I Give You Bread, I Give You Beer – Food Offerings in Ancient Egypt

By Maatkara, Chantress of Hathor

“Hail Amun-Ra, I present to you honey, the Eye of Heru, the sweet one, the exudation of the Eye of Ra, the Lord of Offerings.”

1What exactly are “offerings” and why should we give them?  Simply put, offerings are gifts we give freely with joy in our hearts.  We give them to the Gods out of respect (or sometime fear), to the ancestors to honor them and even to spirits to appease them. 

In ancient Egypt, one of the most important aspects of ritual was the act of making offerings to the gods or ancestors.  The Pharaohs of Egypt were called the “Sons of Ra” (the sun god) and functioned as the intermediary between the gods and the people.  Because of Pharaoh’s divine status only he or she could act in this capacity.  Each day at sunrise, Pharaoh, or an officiating priest representing him, removed the statue of Ra from its shrine inside the temple so it could be purified (with incense, natron (sodium carbonate) and water), dressed in clothes (literally, the statues wore clothing and jewelry) and anointed (with oils or sometimes honey), then returned to the shrine, ready to receive a ritual meal.  The meal enabled the God to regenerate his life force.

Although the gods were also offered fragrant flowers, scented oils and incense, the simplest food offerings were bread and beer, traditional foods no Egyptian could live without.  Meat, fowl, fruit, vegetables, oil, honey and wine might also be offered.  After allowing time for the God to consume its essence, the priests and temple staff would share the foods.

A similar “feast” occurred at the end of the funerary rites after interment of the mummy into its tomb.  As part of the funerary rites the family would gather in a special room in the tomb and assemble a funeral banquet.  The food offerings would be blessed by the priest and the family would celebrate the departed family member. This was a festive occasion and the guests would wear their finest clothes and jewels.

Afterwards, when the deceased had “eaten” the essence of the foods, they were divided up by the family, with a portion also given to the priest. Often a portion of the meal was placed inside the tomb before it was sealed. 

In a sense, when Pharaoh (or priest) performed the morning ritual, he was making offerings to his own ancestors, being their divine descendent.

In common villages, the family might hold a similar funeral banquet and share the food with the village.

The offerings were a farewell to the deceased and a symbolic nourishment for them, but they also had another purpose. They distributed food among all the family members or even the village so that even the less-fortunate could share in the bounty.

When you observe your rituals, you may wish to add the offering of foods to the gods as the ancient Egyptians did. Remember, the best offerings are the ones given with no expectation of return.     

 Recommended readings: Egyptian Food and Drink by Hilary Wilson; Eternal Egypt: Ancient Rituals for the Modern World by Richard Reidy; and Ancient Egyptian Magic by Bob Brier.

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Offering, Oblation, and Sacrifice

by Jesper Toad

I believe that the practice of Witchcraft includes initiating, fostering, and maintaining reciprocal relationships with the invisible spirits.  Ritual transactions that include offerings, oblations, and sacrifices—the gifts crossing the divide from the visible to the invisible realms—act as foundational communications that open currents of power between us and the multitudinous spirits with which we share the world.

Although traditionally thought of as a transaction or communication between superior spirits (gods and such) and inferior spirits (lowly mankind), I tend to interact with the spirit world not in terms of power-over, but in a praxis of power-with.  Starhawk defines power-over in terms of domination and control, as opposed to power-with, which is based in influence and social power (Simos, 1999, p. 269).  The spirits of the land, the spirits of the dead, the good people, and all the other spirits one might meet, are different from me: as far as I can ascertain, I have both a physical and a spiritual substance, move around in a concrete body in a manifest word subject to time and space; the invisibles have an insubstantial, eternal quality, and are not subject to the same temporal linearity.  As an incarnate entity, I can do things though the medium of my concrete, physical body that  invisible and discarnate entities cannot.  Conversely, the spirits can influence the world in beneficial or malicious ways that are not within my immediate abilities.  For the Witch, the shaman, the magical practitioner, the important relationships between the visible and invisible are reciprocal: we work together toward shared goals, as well as co-inhabit the world.  Additionally, I work from a place of equal-but-different, and think of these invisible spirit entities in the same terms I would incarnate individuals.  How would I treat the neighbors in the next house over?  How do I interact with my co-workers, family members, and friends?  I treat them with respect, and hope that they treat me in the same manner.  With those that I share work, goals, and aspirations, I strive to foster and sustain reciprocal relationships.

