Sometimes, when we decide to take part in the gifting cycle and offer to the Gods, the esteemed dead or to the spirits, a rather infectious aspect of our modern western over-culture sneaks its way into our decision making process.
I am certain we have all experienced it before. We’ve sat down with our candles and our bowls, and we’ve said our prayers, and there it is before us: our offering — whatever it is. What thought often runs through our heads?
“Is this offering good enough?” is one most people cite, however after talking to others and doing my own self reflection, I think this isn’t actually what we ask ourselves. It’s what we rationalize it as, religiously, and pretend the question always was — in actuality, however, the question was more embarrassing.
“Did this offering cost enough money?”
It is an unfortunate part of modern life that consumerism affects all aspects of daily existence. It affects what we wear to express ourselves, what we eat to nourish ourselves, what labor we settle into doing so that we can earn our wage to survive a short while longer. It even affects how we worship our Gods and honor our ancestors.
Perhaps another thought process exists, beyond simply comparing price tags between gifts to determine their validity, that can allow us to grow spiritually at a more reliable rate. Recently — as part of my development of a practice I call “Labor cultus”, or worship through labor — I’ve been setting aside time while I’m at work to offer to the Gods.
Every night, about two hours before I go home, I have to clean essentially the entire restaurant that I work at. Thankfully the doors are locked by then, so I can put in earphones and listen to music. It is during this time that I try — albeit often forget — to consciously give my offering to the Gods, ancestors, and spirits.
To the spirits I give detail in my cleaning, to ensure that everything is in its place and nothing is improperly disposed of. I don’t dump my cleaning solutions down the wrong drain, I don’t allow trash to spill out of trashcans and into the environment outside, etc. These are small, nearly meaningless measures for keeping my local spirits’ domain clean, however it’s small and nearly meaningless measures that I can be doing, and so I do them.
To our ancestors I offer a dedicated service to my community. On the one hand, I know that it’s not worth my time to put in any extra effort in cleaning because I simply wont be rewarded for it — my wage is fixed, and any more than the bare minimum is profit generated solely for the owner of the restaurant. However, this extra effort in cleaning ensures that my community wont get sick when they eat here. They wont catch the flu that’s been going around, because I’ve sanitized all the counters and the door-handles. They wont suffer from food poisoning, because I’ve made sure all the utensils are properly washed and sanitized, and the food preparation area is clean and not subject to cross contamination. In this way, I offer service to our ancestors’ other descendants, whom they also love in addition to me, rather than simply offering a price tag.
To the Gods, however, I offer simply the act of labor itself. There is no functional, material aspect to this offering that can benefit the Gods. There is no luxurious food for Them to eat, as They are not mortal and do not need sustenance. There is no liquor for Them to drink, as They cannot get drunk. There is no shiny crystal for Them to marvel, for They are only ever brighter.
In fact I’m too poor to afford good food, liquor, and gems for myself, let alone as gifts for others.
Instead, the offering I give is the fact that my feet are aching while I mop this truly unnecessarily long hallway. I offer the fact that it’s hard to stand up straight because I fell two weeks ago and bruised my tailbone, but I’m still able to work and so I do. I offer the fact that my co-workers, who are all wonderful and I love, are slow at their work because they have no reason to work faster, but I keep a diligent pace because I have one of the greatest motivations one can have — the love for my Gods. I also offer the fact that I wanted to go home at 10 PM, when I was scheduled to, but there was more to be done, and so I stayed hours later and did it all.
There are many things we gift those we love, even in our everyday lives. We don’t always give physical gifts to our loved-ones, but instead do things for them that take no physical, material shape. We clean the house so they can enjoy their time home better. We work hard hours so that our paycheck can be big enough to provide the things they need, even though we’re ashamed that we can’t always give them the things they deserve. Often times we do things they don’t even notice, things that we don’t even recognize we’re doing for them. However, if we take the time to dedicate these small things to those we love, I think we find that we do them better, the acts themselves are easier on us, and we benefit in a myriad of ways we may not even recognize.
And so, in closing, I simply wish to summarize that it may be good for my fellow working-class polytheists to consider service as sacrifice. Like you all, I still offer food to my Gods when I’m at home, and sometimes find pretty things that I want to give as gifts to my ancestors. However, in daily life, there’s something that we do nearly every day, for most of our waking hours, that is itself a wonderful thing to offer to the Dé agus Andé. It’s something that doesn’t cost money, something we’ll never pass by in the store and think “I wish I could buy that to give as an offering, but I just don’t have the money”. That thing is, as you now know, labor — our own services to our community and those around us.