All you need to know about Offerings and Libations to the Divine
In different parts of the World, people express their gratitude and praise the Divine in different ways: words of gratitude, dancing, singing and giving offerings of different sorts such as flowers, food, even precious items.
A lot of our readers have asked what are the benefits of providing offerings and if this is a crucial part of spellcasting and ritual work? I would answer with a wholeheartedly “Yes it is!’ and this article aims to analyse the benefits.
Initially, being grateful opens our hearts to the Universe. We feel happy, accomplished, blissful and grateful. This acts as a signal to the Cosmos that we have recognised the importance of what we have received, either an experience, a feeling or any other benefit of spiritual or material worth. This feeling of bliss and gratitude raises our frequency towards love and happiness and the Universe will provide even more for us to sustain such a state of bliss, which at a macrolevel is beneficial to the whole Cosmos. When we are happy, the whole Universe is happy.
Secondly, our true nature is that of happiness. That does not mean that all other feelings are not important or bad instead they have to be viewed as a developmental process. As I have analysed in my article ‘Gratitude: The essence of manifestation and personal development’ by learning to be grateful to the Divine, to our selves and to others we start to appreciate our lives and the experiences we receive. Through this recognition we form a bond of love while we start to enjoy everything at a profound level which contributes significantly to our happiness and our personal development. Thirdly, providing to the Divine reinforces two way communication and creates a bond between the Witch and the Cosmos. God(s) do not expect us to provide offerings for them to be pleased instead an offering is considered a gift which honours the connection between us and the Divine and acts as a remembrance, a memento which symbolises this bond and can act as a focal point. An easy example can be drawn from our every day life. A good close friend (or family member) has provided you support during a difficult time and you have decided to give them a gift, a painting that you find beautiful. Your friend receives the gift with great love and puts it in the middle of their living room. This painting now has a story to tell. Every time you visit your friend you remember the support they gave you during this difficult time of your life and you feel happy that such a good friend exists in your life, ready to be next to you when you ask them. In addition, at the same time you may realise that you want to be next to your friends in need, the same way your friend did, as this act honours your friendship. Even more, this painting reminds your friend that this act of kindness made you feel good and his/her behaviour is further reinforced. Finally, when others visit your friend and they ask about the painting, your friend tells them that this painting is a gift from a loved one who had passed through a turbulent period and this acts a remembrance of your closeness. Others are inspired from the story, from your friend’s smile, from the kindness of your gesture and your friend’s actions and they choose to adopt that behaviour in their lives. And all that with a simple painting. Gratitude has always a story to tell and believe me it changes lives. Therefore, imagine the same feeling being expressed to the Divine. The benefits are multiple for the whole Universe, the ones you realise and the ones you don’t.
Fourthly, offerings are a warm welcome. In many magical traditions, offerings to the Gods are being made before the beginning of a new venture or when something new has come to our lives. For example, you move to a new house where it is an exciting and new territory for you. What is the best way of making your presence known and open up a discussion rather than meeting the neighbours with a nice homemade apple pie? The same applies to the spirits of the household and the land. An offering is made to make your presence known and to merge your energies with theirs, explaining that this is now your nest as well and you would like to have a harmonious and peaceful relationship. As everything is connected, the more we understand and appreciate the bonds with the rest of the World, material and spiritual, the more we develop and feel surrounded by their Love. It is true that we are never alone! So moving forward, let’s see what kind of offerings have been traditionally used to express our Gratitude and form an alliance with the Cosmos. The simplest way that comes to mind are two words: ‘Thank you!’. The second easiest way that will also put you in a ceremonial mood and awaken the witch inside you are Libations.
