Daily Devotions – Mealtime Offerings

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.

  1. 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?

    A family praying before a meal.

    Many of us might have taken part in this over the recent Thanksgiving holiday even if it’s not part of our usual practice.

  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. 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!

Timing 

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.

Westya's place on my shrine.

Wéstyā’s place on my shrine. On the left, you can see the cards tucked underneath and the dish I use for Her offerings. On the right, the cards are spread out so you can see them. Unless I’m burning the candle the top covers it – I like this particular candle holder because the handle part looks like a flame too!

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.

Variations

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.

A package of 2 LED tea lights.
Two for $1 at the Dollar Tree. Complete with “flickering effect”.

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!

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Prayer Ritual Basics

Since posting about my upcoming Prayer Ritual I’ve gotten several requests for a how-to guide. I figured the best place to start would be an explanation from the one who inspired me to do this, Stevie Miller over at Feathers in Amber. She graciously provided the below explanation and photos of her techniques. One of the things I most like about her practice is that she’s not afraid to experiment with different approaches, so you’ve quite a few examples to start with!

Starting an Open Prayer Ceremony
Stevie Miller

If you have spent any amount of time on social media–and really, who hasn’t?–you’ve probably seen a surprising amount of people asking for prayers. It might not occur to you, as it didn’t for me, until you start looking for it, but these requests are everywhere: sick and injured friends and family, job searches, hurting relationships, house fires, cars breaking down. In a circle of just a couple hundred people, things like this can be going wrong every day.

As a spirit worker, I seem to have something of an “on duty” sign that lights up when people specifically ask for prayer. Even if the people making the request are from different traditions than mine, or outside of polytheism altogether, I often feel moved to help. But since I didn’t want to impose my beliefs on others, I wanted to come up with a way to figure out who wanted that kind of help from me, and how I could offer it on a regular basis without it taking over my life.

A simple prayer ritual to Odin with an offering of mead and incense.

A simple altar layout for a prayer ritual, featuring an offering of mead and incense.

Enter the weekly open prayer ceremony. I let people know that I will be lighting candles and reading out petitions once a week and that I’m open to requests. Suddenly, those requests came flooding in from every direction–more than I even had candles for! People loved the idea, and I even got asked if others could pray for me in return, and if I wanted donations to be offered to any charities in return for this sacred work. I was also asked to write the article you’re reading now.

I also found that this practice has benefitted me. The routine is fantastic for ensuring that I’m offering to and talking to my Powers regularly. Social accountability–that is, other people expecting that you’re going to do something, and your posting evidence of it–is great for establishing and maintaining a good habit. It has also made me feel much more connected to others. Spirit work, especially when you serve a really niche tribe–and in my case, a discarnate, non-human tribe–can be an extremely lonely path. But with this, I’m using my skills to do good for others, and hearing back about how it has helped them. It has been starting to make me feel like I really do have a community, and they need me.

This picture shows the Odin candle, an offering of mead on top of a prayer list, and a piece of knot magick representing all the prayers made.

This picture shows the Odin candle, an offering of mead on top of a prayer list, and a piece of knot magick representing all the prayers made. She kept the cord on the altar for a week so that the Gods could watch over everyone’s intentions.

The Gods, Ancestors, and Spirits seem to enjoy being needed too. I’ve consistently gotten messages over the years, both intended for myself and intended for others, along the lines of “Ask Us! Come to Us when you are in need! We want to be a part of your lives and your works. You don’t need to do this all alone.” Calling on the Powers regularly for the people has strengthened my bond with Them too.

I wholeheartedly believe the world will be a better place when more of us are praying for each other and offering to the Powers. So if you’d like to start an open prayer ceremony of your own–which I would strongly encourage!–I’d like to offer some tips.

Define your community: Maybe you just want to open your ceremony to people close to you, or maybe you want to make it public. I post publicly on social media about it, and, odd exceptions aside, accept every prayer petition I receive. You may want to do it differently. Whatever you choose, figure out who you’re offering this service to and how you will let them know about it. An alternative is to simply gather up the prayer requests you see and hear in day to day life. You’ll be surprised how many you encounter once you start looking for them.

Set your boundaries: What Powers do you want to work with? Will you let people request prayers to a specific deity or spirit? What kinds of prayer requests will you accept? When will you accept prayer requests? What is your maximum capacity? These are all things you will need to define for yourself and your audience if you’re going to do open prayer ceremonies.

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A beautiful altar layout utilizing nine candles to represent the collective prayers said. Note the rune stones in front of the candles – she drew a general omen for everyone she prayed for and shared the results.

Create your ritual: I’ve found that it’s easiest for me to deal with open requests if I keep my ritual format simple. I do a simple invocation, I make offerings to the Powers I have invoked, I read the petitions of the people while lighting candles, and I thank the Powers for Their blessings. Sometimes I will add a component where I take an omen, such as a three rune pull or a card draw, or a component where I meditate and listen to see if the Powers have any messages for just me personally or for all the people being prayed for. That’s it.

Distance offerings: Since I’m praying for people who are scattered all over the country, I took up a practice that seems to be gaining popularity in polytheist circles: I promote offerings to charity in the name of the deity being honored that week. For example, the last couple times that I have worked with Odin, He has made it clear that He would like offerings in His name to be made to Alzheimer’s research. This allows people who are not present at your ceremony to take part if they feel so moved by giving something in exchange. Reciprocity is important in many traditions. It also helps you work on causes your Powers find important, which can only improve your devotional relationships, right?

Simplify: I keep the whole process simple because it’s easier for me to focus on the petitions, and to keep this process going without getting burnt out. For example, you don’t have to light an individual candle for every single petition. I sometimes use 9 which is a symbolically important number in my tradition; for many 3 is also a sacred number.

An image of nine tealights arranged in a pattern centered on an Odin jar candle.

Miller’s use of nine candles during a prayer ritual.

Offerings can be low key, like a nice beverage or some incense. I use Wednesday as my day of the week because that day is named after my Patron Odin (“Woden’s Day”). Keeping it on the same day each week makes it easier for me to remember (I’m lucky if I know what day it is!) and also makes it easy for people to know when their prayer requests need to get to me by.

After my prayer ceremony is over, I usually share a quick snapshot of the lit up altar just to let people know that their petitions have been spoken. I’ll share any commentary that I have from the rite itself, especially if I took an omen and want to share my reading of it.

In the future, I plan to work with different Powers and offer prayer ceremonies focused on particular intents, such as healing and abundance. I’m hoping to foster connections between people and deities or spirits they may not be as familiar with too.

I hope that this has been helpful and that you are inspired to start your own open prayer ceremony! Blessings to you and your communities.

Eclipse/New Moon Prayer Ritual

I’ve been inspired by Stevie Miller over at Grundsau Burrow. She’s been holding regular formal prayer rituals of late and I think that’s a damn fine idea. I’m hopping on the bandwagon and joining in. In these trying times we need all the help we can get!

That being so, when better than the coming solar eclipse? I’ll be continuing this practice on every new moon for the foreseeable future, but this seems like a great time to start!

solar-eclipse-clouds

This is an open call for prayers to be ritually made on your behalf on August 21st. If you would like to participate, please let me know your name and what you’re praying for so I can add you to the list and do the prep work. You can comment here, tag me on Facebook, PM me, email me, whatever makes you comfy. And feel free to share! I’m taking the whole day off to make this happen, so let’s get it rolling!

I will stop accepting prayer requests at 5:30a EST, August 21st.

*Note: I reserve the right to refuse prayers for anything I find ethically dodgy. Thank you for your understanding.