To his friend a man should bear him as friend, and gift for gift bestow, laughter for laughter let him exchange, but leasing pay for a lie.
43. To his friend a man should bear him as friend, to him and a friend of his; but let him beware that he be not the friend of one who is friend to his foe.
44. Hast thou a friend whom thou trustest well, from whom thou cravest good? Share thy mind with him, gifts exchange with him, fare to find him oft.
* What I offer here is based on my experiences working with Irish and Norse gods. Various traditions have their own beliefs and practices around sacrifice. Making moral judgments on traditions who practice humane and compassionate animal sacrifice is not something I do, especially considering the truth that many animals are killed so people can eat on a daily basis. May we have gratitude for all that gives its life for our survival.
One common misconception you may have heard about "the dangers of witchcraft" and paganism is that we offer sacrifices to our gods. Many people who are new to paganism may be relying on pop culture or often unverified sources (like YouTube, Tiktok or UPG-- our unverified personal gnosis or insights or experiences with spirits or gods not supported by our lore or sources like archaeology) are quick to insist that no, they don't sacrifice to their gods. Historically, pagans of all stripes did make sacrifices to their gods and that continues to this day.
I sacrifice to my gods and spirits on a regular basis. This can take the form of giving up something that I enjoy, taking on a task that I find challenging or giving them things which I know they enjoy (my sources for this are based on their lore and SPG-- the shared personal gnosis that comes through community), and sometimes, directly from my gods and spirits themselves.
There are a few key points that are often overlooked when we discuss sacrifice:
The importance of giving the best you are able to give
The importance of giving without always asking for something
The importance of giving something your gods or spirits want (rather than what you want to give them) and having taken the time to find out what they want
Gods have varying levels of tolerance when it comes to offerings. For example, Thor is often quite content with a horn of Guinness, while The Morrighan tends to want the finest whiskey and will be..disappointed with a large bottle of cheap booze. One of the core principles of a sacrifice is that you’re giving something up. If it doesn’t cost you in some way (time, energy, money), it’s not a sacrifice, it’s a gift. Gifts are fine, but it’s important to call a thing what it is.
In the same way that you probably wouldn’t stay friends with a person who was always getting in touch because they needed something, so too do we want to keep this in mind with our gods. The gods I work with/for appreciate a “Thinking of You” gift as much as any other being, and I work hard to keep my relationships with them healthy by trying to solve my own problems first, by ensuring that all of our interactions aren’t about my challenges and that I declare my appreciation and sincere thanks for my answered prayers and the good fortune that falls out of the clear blue sky.
Just like people, different deities have different preferences. If you had a friend who was vegetarian, it wouldn’t be a gift for you to take them to a steakhouse just because you were in the mood for red meat. Unless you’re working with a very obscure deity, with a bit of research, you should be able to find out what they enjoy. What did their priests/priestesses and devotees offer to them in earlier times? For example, fertility gods tend to like offerings of grain such as sheafs of wheat or beer, goddesses of creativity may appreciate a poem, song or painting you create for them.
What do I sacrifice? To my gods, I give mead, beer or whiskey and bread, nuts or grains. Sometimes, I make them their favourite dishes like porridge with bacon or blackberries and cream. To my landvaettir and hausvaettir, I sacrifice cornmeal or grains and mead or milk. My ancestors receive fresh water on a daily basis and rum or whiskey and bread regularly.
My sacrifice has taken other forms, from setting aside time to learn new languages, transcribing historical records, giving up activities I enjoy and walking away from habits which were both comforting and unhealthy. Some of these I gave up freely, others with a bit of coaxing. Still others were negotiated with my gods and spirits, with them making their strong feelings quite clear.
Some people hear about the practice of making offerings and decide that those of us who do so are attempting to bribe gods and spirits. Are you bribing a friend when you treat them to a coffee or listen to them when they're going through a tough time? In Heathenry, we take the notion that "A gift demands a gift" from the Havamal, the Sayings of Odin. Hospitality and generosity are cornerstones of our practice-- without them communities, families, friendships and relationships crumble.
Each practitioner has their own understanding of their gods. Within Heathenry, a common perspective is that the gods can be our friends. In the Prose Eddas, there's mention of a man devoted to the fertility god, Frey. When this man died, snow would not accumulate on his grave-- it's said that Frey cared for him so deeply that He refused to even allow snow to separate them.
Your mileage may vary. In the pantheon of Irish deities, I certainly know priests and priestesses who do not have a friendly relationship with the gods they serve. They have contracts with their gods to do certain work on a certain timeline and while there are moments of levity and joy, like you might have at a company dinner, you don't forget that your boss is your boss. Dedication and contracts with gods is a topic for another time time, but don't worry-- I'll get to it!
(Source for Havamal quote https://www.pitt.edu/~dash/havamal.html )