Thursday, September 27, 2018

In a post-Axial world, why do we still make offerings?

If we don’t need to make offerings to recreate the cosmos and uphold the world, if we don’t need to make offerings to appease the gods, if we don’t need to make offerings to keep the sun and moon and stars in their proper places in the heavens, and if we don’t need to make offerings to make the growing things sprout and grow, because all the forces of nature just go on their own, why do we need to make offerings?

We make offerings because the symbolism of sacrifice as a means of keeping the worlds in order brings peace to the mind. Offerings made to appease the gods and keep the cosmic order were a part of what kept the people feeling secure in their place in the cosmos. If the gods are truly daemones who have little interest categorically in the affairs of humanity, then making an offering is likely one of the best ways to gain their interest. If the gods, daemones, spirits, angels, guides, or whatever words used to describe them do not exist, we make offerings because the shared sense of community restores our capacity to empathize with one another and experience compassion both as a giver and receiver of love.

Humankind is a social species. The practice of religion is one of the strongest avenues for social connection between us. When we create opportunities for shared experiences, we create opportunities for increased depth in our social connections, which aids in individual health and well-being. Human interaction increases the brain chemicals responsible for mental health, happiness, and harmony. The sense of connection between us is innate, biological, and necessary for living a good life, a life we enjoy. Even if we as individuals see ourselves as the most important thing in our world, the notion that each of us sees the individual Self as most important should elicit the response of empathy because of the mutual understanding borne of intellectual connection and shared belief.

Making offerings around the fire may not be what keeps the sun and moon in their proper place, it may not help the plants to grow, the animals to breed, or the seasons to turn, but it does provide the unique opportunity to participate in a tradition far older than any of the Ancestors in our lines whose names we can remember. It is an action that ties us via shared experience to the most ancient of peoples, teaching us the lessons of every age between the beginning of human time and now. It is the unbroken lineage neopagans long for and hope to find in the new age teaching whose books are available at Barnes & Noble. But the fact remains that the only unbroken line we have is the ability to tap into the current of behavioral practices of the ancestors and participate in the greater spiritual cycles of humanity. There may not be deities or even anything at all on the receiving end of these offerings—except our Selves, and that may be the best reason of all to continue to practice. In a world that doesn’t feed the sense of community we need to thrive, sharing the ethereal experience of offering-based spirituality may be the key to creating the mindful attitude we need to achieve inner peace and enlightenment.