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What’s the difference between an offering in thanks and a preemptive bribe? Between a gift given to a spirit and a conditional offering? It’s something I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since the 5-25 incarnation of Things I Must Remember, more specifically the mini-entries for 5-20 and 5-21. Even more specifically, the quandary of Baron and His Lotto Scratchers.

[Before anyone gives me the stink eye, I do have a perfectly legitimate reason for very occasionally {as in, he’s gotten a grand total of one so far} buying Baron a scratcher- he likes to gamble for actual money and that is the simplest way to do so when I haven’t seriously played poker since I was 7 {my dad taught me and I wiped the floor for chocolate chips and mini cookies}. I plan on definitely getting him one every Fet Ghede as part of his presents. {Yes, I buy him “birthday” presents. Even skeletons like presents.} See? I have a reason!]

Now, any money that was won with one of his “birthday” scratchers would be his, of course. But what about a random one purchased because it was there and my ghede sense made grabby hands at it? An agreement has been made that winnings would go “halvsies”- half for him and half for me. (I’d love to make it all his but I gotta, y’know, eat and pay bills and all that crap.) This has got me thinking- what exactly would Baron use “his” money for? The first thing that popped into my head was rum, since I can only afford the occasional bottle and what I buy is fair game to my boyfriend as well. It would make sense to me that given free reign with money he would ensure his own private, off-limits supply of rum to be poured out every night, instead of for special occasions as is the current state of affairs.

This train of thought got me started pondering the nature of offerings and reciprocal relationships with spirits. Because, anything bought with “his” money wouldn’t… count, I guess. I mean, it would make him happy which is always a good thing, but it wouldn’t “up my credit” with him. That idea of a divine credit line based on how many offerings you give and how much booty-kissing you’re doing? Always struck me as inappropriate/icky/wrongwrongWRONG for long term work. Banking a few favors with a spirit that you have a situational relationship with (such as asking Hera to help you defend your marriage from an interloper) is one thing. Asking the being you interact with on a regular basis (such as the disembodied skeletal black man you share living space with) to do something because, goddammit didn’t you buy him the super spiffy cape and he totally owes you now? BEGGING for an ass kicking. A deserved ass kicking. [Honestly, I’m not certain I’d do such a thing with a “situational” spirit anyway. Even if I never interact with them again its plain politeness to be respectful. They have the power in this interaction buddy and owe you NOTHING, no matter how many correspondences are racked up and sweets laid out for them.]

I freely admit that I have a tendency to try to make others happy. I’m ~almost~ certain that there may be a woo-woo component to it (such as picking up a very specific thing years in advance of meeting the person it’s for, or thinking an item would be perfect for someone before I learned about how much they adore similar things.) This carries over to spirits’n’deities as well. I’ll pick little things up for Manannan, or Baron, or one of the other beings I interact with. I don’t get them stuff because I expect stuff in return. I get them stuff because I think they might like it, same way I’ll pick up a little something for my boyfriend if I think he’ll like it. I don’t expect it to obligate a return gift because that makes it an exchange, not a gift. If any relationship I have relies solely on an exchange of “gifts” it isn’t much of a relationship.

Now, if I ask for a favor I have no problem offering a bit of an enticement, especially if the favor is not vital and/or not for me personally. By asking for a bit extra I had better be willing to give a little more, as well. Its plain good manners. So, say a friend of mine asks for some assistance in a delicate matter. I may promise Baron extra rum, or a fine cigar, or something equally pleasing for his help, but that doesn’t require him to do it at all. And I don’t “punish” him by shorting his regular offerings or getting angry. You don’t do that to a friend, to someone that you respect and care for. He’s not mine to punish. He’s a friend with his own will and desires and if its important enough that he can’t be seduced into helping there’s probably a good reason why.

That’s something to remember, that these spirits and gods and dead folk are beings in their own right. There is no secret code that will make them do what you want when you want it. The most perfect offering in the world won’t work if they don’t care for you (or are, at least, willing to hear you out). Can you stack the deck in your favor, so to speak, with offerings and services and some really really tasty booze? Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no. Its part of the reason gods can drive their followers batty by accepting nothing but the finest settings and foods and wine and incense from one person, and “slumming” it with a hotdog and a whispered prayer with another. Neither relationship is superior or inferior. Just different.

I’ve seen far too many new little devotees begging the “masters” for advice on what this god would like, what that spirit prefers, and hey could you design a ritual for me that he/she/it/they would really like? [God forbid they find A book or A website because THAT information becomes sacred writ.] This is where I see the most egregious use of the divine credit line theory. Honey, if all you have to bring to the altar is a pisswarm beer, stale Twinkies, and a incense stick that smells like an Avon graveyard in exchange for phenomenal cosmik powerz, all I can say is good luck and I hope you’re a chaote (or Eris likes you. Or both.) Human ideas of value do not necessarily transmit into spiritual ideas of value. [Please see any number of fairy tales where dinners served on golden plates turn into crapfests, but a single crust of bread shared at the right time saves the princess/kills the ogre/wins the day etc. etc. etc.] Gratitude and kindness are key words here babydoll. They speak across all modes of being.