What is a libation? A libation is the ceremonial pouring of a sacred liquid (and can be expanded to solid substance) to the ground to honour the Divine and the Spirit world. Traditionally, this was an important part of honouring the departed and connecting with the Ancestors but it was applied in all cases where the Witch/Priest(ess)/Shaman wanted to honour the Divine. Libations vary between cultures and this article aims to explore some of them. However, you are further encouraged to do your own research as different Gods are historically more associated with different offerings. One example, comes from Santeria and Voodoo spirits. Papa (A)Legba, the spirit who opens the communication between our World and the Spirit world, is usually offered a libation of rum, while Changó (or Shango), the male Orisha of fire, virility, power, self-control and lighting (among other things) is seldom accepting offerings of alcohol but instead welcomes yams, fruits, coffee and juices. The five liquids of Libation in ancient Greece The five liquids of libation in ancient Greek culture along with a brief understanding of their meaning from a modern perspective are presented below:
Milk: Milk is traditionally used as a libation in many cultures and it is considered one of the simplest yet greatly appreciated offerings. Milk is a nurturing substance, we nurture God(s) within us and around us the same way S/He, They do. Milk is associated with motherhood and the Divine Feminine due to the lactation phase most women go through after giving birth and its white colour associates it with Purity and Divinity as it contains all colours. For all the above reasons, was considered the perfect offering to Gods and Spirits alike.
Honey: Honey was considered the food of the Gods and is sometimes related with nectar and ambrosia. It is a natural sweetener and a reminder of the sweetness of life. It is a natural preservant relating with good health and immortality and provides energy when consumed. Its Golden colour was associated with the Sun and the enlightenment and the energy it provides to the World. In addition, it is an outcome of team effort due to its connection with the beehive and the importance of collaborating towards a common goal. As the bees collect pollen from different plants to make honey, it reminds us of the connection with all things living who sustain the World, the best example of Divine providence. Milk and honey were usually mixed for libations, the perfect Divine elixir. A similar variation was used to create Amrita in Hinduism ( you can read more on Ambrosia, Nectar and Amrita at: http://www.magicalrecipesonline.com/2012/05/food-of-gods-ambrosia-and-amrita-lore.html)
Wine: The sacred substance of ecstasy, wine was an appropriate offering to the gods. On its own or mixed with either water or honey, red wine was usually offered in libations to the Gods and the Departed. Red wine was considered a symbol of Life and Vitality. It was connected with Dionysus (or Bacchus) the Greek God of wine and grapes, the harvest and spiritual ecstasy and he is usually depicted holding a grape vine or a cup of wine. Wine is a remembrance of the joys of life and was one of the first mind altering substances that were used in order to see the world from a different perspective with a different state of consciousness. I would remind everyone the Roman saying ‘In vino veritas’- in wine there is truth- a counterpart of the Greek ‘Ἐν οἴνῳ ἀλήθεια’with the same meaning. This phrase was used to remind everyone before drinking that the words spoken when drunk cannot be revoked once they were sober exercising self-control and discipline. Wine as milk and honey was used in libations to the Gods as well as the Departed. This was a typical part of the ritual in the art of summoning the Dead to speak with them and gain insight (more on Necromancy at: http://www.magicalrecipesonline.com/2015/10/necromancy-gate-to-underworld-palace-of.html ). In general, alcoholic drinks play a significant role in libations in different cultures and it is still one of the popular ways to pay respect to the Departed and honour the Divine.
Water: As mentioned above ‘in vino veritas’ was only half of the phrase used the whole phrase was: ‘In vino veritas, in aqua sanitas’ – in wine there is truth, in water there is health. Therefore, let’s examine the importance of water in libations. Most of the time, water was not used on its own in libations and it was usually mixed with one or more liquids. Water was a reminder of life, health and the interconnection between the Witch and all living things that contain Water, the element that connects us all. In addition, bodies of Water were considered barriers between the World of the Dead and the World of the Living. Usually Death appears as the boatman who transfers the souls from one World to another, the Gatekeeper between Worlds keeping everything in balance, therefore Water was used in libations to the Dead to help their message cross to the other side. With the above in mind from a historical perspective, any modern witch can see that libations of water are being made every day to the plant and earth kingdom. We encourage our crops and plants to grow, we provide and sustain them and in return they grow and bloom for us. One of the simplest yet most powerful kind of acts bonding with plant spirits and allies is to be mindful of that connection and the love you share every time you water them. Share the love!
