My own altar, Samhain 2015
There has been quite a lot of heated debate on the internet concerning the appropriate types of offerings to give the Morrigan. And whether or not bullets are a legitimate one. What I think about all those discussions boils down to two main points. Firstly that offerings in general are a very personal thing. The context in which an offering is made is important. And the type of offering reflects on the relationship between the devotee and the deity in question. Secondly it begs the question: What exactly is an offering? And this is what interests me the most. Because it’s not something often discussed in Paganism, and to be honest I find that not many Pagans necessarily make offerings as a part of their daily or regular spiritual practice.
So what exactly is an offering? Why do we do it? Are we bribing the gods? Putting a quarter in the celestial vending machine, hoping to get the prize we want?
Questioning whether or not an offering is appropriate to a deity requires us to consider why we are leaving that offering in the first place. For myself it boils down to reciprocity. I offer the gods something out of respect, love and devotion, and they offer at times something in return. What is a small thing to a god can be something that makes a big impact in my life. Leaving offerings helps build a connection to deity, it is something that is a regular part of my devotion to the gods I work with.
The spirit in which you offer something is immensely important. We are not bribing or bartering with the gods, and sadly I think this is the approach a lot of people take. If I offer the right stone or herbs then I have essentially “bought” or bribed the gods into giving me the thing I asked for. If a person approaches making offerings in this manner, then I’m really not surprised when the gods don’t fulfill their request. No matter what I am offering I approach the process with love and gratitude in my heart. Even if I have nothing more than a cup of water to offer the gods, it is the spirit in which I offer it, the devotion I imbue it with that matters the most.
I also spend a lot of time thinking about what to offer to deity. Things that are a part of a deity’s myths, or have been historically offered to them are always good places to start. Also if a god finds something repugnant in their myths then maybe that’s not the best thing to offer them. For example there are specific things that certain Orisha, either via myth or tradition, should never be offered. And lastly the offering has to have some kind of meaning to the person giving it. On occasions I offer herbs or incense, but it worries me that these have become the fall back offerings to many people simply because they see someone else using them, and because they really aren’t thinking about why they are choosing to offer that particular item in the first place. At a festival a few years ago I attended a ritual where those present were asked to throw an offering into a fire for the gods. The ritual revolved around cleansing and bringing change. A friend who was there had asked the gods to help her with something that was very important in her life. We had known about the ritual in advance and she had brought something very special to her, and item her deceased father had given her, to offer to the fire. The offering fit with the thing she was asking the gods for, and all was well until she noticed the items other people were throwing into the fire. She whispered to me that she felt silly offering something so grand and so very different that those tossing handfuls of herbs and sticks of incense into the fire. She actually felt embarrassed to offer what I felt was a beautiful gift to the gods. A true sacrifice. Something that could not be replaced. Eventually she did go up to the fire and make her offering. And the gods answered her plea not long after.
My point is that there should be some thought that goes into offerings, and that by their very nature offerings will differ from devotee to devotee. What has value to each person and what the gods want from each of us will be different. And it should be. The Morrigan has many devotees. One may be a single mother, another a police officer, a soldier, a teacher, a Wiccan, a Reconstructionist, a Druid, a conservative, or a radical, the list goes on. All of these people may have a dedication to the Morrigan but each will more than likely offer her different things. And guess what. That’s how it should be. There are some things that people offer the Queen that I never would, and it really doesn’t offend or hurt me that they do so. If it works for their practice and reflects their connection with Her, awesome. I’ll honor Her in my way, and others in their own way. All that really matters to me is that they are honoring Her. That they are approaching Her with devotion. The problem with people getting riled up over someone offering something they personally wouldn’t give to a deity or personally find repugnant, comes down to confusing taste for morality. Just because I don’t like something, or something doesn’t work well for me, doesn’t negate the fact that it could hold an entirely different meaning for someone else.
So that brings me to what do I personally offer the Morrigan. Me personally. Not what you should offer. What works for me. Well surprisingly 98% of the time I offer Her whiskey or an act of bravery. Offerings don’t have to be physical things. One of my first teachers told me “Do something today, that you were afraid of doing yesterday. ” Given the Morrigan’s connection to strife, battle and sovereignty, I find this to be a worthy offering. Facing my fears, having the bravery to stand up for another person, these are all things I think She values more than any physical item I can offer to Her. For the rest of the time I do find that the Queen likes her whiskey. I’m that crazy Pagan who wanders a liquor store waiting to feel a nudge that says a deity wants a certain libation.
