemade cleaning supplies. While I cook, Vesta and I speak freely, and I find that she is quite pleased with the tiny space I’ve carved for her on the back of my oven where I spontaneously give her tiny pinches of herbs and sea salt as the mood hits me.
I feed the birds. I compost for Silvanus, who requested this of me recently. I dedicate my creative endeavors and running to Apollon, who in my own life is much more interested in creation and striving towards excellence than rituals of habit.
When you are truly involved with your religion and your Gods, when you allow yourself to push beyond the boundary of the boss/employee relationship so many of us cling to, you may find that you enjoy a much fuller relationship. For the Gods take on many roles in our lives. For they love us and, for the most part, wish to see us at our best. The Gods willingness to be our parents and help us grow as humans is one of the great offerings the Gods give us. Healing our own human understanding of what a parent should be like and the wounds that have been left by human parents’ shortcomings is liberating.
And this is not to say that my way is the only way. I am sure there are plenty of reasons why a person may chose to honor their Gods in a boss/employee relationship, including but no limited to the God in question wishing it to be this way. It’s simply that I see a trend of many Polytheists feeling that their way of practicing is the only way of doing things, and they treat those of us wishing to take a more personal approach to our faiths as “not doing it right.” Or worse we are delusional or “as bad as monotheists.”
To that I say that the Gods love us with or without food offerings and libations. In fact, the Gods love us without offerings at all. I encourage everyone to actually have a conversation with those they honor and see what they answer you; perhaps they will ask you to keep on the way you are. Perhaps they will tell you the same thing I am. But I feel it’s important for everyone to understand that they way you practice your religion is not the end-all-be-all of your religion as a whole. Most importantly, I feel it is our responsibility to our fellow community members to treat each and every person with respect and a valid voice in the tapestry of Polytheism and Paganism, to keep an open heart and mind in the event that our Gods are truly sending us a message that speaks to us down to the very core of our being – For that, I believe, is one of the greatest offerings we can give in honor of our Gods… That of compassion to all of those who love our Gods.