Many religious traditions have the practice of making offerings of different kinds to deities or other beings as part of a regular practice. Figuring out how to include offerings in your practice is sometimes complicated to sort out.
One good thing to sort out is why you’re making the offering in the first place.
Some offerings are to build and sustain a relationship. In other words, you make the offerings when you don’t have a particular request so that when you do have a request, you have an established relationship.
Some offerings are a very explicit exchange: you do a thing so that a deity or being will do something for you.
Some offerings are made in a larger ritual, as part of the ritual. In that case, you want to look to the ritual to figure out what the goal is. Some ritual structures will be really clear that you’re offering this thing to welcome the deity, or to thank them for their presence and energy, or whatever else it is.
This depends on why you’re making the offering. Some people make a small offering daily, others do an offering every week (perhaps every Friday) or every full or new moon, or on a particular day every month.
Some deities have specific days strongly associated with them, so you might pick those days. For example, Venus and Aphrodite are associated with Friday, so if you were working with one of those deities for romance and love, you might make an offering each Friday as part of your practice.
Obviously, you want to think through how much time you have, and what works for you in that time frame – if your schedule is all over the place, it can be a lot harder to do a daily offering than if you have a very regular habitual schedule.
Exactly what you use for the offering is also going to vary a lot.
In general, you want your regular offerings to be a thing that you can reasonably sustain (in terms of time and money involved). You want to save the more elaborate things for special requests or unusual occasions.
Think of it like going out to eat: most of the time you pick things comfortably within your budget, but maybe a couple of times a year you go somewhere that’s more fancy or more work to get to, because it’s a particular special event (a birthday, an anniversary, a graduation or other milestone.)
Some daily offerings that show up in a wide range of cultures include:
- Cool fresh water
- Honey or olive oil
- Cream or milk
- Other foods or items
- Music, prayer, or a recited poem.
You’ll notice that many of these are staple foods, or generally inexpensive and affordable. Another option (more for a weekly/monthly offering, probably) is a small money donation either to a temple or a cause related to that deity. I know some people who make a food shelf donation on a particular day because it’s associated with Hecate’s Supper. Or you might give to an animal shelter, as part of an offering to Bast.
Some other options I’ve used: applying perfume (in a suitable scent), wearing a specific consecrated piece of jewellery, or occasionally doing something like wearing a specific colour or outfit as part of an offering.
What do you do with them after
Again, cultures and practices vary a lot on what happens to offerings once you make them (if they leave a physical residue).
They’re all pretty much aggree that you shouldn’t leave them on your altar to gather ants, dust, or mold, but beyond that, there’s a wide range.
Some cultures want the humans to consume them (after a short period on the altar). Some cultures ask for just a token pinch of the physical offering that is then poured or left outside within a few hours or the next morning.
Research into the particular deities will usually tell you what is most likely
And on the practical level, using something that has a low-residue option for daily ritual is your best bet. Water, incense, and music/prayer/poetry are pretty simple to clean up. Save the honey or bread or cream or milk for weekly/monthly offerings.
Added July 27, 2018. Reformatted November 2020.