Sacrifice, libation, and shut the fuck up.

Posted: December 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

I was up until 4am cleaning up after a glorious round of sacrifices and rites last night, in a space prepared with delightful intent and set in an assembly of serpents and shrines. It was fucking beautiful. It was also fucking messy. Go figure, as these two in my experience generally go hand in hand. (Great ritual, like great sex, should always involve clean-up and the potential for lasting stains or scars.)

But anyway, there’s some grade-A bullshit going on and I want to fucking put a cigar out in its eye:

Canaanite polytheist rockstar, Temple priest and badass Qadishtu extraordinair Tess Dawson wrote a bitchin’ primer on “What to do if the gods/spirits are calling, and you don’t know who They are”. This is a great resource for people who are new to polytheism and deity experience/communion or equally so for people who are experiencing contact or communion with gods from outside of their primary tradition. (Because that shit happens. It happens today, and it happened in the ancient world. So shut the fuck up, naysayers.) Kemetics get picked up by Celtic war goddesses and Gauls get smashed about by Odin and sometimes Canaanites get courted by the Thracian Elite. Also, nobody amongst us as born with an instruction guide in hand for “how to respond to a fucking god that comes knocking”, so this primer is generally a useful and awesome and necessary sort of thing. It isn’t the only thing, or the whole story, but it is a good piece.

Except that apparently some fucks didn’t think so.

And those dudes? They should shut the fuck up.

In this piece, newcomers to the mystic polytheistic engagement platform of asskickery and so forth are encouraged to make respectful offerings to the god/spirit that is knocking, and some basic guidelines for said offerings are offered up:

