Today I had encountered a question that caught my attention. Someone wanted to know how to give offerings of gratitude to a goddess who had recently assisted them. While I had no specific recommendations for the deity in question, it did make me pause to consider what I normally do when I want to show specific gratitude for the overcoming of some particular difficulty…and there have been many instances of this too, or even a sudden blessing that appears in my life?
The simple solution which many folks seemed to jump on the quickest was to make a gift of something sacred to the deity, some image, icon, feather or other sacred associations. I think that this foremost comes to mind because it is the easiest to conceptualize. I want to thank the god or goddess and I want it to be something tangible that will stay there on the shrine for ever and ever and ever. And I do think that this is appropriate every now and then too. I do agree for really big things I would love to get some new icon, as it was often the custom among Hellenes to thank the gods for favor shown to them by dedicating images of the gods. The problem with this of course is that in the modern context we have limited space, whereas anciently this was done at temples, and often at great cost (therefore typically dedicated from the wealthy members). And while statuary is easier to come by now I think, we still run into the problems of just running out of room. When it comes to matters of practicality there is only so long that we can amass stuff that is permanently lasting before we are overwhelmed by it. If you think of it even temples had this problem! At the temple of Leto at Xanthus there was a votive pit near the temple where icons and offerings were buried to make room in the storage so to speak. Therefore unless it something *huge* that we are thanking for, more often than not permanent offerings are not the way to go, unless you have a very sparse set up for the deity in question. For instance I would probably be reluctant to get more statues to put on my shrine to Apollon for thanksgiving, but there are numerous gods that I either need images for or that could use another image in my mind for whatever reason, especially if it is one of the important gods in my household.
This is not to say that there aren’t long lasting gifts that don’t roughly fit into this category that could be appropriate. Replacing an offering plate with something new and special could be nice, or any other tool of worship such as a small pitcher for libations especially dedicated for that god or goddess in question. A small box to keep sacred items in, or a small box for keeping incense used only for that deity in. Vases, incense burners etc can all potentially fit in that category and are ultimately can be either permanent or replaceable as situations come down the road.
In any case, when it comes to practicality, we have to consider what we can give the gods that will be pleasing, that is not something we give them every day. For instance if you offer frankincense regularly to said god or goddess, while an extra portion would probably be a plus I would probably not limit it to this if I was feeling particularly very thankful for blessings and aid given. However that doesn’t mean that incense can’t be a lovely gift, especially if it is something that one goes through the extra cost to procure especially for that deity and kept set aside as a gift only for that deity. For instance, I have a vial of rose oil that I only use for anointing my statue of Aphrodite as it was a gift for her. Her statue gets weekly anointed and fumigated with incense (which I have a nice little selection for). Such items are regularly in use and do have to be replenished at which time of replenishing you can offer it once again in thanks for said momentous blessings that were given in the past.
Perhaps one of the simplest gifts though, and one which I think is highly appreciated by the gods, is a bouquet of flowers. These are nature’s own natural perfume, and often flowers have been used ceremonially for special offerings. Apollon was offered crocus flowers in the winter, and his altar during the Hyakinthia was laden with different blossoms. In the play Hippolytus we also find the young hero returning home from his hunt with flowers gathered for Artemis from a virgin field. In some ways I think that flowers are even a more special offering just because the length of time they last is outweighed by the effort. If you have the ability to gather wildflowers this cost would be considerable less, or if you have blossoming plants in your house or garden, but there will be times that these are not available. Here in Alaska with how short our growing season is the only way to really procure fresh flowers is at a local florist or market 8 months of the year. Therefore, spending around 20 dollars or more on a bouquet of flowers that will only last for about a week becomes symbolic of great affection and devotion, that the pleasure of the gift received becomes well worth it, even knowing that it can only be enjoyed a short time. Perhaps that makes it even the sweeter.
This does not negate how worth while offerings of special food items are. Honeyed cakes, sweets, etc require the cost and effort of making, and have a very short life, but can be of great source of pleasure to the gods. Cakes were often used as a bloodless offering appreciated by the gods. Therefore the importance of offering a small tray of cakes and sweet pastries to be shared with the deity in question can be very rewarding both as an offering and in one’s relationship with the deity, as sharing food with the gods tends to be. Especially if one takes the time in crafting said sweets with keeping in mind those things which the particular god or goddess enjoys (for instance making cakes shaped like deer or goats for Artemis and Apollon, or making candied rose petals for Aphrodite).
There are of course non-tangible offerings such as the playing of a music instrument for the god, the composition (or having someone else compose) a poem for said god/dess that acknowledges the favor given, singing, dancing, and other mediums that can bring a brief instant enjoyment to the god/dess you are honoring is all acceptable gifts for them and are very workable. In the end what is appropriate is what speaks to you and what you feel is a good way to give thanks. These are but some ideas.