Ritual Praxis with Shepard

In this entry we'll be walking through the steps I take to give offerings to the gods, the vættir, and the ancestors. This is personal to me, and many heathens have their own takes on ritual practices in their own hearth cult.

Prologue: The Groundwork

The first thing to lay out is when and why to perform an offering. To maintain a healthy and cyclical relationship with the entities you give to, there should be some semblance of consistency. There is no real historic precedent for what days you should do this, but it's pretty easy to find a schedule for yourself. Don't make it so frequent that you're losing passion for it, but don't put such huge gaps between it that you forget to care.

For me, I've settled on doing offerings on the full moon each month. Most holidays, feast days, etc. in ancient heathenry were on, or based on, lunar phases and sun position. A lunisolar calendar is historically attested for most ancient civilizations, but it's really hard to reconstruct the specific days that major feast days happened because there's very little specifics in sources like the sagas. We typically are left to make inferences on things like this or build our own plans. Truthfully, a lot of heathens use the dates from the neopagan Wheel of the Year based on equinoxes, solstices, and various Celtic/Wiccan holidays. We do what we can with what we have. I'll make a separate post about feast days later on as they come around.

Step 1: Cleansing

First, I wash my hands and rinse my mouth. Ideally I will have showered that day.

Then, I make sure my altar is overall clean and organized. Dusting, straightening up decorations, and removing anything I feel is unnecessary for the current affair. Next, I apply a few drops of tea tree oil to my finger tips and trail the oil around the rims of candles and offering vessels. I chose tea tree because it has antibacterial properties and a very "clean" smell, so it works as physical and spiritual cleansing. I place my hands on the altar, and center myself by breathing deeply and attempting to clear my mind. I'm an ADHDer, so there is usually ambient northern folk music playing to keep random thoughts out of my head.

Why? Consecration and cleansing is a key part of establishing a space as sacred. The profane must be removed to the best of our mortal abilities -- dust, dirt, bodily fluids, and general bad vibes should be scrubbed from the worshiper and the space itself. These are profane and cannot be allowed in a sacred space. This can be accomplished a million different ways, but I have my own methods.

Step 2: Setting

I light all the candles on the altar. Typically, one flame is enough, but I enjoy the warmth and light that come from candles, so there's at least 5 lit for any given ritual. Offerings are placed in the bowls. I have four vessels on my altar: on the left, a bowl for the Landvættir, in the middle, a bowl for the gods, on the right, a bowl for my ancestors, and near the center, a wine glass or chalice for liquid offerings such as mead or water. My staples for offering are any of the following, usually multiple at once:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Bay leaves
  • Dried lavendar
  • Pennyroyal
  • Coarse salt
  • Juniper berries
  • Various incense

Why? I prefer to place offerings before beginning the ritual to keep from fumbling around while in a ritual mindset. Spilling or struggling to light a candle when you're in the zone can be kind of annoying.

Step 3: Opening

I speak out loud, and call the name of my hearth deity, Frigg, and a gatekeeper deity, such as Heimdallr or Hræsvelgr.
"Dearest Frigg, Hearth Mother, I ask that you stoke these holy flames and clear the way so I may pray. Hræsvelgr, Great Eagle of the North, I ask that you allow my words to reach the gods through your wings."

Why? This step is mostly present for the sake of the worshiper to get into a ritual mindset. It can definitely help for clarity's sake to petition a gatekeeper or hearth deity, as jumping straight to talking to the gods can feel like talking to a wall. A hearth deity changes your altar from a fancy bookshelf into a direct line to the divine, and the gatekeeper opens the doors on the divine's end for free flow of prayers and offerings. Think of the hearth/gatekeeper deities as calling an operator and asking them to put you through to your desired entity.

Step 4: Offering

Again, I speak aloud, and address the spirits to which I am offering. Sometimes, rituals are targeted to a specific god or spirit, but for the sake of simplicity I'll just give an example of how I pray to each of the main groups.

"To the holy, loving gods that give me strength and guide my path, I give my thanks."
individualized examples:

  • "Freyja, dear Lady of War and Magic, thank you for keeping me safe beneath your wings without allowing weakness or fear to corrupt my heart."

  • "To the sacred dead, my ancestors by blood and by kind, named and unnamed, I thank you for guiding my hands and granting me your wisdom."

  • "To the spirits that live in this soil, the souls of those who roam other realms, and the vættir who keep the land alive, I thank you for the health of the earth and the strength of the stones."

At this point, I pause, sometimes for several minutes, to allow the aforementioned figures to take part in the offering.

Why? Heathens generally don't believe that the gods et al. are omnipotent or able to read minds, and thus we call out to them by name to grab their attention.

Step 5: Closing

Once I feel the gifts have been received, I petition the hearth and gatekeeper once more, asking them to essentially end the call.

"I now ask that the gates be closed until I return again. Dear Frigg, Dear Hræsvelgr, I thank you for letting me through, and offer to you in gratitude for ensuring safe passage of these gifts."

A moment passes as I allow them to partake, and allow the way to shut. With a final thanks, the ritual itself is done.
The candles are snuffed, but any lit incense is left to burn down fully. The following day, I take any organic material (i.e. leaves, flowers, water) outside and dump it in the bushes, and anything not safe for the earth or wildlife (i.e. metal, salt, alcohol) is disposed of inside either in trash or in the kitchen sink.

Why? Since my rituals take place at night, I often plan to remove them the next day. A typical practice is to remove offerings before they go bad, but not too soon after the ritual. Think of the sacrificial goods as a meal you give to your guest; you wouldn't give them shriveled or moldy food, but you wouldn't take it before they've finished either.

Epilogue: Reading

After everything is is finished and the flames are out, I retrieve a bag of Elder Futhark runes, shake it well, and prepare to read them. (I plan to make an in-depth post about my rune divination practices later.) For a post-ritual read, I go by this formula: ask question->pull rune, ask question->pull rune, and so on until I get a sense of how things went.

Why? This practice helps me by letting me know if my offerings were accepted, and if I did anything that earned the gods favor. As an example, one night I read my runes after an offering of herbs, water, and sunflower seeds, asking the stones who received it. The answers pointed to Baldur, a shining god of beauty and power, often described as glowing. I asked what He enjoyed of the sacrifices, and the rune for "seed" came up. Now I knew Baldur preferred sunflower seeds, and tucked that fact away for the next time I needed to call on Him.

Overall, my home rituals typically do not take more than 25 minutes. They are direct, poignant, and satisfying at their current length and density. Feast days and holidays may warrant longer or more wordy rituals, as well as larger or more complex gifts.

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