Although one may disagree to my leveling everything from the soul of men to the mighty gods under the umbrella term of spirit, one will agree that they are all spirit on some level, and we must foster and sustain right relationships with them so that we may further our spiritual work in the world.  One tenet of the Anderson Feri Tradition that I happen to hold dear is that that one does not submit their life for to anyone or anything (Coyle, 2004, p. 239).  This submission would include turning life force over to any entity, flesh or spirit, man or god.  My use of the word spirit for all such discarnate entities is a linguistic attempt to level a playing field, avoid having my energies co-opted by entities and efforts that do not serve me, and to enter into relationships characterized by power-with rather than power over.  These respectful and reciprocal relationships between the visible and invisible worlds are created and sustained through three related modalities of offering, oblation, and sacrifice.

Offering

OfferingOfferings tend to be spontaneous, an act of sharing rooted in affection, celebration, or gratitude.  Such informal offerings are given freely, an act of generosity.  Earnest offerings to newly encountered spirits often herald the beginning of relationships.  Generally, where offerings and libations are concerned, spirits appear to prefer gifts that have been enhanced by the work of human hands.  The cream and butter churned from the milk of domesticated stock, oatcakes or bread baked by the lady of the house, and fermented beverages are all traditional offerings found in European folklore.

Often modern people will observe that offerings of cream, oatcakes, or whisky appear to be left untouched.  Obviously, it is not the physical substance of an offering, but the vital etheric energies that are consumed by the invisible.  Consequently it is unwise to eat food that was left as an offering, not only because the offense it may cause to the spirits involved, but also because such food has no goodness in it, and stories are told that eating of it can cause sickness (Wentz, 1911).

Oblation

OblationSome offerings are performed on a regular basis to ensure the continuation of reciprocal relationships between the quick and the dead, the human and the fairy, the seen and the unseen. For me, the term for these exchanges is oblation—from the Latin oblatio, meaning ‘to offer’—and occur predictably, maybe daily, perhaps at the turning of the moon, or on the commencement or peak of certain tides of the year.  These gifts are a manifestation of a tacit contract, an obligation intended either as a compensation of services, or a paying forward of offerings from the unseen yet to be delivered.

According to Lecouteux, domestic spirits traditionally receive a portion of the food prepared within the household as a daily offering, usually left upon the heath, which was considered the center of the household (I wonder, now that we rarely have hearths in our dwellings, does this suggest our homes lack a center point?).  Such sprits are considered members of the family, and are treated with the respect that is accorded them (2013, p. 146).  If established oblations are neglected disaster of some sort is sure to follow: cows are taken, crops fail to thrive, objects disappear, and other maladies and accidents occur (Briggs, 1978; Lenihan & Green, 2003; Wentz, 1911).

Oblations performed to honor the spirits of the land are similar to those of domestic spirits—Lecouteux suggests the land spirits often were installed as house spirits—with the exception of where offerings are presented (2015, p. 30).  The spirits of the land receive offerings at crossroads, boundary markers, and borders: all places where the fields of men meet the wild, liminal, in-between places.

The spirits that are honored with less frequent regular oblations are sometimes those that visit from elsewhere.  At All Hallows’ Eve food and drink are prepared for the beloved ancestors as they pass through the thinning veils to visit the living.

Sacrifice

sacrificeI refer to the third exchange between the visible and invisible realms with the word sacrifice: this practice digs deeper into the human side of the equation, and is aimed at transformation.  Sacrifice, as most will tell you, has its origin in the Latin sacrare, meaning to make holy.  The accepted definition of sacrifice suggests that it is used as an act of propitiation or homage.  While propitiation carries the idea of either assuaging or appeasing another, making them favorable or gracious in their attitude and actions toward you, homage refers to, in its original usage, a ceremonial pledging of one person to another.  The aspects of propitiation and homage in relationship to the act of sacrifice appear to be more personal, specific, and deliberate than acts of offering and oblation.

