Sacred Reciprocity

Sacred reciprocity, the gifting cycle, and do ut des are all terms for a core idea in Heathenry. Essentially this sacred reciprocity is the idea that by giving to the gods we are forming a relationship with them, in other words a bond or a covenant with them, and because of this relationship that they will look favorably upon us for our offerings, worship, and prayer. This should not be a foreign concept because even in the Jewish and Christian religions it is explained succinctly in Leviticus 26: 3-12.

“‘If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land.

“‘I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid. I will remove wild beasts from the land, and the sword will not pass through your country.  You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you.  Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.

 “‘I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you.  You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new.  I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you.  I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. 

Leviticus 26: 3-12 New International Version

This is one of the most thorough and yet still concise and understandable examples that explains sacred reciprocity. While it is an Abrahamic example, the principle would have been recognizable not only throughout the neighboring cultures but in most every ancient culture. In its most basic level, sacred reciprocity is the understanding that the gods bless those who worship them. That is not to say that it is a guarantee though; the gods are not cosmic vending machines where we pay offerings to receive blessings. Instead it is more nuanced; our offerings are there to help build a reciprocal relationship where we acknowledge and thank the gods for the blessings we receive which helps to build a bond between the gods and ourselves.

Gratitude and Thanksgiving

Heathens offer to the gods in gratitude and thanksgiving for the blessings we have received, even those blessings we have not always consciously recognized. In many cases, once we have begun a gifting relationship with the gods we begin offering and worshipping and praying in thanks for the blessings we have received. Heathens are also thankful for what to most people seem mundane facets of existence. I am thankful every morning for the sun, that she continues to shine her life-giving rays down upon the earth. I am grateful every day to the rich earth that grew the food for me to be able to eat. Heathens feel that gratitude for the order of the universe and for nature and our place within nature and we express that gratitude in thanksgiving to the gods. Typically, most of a heathen’s worship and prayer is not to try and ask for any blessings or gifts but to instead offer thanks for the blessings and gifts we have already received.

What do we offer?

Offering to the gods typically is done with either food offerings or drink offerings. Bread or grain of some kind is not an uncommon thing to have available in households and was indeed a historical offering to the gods and is a common offering made by heathens today. Salt and honey are also common food offerings made by heathens today. Drink offerings, called libations, can be anything from wine to mead to beer to juice to plain old water. These drink offerings do not have to be alcoholic. Offerings do not have to be extravagant either, even simple things show our thanks to the gods.

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