• Jess

Milk and Honey: Reciprocity, Respect and Gift Cycles

So, how does all this work? It's a lot of moving parts. What works for me is to plug my gift cycle into my calendar on the first week of each month. The first Wednesday, I offer to Frigg, the first Thursday to Thor, on Friday, I offer to Freya and Freyr, on Sunday to my ancestors, landvaettir and hausvaettir.

At Samhain, I prepare a feast of eggs, rice, oat cakes, jam, root vegetables, whiskey, rum, tea, corn and anything else they ask for. On a daily basis, I pray to my ancestors, refresh their water, greet them and light a candle for them. A new tradition I’ve developed is to make additional offerings to my ancestors the week after my birthday.

I know that I wouldn’t be here without them and for both the blessings they passed down in their lives and the prayers they answer from beyond the veil, I want to express my deep gratitude. So they get sweets and coffee in addition to their rum, whiskey and bread. I light extra candles and put fresh flowers on their altar.

In the Bronze Age, throughout Ireland, Scotland Wales, Iceland and Denmark, it was common to sacrifice items such as beautifully crafted jewelry, weapons, cups or money by ritually breaking them (such as bending the sword's blade to make it unfit for human use) and throwing it into a lake or other body of water. Bodies of water were often considered as portals to the Otherworld, so depositing items in a lake can be thought of the equivalent of sending them via Canada Post!

An astonishing number of these sacrifices have been unearthed and for me, it feels comforting to think of the sacrifices I make as being part of a thread of a long-standing tradition. Reading the findings of archaeologists and the research of historians has provided me with incredibly valuable insights into how I can reconstruct aspects of ancient practices. It's not called "the religion with homework" for nothing.

One of the questions I often hear is “How do I get started?” Sometimes, we can be so anxious and concerned about getting it right that we try to wait until we can do it perfectly..so it remains undone. My best advice is simply to start with one task which you can do regularly. Once we get into the rhythm of doing something, it becomes easier to continue.

To build a practice, we have to actually practice. We have to do the thing and take note of what happens next. Sometimes, with a small, consistent sacrifice, new information from ancestors will appear or the gods will show you how to solve a problem which you didn't know how to fix on your own. Let go of the need for perfection and trust that an honest desire for connection, curiousity and respect is more than enough to get started.

Most of the time, the gods appreciate a sincere attempt and have no trouble communicating if there’s something else they’d like. If they ask for something beyond your means, you can ask them to help you save money or make time for it. If you don’t work closely with deities, it’s not necessary to make offerings to them.

As someone who has a working relationship with several deities, making offerings and sacrifices to them has helped me deepen my understanding of them and of myself, and it’s gifted me with insights about boundaries, compassion and how to shift some of the obstacles in my path.

It's important to note that yes, sometimes we make sacrifices and ask for something in return, but not getting what we want doesn't mean that we are being ignored. Sometimes, the answer to what we want is "No" or "Not right now" or "Take care of X first". It's been my experience that the gods are often focused on what we need or more broadly on the work they need us to do in the world.

How often have we longed for something which actually wasn't good for us? It was simply comfortable or familiar, even if it allowed us to play small or avoid responsibility or face difficult truths about needed change in our lives. The gods are not Disney-style genies, meant to cater to our every whim and a multitude of novels and films have walked us through how getting everything you want can actually be terrible.

The cornerstone of healthy, meaningful relationships with humans or non-humans (like gods and spirits) are pretty much the same: respect, compassion, attentive listening, bringing full presence, being willing to learn and change and loving yourself enough to affirm your boundaries. I hope this inspires you to start thinking about boundaries and gratitude in all of your relationships.

Still have unanswered questions? Drop me a line at jess@soulfiresessions.ca and I'll do a follow-up post.

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