In wandering around the Pagan blogosphere and speaking to the few “hard” polytheists I know, the gods of the ancient worlds sometimes ask for specific things. They ask for things of value to be sacrificed to them, they give quests and tasks to be done, they ask for altars and shrines, they demand, quite rightly, that promises made to them be fulfilled, and sometimes they may even require blood. There is grace and awesome power in this: the gods asking and the people giving.
My religious beliefs are slippery and squirming things. If I were to name my gods right now, I might name Mother Pacific, the ocean of my city, and Father Lions, the mountains that tower over us. Maybe I’d name the Winds too: North, the fresh air; East, the morning breezes; South, the rain bringer; and West, the ocean’s breath. I love the whole post Gods Like Mountains, Gods Like Mist, but especially this paragraph:
My gods are not always like human beings. Sometimes my gods are like mountains, sometimes they are like mist. Sometimes I seek my gods in the forests, sometimes in ritual space or the beat of the drum. Sometimes my gods are inscrutable or apophatic, and my relationship with them is one of longing and seeking rather than invocation and offering. And sometimes it is the mountains themselves who are gods, and the rivers and trees who speak.
My gods do not speak, at least not in the way that Morrigan, Sekhmet, and Freyja do in the links above. My gods are both more and less literal, both more and less physical, but are definitely not asking things of me. What offerings I make and sacrifices I enact will be my own creations and by my own will alone.
If my gods were to speak and if my gods were to ask for something, they wouldn’t ask me to sacrifice a tool or an item of sentimental value, they would not ask for statues and gems, and they certainly wouldn’t want them broken or thrown in the ocean in their honour. My gods would not want altars or shrines covered in petrochemical-based decorations and tools made of metal pulled from the earth. To honour them with such would be as if I were to cut off my left pinky finger to offer it to my right hand.
If they are not asking, why am I concerned with offering? I don’t think of these gods in very human ways, but I am still in this human body and this time and place, and offering gifts and sharing food and drink are ways that people here and now create relationships. I want to know these gods in what ways I can, and I want to show respect and gratitude to the powers that shape my life and world, even if the gestures are inadequate to their beings. My cat shows us his love and respect by bringing us dead birds…
I have been meditating on suitable offerings for about a week, gazing periodically on the empty bowl that is the centre piece of my altar right now. I think a libation they’d appreciate would be rain water. I will collect it in a special container placed in the middle of my deck, where falling rain puddles and does not run down into the soil, and ultimately I would pour it on a plant blessed and consecrated to receive it.
If they were to speak, I think my gods would demand a different sacrifice than the giving of wine, blood, or jewelry: a sacrifice of consumption. I think they would have me not upgrade my phone, not purchase the random do-dad I have my eye on, and not buy the non-organic, non-fair trade chocolate bar I’m craving. They would want me to turn off the TV and turn down the heat. They’d only want candles burned in their honour if they were soy or beeswax and were being used instead of electric lights.
Some practice is definitely necessary, then perhaps some more thinking and some revising. What would your gods have of you?