Devotion, Shrines/Altars and Offerings

A discussion of devotional offerings has come up again. (Ever noticed it happens almost every six months?) This latest episode is related to offering a bullet to The Morrigan. With discussions on facebook migrating over to blogs. Including Galina Krasskova, Asa West and Rhyd Wildermuth.

Now I promised myself not to get involved in these debates anymore. But in this case I feel compelled to defend my religious beliefs and the sacredness of my gods.

It’s Rhyd’s piece I take issue with. Mostly because he brings up old, heavily discussed, and controversial topics, like blood sacrifice,(this borders on animal sacrifice), his closing statements are judgemental as it illustrates a picture of people who do offer blood sacrifice (like me) as barbarians. (I used that term as that’s what I’ve been called in past for performing my devotion.)

This is all too familiar. *Yawn* I’m not going to go much into this stuff as I’m tired of it.

What did gripe me, which is why I’m writing this, is that he claims that the shrine is part of the devotees personality, a ‘mirror’, it is us. Or as Asa put it: what we choose to offer to a god–and our reason for choosing it–says much more about us than it does about the god.”

Now, in some regards I do agree with Rhyd in respects of our bodies being akin to altar (after all, I have devoted my very being to Dionysos) and also that physical altars/shrines works as a conduit to our connections to the gods. But in his essay it appears to me that he is distancing himself away from the importance of devotion and space.

I find a certain irony in this as Rhyd is well known for his anarchism and his work with the massively popular Gods and Radicals.  Within that group the discussion of ownership / possession comes up a lot, but here it appears Rhyd is forgetting the nature of a shrine/altar by enforcing a belief that these spaces are only just personal possessions…

From my perspective the concept of anarchism can be found with shrines and altars as devotees don’t own the space, it is not yours / mine / ours. The offerings given are offerings and once given to a god they belong only to the god. This is my fundamentals of devotion.
A shrine is a sacred space dedicated in a household, ie., the devotee may own the space around the shrine, but not the shrine itself. A devotees job to play a host in making the gods comfortable in the space dedicated to them. This is the basics of Xenia, or Theoxenia to be precise. Depending on what the host has invited into the household and how the host wants — or are directed by the deity — determines the offerings given.

For myself I’ve been working with the darker aspect of Dionysos. This aspect requires certain things that may be considered unsavoury in our over-culture. Including blood. But this is not something I’ve actively gone out of my way to seek, nor is it a reflection of my personality. It is a process I must fulfil to move forwards with my devotion. It has opened gateways for me to come to terms with Mysteries I would not be able to understand without enduring / giving these kind of offerings – as far as I know there is no alternative to this form of work. What’s more this has been requested of me by Dionysos or his retinue.

In the end, each to their own when it comes to how far one wants to take their devotion, but espousing a certain method of dedication is dangerous territory. Not only is this dogmatic, it is holding back proper devotion to a god, it is allowing our human morality to dictate our practice, it is ignoring the rites of our ancestors, it is speaking for the gods themselves, i.e., hubris.

Δ

shrine

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14 thoughts on “Devotion, Shrines/Altars and Offerings

  1. Interesting.
    An implication of your idea would be that the gods themselves would be the progenitor of property, as what is ‘belonging to them’ or is theirs.

    Derrida covers this problem quite well in his deconstruction of Heidegger’s discussion of justice, offering, and present/presents/presence, which I just came across last night. (Spectres of Marx). In essence, we’d have to treat the gods as a disadvantaged class, a propertied-less class, for which our donation or largesse then enables them to have presence. That is, of course, if we assume the existence of property itself, and assume that the gods give a shit for any of human conceptions of mine and thine.

    What I primarily attempt to do in that essay is challenge how much of our conception of the world informs/infects our devotion to the gods. If one starts from the assumption that the god is pre-existing any current symbolic order (in which a bullet means just or ‘just’ i.e.; ‘merely’ devotion), than we must challenge all the other threads of the symbolic order, including that of property. The act of offering, then, isn’t the property transaction/exchange (again, Arianrhod doesn’t drink the wine), but the act-of-itself which disjoints or disjuncts the here into the Other.

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    1. We come from different schools to some degree, the Hellenic gods are – in my experience- very materialistic and do request objects that extend outside mere symbolism. What this actually means, or means to Them, is not up to me to decide.

      In this regard some may judge me for being mindlessly devoted, but the requests have always been fair. I’m not going to run into the arena of what is divine or the nature of the divine. In other words I don’t question what property means to the gods, they ask it, I give it.

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    2. It’s not that you don’t have some interesting points on the matter. But I have to say, I am wary of any complex philosophical argument that ends up just reinforcing the idea that it’s all about us, ultimately. It doesn’t matter if I understand why the gods want something, or what They could possibly get out of a bunch of flowers or some wine poured on the ground. Pretty much every animist or polytheist tradition I know of, prior to modern paganism, has discovered through vast centuries of relationships that the gods want tangible offerings, and a tangible space in this world. Who am I to deny Them that because of my own ideas about the way things work?

