Honoring the Lady of Home and Hearth was the heart of regular day-to-day practice in ancient times. Taking place in kitchens across the Proto-Indo-European world, it was carried over to the descendent hearth cultures too.
For the most part, our ancestors were practical people. They understood that regular practice couldn’t be maintained if it was approached like a full seasonal festival every time. Seasonal festivals can only be lavish and complicated because they’re done seasonally. As our day-to-day lives are much simpler than a three-day festival involving the whole town, so our daily devotions are simpler than a full High Day ritual.
Perhaps that’s why one of the most pervasive types of regular devotional activity is the humble mealtime offering. Even those of us raised in non-religious households are familiar with the idea of bowing our heads in thanks before a meal. If you’ve ever done it yourself feel blessed – you’ve taken part in a practice that was prevalent before Christianity and has survived remarkably intact to the present day.
Mealtime offerings are one of my absolute favorite types of regular devotional work. Mine only take about sixty seconds per meal and still manage to resonate throughout my whole day. That’s a lot of bang for your buck!
Intrigued? Read on!
Why Mealtime Offerings?
Oh, the many reasons, y’all. This type of devotional work has some serious traction behind it.
- It’s a time and type of devotion we’re already accustomed to in modern American culture. Granted we might not see it out and about very often, but if someone bows their heads over their plate before eating we know exactly what they’re doing without having to ask. Some of us may have even grown up doing it. It’s a familiar place devotion-wise, is what I’m saying, and if it ain’t broke why fix it?
- Mealtime offerings aren’t time- or labor-intensive, and there’s no expectation that they should be. We want to eat while it’s still hot! There’s no pressure to make them longer, or fancier, or hugely profound, or whatever else. We’re hungry. Get it done.
- They’re not intimidating because we know they vary, and that’s ok. Some folks have a set prayer every time, others make it up as they go, some adults go on forever with it, and some kids use quick nursery rhymes. It all works, so we can feel confident in knowing that whatever we come up with works, too.
- Eating is when we take the produce of the Earth and consume it, our foods dying so that we might live. When we die we’ll become part of that same cycle, feeding the earth for those who come after. Recognizing that most fundamental of truths is about as nature/earth/cycle centered as we can get, making it an excellent anchor for devotions.
- Mealtime offerings are in the lore! Not only can we draw on our own experiences with this, we know for a fact ancient polytheists did them too. Greek and Roman families made offerings from every meal on their household shrines/in their hearth fires, for instance (which is what my personal approach is based on).
- Mealtime devotions continued from ancestral practices right through to the present day (albeit in different forms). Because of that, they connect us directly to what our ancestors did regardless of the faith they practiced. There’s not much else in our lives that can do that. Nifty, huh?
With all of that going on it makes all the sense in the world to take a minute or three out of our day to join the party!
We all eat. Ideally, we all eat multiple times a day. We don’t need to look for opportunities to do mealtime offerings. We’re kind of spoiled for choice!
I make offerings at every meal that involves heat to prepare. Some folks might be more comfortable with something else, though, and that’s ok too. Other timing options include only meals eaten in your home, only the evening meal, only Sunday dinner, breakfast every other day… Honestly, they’re your meals and your devotions. What works for you?
My Mealtime Offerings
In my practice meals are the dominion of Wéstyā, the Proto-Indo-European Lady of the Flame and Goddess of the Hearth. She is naturally the Goddess I look to for all domestic matters, and it is to Her that I make mealtime offerings.
I have two versions: one for when I eat at home and one for when I don’t.
At Home: In the old days Wéstyā was always present in the hearth fire. Few of us even have hearths anymore, though. That’s ok. All it takes is a candle or oil lamp in the kitchen, lit when we start preparing our meal and extinguished when we’re done with clean up. Can’t make the kitchen candle/lamp work, for whatever reason? Put Her candle on your shrine instead. I have roommates and limited counter space, so I honor Her on my shrine.
Anyway, when I begin preparing my meal (or when I start ordering delivery), I take a moment to light a candle for Wéstyā. As I do, I say:
Wéstyā is here, heart of my home.
When the food is ready to serve/arrives courtesy of the local pizza joint, I offer Her a small bit of whatever it is before anything else is served or eaten. She gets first dibs. I just take a bite-sized piece of whatever (no meat, though – She doesn’t care for it) and put it in the little dish I keep ready for the purpose by Her candle. As I do, I say:
Burn on our hearth, Wéstyā, source of all that is holy. Bless us who dwell here, and smile on our home, and give special care to guests that our care of them might honor You.
Then eat as usual. When the meal is done, collect Her plate along with all the other dishes and clean up. Return Her cleaned dish to Her shrine while saying:
I welcomed You into my home with the offerings due a guest, Wéstyā, but I know that I am ever a guest in yours. May Your flame always shine bright. Blessings to You, Lady of the Flame!
Blow out Her candle, thus scattering Her blessings around the home. Done!
What I particularly like about this setup is that it reminds me to consider Her during the entire meal, from preparation through cleanup. However, at no point does it feel overwhelming, scary, or difficult. When I first started with this approach I kept little cards with my lines by Her candle (since everything is said there), one for each section, so I didn’t forget or stumble. After a while I naturally memorized them, but I didn’t feel like I had to. And I still keep the cards underneath Her candle, just in case.
Away from Home: The process doesn’t really change, just the actions. I say the things I’d normally say, but in my head instead of out loud. Instead of lighting a candle I visualize it. And instead of putting Her offering on Her shrine I set a small plate up for Her to the side. I’ll either bring one with me or, if I’m in a restaurant, I’ll just request an extra saucer from the wait staff. I’ve never once had anyone not dining with me question it. Not a plate-type meal? That’s fine. Use whatever is being used for whatever you’re eating.
What I use is obviously not the be-all/end-all of possibilities for mealtime offerings. It’s totally ok if you want to change it up. Hell, I based what I actually say in large part on prayers written by Ceisiwr Serith in Deep Ancestors. Feel free to adapt what I’ve provided here to reflect your practice, the Powers you honor, and the way you take your meals. Or write your own!
I usually prepare, eat, and clean up my meals solo, so my devotions are written that way. Want to involve more people? Have the head cook do the first part, whoever’s in charge of clean up do the third, and maybe rotate the second. Or have the oldest/youngest do it. Or rock/paper/scissors for it. Or draw lots. Or roll dice. Be creative!
Want to honor a different Power? Feel free! An obvious substitution here would be the Greek Hestia or the Roman Vesta, but any home and hearth goddess would be a perfectly suitable choice. Want to honor Ancestors or Land Spirits instead of a goddess? Go for it!
Really like the candle part and want to use one away from home too? Or live somewhere that candles are absolutely prohibited (like a dorm)? Consider dedicating one of those battery-operated tea lights to Her and using it instead. Switch it on when you would usually light the candle, leave it on during the meal, and click it off when the plates are cleared and you’ve given thanks. Use a real candle if you can, but if you can’t by all means use what works.
Really, the sky’s the limit here.
Devotional work doesn’t have to be difficult, complicated, intimidating, or time-intensive. It always, always goes back to hospitality – being ready and willing to entertain, offering food/drink, and being respectful. As long as you hit those three points you’re on the right track!