Find something to represent the deity in question: picture from the internet, a symbol, a rock, a book, a cup, a doll, whatever. Set the image up on a table. Pour wine, vodka, good fruit juice, olive oil, milk, beer, kefir, perfume, or another fine beverage or liquid in a bowl or cup before the image. (Unless the deity in question has a history of wanting something like kool-aid or soda pop, you may want to avoid these.) If you’ve not been able to find out what liquid would be appropriate, go with your gut feeling. Bow down, prostrate yourself before the deity’s image, and pray. If you’re in this situation, the best prayer you can make is the one that is honest—there’s no formula here, no magic words, no formulaic incantation.
Do not consume the liquid that you pour for the deity. Wait a cycle of a full day and night, then pour the liquid into the earth outside. Yes. Pour it into the earth. It is not “wasteful”–it was given to a deity and the deity consumed the essence of the liquid. By pouring it out, you are completing the process of sending it on to the deity. By drinking it instead, you may have interrupted this process (again, it can depend on context).
 (Emphasis mine.)
So, here’s a great way for somebody who has NO FUCKING IDEA WHAT GOD OR PANTHEON IS SHOWING UP IN THEIR LIFE to respect that god in a way that communicates deference, praise, piety, and generally good hospitality skills. But the author has been met with harsh criticism from a variety of directions, including traditions that require offerings to be consumed by the person offering them (there are some of these) and people who want to share a drink with their gods (which nobody is criticizing here..?) and so on.
As a person who — as a Temple priest, previously, and a vagrant nomadic priest currently — spends pretty much all of his time in service, praise and prostration to the gods (with offerings and sacrifices that can leave stains and scars being rather frequent…), I want to chime in on this motherfucker.
If you are new to engaging with gods directly (e.g. you’re entirely new to polytheism, or were previously a humanist-styled Pagan who didn’t really “get” that the gods were literally and experientially real and outside of yourself, or you came from a certain flavor of absolute syncretic tradition or a monistic tradition or some dualist tradition, or anywhere else really where this primer is useful…) it is nice to have a “starting point” for how to fucking be nice to your gods. Or to any gods. To somebody else’s gods, or even your fucking enemy’s gods. This is a GREAT STARTING POINT. When in doubt, POUR SOME FUCKING OFFERINGS. Fucking hell, people, how hard is that? Now, to break this down:
  • This is not suggesting that you reject guidelines in an established tradition, if that tradition is applicable to this deity, or if this deity is coming through the parameters of that tradition. For example, I may be approached by an Egyptian god, but that god may be coming at me through a Thraco-Egyptian traditional lens, rather than a strictly Kemetic one. That happens. It is historically documented, it is a legitimate thing, and it is on me to navigate figuring out if it is strict Kemetic rites being asked for, or a Thraco-Egyptian fusion. But if I don’t HAVE ANY IDEA AT ALL who the god is, or from what tradition/pantheon/system they derive, I’m going to go down to basics. These basics.
  • This is not suggesting that you are not allowed to also drink nice beverages (kefir, wine, whiskey, jello-shots-off-a-sexy-partner, or whatever the fuck). This is indicating that if you are being contacted by a god, show that god hospitality in the best way that you can, and this is a pretty good way to begin if you don’t have an established practice or Temple structure from another arena, etc. You can also drink wine or kefir or whiskey or jello-shots-off-a-sexy-partner to your heart’s (or other organ’s) content. But…
  • Do not consume the offerings that were apportioned to the deity in question, unless you have sure knowledge that doing so is a part of that deity’s expected protocols, as in the case of certain Kemetic offertory rites, etc. Again, this is primarily a set of guidelines written for somebody without that knowledge. Follow along people…
  • This is not suggesting that you have to pour out all of the alcohol ever and that you can’t have any for yourself (unless of course that comes through as an actual legitimate prohibition and taboo for you, in which case, well, navigate that shit, kiddo.) Example: if a god comes knocking and I don’t know who they are (this happens quite a bit) and I am drinking some top-shelf Scotch (this happens quite a bit) I will feel out if this god “seems” like the type to prefer that. This may be an intuition, it may be a guess, it may be a fucking shot in the dark, or it may be a thing that I get a solid “yes” from when I probe silently at it. If it is Scotch that’s wanted, I fucking pour that  shit. Into a bowl, or a glass, or straight onto the fucking ground. Or I spray it. Sometimes at an image denoting that spirit or god, sometimes at a bowl or a rock or a tree which seems and feels appropriate in the morning. Sometimes I just fucking upend the bottle, or throw that shit at a rock, and give it all away: it differs case by case. But when in doubt and in solid absence of other information or knowledge, pour a goddamn drink like a good little host, and then shut the fuck up and see if it was well received. This process is called “learning”. I know, I know, totally foreign idea these days, but seriously kids, I’m pretty sure it is still a thing. (Do we need a Polytheist Sesame Street program to encourage learning…?)
  • If you have an existing tradition or practice (Thracian, Haitian, Croatian Polytheism, whatever the fuck), and you’re pretty sure that this unknown and nameless god who is coming forward is either from that tradition or appearing through that tradition’s lens or parameters, via pantheonic syncretisms or whatever the fuck, then this guideline process probably isn’t relevant to your immediate experience. So shut the fuck up, sit down, and recognize that there is a fucking continuum of learning, engagement, and experience at play. Not everything is about you. Put your mouth (or tippity-tappity finger bones) to more useful endeavors and let those who need to hear this to learn, fucking do so. You’re like that asshat in the classroom who already got the lesson before everyone else, and instead of finding some other way to stay entertained or focused (e.g. reading ahead, doing your own work, drawing pictures of really hot sex on your desk, skipping out and smoking in the bathroom or stealing cars from the parking lot), has decided to verbally assault the instructor and therefore belittle those who are still learning and not up to your point. Seriously. You look like idiots.
  • If you have an existing tradition or practice and a god from outside o that tradition or practice shows up, and they don’t seem to be showing up through the lens of your tradition, this is a really fucking important set of guidelines to understand, because gods hold existing polytheists/devotees/priests/spirit-workers to higher standards than bloody fucking n00bz. So for fuck’s sake, don’t be an arrogant shit. It won’t end well for you.

And now, I’m off to drink some Irish coffee and pour some all the fuck over the place for my gods. Next up: a rant about consecrated items and leaving them for the fucking gods or spirits that they’re consecrated to.


Disclaimer: I don’t actually know, or care to know, any of the people who were being dicks. I’m uncaffeinated and I’m tired and I’m using this situation to express some key points. So, if you’re one of those dicks, or feel that you’re not a dick and somehow are getting generalized into this and feel assaulted or some shit, sorry. I’m a dick. I’m not actually trying to single anyone out (hence no names, no links, no references to what I am critiquing), but rather use this circumstance as a springboard to make some fucking points. Because we’ve all seen this shit come up: we’ve all seen the posturing, the shit-throwing, the fuck-stirring, and the “well in MY tradition…” bullshittery. That’s all fine. These differences are fucking great and yeah, let’s elucidate the fuck out of them and hold hands or swing fists or fuck like drunk schoolgirls in a pumpkin patch, but let’s *not* grandstand against a really good introductory process for new people or those without resources.

