The Gods need nothing, and we give offerings to them as a spiritual practice. The offerings connect us to them, often through sympathy, because we associate specific things with Gods. I offer pomegranate incense to Demeter and Persephone, frankincense and bay to Apollon — two examples out of many that I could give.
Simplicius, in his commentary on Epictetus, reminds us that this is even simpler: he emphasizes offerings as “first fruits,” gifts to the Gods that are given in gratitude as portions of our activity, activity which ultimately comes from them:
“When [Epictetus] said that one should not act ‘without care,’ he was worried, I suppose, that someone might think that he meant that we must be competitive, making offerings and dedications beyond our means, and so added that one shouldn’t perform these rites ‘beyond one’s means.’ First, where can the best measure be found, if not in divine things, which measure everything, and limit them in the best limits? Secondly, nothing maintains divine rites as much as preserving their continuous and uninterrupted sameness both in word and deed, and deviating, as far as possible, in no respect. Furthermore, it is not possible to perform them ‘beyond one’s means’ on a frequent basis. Those who are excessively competitive with respect to divinity seem at one and the same time to convict it of accepting bribes and to be unaware of the purpose of providing these things for the honor of the divinity: they are meant to be the first fruits, i.e., merely a sampling, of the things given to us by [the Gods].”Simplicius on Epictetus, trans. Brittain and Brennan, 2014, Volume 2, 95,3-18ish
One thing that came up when discussing this set of passages with a friend (beyond the can-of-worms topic of what it means to reboot polytheism from a smashed hard drive in America, which makes “continuous and uninterrupted sameness” impossible, and us rootless) was the idea of everything that we have as first fruits. We give samplings of what we have to the Gods, be they the fruits of our waged labor, our creative pursuits — anything. Ultimately, what matters is the cultivation of gratitude.
What most of us are harvesting nowadays is in the form of a paycheck that we receive from our jobs. We are putting in our time and various kinds of effort, and we get back the means of survival. For my end-of-September paycheck, I decided — again, an idea that isn’t from me, but sparked during conversation because friends produce better ideas together than someone can do alone — that I would spend the first few dollars of it on something for the Gods, a gratitude practice. I decided that this would happen before writing my rent check, paying for utilities, and all of the other necessities.
This is a work in progress, definitely. One thing that came up for me today is that I often pay with a credit card so I can get the 3% cash back rewards points (I pay off the statement every month), so maybe the day my statement posts and my purchases start accruing on the next statement is actually when I should be doing this. We shall see. Part of my paycheck posts to an account a few days before the actual payday because some banks have stopped pretending the money hasn’t been sent to them until the transaction date. I saw the alert last night, so today, I bought some Foco passionfruit nectar at a local shop before picking up aluminum foil (I ran out earlier this week, which foiled some roasting attempts) and a few other things. I got home, put something in the oven for roasting, did some yin yoga, and offered the drink at the shrine.
With the hearth candle still lit, my attention still on the Gods, I played a 15-minute compassion (lovingkindness) meditation in the Calm app. Compassion meditation, like the first fruits we give from our labors, is an activity that imitates the Gods — they give freely and without restraint to us, and learning how to draw from the well of compassion (especially to those we feel neutral or experience difficult emotions towards), and ultimately wishing for the well-being of all, is an exercise that brings us into alignment with that. The narrator suggested some phrases. May you be happy, may you be at peace, may you be healthy, may you be free from pain, and we can interpret each one of these phrases as well-wishes for our ability to care for ourselves as souls. In the 15-minute version, it went in this order: compassion for the self, for someone held in esteem (and I think of a God there, who fountains forth unabatedly, as mentioned), someone neutral, someone with whom we have challenges, and for everyone. For the well-being of all, we mean the well-being of the souls of all of us in generation, regardless of what is going on. Think of your community, she said, and I thought about every person — challenging and irritating, neutral and positive, friends, translators whose notes and intros I appreciate gladly, translators whose notes and intros irritate me, people I’ve learned from and people I’ve corrected, and everyone in between — in the general category of polytheistic/pagan/Platonic-theological.
“All of life is one, and the life you live is one, alternating between here and there” (135,30), Simplicius wrote. We are partial souls who forget ourselves, trapped in the extremities of ourselves in space and time. May we be rooted in the source of our true happiness, may we thrive under the guidance of our leader-Gods, and may we experience equanimity in the face of challenges. 🙏
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