Many pagan and polytheist practices are based on offerings to gods and goddesses and practitioners have many different traditions in making offerings to their deities. One aspect of my path lately is an interest in devotional rituals – a practice based on giving something to a god or goddess. I love the process of researching what foods and herbs are associated with a deity, what colors to use for candles and altar cloths, what incenses to burn and what drinks to use to pour libations.
I have also been interested in a certain anti-Capitalist bent within certain corners of Paganism and Polytheism. There is actually a wonderful website called Gods & Radicals with this very theme. They have collected a talented group of writers who post there and the content is often thought-provoking and challenging.
So my thoughts have been wandering down these paths and they have come to an interesting intersection, one that brings up many questions.
In Marxist thought, the capitalists are the owners of the means of production – both in terms of raw materials and of machinery, factories, etc. The workers supply their effort, their Labor. The raw materials are transformed by the labor of the worker and the worker increases the value, the usefulness of the material. The raw grain becomes bread. The cotton bales become a shirt. To grossly simplify, one of Marx’s critiques of Capitalism is that the worker’s labor is owned by the Capitalist, since they own the final product, and the worker is not given a fair share of the increase in value that the labor provides. Marxists advocate for a shared/collective ownership of the means of production, so that workers can have a more meaningful benefit from the increase in value, and there’s no cut “off the top” for the Capitalist just because they own the factory/machinery/raw material.
When we challenge the ingrained ideas of personal property, as anti-capitalists do, we arrive at some questions about what and how we give a offerings to a god or goddess when our ownership of an object is conceptually suspicious. If the people whose labor has gone into a product were not fairly compensated, is the product really ours to give to the gods?
Is it “ours” if we have reserved it for our personal use? When we share a bit of a meal we’ve made for ourselves and our family, that seems like we are giving of something that is truly our own. But what if that meal is something that was just warmed up from a package purchased at the grocery store? We may not even know where the food was grown or what mystery additives it contains. Is this an acceptable offering to our deity?
If we have put our own work into it, does it then become our own? If we have carved a statue or woven a cloth, if we have grown a meal in our garden or cooked it ourselves, if we painted the picture or made the corn dolly – are these truly our own? Intuitively, it seems right and these seem like fitting offerings. They are from ourselves and not a gift that we have simply taken from someone else.
Then there are more abstract sacrifices – prayers, habits, meditations, speaking up for a cause, giving healing energy. It’s easier to say that we own these things. When give an action rather than giving an object, it is easier to say that it comes from our self. The gift to the god is not borrowed or stolen from another. It is clearly our own to give.
To me, live animals are not objects – they are conscious beings that think, feel pain and exist for their own purposes. So how could I conceivably give the life of an animal to a deity? It’s not mine to give. Even the act of taking a life does not mean I have ever owned it – I have only destroyed it. I know that in many traditions, the killing of an animal is the most valued offering, but to me I can only give it if I have stolen it – it is never truly mine to give freely.
Sometimes a god or goddess asks for something specific or has a particular traditional affinity for a particular kind of offering. If we do not make it ourselves, but we go out of our way to acquire it, if we use our money we have earned through labor in exchange for this offering – is this sufficient to make it our own gift to the deity?
In our culture money is supposed to be a stand-in for value we’ve earned, but often it doesn’t take much to realize that’s not true. We can buy things on credit card debt. We can gain and lose money through the almost hallucinatory trading of commodities, stocks, options, bond, derivatives and derivatives of derivatives. Fortunes are gained and lost on trading bubbles and market fluctuations that have nothing to do with anything we have earned. Money is increasingly abstract, and unrelated to actual work. If something is bought on credit, inherited from another, gained through a financial trick – is that something that is worthy to offer to a deity?
This is a wandering set of questions without many definite answers. I am still working it through in my own mind. But it is not a subject I hear discussed very often. I would love to know other people’s thoughts on this, particularly if your practice includes devotions and offerings.