How to Make an Offering
As a follow-up to our“Offerings for the Gods” article series (Offerings for the Aesir, Vanir, and Jotnar), several of our readers have asked how to make these offerings. There’s no one right way to make offerings, though some ways are more efficient. Here are some of the most common ways of making offerings for the Gods. The key thing to remember with all offerings is to make them with intent and respect.
By far the most common offering in Heathen practice is the offering of alcohol*. In a blót or sumbel, alcohol is poured into the horn and is blessed by the person making the offering. The goði or gyðia might say something like this.
“Mighty Thor, we offer this dark stout beer to you. You, who protect humankind, and are a friend to all people on the earth. Accept this offering, and bless all of those assembled here.”
Once the beer has been dedicated to Thor, it is passed around the group for all to taste, and the remainder poured is out onto a Vé or a special tree, mound of rocks, or other natural feature. (ADF Heathens, as part of their Core Order ritual, pour their offerings into an offering bowl and then pour out the bowl somewhere outside afterward.)
When making private offerings, you can pour the beverage into a glass or bowl on your altar. Personally, I have several sizes of vessels for different levels of offerings. My everyday offerings get put into special shot glasses (for example, Odin and Loki share a set of Jack Daniel’s shot glasses; for Freya, I made a heart-shaped pottery cup). Larger offerings, such as for holidays, get poured into a larger handmade bowl that is decorated with the Elder Futhark. The largest offerings, such as for desperate pleas for help or major thanks, I pour entire bottles of alcohol poured outside on a natural feature or into a bonfire. Each time, I make a statement of intent and gratitude before I pour out the offering.
(*Note: people in recovery and children can offer sparkling fruit juice or fresh cider instead. Some Gods, such as Heimdal the ever-vigilant, may prefer something non-alcoholic anyways, such as coffee.)
Food is another common offering that is made to the Gods today, and like alcohol, it was a very common offering back in the day. Back then, entire animals such as sheep, cows, and horses were killed and offered to the Gods. Their blood was poured out onto a stone, altar, or other natural feature, and flicked onto the participants. This type of sacrifice was one of the biggest and most powerful offerings any person could make; providing the animals for a large blót and feast was one way for people to earn lasting fame in the Old Norse cultures. (We know the details of this ritual from the Saga of Hákon the Good.)
Today, most of us don’t have access to livestock nor know how to butcher them humanely. However, we still hold feasts and potlucks where we offer up meat, baked goods, and the produce from our gardens. Though homemade is best, because you can put love and blessings into it as you make it/grow it, store-bought is fine. For personal rituals, food can be left on your altar (briefly, if you have pets; longer if you don’t mind food going a bit rotten). If I’m leaving food on an altar, it’s usually a baked good or jerky—something that won’t go bad quickly. Otherwise, as with the liquid libations, I leave them outside. If we leave your offerings outside, however, make sure that whatever you are offering isn’t poisonous or harmful to the local wildlife.
One easy yet powerful way to imbue your offerings with intent is to carve runes into them as you make them. I know several people who make baked goods and carve runes into the crust, or arrange the dough so that it forms specific runes. Then, when you eat them, you get twice as much power from them.
Other common offerings are personal items. They can be heirlooms, symbols, or special rocks or other natural objects. These can be left on your altar or placed outdoors. I myself had a set of antlers on my Vanir altar in honor of Freyr and a miniature boat in honor of Njorð. I also store the majority of my amber collection there in honor of Freya. Some items are meant to be given away—if so, make sure they have a proper place to go and don’t become litter. If your item won’t break down over time, some “safe” places to leave them are buried in the ground or dropped into a large body of water (make sure they don’t float!)
Many Gods also value service offerings. An appropriate service offering for Thor could be to protect those who are weaker–for example, walking someone home through a dangerous neighborhood or standing up for someone who is being abused or harassed. For Freya, an appropriate offering could be supporting a rape survivor through her healing process; for Odin, performing in a poetry slam or offering rune readings. For Hel, this could mean offering comfort to someone who is dying from a terminal illness.
There are many types of offerings and many ways to show the Gods that we honor and love them. This list is mere a starting point. Offerings should not be made thoughtlessly, however; an offering is only as powerful as the intent and effort that you put into it. A gift begets a gift; if you give to the Gods, they will likely give back to you as well.
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