People are often curious about why I always ask them to bring "offerings" to circles or sessions. This is a really great question! In fact all questions are good because although it is important to have an open heart and be present in a ceremony or practice, it is equally as important to know why we are doing something and where it comes from.
I saw this reflected in my learnings with my teacher in Peru who calls this "working the medicine with both hands," and with my teacher in Australia who refers to this as part of "two way thinking".
Offerings as a Way to Show our Gratitude
First of all, it's important to understand that in many cultures around the world, all of creation is perceived as being conscious, alive, and carrying essence and power - just like us. When we don't live in harmony and reciprocity, then we head down a path where imbalance can lead to destruction. We only need to look around our western world to see how consumerism, and take-take-take leads to imbalance.
Reciprocal gift exchange with Spirit, and the Natural world therefore, leads to sustainability and a continued flourishing of right relationship between giving and receiving. Shamanism is rooted in loving, reciprocal relationships with Spirit, so an offering is a way of acknowledging Spirit and Mother Earth for supporting us in our lives. When I ask for anything, an offering is my way of saying thank you. This is just the same as if I came to your place for dinner, I would bring something as a gift to say thank you for your hospitality.
When we are working in reciprocity with Spirit we always give and receive, otherwise it's like a one-way hug, and nobody likes those!
Offerings are a Way to Engage the Heart
When we bring an offering to a practitioner or healer we are working with, not only is it a way to honour them and all their hard work, it's also a way of sharing your gratitude that is outside of money. It moves the exchange from the work being a service or commodity, into alignment with the two of you being an alliance where both of your hearts are engaged in the process.
Offerings as Part of the Medicine Work
Because a shamanic practitioner is dependent on their relationship with their helping spirits, when we bring offerings to a shamanic practitioner, the offerings are really for their Helping Spirits. The essence of the gift is something that the practitioner will offer to their Helping Spirits to introduce you energetically, and to show them that you are engaged and committed to the work. In my own practice, I have found that my Helping Spirits like to work with the offerings as part of the healing work. The majority of the time though, I give the offerings to the Land because this is who supports everything in my life and I wouldn't be able to show up without that support.
Offerings as a Way to Honour the Ancestors
Finally, bringing offerings to a teacher or mentor is a way to acknowledge, respect, and honour the lineage and their ancestors. It can be a big responsibility for Elders and teachers to carry teachings in a good way, and many of the ancestors of these lineages have lived through enormous hardship. So, to bring an offering for their Ancestors and the lineage is a really beautiful way of acknowledging this. The energy of love you bring with these, and the exchange of love when the offering is given can really bring refined energy of a very high vibration to the lineage and open the ancestral doors which will support your teacher or Elder in being able to transmit and channel the teachings more easily. Sometimes if I am visiting with Elders from another culture, I find out what are customary offerings, and I also bring offerings that reflect my own Ancestors. This way it feels like my Ancestors meet their Ancestors.
Offerings as Medicine for our Soul
Not only are offerings gifts but they are also medicine. When we work with offerings, we are working with the medicine or essence of that offering. As we acknowledge the essence of an offering with humility and love, we also receive support from the essence of the item we are offering. I often describe offerings as "specialists!" If I am going for a general check up, then I go to my family doctor, but if there is something specific I need to look at, then I go to a specialist. For example, if I am wanting to create clarity and flow in my life, I can certainly pray for this, but I may also like to bring a small bowl of water to my altar and ask Water to support bringing clarity and flow into my life. I may also like to take some water outside and pour it onto Mama Earth giving her a drink, and asking Her to also support this. The Water then become the specialist messenger carrying your prayers, and that little ceremony will help bring together your soul, heart, mind, and body at the same moment which will help you to be more present and clear.
I have written a post with directions for a Bealtaine ceremony which involves working with Offerings. It's a wonderful way to bring together your body, mind, heart, and soul into the present moment, and for a time to be in communion with Nature. It's for your personal enjoyment but sometimes, it can be lovely to share with a close friend, family member, or your kids.
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We would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the Squamish, Kwikwetlem, Tsleil-Waututh, Kwantlen, and Katzie Nations, whose ancestral lands we live, work, and teach upon.