As a kemetic, offerings are a pretty standard part of my practice, and I think that goes for most polytheists. We have a long historical tradition of people giving offerings to the gods, and it’s an easy way to show gratitude. But what are appropriate offerings? Are there things that shouldn’t be given? Are some offerings better than others?
Well to start, historical offerings were largely pretty simple. Bread, water, frankincense and myrhh, and candles are pretty much your staples. Fruits and meats also would have been offered, although the exact type of meat would vary based on the god (you wouldn’t offer beef to a cow deity, after all). There were also votive offerings, which usually consisted of small trinkets shaped like the gods or their sacred animals. I’m sure there were also variations in the incense or scent used as well, I want to say the scent of water lilies was also used in the temples.
Modern offerings tend to be pretty similar–food, drink, incense, and candles are usually your basics. We just have a wider selection of all those things than they did in antiquity. Ditto for votives. Modern practitioners may also devote certain activities to their gods, such a weaver devoting their work to Neith, or a student devoting their work to Thoth.
Personally, I’ve found that the offerings that work best in my own practice are usually simple and relatively healthy–fruit, bread or crackers, pastries from the bakery, water or lemonade (and sometimes wine), chocolate, cheese, and even lunch meats seem to work well. This may just be their way of sneakily making me eat better, but that’s my experience at any rate. Junk food seems to be the least desirable–an offering of potato chips would earn me a disapproving stare from Heqet.
Now is this to say you shouldn’t offer potato chips? Not necessarily. I think if you rarely get them and they’re a special treat, that might be a good offering. An often overlooked offering is that of something which is precious to you. And this is just my experience, so yours may differ.
It’s also worth noting that presentation can also make a huge difference in your offerings. All you have to offer is some crackers? Arrange them on a nice plate. Ramen noodles? Add some frozen veggies and use a nice bowl. Pretty offering dishes can be acquired super cheap at thrift shops, and if you look, you can often get dishwasher safe ones to make cleanup easier.
Offerings don’t have to break the bank. A simple glass of water or a lit candle work quite well if that’s all you can do. And where offerings revert in kemeticism, you can even offer up your meals without anything going to waste. Elaborate offerings are nice and can be really fun especially for festivals and holidays, but if you don’t have the funds for a big spread, you aren’t obligated to do that. But it’s worth noting that even if you’re on a very tight budget, there are many good offerings you can get on the cheap. A box of saltine crackers? Maybe two bucks. A small baguette from Walmart’s bakery? Not even that. (prices may vary depending on your area.) Heck, I’ve used those fancy adult lunchables with the nicer crackers and meat (those usually run about $2.50) and if you take it out of the plastic tray and out it on a plate it actually looks surprisingly classy. Tap water? Covered by your water bill. Have bad tap water? Well, you gotta drink something, offer that.
And of course, votives are valid, although in my experience, they can kinda start to clutter up the shrine if you do them too often. Devotional acts like drawing and writing poems and hymns are also an excellent way to focus on the gods. Some people like to devote a particular activity to a specific god. Personally, I’ve tried that but I get distracted really easily, so for me it doesn’t work quite as well, but many have great success with that, and I think it’s a cool thing to do if you can pull it off. Other people go so far as to get tattoos or otherwise alter their appearance–some like to do veiling (not so much in the kemetic circles, but it’s a valid choice), and others may wear or color their hair in a particular way to honor a specific deity (I currently have green hair in honor of Heqet, for example).
The important thing to remember is that small offerings, big offerings, all are valid in the gods’ eyes. What is most important is the devotion and intent behind it. Personally, I like to give as much as I can because I love my gods and want them to have it. I’ve seen some posts that seem to imply that minimal offerings are better than big fancy ones, and that’s simply not true. Nor are big fancy ones better than small ones. The best offerings are the ones given within your means and with the most love. If your offering is given with resentment, it is going to be a terrible offering, regardless of what it is. While to a degree, offerings are obligatory, I would say work out an offering schedule that is manageable for you. If you can’t keep up with daily offerings, try once a week. Even once a month is better if you can come to it with devotion. Trying to maintain a practice you can’t keep up with will only stress you out and build that resentment. I’m not saying don’t try, but give yourself attainable goals and work up to the bigger, more frequent stuff. Religion is not always going to be easy, but it shouldn’t bring you so much stress you begin to hate it. If anything, time spent giving offerings should give you time to relax and center yourself. It’s a chance to think about your gods, and about your spiritual practice. Will the gods always show up to every offering you give? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an important part of polytheistic practice. This might be controversial, but the act of giving offerings is as much for us as it is the gods. It helps us to build discipline, lets us show our appreciation of the gods, and encourages us to create healthy religious habits.