Offerings to the Gods

Please go to the webpage for individual Gods on this website for examples of suitable offerings to specific Deities, or go to the related blogpost entry at neo polytheist. However, if in doubt the following are usually acceptable:

  • Incense (note that frankincense was the most popular incense used in ritual offerings in ancient Rome).
  • Food – if you have no fire in which to place it you can symbolically offer food on a plate before an image or symbol of a Deity. You can eat food that has been symbolically offered later on, for example, after the ritual candle-flame has gone out.
  • Aromatic herbs (juniper, laurel, rosemary, thyme, etc). 
  • Spices, especially Indian spices (ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, saffron, etc).
  • Flowers, especially when made into garlands.
  • Wine, this may also include spiced wine and honeyed wine. Avoid diluting wine. 
  • Milk (especially to Goddesses). 
  • Animal sacrifice by proxy.* You can perform an animal sacrifice by proxy by baking cookies or bread in the shape of an animal and offering this instead. Sheep, pigs and cattle were the most common sacrificial animals in ancient times. However, note that, following the Roman tradition of Numa, bloodless offerings are in fact most traditional. Wheat, salt, salted bread, sacrificial cakes/pastries (eg, see this recipe for Cato’s libum), herbs, garlands of flowers, drink-offerings, and then, later, incense and saffron, were the most typical ancient offerings in Rome (Plutarch, The Life of Numa and Ovid, Fasti). Another substitute for animal sacrifice is to offer wine from a bottle with a cork instead of a screw top. If you discover that the wine is “corked” then this may be viewed as being equivalent to opening up the innards of a sacrificed animal and discovering irregularities (which is of course a sign that the offering has been rejected; thus necessitating repeating the ritual with a fresh offering). 
  • Spoils of victory (uncleaned) over enemies (especially to celestial Gods). Including the enemies themselves (to chthonic Gods).
  • Temples and altars, for particularly elaborate offerings add temple/shrine priests/priestesses and/or designated feast/games days.

Note that in the Roman tradition offerings are made to Janus before other Gods, because he is the gateway to the divine, while Vesta, Goddess of altar and hearth fire, receives the last offering (Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods, Bk 2), though Vesta’s name may be invoked first at the start of the ritual (Ovid, Fasti, 6.304). Traditionally libations to celestial (of the sky) Deities are placed into a fire on a raised altar so that their vital essence might rise to the sky; this ritual should be performed in the day. Offerings to aquatic Deities are generally thrown into water. Offerings to chthonic (of the earth) Deities are generally poured or placed, using the left hand, into a hole dug into the earth (and then entirely burnt in that place if possible, or buried) while the right hand is held over the fire, or touching the earth, with the palm/s facing down. 

Note also that it is best practice (when practical) for shrines to be dedicated to only one God (unless the Deities form a recognisable group such as household Deities, the Gratiae, the Parcae or the Camenae; note also that it is consistent with ancient practice to include one or two patron Deities on your Lararium, if you wish, to be honoured along with the household Gods) and for them to be constructed in such a way that you face east (if possible) when making your offerings. 

Prayers should be made with open palms (both hands or the right hand only), fingers together and stretched slightly backwards. The palm of the right hand (or both hands) should be facing the presumed abode of the God/s being honoured (eg, the sky for celestial Gods and the ground for chthonic Gods) or at an image of the God or shrine to the God. Hands and clothes should be clean (the cleaner you are the better) and the head is usually covered when praying to Roman Gods (notable exceptions to this general rule include Saturn and Hercules, to whom the ritus Graecus applies – note that despite the name the ritus Graecus in fact refers to a style of Roman ritual, which is inspired by, but not identical to, Hellenic rites; it usually involves wearing a laurel wreath and playing music during the ritual). See the page on Prayers, vows and oaths for more.

Niobe in front of a household shrine in series 1 of HBO’s *Rome*

*As for actual animal sacrifice This is not within the ambit of the author’s knowledge. However it can be said that in ancient times it was often the case that animals, who came forward peacefully and without signs of distress (this implied acquiescence was considered crucial), would be sacrificed/slaughtered in honour of a particular God, the entrails would then generally be burnt as a specific offering (or thrown into the water for aquatic Gods such as Neptune) and the flesh eaten by the party sacrificing – thus a meal was shared with the Gods. In an age where many people owned their own livestock blood sacrifices would have seemed a lot more natural than it does for many contemporary city dwellers, who are used to seeing meat pre-prepared and divorced from the bloody death that led to the final product they come to eat. If someone is going to sacrifice an animal they should surely first research ancient rituals surrounding animal sacrifice (note that a death that is prolonged and cruel is unlikely to be in the spirit of ritual animal sacrifice as properly carried out in ancient times) and ensure strict adherence to national laws before proceeding.

Note that the following animals are known to have been sacrificed to the following Gods in ancient Rome (the list is not comprehensive):

  • Adonis = dove.
  • Apollo = nine female lambs (burnt whole), nine she-goats (burnt whole) and bull.
  • Bacchus = goat.
  • Ceres = sow, especially entrails.
  • Diana = deer, blood of wild boar, cattle.
  • Faunus = goat.
  • Isis = goose.
  • Juno = cow (burnt whole), cattle (especially white).
  • Jupiter = bull (burnt whole), gelded sheep and ox.
  • Lares = lamb, calf and pig.
  • Magna Mater = heifer.
  • Mars = bacon fat, suckling pig, lamb and calf.
  • Mercury = ox.
  • Minerva = ox cow with gilt horns and cow.
  • Nox = cockerel.
  • Neptune = bull, especially entrails.
  • Penates = lamb.
  • Priapus = donkey.
  • Robigo = dog.
  • Salus = cow.
  • Tellus = pregnant sow, burnt whole.
  • Trivia = dog.
  • Venus = dove, horned ram and bull.
  • Vulcan = fish.

Written by M. Sentia Figula; find me at neo and on Facebook


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