      Our offerings only tell more about us than about the gods IF we are giving our offerings solely based on our own preferences rather than those of the gods. Only if we’re doing it just to bring Them into the world the way WE want to have Them here (as if They weren’t already here?). It completely discounts the reality of the gods being able to communicate specific desires/instructions to us – which, as a spirit-worker, mystic and oracle, I obviously believe in quite strongly. Hell, every decision in my life is given over to the gods, I certainly would be the last to say that it’s all just about external “things” we give Them, but I still pour out wine for Dionysos, and if He asks for something I’m uncomfortable with, I’d still give it to Him, because it’s not about me.

      To say the altar is a mirror is to say that in the end, we just want to look at ourselves. Which I’m afraid is exactly what’s going on with a large majority of paganism these days.

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      1. I share your concern about self-centered or ‘all/only about us’ devotion. I think that’s what I feel like describing as the “Halstead” fallacy (though of course he’s only one in a long line of this sort of thinking). 🙂

        The matter that’s most intriguing is this: what precisely do we give the persons (gods) who have need of no physical thing? Really, the only thing we actually have to give, that is actually ours, that isn’t just something that comes from the earth or the gods, but the one thing we have unique to us–our ability to weave meaning for/with/because/ or (in the case of most people) without them.

        So, giving them ‘tangible’ things is precisely weaving our actions (and objects which aren’t really ‘ours’ to give them anyway) into a manifestation for them. Why’s Dionysos want wine? I can’t speak for him, of course, but he’s not drinking it. So there’s something specifically about the act of us pouring out wine to him that is what he’s after. He’s after the act, or it’s the act that is the only thing we possess that we actually can offer.

        That’s hardly to say they don’t have any say in the matter. If it were all about us we wouldn’t be offering anything at all, or drinking the wine ourselves and pretending some sacred transference (like the communion rite).

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  2. On further thought, a metaphor would help, because anyway a relationship between a human and a god is one of love.

    If I give my lover a gift, it is hardly the gift that mattered. Did he like it? Did I give him something that displays my affection and shows him my love?

    But to say the gift didn’t matter misses the point, too, as it’s only one of the many ways humans world their affection. And the sort of gift certainly matters–giving him a novel by Ayn Rand would be an insult, even if my ‘intention’ was to show love. “It’s the thought that counts” isn’t what I’m talking about either here.

    To give him things he likes or asks for? Of course, that’s awesome. But if I only give him things he’s asking for, that’s something else. Also, to give him something he asked for even though it’s not something I’d like in my relationship with him (like, say if he asked for crystal meth,)? That changes the very terms of the reason I’d be giving gifts in the first place, and I’d quite frankly tell him no.

    That’s the point though. The giving of gifts is the external ritual, the ‘worlding’ of the mutual love. And I think the very important mutuality of the relationship between humans and gods might be the core confusion.

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    1. Rhyd: I’ll be upfront with you, I’m not very good at being philosophical in that regard. I simply give without intention of reward. However, there is sometimes a reward which is known as Kharis – I’m sure Dver can go into this more on this subject.

      The second concept you mention that I find interesting is giving something that is not physical or predefined or even ours to give, this is a major precept of The Dionysian Artist/s. Not just giving, but creating!
      Now what defines the end product of *art* is up to the artist themselves, but in terms of devotional art, I see no difference between a poem, oil painting, *bullet* or a glass of wine.
      All of these things require effort, thought and physical matter – and if given with devotion in mind the value is equal in my eyes, they are gifts and if accepted they are no longer ours.
      What gives an artist (devotee) the right is intention, if one follows the modernist school of art: art can be anything, even that which is premade. We can therefore claim that anything can be given as devotion as long as the artist redefines it as a gift to the gods.
      I believe that ultimately it is the intention that defines sacrifice.

      All of this should be, of course, done with utmost respect to the gods and requires tools like divination to determine the appropriate ‘thing’ offered.

      (Note this comment was made before seeing Rhyd’s other, sorry if any confusion is caused.)

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    2. In regards to giving something *we* may believe to be offensive to the gods like: Ayn Rand. Yeah, I might give her to Dionysos, just like I would give Pentheus to Dionysos. You see, it’s a matter of perspective, a perspective that is determined by the gods.
      Pentheus is a sacrifice and through his death by the Dionysian followers, Pentheus becomes a Dionysian Hero. This is why this is so complex and why we cannot allow our presumptions / sensibilities to get in the way of devotion and the will of the gods.

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  3. This is really good stuff, markos. I think it gets to the heart of the issue (which is not treating the Gods as independent, objective realities and condemning those who do).

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  4. Personally, one of the things I find most disgusting about this whole conversation is the concept of “Fetishizing offerings” – the hell is that all about? Also, I don’t get the major hissy fit being thrown about offering bullets to An Morrighan. I’d do it ina heartbeat, but then again I come from a family of hunters with a number of family members who were in the military at one point or another. Granted, I’m not specifically devoted to An Morrighan, though she is a part of my personal group of Gods (when it comes to Gaelic Gods, I’m far more a devotee of Brighid and Aine, among others), but I still don’t see the issue here. But maybe that’sjust me.

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