To confuse matters, the word “sacrifice” has been used broadly to describe what I am here dividing more finely into casual offerings and obligatory oblations.  Sacrifice, in my opinion, demands a change in the person committing the sacrifice, which further suggests to me that what is sacrificed is given away irrevocably.  What has been sacrificed is no longer available for use, and those energies belong specifically to that which the sacrifice was dedicated.  Ninian Smart observes that those things that are sacrificed are destroyed or otherwise obscured—often by fire or casting them into water—removing the sacrificed object from the perceptual world and transferring the essence to the invisible realm (Smart, 1996, p. 79).

Lecouteux views the act of sacrifice as primordial, recalling cosmogonic myths involving dismemberment of supernatural beings, resulting in the creation or recreation of the cosmos as the result (2013, p. 22).  In this I tend to agree: the act of sacrifice reroutes the life force of an individual (or of a substitute living being) toward change in the way of being in the world of that individual, or for a larger community.  In my illustration of the sacrifice, the red thread of the life force has been deliberately cut.  The light of consciousness and the innocent heart, represented by the candle flame and the cardiotaph, bear witness to the act: the heart and head must be united in the commitment to the act of sacrifice, and one with the hand that wields the blade that cuts away what is to be gifted and transformed.  Following this notion of sacrifice, any such serious offering of life force must be dedicated toward change, and there can be no looking back.

Briggs, K. (1978). The vanishing people: Fairy lore and legends. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.

Coyle, T. T. (2014). Evolutionary witchcraft.  New York, NY:  Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin.

Lecouteux, C. (2015).  Demons and spirits of the land: Ancestral lore and practices ( J. E. Graham, Trans.).  Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions. (Original work published 1995).

Lecouteux, C. (2013).  The tradition of household spirits: Ancestral lore and practices ( J. E. Graham, Trans.).  Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions. (original work published 2000).

Lenihan, E. & Green, C. E.  (2003). Meeting the other crowd: the fairy stories of hidden Ireland.  New York, NY:  Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin.

Simos, M.  (1999).  The spiral dance: A rebirth of he ancient religion of the great goddess, special 20th anniversary edition.  San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco. (Original work published 1979).

Smart, N.  (1996). Dimensions of the sacred: An anatomy of the world’s beliefs. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA:  University of California Press.

Wentz, W. Y. E. (1911).  The fairy-faith in Celtic countries.  London, UK: Oxford University Press.

Jesper Bio image

 

Jesper Toad is a Georgian and a Gardnerian initiate, and studied the Feri Tradition with T. Thorn Coyle for nearly three years. His personal practice of three decades blends elements of all these traditions, as well incorporating spiritualist, shamanic and depth psychological perspectives. These seasonal writings and images are excerpts from The Enchiridion Magistellus, A Visual Handbook of the Witches’ Art. Jesper can be contacted at jespertoad@gmail.com.

 

On Sacrifice

by Scott K Smith

It’s autumn and hot. And it’s time to sit with my ancestors. I’ve also been thinking about the turning of the wheel, of life, and in the last few days on a Goddess and God myth. She as the Weaver, as Ma-Mother-Matter. He as the Singer and the song, the light and vibration. My sitting was with my place in the world, in context with this time, that is for me ancestral, and my place within my family both living and dead. I am looking for inspiration in birth, life, and death. In nature, stars, and most poignantly in the lives of those I love. I’m only trying to impress my current jam, what looks like a shared gnosis, regardless of the trappings, that we are all indeed in relationship with the same thing. Earth. Life, and the inevitable passage from matter into spirit.

I find meaning in knowing I am part of the Mysteries of Nature. That I continue on in the rock, stone, and soil. And in the tree and green. And through the ancestral. And even through the connection to the divine however you or I connect to that.