Olive oil: Finally, oils of significant importance to the culture were used in libations to the Gods. In the ancient Greek tradition, the Olive tree was sacred to Athena, the Goddess of Justice, Civilisation, Culture and Wisdom. In addition, its pure Golden colour bore similar significance: the Light (illumination) that removes all Shadows (ignorance), the Vital Energy that sustains the Cosmos, nourishment and healing of body and soul and Radiance of spirit. Balms and oils offered as libations are found in other cultures as well and it is important to understand that Priests/Priestesses/Witches/Shamans/Druids (you name it!) worked with the native plants and substances of their habitat. This in itself was an act of forming a bond with Nature and the spirits of the Land.
I chose to focus on these 5 liquids as I consider that they have universal meaning and can be further applied to beliefs from different pantheons. I provide some additional information below on libations and offering from other traditions. Please be mindful that this list is definitely not exhaustive and as mentioned earlier you are further encouraged to do your own research and adapt these practices to meet your needs. Some examples from other traditions:
Japan Shinto priests offer libations of a mixture of Sake which is made in ceremonial manner and is called Miki (Liquor of the Gods). This liquid symbolises purity, warmth and the Divine essence that is in all things. China A traditional libation to the Departed in China was made by adding grains of rice in a plate of water. The mixture was slowly poured to a running stream of water to honour the Ancestors and the Departed. Russia Russians use vodka as a liquid for libations. A glass of vodka is poured at the grave of the departed to honour them and acts as a reminder that they have not been forgotten.
Other recommendations: Finally, some other recommendations for libations are: fruit juices (apple, orange and pomegranate juices are some examples), alcoholic drinks such as rum, whiskey and gin. Sugar can be mixed with any liquid similar to honey. Flowers and flower petals with water make a perfect offering. Let your inspiration and inner wisdom guide you. How to make a libation? First of all, you need to attune to the Deity/Spirit(s) that you wish to offer the libation to. What they would like? What would they enjoy? What are their interests? Think in the same manner when you are choosing a present for a friend- if you need ask for guidance. Guidance will be offered in many different ways, in addition, you may wish to explore more on what this Deity/Spirit(s) like. Take this opportunity to read and learn more about them. Once you have selected the ingredients and feel comfortable you need to create the mixture. This is traditionally made in a ritual cup. Remember that quality is over quantity therefore you do not need to overdo it. Focus your intention and your thoughts to the Deity/Spirit that you wish to offer the libation when you are preparing it. The simplest way would be to say: “I make this offering of (name of ingredients) to honour you (name of Spirit/Deity)” while you are preparing the liquid mix. Once the libation is ready it is time to offer it. Now even regarding the offering of the libation there seem to be many variations which is a good thing. Many traditions state that the libation liquid should be offered wholly as it is to the Deity or Spirit that was made for in order to honour them. A separate mixture of the liquid should be made if the Priest(ess)/Witch wants to make a toast and consume it. Another variation states that the Priest(ess) / Witch should first drink from the libation cup in Union to the Spirits and Deities that are being honoured and then offer the libation. Like a toast, the ritual cup is raised and words of gratitude are being spoken. Then the libation is poured to the ground. The ritual is complete! The above is only an indication, of how much diversity exists on the subject. But this applies to everything, such as selecting a gift for a friend. There is no right and wrong way of doing things unless clearly expressed- do not feel under pressure instead take this opportunity to freely express yourself. After all, a libation is a unique way of expressing gratitude which includes our own energy, thoughts and feelings, a part of our own psyche. God(s) and Spirit(s) accept diversity and they encourage us to be expressed in our own unique way.
Are there any other ways of expressing gratitude apart from libations? Of course as I mentioned above everyone is different. A suggestion as an alternative is a gratitude ritual: http://www.magicalrecipesonline.com/2015/02/school-of-witchcraft-gratitude-essence.html. Alternatively, two sweet words: ‘Thank you!’ are enough. The Easy Witch Discover, Play, Love!