As to the drama on the internet, yes I have a few bullets on my altar. Two of them are from WWII and have been carried through real combat. Near them , against the wall, is a bayonet that my grandfather brought back from WWII. Having two great uncles and a grandfather who survived D-Day these all have meaning to me. There is a modern bullet there too, alongside the WWII relics, sitting beside candles, offering bowls for whiskey, swords, spears, a drum painted with a raven, and multiple statues. Bullets are not what I offer on a daily basis, but it’s something I have felt called by Her to leave on Her altar. Because my altar to Her is a reflection of all Her aspects, not just the ones I like the best. And because she is still a goddess of war. Not iron age war, or just war that involves swords. She reminds us what is worth fighting for. What do we love enough to lay down our lives for? When humanity stops asking ourselves those questions, maybe she will cease being a war goddess. But I don’t think that will happen anytime soon, or ever really.
Another picture of my personal altar
For myself personally a bullet doesn’t represent violence. If they do to you, then I suggest you find other things that have meaning to you to offer Her. For myself bullets and guns are just tools, just as swords are simply tools. The violence we connect with them originates in the person holding the tool, not the tool itself. The swords that we romanticize has no other purpose than to kill, specifically to kill other humans. At very least the argument can be made that spears and guns have been used for hunting. But not the sword. So the next time you pick up your ritual sword, reminded that while other weapons have replaced it over the years, it is still a weapon meant for killing. A weapon the Celts ritually broke and offered to the gods. That LOTR replica sword (not knocking anyone here I have a few!) may be beautiful to look at, but it doesn’t change what it is. So in that fashion having bullets on Her altar does not bother me. Like a sword, a gun can be used in self defense, and for myself it represents the idea that I have the right to defend myself. I have two friends who owe their lives to having concealed carry permits. One prevented a car jacking. In the other case it saved a friend from being raped. We both went to college together and she had one of those so called “gun nut” fathers. We joked with her about how he insisted she get a concealed carry permit and bought her a small gun to have with her when she walked to her car late at night from her bartending job. And one night a man tried to assault her and force her into his car. Luckily she was able to scare him off long enough to call the cops. If she hadn’t had a gun at very least she would have been raped, and more than likely she would have ended up losing her life. Similarly I know one military devotee who leaves bullets on his altar before deployment, asking for protection and that he may do his job without having to take a life.
Oddly enough, perhaps because I’m a vegetarian, offering meat is one of the few offerings I at first had some difficultly with. But on occasion, usually for a very special purpose, I will offer a small portion of raw beef (the best cut of course). I may not have had to slaughter that cow myself as our ancestors would have, but the fact that I am offering flesh remains forefront in my mind. To offer that bit of beef something living had to give up its life, and the gravity of that goes into the energy and emotion behind my offering. And as I said before I truly think the gods care more about the manner in which we give an offering than what the physical item is.
This is not the first time devotees of the Morrigan have gotten heated over what other people choose to offer to the Queen. What troubles me is that we have trouble respecting that what one person does in their practice can be different than our own. What is repugnant to you may hold a different meaning to me. Let the gods decide what is to their liking and what is not. Offer what you are personally called to offer, and respect what others give in their devotion.
Lastly what concerns me is this idea that the Morrigan’s connection to war does not apply to modern times, but instead to only the romanticized war of the past. The Morrigan has many guises, she is far from just a goddess of war. But war remains a part of her nature. She is not a tame lion. She did not retire from the war goddess business once swords stopped being the high tech weapon of the day. In some ways I see a shift in her approach. As I said, she reminds us what is worth fighting for. That can apply to a personal battle or a literal battle. And today I find she is very concerned with claiming personal sovereignty and goading us into facing our personal demons. But that makes her no less a goddess of war. To pretend she is otherwise, simply because we find modern warfare distasteful, is to deny a vital part of Her being. Morgan Daimler puts it quite succinctly:
"You know when my dad came back from Vietnam, when he got off the plane, people in the airport spit on him. This makes me think of that. We are spitting on our war gods because we are mistaking them for the gory collateral damage of war that we abhor. But they are not that. They are the spirit to fight and win and defend the things that matter. They are the spirit of battle that makes anything in life worth fighting for. And I think its dangerous to forget that, and very dangerous to disrespect them. They protect us, and we need them, just as we need soldiers whether we want to admit it or not."
When someone offers something to a deity, respect that it’s a personal choice. It is part of their devotion to deity, not yours. And may we remember to respect that gods may represent things we are uncomfortable with, and that to turn a blind eye to part of their nature is dangerous. When you make offerings to the gods think about why you are offering a particular item. What meaning does it hold for you? What connection does it have to the god you are giving it to? Find what works for you, not just what works for other people. Because you are the one making the offering, not anyone else.