  1. bearfairie says:

    …wait so some folks took issue with the idea of being polite to unknown deities in simple, respectful and easy ways? Seriously? Gods forgive and there should be an ounce of fucking mediocre quality red wine, half a glass of apple juice, r a mouthful of rum that our selfish assed don’t get to swallow ourselves. Seriously? This is a thing that folks are taking issue with? Of all the benign, polite, cheap and simple ways to start showing an ounce of respect, this s getting her internet grief?? What the fuck is wrong with people?

    S igh. Shit like this is why I haven’t been more aggressive about being involved with online conversations about this stuff (well, that plus having a newborn who doesn’t believe in sleep).

    • bearfairie says:

      that should read Gods forbid that… yay for typing on a cell phone.

    • Yeah pretty much where I am at with it.

      There are some legitimate practices and traditions and gods who do *not* take libation this way, for example traditions where one is *required* to consume the whole apportioned offering, or one where (as in the cases of Obatala and Danballa in Orisha and Lwa traditions respectively) no alcohol is ever to be given, or even consumed in the presence of certain deities.

      New gods always take a little bit of trial-and-error until one figures out what they’re about and who they are and what they want and so on. Sometimes the emphasis is on error. Sometimes errors have consequence. This is not terribly dissimilar from interacting with any other being: if you’ve never met a german shepherd (or any other dog!) before, you might not know that chocolate is a BAD THING ™ for them to eat. But you love chocolate, and you love this awesome waggy creature thing, right, so why the fuck not feed it some damn chocolate? Well vomit and toxicity and possible death is why. Consequence, and whatnot. So we learn from our mistakes, or we die. Or we kill a german shepherd. (Please, people, don’t kill dogs with chocolate. That’s fucked up.)

      There is no such thing as a “universal way to greet an unknown god or spirit”, as they are as varied and diverse — well, infinitely more varied and diverse…! — than humans and dogs and koalas and shit. There’s no absolute fool-proof fail-safe way to go. The story of Ogun in Orisha tradition decapitating a whole village for wrongly serving him incorrect offerings three times in a row comes to mind: the villagers didn’t know who He was, and so they did the best that they could. And still they died. And He felt ashamed for it, but that didn’t undecapitate the fuckers. So, yeah, gods of consequence and all that.

      But seriously folks, let’s not take the food or drink we’ve just given to the gods, unless we *know* it is expected of us to do so.

  2. In my own practice, Loki seems to like it when I take at least a sip of whatever it is prior to offering it to him, and he sometimes requests sodas (Big Red is a favorite) when I’m out shopping. Still, Loki is a little odd when it comes to his preferred devotional structure, and without knowing his preferences or those of any other god that comes knocking, these are good guidelines to fall back on. If my and/or the deity’s devotional framework was different, then I’d default to that framework instead, but that still doesn’t justify knocking some good, general advice intended to apply to the majority of the incredibly wide variety of gods any given pagan or polytheist could be working with.

    • I am definitely in favor of “sampling” offerings prior to giving them over to a god, in many (but not all) instances. This is a way of communicating that the selected apportioning is not beneath you; it is something that you yourself enjoy or even covet. Similarly it demonstrates that the offering is safe, edible, unpoisoned: I consider these practices to be fairly resonant with nomadic hospitality exchanges, wherein one is frequently receiving food/shelter/offerings/drinks from relative strangers.

      But yes, Loki is a little odd when it comes to His preferred devotional structure… 😉

  3. Petros says:

    Loved this! Wait…”a pumpkin patch”? LOL

  4. This was great. It made me think about sacrifice. Not a much loved word in this modern world where so many think if you don’t have the latest iphone you’re totally sacrificing life and limb. Gonna tiptoe over and read the suggested words. Likely with really sore fingers, but some of the birds prefer their seeds to have a little kick. Look forward to some good reading and thinking when I have time to jump back in the web. Too many things I want to read and too little time, atm. Hmm, I wonder if that could count as sacrifice! j/k

  5. Tess Dawson says:

    I think that someone(s) was just using the opportunity to twist my words to formulate a “reason” to come after my work or to come after me personally. This has been happening sporadically since the post on Athiratu’s oracle. At any rate, it makes for a good opportunity to further discuss the nature of offering–and that’s a valuable, necessary topic.

  6. Teka Lynn says:


  7. Soli says:

    What’s funny is that this is exactly why, even though Hekate and Hermes have been knocking for a while, I have not done much for either of Them. Hellenic tradition is very different in handling of ritual than Kemetic or Heathen, and the last thing I want to do is fuck up for Them. Very bad idea.

    Also developing a very short fuse for people who don’t feel they need to show the Gods and big spirits some respect.

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