Because this topic came up in the comments and in private discourse so much, I’ve decided it deserves it’s own post. While I talk a good game about Keeping It Real and about not having my shit together, and about stumbling a lot, often over the basics as I lose sight of them, one thing I don’t have to worry about these days is having zero idea of where to start. Yes, I hemmed and hawed when it came to including Vishnu-Through-Poseidon into my morning devotions, and yes, I tied myself up in knots for a bit, with the studying and the wanting to stay away from cultural appropriation while at the same time wanting to honor those particular Powers in forms that are familiar and appealing to Them. Yes, I made sure to make myself overly agitated and anxious over this development, until I had to put everything down, step back, touch in, and calm the fuck down.
When I did that — when I returned to Poseidon, when I touched in to what I knew of Him, of me, of u/Us together, and further, when I returned to the experience of having Him say, “Vishnu, too,” and when I returned to the experience of Durga’s embrace — I brought myself back to a place of certainty, and I remembered that I’ll never be a beginner again.
Yes, I might instigate new relationships with new Powers. Yes, I might explore waters that I haven’t even yet discovered. Yes, I will begin new things with new People, or deepen relationships that I already have — I’m going to go anywhere Poseidon decides w/We’re going together.
But for all that I started a devotional practice for Durga and Vishnu, for Lakshmi and Ganesha, and Vishnu-through-Poseidon, and Krishna, Who is automatically included when I think of Vishnu-outside-of-Poseidon, and for all that I created a new shrine space and began something new, the concept of standing before a shrine and offering an offering is not new, and will never be new again. It will never have the same depth of crushing anxiety, fear, uncertainty, maybe excitement. I have years of experience doing this, and I’ll always have them, so for all that I try to keep it real, and for all that I want to say, I know where you are because I’ve been there — yeah, I have, so yeah, I do, a little, but also, it was years ago and I have the experiences to counter the fears. The freshness of those fears, of that intimidation, of the not knowing how to talk to Them, any of Them, at all — that’s gone. I don’t have that. I remember what it’s like, but I remember what it’s like with the nice, cushiony reassurance of experience, and so remembering isn’t really enough to put myself in your shoes.
How do you begin to make offerings? What’s acceptable, what’s useful, where do you start? It’s not all that useful for me to say: be sincere, trust in hospitality, and you’ll be fine. If you don’t have a religious background, or if you’re trying to distance yourself from said religious background, such advice isn’t all that helpful.
I came at this with very little religious background. We were Christian, growing up, but it was very low-church form of Episcopalian, and neither of my parents were ritualists in any sort. They were both happily laity, as Silence points out in Worshiping Loki, we pretty much have to make religion happen for ourselves. It doesn’t have to be a ton of work, necessarily, but especially if we’re going it on our own, we don’t have the benefit of group-support to figure out what will work and what won’t.
Because I hate telling people what to do, I’ll share what I did, starting out. For the first few years of interacting with Him, what He got from me was my time and attention. The shrine wasn’t even set up for a few years after that, and then it was very basic. A candle, a cloth, some shells. That’s it. My first representation of Him was a mask that a friend purchased for me. After that it was a bust modeled after the maybe-Poseidon-maybe-Zeus, and finally this statue. Eventually I would begin burning incense for Him, and I’d give offerings of water. My yoga practice was a devotional act from the beginning. Now, and for years now, my mornings start with incense-and-tea, a wordless prayer before His shrine (which is why I keep not making the devotion-sharing video. My morning prayers are pretty boring on the outside) when I touch in and ask for His continued blessings, affections, and strength.
I share food, sometimes, and for a while after the marriage I made it a point to give Him a portion of my dinner, every day.
If you’re new to prayer and new to giving offerings, my one suggestion is to seriously, truly treat this like a conversation and a sharing with a new friend. YOU get to decide what you want to share. Want to sit in quiet while a candle burns a certain amount? Awesome. Want to burn incense and share your hopes and dreams? Great. Want to offer wine or water or coffee or milk and a poem, prayer, or hymn? Perfect. Especially when you’re getting to know a Power, share yourself. Look at suggestions others might have, but do not feel pressured to conform to how anyone else is doing this.
Figure out, too, with Them in mind, and with your limits, how you’re going to dispose of the offerings, if they’re perishable. When we were in Philly, our offerings were also taken out for the strays, after, and our offerings never contained foodstuffs dangerous to cats. These days, my liquid offerings are poured down my sink rather than offered to the ground, because that’s what I feel called to do. (Poseidon is a water deity, even if He may not have began that way, and that’s as much about pipes and plumbing and sewage system as it is about rivers and oceans.) Different traditions have different ways of handling this, and more knowledge is always better, but your relationship, the whole of the relationship, with said Power is up to you and said Power to define and figure out. Yes, look to others for inspiration and guidance, but if this tradition says burn the offerings and you can’t, or you don’t want and the Power you’re interacting with doesn’t seem much fussed if it’s burned or not, then don’t burn it. Don’t worry about it, beyond that, especially when you’re just starting out. Community can be powerful, can be invaluable, really — but the back-and-forth that you have with the Power you’re trying to form a relationship with must be rooted in your back-and-forth, not in what others are doing.*
Honestly, the best thing I’ve read about starting a devotional practice in a long while — it terms of breaking it down, dismantling the intimidation, and empowering you in your role in your practice — is Worshiping Loki. It’s specific to Loki in that Silence is sharing his relationship to Loki, and talking up Loki, and confronting the bullshit ideas that Loki is undeserving of worship, but it’s also not specific to Loki, in that the building of a devotional practice is not just a Loki thing. This book is not spendy, and it’s super important, and it’s a quick read, and more, it helps feed a cat. Check it out if you haven’t, and consider buying it.
*and there I go telling you how you must do something. Sorry about that. Obviously, it’s your call, your choice. I cannot conceive of having anyone other than Poseidon having any sort of authority over my relationship with Him, so take that for what you will.