Through these stories and moments of contemplation I feel that I am part of everything I touch and see. I see mind and body as one, and I am in the body of nature. That’s my context as a self-identified Witch and Queer magickal being. For myself, engaging my circle and the seasonal year is the narrative of the rise and fall of the the natured life. Life and death like threads of green and red. And the rise and fall of the sun, a dance of light and dark, the mysteries as they are revealed, are the threads of gold and black that lace this experience we are woven into at birth, through ancestral lines and starry origins.

Juxtaposed with my experience is the dominant cultural narratives. Stories that I personally feel are less relevant to me, but there nonetheless. I see them in movies, I hear them in the news, they are meme’d into the culture. Life, love, valour, heroic sacrifice, redemption and salvation. Among cultural morals, sacrifice is an heroic and noble act.

Noble is an interesting word with a root of gno- “to know,” and from the French “worthy of respect.”

To look again, that’s respect.

Knowing is an intimate for me. In knowing I must taste, feel, and derive a relationship. It is not faith or belief, it is understanding. In knowing I am willing to sacrifice a boundary of comfort. Do I say hello to a stranger? Do I take the trip? Do I try this food? Do I dare vulnerability? Do I speak up? Whatever the relationship it is crossing a liminal threshold. An unknown. A sacrifice.

It is like approaching my ancestors at the altar, with all of my shadow and light, acknowledging the boundary between worlds, and the hedges of my heart space. To reach for knowledge is to make a sacrament of my comfort and in these Hallowed spaces as I reach across space and time to hold hands with ancestors.

Sacrifice is also an intimate for me. It is a little death made sacred with a conscious act of giving. It brings me closer to knowing. Piecemeal offerings I make on the way home… in the end, as Ram Dass once said, “We are all just walking each other home,” it is our approach to death that dictates everything about how we are living. Sacrifice is vulnerable, whatever it is that given in the sacred space has a moment of wide eyed opening as it is taken.

I grew up with culture telling me that if a thing is uncomfortable then it’s best to cover that over with hope, faith, and positivity, and at the minimum, don’t acknowledge it because it’s weak and makes you vulnerable. Because openness is bad, softness is bad. Feeling is bad, especially as men. But it really opens up knowing. And so intimacy, and to be intimate is to be vulnerable. That is to allow ourselves to show up as we are with our scars and tethers, and maybe feeling sometime we forgot to put on pants for the work.

Knowledge for me is an offering and a sacrifice. It is a relational piece of the wheel. To acknowledge limit, in what feels like a limitless space of magick is grounding. To witness the space where the joy and the loss in giving is powerful. It is an autumnal moment on the roll into winter. Especially poignant now in our current climates of weather and politics. And it’s also okay. It’s the part where we make offering of our tender bits, and the Spirits are ready for it. It’s okay to feel. To be open. To sacrifice…

In this season of ancestral connection I bring fresh water to the altar. I leave parts of meals. I bring fresh coffee in the morning and sit and write and dialogue with my ancestors, known and unknown, beloved and… some not so beloved. I am ritually engaging the time as magick, and opening up to lay tender memory on the altar as sacrifice for the liberation that can rise out of the pain and intimacy with the departed.

I offer sacrifice as sacrament, and as practice for now. For everyday along the way home. To come closer to knowing the other parts of the meaning in the turning of my personal wheel. To make life more sensual, full and connected in my magick. To make offering in a real, truthful manner. To provide those Spirits homage to their journey with honesty, witnessing and coming closer together, with the pleasures of things remembered. To offer gifts of the things I keep in shadow that are ready and powerfully able to go to seed and rise like green things as I place them on the altar as offering.

Scott SmithScott is a multi-disciplined queer healer, Witch, student and priest in the Temple of Witchcraft. The core of their work is magick, and making sacred of otherness, through classes, workshops, writing, and sessions based in the teachings of Love, Will, and Wisdom. They founded the Temple Los Angeles in 2015 where community events, classes on magick, witchcraft, and divinity are the cornerstones of teaching. They can be reached for healing work at TheSacredOther.com