[This is a catch-up post, as I am a bit behind with my contributions to the Kemetic Round Table project.]
‘Two concepts are linked to the notion of offerings that cover all kinds of offerings and explain the meaning of offerings in the Egyptian worldview. One concept is the ‘Eye of Horus’, one of the most important symbols of ancient Egypt and used about all kinds of gifts. The other concept is maat, which means ‘order, structure, justice, truth, and harmony. [...]
The concept of maat, also used to designate offerings of all kinds, supports the idea that the gifts to the gods were meant to strengthen the established order and to help preserve it.’ (1)
Offerings are often presented in a variety of contexts. They can vary widely by type, number(s) and time (of day, of month, of year – as in the case of festivals or specific days). Their type can influence the amount of time they can be left out. For example a bottle of perfume can be left out for a long period of time, while food stuffs (being perishable) need to be reverted sooner.
In ancient times types of offerings included:
1. Offerings presented during the daily temple cult activities.
2. Offerings for the dead.
3. Offerings for festivals.
4. Offerings presented before/during/after magic workings.
All these could include food stuffs, beverages, jewellery, clothing/fabric, incense, oils, ointments and cosmetics.
Worthy of mention are the offering formulas and lists. These had their origins in the cult for the dead and they had symbolic significance – they were designed to nourish the ka of the deceased.
‘A typical offering formula from the Middle Kingdom [...]:
An offering that the king gives (to) Osiris, lord of Busiris, the great god and lord of Abydos, that he [i.e. Osiris] may give invocation offerings consisting of bread and beer, (cuts of) oxen and fowl, alabaster ([calcite] vessels) and clothing, (in fact) all good and pure things on which a god lives, for the ka-spirit of N.’ (2)
Offerings in a magical setting were often dictated by the type of magic being performed and the god or gods invoked. They were often prescribed in magical instructions (along with purity requirements, ingredients and techniques to be used), such as:
‘[...] If you wish to win a woman who is beautiful, be pure for 3 days, make an offering of frankincense, / and call upon this name over it.[...]‘(3)
For modern practitioners, things are somewhat simpler.
Determining what to offer a deity for example only requires a bit of research or simply asking around. If unsure, as I’ve said before, keep it clean and simple: bread, water, beer, incense are staples and well received.
For those who have ancestor worship included in their practice the above are also appropriate as are, of course, things which the deceased being honoured used to like. Were they big coffee drinkers? Offer up a nice brew. Were they chocovores? Offer up some chocolates or nice bars of chocolate. If you can find their exact favourites, even better.
For a magical setting, if you’re not following an exact prescription, bread, water and incense make a good basic trio of appropriate offerings. If you prefer something more elaborate, it’s generally a good idea to do your research.
Here’s a simple way to help you determine what offerings to present in a magical setting. Ask yourself (and answer) these questions:
1. What type of magic will you be performing?
2. Will you be invoking a deity during your rite?
3. If so, which one? What does that deity generally prefer being offered?
4. If the rite is to be repeated, do you feel you need to repeat the offerings as well?
5. Can you find examples of similar workings with their proper instructions in ancient texts from which you can draw inspiration?
Reverting offerings is somewhat simpler these days as well and it’s usually down to the individual and his/her circumstances. For those who don’t know what reverting offerings means, here’s a brief and very informative explanation:
‘The reversion of offerings implied that offerings went from the temple out to the necropolis. Offerings presented to the main god of the temple were carried out of the sanctuary, were presented to gods having subsidiary cults in the temple, then to statues of kings and private persons placed in temple courts, and finally to the necropolis. After all those symbolic presentations, the offerings were distributed to the priests and all the staff involved in the rituals as a reward, or salary, for their work. This custom of reverted offerings as early as the Old Kingdom and was continued.'(4)
If you cannot or will not consume the food offerings yourself for whatever reason (you have certain dietary restrictions for example) you can leave them out in the garden for the local wildlife. Liquid offerings can be poured out in the ground, etc.
If you simply prefer to discard the offerings, it’s a nice thought to first put them in a different bag and then bin them, instead of tossing them together with the rest of the household waste.
A way to offer foods without the actual foods is to purchase miniatures (like the ones made for doll houses) and offer those instead. This is reminiscent of tomb paintings of food and beverage offerings which had a symbolic value and would nourish the ka of the deceased perpetually.
Things such as jewellery, beads, cosmetics, perfumes, etc. can usually be reverted by giving them a new purpose or use. That compact mirror you offered to Hathor can easily be reverted by using it for divination purposes. Or those beads you offered to Bast can easily be reverted by turning them into charms or incorporating them into talismans and amulets. You can even donate things to charity shops. Use your discernment, be respectful and you should be just fine.
Kemetic Round Table: Offering Basics
Words of Power for Offering Incense
(1) ‘Offerings’ in ‘The Oxford Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology’, pg. 279, Andrey O. Bolshakov
(2) ‘Offerings’ in ‘The Oxford Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology’, pg. 287, Andrey O. Bolshakov
(3) PGM IV. 1265-74 in ‘The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation Including the Demotic Spells’, second edition, Hans Dieter Betz
(4) ‘Offerings’ in ‘The Oxford Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology’, pg. 281-282, Andrey O. Bolshakov