This is the second post in my three-part miniseries of things that might be both controversial for some, and yet “Meh, I knew that” for others, which began with the post yesterday on funerals. Tomorrow or the next day: child sacrifice!
One of the subjects that was one of contention even between polytheists recently was the matter of whether or not it is allowable to consume (food and drink) offerings after they have been offered to the divine beings. Some traditions allow this, some frown on or discourage it, and within each tradition, much depends on the occasion, the deities involved, the person’s particular relationships with the deities, and a variety of other matters. It’s difficult if not impossible to generalize, and likewise it is tough to be prescriptive about it.
For my own practices, I go back-and-forth, not in terms of whether to do it or not, but because it depends on who I’m honoring, what the occasion is, and so forth. Where strictly Antinous is concerned, I am able to take the material portion of the food and drink offerings most (though not all) of the time. With most other deities, ancestors, and the Sancta/e/i of the Ekklesía Antínoou, I’m generally not permitted to do so. On some occasions, where several deities (including Antinous) are being honored together, there is a certain amount of “sharing” involved.
What that looks like is pretty much what occurred on my solstice ritual a few weeks ago: namely, a large portion of food or drink was given to the gods, but before it was formally offered and dedicated to them, the people present took a small portion of the food or drink, and then once the (largest portion which was the) remainder of the food or drink was offered to the gods and poured out, then we would eat our small portions. With the particular offerings that day, that meant a sip of wine, about five or six (at most) golden raisins, about five or six (at most) pine nuts, etc.
It was interesting to me to note at the Peru exhibit that the near-exact opposite procedure was observed: humans drink first, and the dregs of the cup are then poured out in libation to the gods and earth…but, of course, that’s not just in religious offering rituals, that’s whenever people drank, which is significant in itself.
There are several traditions that are noteworthy for allowing humans to consume food and drink offerings after they are given. Egyptian tradition does this to one extent or another, and I’ll be returning to that in a moment. Hinduism has the practice of food offerings becoming prasad after they are offered, and it is considered actively good, lucky, and blessed to consume them after a ritual. Sometimes, this has been rather odd for me, as a whole mix of liquids (water, milk) and other foodstuffs (e.g. sugar, butter, ghee, honey) has been poured over a lingam, and then that is gathered up and given to those present…and, it was really good! And, in Shinto, the basic food offerings each day (rice, water, salt, sake) are always consumed afterwards as naorae, which completes the “covenant,” so to speak, created between the kami and humans as the result of a ceremony. In the ceremonies I’ve attended, we receive a few drops (literally!) of sake, while the other food items get used by the Shrine priest in some way or another, or the washed rice is “put outside for birds to enjoy” (yes, that’s a direct quote on this matter!). While I don’t know for certain, I assume that on the bigger festivals of the year, when a whole series of food offerings are given to the kami, the same thing happens. So, even in that cultural context, “getting them back” isn’t always what we might think it is, or should be, depending on what one’s position in relation to these matters is.
But I wanted to return to the matter of Egyptian food offerings in particular, and a strange set of associations that I made over the last week or so in relation to this which might explain why it would be desirable to consume food offerings from that perspective. Some people might kind of think it’s “icky” for various reasons, but hear me out.
I think there might be a clue in the story of Re and Isis, which I was reminded of by M. Isidora Forrest this last September at the Esoteric Book Conference (for which I thank her!). In that story, in which the ultimate upshot is that Isis extorts the secrets of magic from Re and thus becomes “Great of Magic,” the entire situation comes about because Re, in his somewhat doddering old age, is not careful about where and how his bodily fluids are being distributed, and in particular his saliva, which Isis then uses to create a creature…and, well, you know the rest.
Do you see where I’m going with this? No?!? Okay, then.
Think about it this way: while some people make fun of individuals who will not share drinks amongst themselves because of the possibility of backwash, the physical reality of it is that backwash, in some small amount, is entirely inevitable. While many people look at this sort of matter as an “Eeew!”-inducing factoid, some traditions actually view this as not entirely a bad thing where certain offerings are concerned, at least as I’ve been informed. This is why “spraying” (but, note, not “spitting”!) drink offerings in certain Afro-Diasporic religions is considered good, because the person doing it is actually not only making an offering of an alcoholic beverage, but they’re also offering a literal part of themselves (both breath and saliva) in the process. Perhaps that’s also why the dregs of the cup are not considered “bad” in the Peruvian cultures as libations, because those dregs have something of the person drinking them in them at that stage.
So, think of it in this fashion where the Egyptian situation is concerned. If I lay out an offering of, let’s say, wine for a particular deity or deities, and the spiritual portion of it is consumed by them, then it might actually be really beneficial for me to drink the physical part that remains, because it is not necessarily “just physical” any longer: the gods have left some of their spit in it in drinking it, and that’s powerful! I don’t think this applies necessarily to food offerings, since there are no forks that might carry saliva from the mouth back to the food involved; but with drinks, it would kind of be inevitable…
This is not to say (as I take a drink!) that one “should” or “should not” have this approach to one’s liquid offerings to any and all deities or other varieties of divine being in every tradition; if anything, it’s more of a meta-commentary on how one tradition might have it “make sense” to have such an approach that–to my knowledge–isn’t already an established part of that tradition, but is consonant with it and with some matters that we can reflect upon from a modern viewpoint as well. You can take it or leave it as you like, but it simply occurred to me as a possibility for further reflection, which some of you might find interesting.
I may not get to “child sacrifice” until Tuesday, perhaps, as there’s a minor festival tomorrow that I’ll be observing and will likely write something about, and there will be a few others in the coming days as well; but, it will occur before the end of this week, most certainly!