My altar for Himself is a fucking disaster. This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, because I tend to accumulate clutter everywhere I go. My grandparents used to call me Pigpen because they could trace my path through their house based on the abandoned water cups and books I’d leave in my wake. This ridiculous habit is hardwired into my very being; my family hoped I’d outgrow it. I didn’t. The most used spaces in my house are crowded with Dunkin iced coffee cups, Starbucks espresso cans, and empty cigarette packs. I’m not particularly pleased with that last item — it’s not that I dislike smoking, it’s that I’m not keen on smoking inside my house, because ew. But I smoke like a fat man being cremated, and rather than wander outside and run the risk of making small talk with neighbors every hour (urban rowhome life, yo), it’s much easier to just hunker down by his altar with a book and my Camels and tar up my innards in quiet, climate controlled comfort. Clearly, my laziness overwhelms any sense of decency or shame I might possess. Meh.
Clutter is chaos, and chaos, to me, is comfort. Naturally, his altar reflects that. The spaces set up for the other members of my personal God Squad are clean and orderly, if not a bit dusty. The ve shared by Loki and Sigyn is straight-up nonsense. It’s been overcrowded from day one, and I just keep piling shit on. I really should devote some time this weekend to cleaning that room and reorganizing the altar. It’s quite large, covering the entirety of a massive mahogany trunk my father built decades ago. At first, just the surface of the trunk was covered. Now, like a city, it’s expanding upward.
The picture above shows the altar as it was last year, before I found Sigyn’s bowl in Iceland; as of this writing, the amount of stuff piled on has pretty much quadrupled. In addition to more tchotchkes and pictures, a stack of donuts, cookies, and pieces of cake has reached astounding heights. It’s not that I just let the consumables sit there forever, I just like to feed Loki and Sigyn. My mother is part Italian, and I’ve inherited the obsessive genetic need to ensure guests in my house are fed and watered, as it were. As I’ve mentioned in previous writings, I’ve formally opened my house to them, and as a conduit for Loki’s energy, he hangs around a fair bit. It’s a privilege and an honor to make a place for them where they can relax and nothing is expected of them. Nothing, that is, except putting up with me throwing food at them. “Are you hungry? I have crumb cake! How about a vanilla cream donut? I have chocolate covered marshmallows, just let me know what sounds good. Please, have something. You’re making me nervous if you don’t have something in front of you. Here, wash that down with some Icelandic schnapps and coffee.”
I’ve got a little fox garden statue in my backyard, nestled into the mulch near the door. It’s there that I deposit the consumable offerings once they’ve been on the indoor altar. Sometimes, late at night, I have my smoke on the back steps by the fox statue and I’ll make my offerings out there. As mentioned before, my way of giving to the gods is informal and comfortable. I’ve been working with them for so long and some of the relationships are so strong that there’s nothing wrong with lighting up a Camel in my PJs and pouring a bit of whisky while I sit in silence by the fox.
Clearly, I’m a fan of the “snackrifice.” This itself can be a bit of a controversial thing as that term was dubbed to mock those who give Twinkies to the gods. There are those who think an offering must be something of great weight and importance, something of significant value. I agree that offerings should be meaningful, and for bigger events and more formal scenarios, I do make more of a sacrifice and commit to the flames something that’s personally significant or irreplaceable. However, my offerings to my inner God Squad are frequent and given not so much in prayer or petition, but in hospitality. I share with them what I myself am consuming, because I am glad for their presence and company. Even though snackrifices are small, insignificant things, I only give what I myself enjoy; many times I’ve bought a bottle of wine or ale that looks promising with the intent of using it for an offering, but after taking the initial sip, I’m revolted and refuse to pour a libation. I wouldn’t offer a guest a glass of wine that sounded good but turned out to have a flat flavor and thin consistency, so why would I offer it to any god/dess? It sucks to pour a whole bottle of wine down the drain, but better that than cause offense by pouring out a libation that I know is not up to snuff. The exception, of course, being if it’s something they specifically enjoy and/or request.
When setting up an altar or ve, whether it’s clean or cluttered, simple and discreet or a dramatic centerpiece, the important thing is that it’s a space where you and the deity feel comfortable. It should be a focal point for mindfulness and reflection, a little touch of the sacred in our mundane physical world. Offerings should be made with intent and energy – the physical gift is simply a carrier for the essence of the spiritual, physical, or emotional energy you’re transferring to the god/dess. Our energy is what feeds them and strengthens them, so even the most invaluable sacrifice can fall flat if it’s given in a rote, dispassionate manner. Call me crazy, but my regular stream of snackrifices are given with glee and are received well because I’m constantly giving my energy and friendship and time to the gods, and I do so gladly. I wouldn’t have such a strong relationship with my God Squad if I was only doing major sacrifices just a few times a year. If you want a solid, deep relationship with someone, you devote a lot of time and energy communicating with them and being present with and for them. This goes for gods as well as humans – you get what you give. It’s almost as if there’s a specific phrase that is continuously echoed among heathens. . . what is it? Ah yes, “a gift for a gift.”
When I practiced as an Odhinnswoman, the gifting cycle was more along the lines of the “major offerings/sacrifices at important times” theme. I’d occasionally offer libations of red wine (with a second glass poured for Loki, of course) in between the holy days, but it wasn’t a regular thing because while I honored Odhinn and shaped my life in service to him, I was still just a bit wary of having that Ol’ One Eyed Bastard taking too much of an interest in my daily dealings. With him, “gift for a gift” is a bit more demanding, and something I approached with caution. When Loki asked for my oath to him, he taught me that a gift for a gift doesn’t mean I have to brace myself for significant sacrifices, gut-wrenching sacrifices that feel almost as though a part of me is being ripped away. “You’ve hung around Odhinn too much. A gift for a gift can be as simple as a smile returning another smile, a spark of joy for a moment of happiness, companionship for company. Doesn’t have to be scary.”
Mock the snackrifice all you like, but it keeps the thread of energy strong between us. For the kind of relationship we’ve developed, the smaller offerings can sometimes mean more because they’re given with great frequency, and they’re given with the intent of acknowledgment and adoration, for a moment of companionship and gratitude, to keep the energy flow strong and steady. If I do need to ask for help or similar request, that’s when the “big, valuable sacrifice” is made. But for the day to day, sitting down at the altar with a coffee and crumb cake is a reasonable offering. It’s taking some time to settle my thoughts and refocus, saying “heya Lokes, how goes it today?” It’s hospitality and a gift of time and energy. That’s just as valuable a gift in a modern, fast-paced, urban society than a $200 bottle of whisky or wine, just as valid as a goat or blood.
Yes, I’ve made sacrifices and offerings that have made me weep by the fire. I’ll continue to make offerings with heavy, tangible value when called for. Loki and Sigyn don’t require gut-wrenching sacrifices to keep the bonds of our relationship strong. If anything, they’d get pretty exhausted watching me bleed myself dry and suffering the weight of it all on top of the weight of everyday life and the struggles therein. It’s better to keep the lines of communication open and toss ’em a donut or two on a regular basis than it is to make a big production of things a few times a year. Go ahead, leave a damn Twinkie on the altar for the Twerp. Better yet, sit down and have a Twinkie yourself, and just enjoy the easy camaraderie of friendship. Your energy is what matters, and sugar-fueled rushes are a delight to the Trickster.