I wrote this at the request of Michael Dangler, who heard me speak on the subject and who thought it would make a good article for Oak Leaves.
MAKE OFFERINGS, DAMNIT!
--- by Rev. Kirk Thomas
Back in the bad old days, before the ADF Dedicant Program was re-written, there used to be a section where Dedicants had to find their Patrons and perform a rite where They would be installed in their spiritual lives. This requirement caused all sorts of problems, with some folks struggling mightily and others totally unable to find Anyone to be a Patron. In any case, it seemed unreasonable to require people to come up with a Patron on demand! After a few years of clamor, the Mother Grove finally dropped the requirement.
However, even with it gone, many people still feel the need to connect with a specific God or Goddess, Ancestor or Nature Spirit. Sometimes they will feel drawn to a specific Deity or pantheon. Other times they might simply have a feeling or a dream letting them know that Someone is out there, but have no idea Who It might be. And occasionally people don't have any of the above but would like to start a process of exploration. So the question often is, “How do I find a Patron?” or “How can I find out who that God or Goddess is that I keep dreaming about?” or even, “How can I get started?”
As a Dedicant Priest in our Grove, I hear questions like this all the time. And I usually give the same answer: “Make offerings, damnit!”
ADF Paganism is a sacrificial religion. By this I mean that we follow in the footsteps of our ancestors by doing as they did, by creating reciprocal relationships with our Kindreds. We give to Them in order that They might give to us in return. This reciprocal relationship is summed up in the Proto-Indo-European word, *ghos-ti , which means, “someone with whom one has reciprocal duties of hospitality.” The English words ‘host' and ‘guest' both come from this root. The word ‘sacrifice' actually comes from the Latin and means, ‘to make sacred.' And ‘sacred' means ‘to set apart.' So when we make an offering, or sacrifice, we are taking something and setting it apart from the profane world, so that it can exist in the Otherworlds. When we offer to a Deity by pouring whiskey on the Fire, say, we are transforming it into something the Gods can drink.
Imagine your relationships with your friends for a moment. What do you give to them? Perhaps you give emotional support, or love, or even just good times. Perhaps you give small gifts to your friends or treat them to a meal. And what do you get in return? In a reciprocal relationship you should be getting what you need – love, emotional support and even gifts. And in a fair relationship, the more often you give, the more often you will receive. While life doesn't always work this way (none of us are perfect), I have faith in this universal truth. And over time, these relationships can only get stronger and stronger.
The same is true of our relationships with the Kindreds. The more we offer to Them, the more we place Them squarely in our hearts, the more They can hear us and care about us. And how can we know that They hear us? Stilling the mind with regular meditation can allow us to hear through the din our egos make. Dreams will come. Perhaps a simple ‘knowing' will occur.
Sometimes, we may want to make offerings, but may not know which God or Goddess to approach. Perhaps we don't know any Spirits yet, or at least can't identify the one we see in dreams or trances. In this case, where focus on a specific Deity is difficult, you could still make lots of offerings. But as you make them in your devotionals, you might say something like, “I give to One I do not know. Hear me, O Gods! I give that I may grow to know You!” or perhaps, “I give that I might know the One that receives my gift!” In ADF we also have the Kindred Offerings section of our rite, where we offer to an entire class of Spirits, such as the Deities, Nature Spirits or Ancestors. Here, you could make offerings to an entire class. Even if you aren't yet ready to find a Patron, you can still offer to the Spirits as a group. This will demonstrate your willingness and intention of entering into a *ghos-ti relationship with a God or other Spirit, should They make Themselves known to you.
The next questions I am asked are what offerings would be best to give, and how much is enough? Offerings could be food and drink (the Deities and Ancestors are fond of both, it seems), or perhaps a bit of silver to the Well. Incense is a popular offering. Art, song, and dance are also traditional. Use whatever feels best to you. And sacrifice is not about giving until it hurts – it's not about quantity. Of course, being stingy instead of open-handed won't create strong relationships. And giving more than you reasonably can is not necessary. Rather, your sacrificial offerings should come with love, or at least, respect in your heart, with good and strong intent, and in reasonable quantity. Make them regular and often – you'll see what happens!
I like to compare my relationships with the Kindreds to the process of breathing. As I breathe in, the Gods breathe out. As I breathe out, the Gods breathe in. We are all part of the same process, all part of the same dance, all part of the same life. When I give, They take. When They give, I take. In… Out… In… Out… The dance goes on.