(I feel like I should probably label ALL such posts this way, just so it’s crystal clear that I’m directing my comments at fellow polytheists and not at the general pagan crowd. I’m not interested in arguing IF the gods are real, I am interested in delving into more detailed discussion requiring the understanding first that the gods ARE real. If you don’t feel that way, nothing in this necessarily applies to you.)
That all being said, just wanted to direct your attention to two recent blog posts. The first is Gods with Agency: Ritual theory for polytheists by Morpheus Ravenna. She thoughtfully explores how an underlying assumption that the gods are real, individual beings with their own agency will affect how one performs ritual. I think even hard polytheists sometimes err a little in the focus of our rituals, so this is a good check for everyone to do. For instance:
“What would we do in our invocations if the Gods were real to us? We wouldn’t just be performing the invocation, we would be at the same time actively feeling, sensing, and listening for the Gods to arrive. We would keep singing, keep speaking, keep calling to Them for as long as it took to bring Them in. We would build our ritual skills toward facilitating passion in participants for this kind of calling, rather than letting the energy die down after one peak when it naturally wants to, and letting that be our cue to end the invocation. We would train our senses to be able to recognize when They have in fact arrived, and that would be our cue to move to the next stage of the rite, inviting Them along with us. We would be orienting our action in ritual at least as much toward communication with the Presences we’re trying to conjure and work with, as toward the human participants.”
There’s a lot of other good points in here that serve as reminders not to treat the gods as our servants but as honored guests at our rituals. And to make a space in which They can be present. The comments to this post are also refreshingly thoughtful and polite (even when disagreeing) and worth a read.
The second is Tess Dawson’s reply to some negative feedback she received on a recent post about how to approach a deity you know little about. She had made some very practical suggestions that all erred on the side of caution, the usual devotional stuff, and yet apparently received a lot of resistance especially to the idea of making offerings that are not shared.
“If a person living in an inner-city ghetto in a gang war zone can manage on occasion to pour out a 40 to his homies, chances are high that you can afford to crack open a juice box of 100% pure fruit juice and pour it in honor of the gods. Sweet Ancestors, people, it’s not the blood of your firstborn child. It’s juice. Pour it. Into the ground. Seriously. The grape juice police will not accost you. I promise.
It’s a sacrifice. That’s what sacrifice means. It means that you are letting go of something in order to give it to another–and in this case, that “other” is a deity. I like how a friend put it–you can share a meal with the deities, but you don’t eat off their plate, just as you wouldn’t eat off of a friend’s plate, because it’s rude.I would go further and say that it is like eating from the plate of royalty. You’d be kicked out of Buckingham Palace for trying that at the Queen’s dinner–“Hey, Liz, you gonna eat that?””
It is depressing to me that people are still arguing against making tangible offerings to the gods. As someone said in an internet forum many, many years ago (and I think I put this into my book Kharis): the gods’ gifts to us are tangible, why shouldn’t our gifts to Them be so as well? And if what you’re supposedly doing for the gods is absolutely no different than what you’d be doing if you were alone, how is it worship? If you can’t spare even a small portion of your food or drink and give it over *entirely* to the gods, why bother with gods at all? And certainly you can’t have the audacity to then ask Them for anything. (And as Tess points out, financial concerns are really not an excuse unless you truly don’t even have the most basic human needs covered…. if you are reading this on your own computer or phone or whatever, you have the means to make at least a small sacrifice.)
But beyond all of those concerns, there is the more esoteric side of the act: fully devoting a tangible offering to the divine realm bridges the worlds. It opens the way for further communication on both sides. It is a magical act that can be the catalyst for real divine presence in one’s life. And it just cannot be substituted with “happy thoughts” or “good intentions”.
Anyway, good food for thought in both cases – even if you fully agree with the basic points being made, it’s never a bad idea to check in on your devotional approach. It can be hard to maintain the proper mindset sometimes especially when surrounded by a culture which encourages thoughtlessness and self-centeredness.