Offerings are kind of a big thing in the pagan world. You might make an offering or a sacrifice for your deity on some regular basis. Or you might offer something to local spirits by way of thanks. Whatever your reasoning and purpose, practicality has to be tackled alongside the spiritual considerations when handling offerings.
Here’s a few simple tricks, tips, and rules in order make sure both you and the offering recipient are happy campers.
Clean your space
- Take a glance at your altar, shrine, or workspace. How long would it take to disassemble? Go ahead and time yourself. Regularly taking apart your shrine space and putting it back together (even if the layout is the same) will help refresh and renew the space. It’ll also keep you from putting useless stuff there.
- Take 30 seconds to wipe down the surfaces of your altar, shrine, or workspace. This includes idolatry pieces like statues, table or shelf surface, and offering dishes.
- Wash your offering dishes. It doesn’t matter that only dried rice or water was held in it. Wash it out.
Protect your space
- Summertime can be the worst time for food and liquid offerings. Milk curdles, insects are attracted to offerings, and animals – and people – are everywhere. Make sure your food and liquid offerings are safely placed so children and animals don’t get to them.
- Insects a pest? Grow plants like lemon balm, peppermint, or citronella around the altar if possible. If not possible, spray strips of cloth or rope with bug spray (I recommend natural but you do you) and hang or place it near the altar.
- Have a lot of visitors this summer? Move all breakable items away from the edges. Introduce children to altar spaces and ask them not to touch unless you say it’s OK because it’s very important to you. Often times simply explaining the space and letting them touch or look at the items will keep them from grabbing and breaking something accidentally. This depends on the child, of course.
Use common sense
- Leave out offerings of milk and honey for the faeries? That’s a great idea in the summertime right? You may wish to switch to something that’s not as easily spoiled in the heat for a while. Or, reduce the amount of hours the offerings are out for.
- Ask the recipients before making any exchanges or substitutes for offerings. For example, my household fae dislike almond milk but don’t mind soymilk as a substitute for regular milk or cream.
- Placement is key. Want to remember to make a daily offering? Put it next to the coffee maker or refrigerator. Make it memorable. I keep household spirit offerings next to the oven and by the coffee maker.
- Always watch open flames. Always. Make sure there’s nothing for the flames to set fire to.
Substitutes and alternatives
- Always ask before making substitutes for traditional or common offerings. You can even give a little explanation on why you’re making the substitute if necessary when making the offering.
- Clear alcohol is a common offering that is generally accepted by many spirits and deities, including ghosts. It has the added benefit of not spoiling in heat or freezing in cold.
- Water, especially purified water, is almost always an accepted offering. Only certain types of spirits, like those associated with fire, will disdain them. Deities are a hit or miss.
- Nuts are often offerings and can last a long time.
- Dried grains, rices, and beans are also great offerings but watch for worms and flies if left too long.
- Non-food offerings like incense, music, art, actions and prayers are all offerings too. Don’t forget about them simply because there’s a focus on food items.
- Can’t use candles or incense? Mist sprays made from light tisanes are great for cleansing and making offerings. LED lights work just as well for rituals unless you need to burn something (which I would then recommend waiting until you can safely and legally have a place to use a candle).
General altar and work space advice
- Have a lot of stuff? Cycle it through by season or purpose to refresh the space. You probably don’t need all the stuff all the time.
- It’s often desirable to have a beautiful altar or shrine chocked full with statuary, incense holders, associated objects, and offering pieces. Consider simplifying your space. Do you really need that athame out on the table surface or can it sit in a sheath until necessary? If you never put out food offerings but for special occasions then why have the empty offering plate there? Does that scrying ball need to be there if your deity isn’t associated or involved with divination? Consider what you have in that space and if it’s really there because you have no where else to put it or if it actively services your and their needs.
- Use your terminology correctly. Work spaces are for you to do work on and doesn’t necessarily even have to have deities or spirits honored at all. An altar is where offerings and sacrifices are made. It’s general a table or shelf set up and can be a part of a larger shrine or temple. A shrine is a building or set up that will usually contain an altar or offering place. It is a holy space for the deities and spirits honored and is dedicated to them entirely. A temple is more of a place for worshipers to go whereas shrines have a tendency, especially in Western culture, to be reserved only for the priesthood or attendants of the honored deities and spirits. A temple could have a work space, altar, and shrine all in one place.Terminology does change somewhat depending on culture, especially the further east you go but this kind of language is something to keep in mind.
- What you put on an altar or in a shrine should have meaning to both you and the honored being. You’re honoring them so having things they enjoy is just as important as having beautiful things you enjoy.
- Take your time assembling your spaces. There’s a lot of beautiful inspiration out there and newbies have a tendency to want to rush out and buy all the things. Shop around and visit used goods store, flea markets, garage sales, and even online ads for things that would fit your spaces perfectly. You might even have earmarked some pieces for future altars that aren’t available yet from family collections.
- Travel or pocket altars are incredibly useful if altars are important but you can easily assemble an offering from whatever when traveling.
- Research, research, research. Look at what was historically offered for these beings. You don’t have to follow that strictly but knowing what those beings are use to and expecting can make introductions and foundling relationships so much easier to develop.
Simply put: don’t forget to use common sense when setting up your altar space.
Please, please, please remember that many times you do not need a permanent work space, altar, or whatever. It is not a requirement of most practices. You can make offerings without such spaces and you can easily work witchcraft without them.
Creating an altar can be extremely fun and making summertime offerings when fruits are plentiful is always a blast. But taking precautions is always ideal to make sure everyone’s safe and happy.