Home > Religion, Spiritual Experience, Spirituality > Piety and Being Poor

Piety and Being Poor

I have always been working poor.

When I was growing up I lived next to meth labs. Addicts walked around where we lived; I got to watch one around age 7 or 8 go through DTs on the street.  We had drug dealers with child drug mules as neighbors, one that was kiddie corner from where we lived. The police and the administration for where I lived was on the take. The cops used to watch the local would-be gangers beat the living shit out me. They would watch the local kids pile around a car, and get high as kites before getting on the bus.

During this time I was a young Catholic.  We still made time for prayer. We still went to Church. We didn’t leave our religion at the door because the neighborhood was tough; we clung to it because it helped us live.

Some years later, I was starving at one point so my son and my fiancee could eat. Our food stamps had been cut, and I was at the end of my rope trying to float enough money to make rent.  We still gave offerings. If we could not give food, we gave a cup of water. If we could not give that, either due to time or energy, we gave prayers. Always, we gave prayers. Sometimes it has been only water, sometimes it has been food we made for our family, and sometimes it has been something special I bought just for Them. Sometimes it was just a prayer at Their altar in our little apartment, sometimes it was prayers whispered while I worked a deadend job struggling in vain to make ends meet.  In every challenge in my life the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits have been there whether I recognized it or not.  The least I can do is offer my end of Gebo.

I can understand the crippling worry about money, the worry around “How will I afford this food”, “this thing”, “this sudden needed car repair”, “Will I make rent?” etc. When I starved was when our food money got cut. I have been achingly poor.  The only reason I am not there right now is because I am lucky enough to have supportive parents who are here for me regardless of disagreements we have on religion, and a job that helps to pay for the needs we have. I am lucky, damned lucky, and I get that.  My Gods’ altar was a gift, as are most of what are on the shrines and altars I have shown on this blog.  What are not gifts, are almost all bought from thrift stores.  All else was found, and when we had a little money to splurge, sometimes we bought something nice for our Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits.  The latest addition to our Watervaettir shrine, three small branches shaped to look like a tie-down for a dock with a little plastic seagull hot glued to it, cost us $0.50 while we were looking for winter clothes.  The offering glass that sits on that altar was $1 at a local garage sale we hit up while on an errand.  An altar, a shrine, or an offering need not break the bank to be a good one.

A slice of bread, a thimble of alcohol, a palm of water, a slice of apple, a small chunk of meat, puffs of smoke, a pinch of tobacco.  These are all good offerings, all given in the tightest of times.  The Gods understand suffering, They understand when we have given what we can.  So why the resistance?

We can give offerings inside our own home, or wherever we happen to be in a given moment. I have poured water onto a city street to thank the spirit of that city for helping me find my way, and alcohol onto my family tree for thanks to the landvaettir for a good home and food in my belly. If you aren’t absolutely starving and actively looking for food, and even then you can at least give a prayer, then you can give an offering.

If you can breathe well, offer breath.  Offer breath whether it is song, dance, words, your poetry or someone else’s, or a hummed tuned if nothing else.  I suffered from asthma as a child and it flares up when I get sick, so I understand very well how precious breath can be!

Offer breath, even a hummed tune if you’re a completely hopeless cause at any of the aforementioned.  If you can you walk, walk and pray, especially is sitting still is hard/impossible for you to do.  There are countless ways of thanking the Gods for what you have.  Can you get down on your hands and knees without hurting yourself?  Then, if you have nothing else besides yourself to offer, prostrate, kneel, or bow.  Make a prayer.  Kiss a tree or a stone, or simply touch it with your hand, and whisper a prayer if you are worried about being seen or discovered.  There are a million and more ways to make an offering, to show your Gods, Ancestors, and spirits you care for Them, that They have blessed your life, many of which may be far more precious to Them than a cup of water or slice of bread.

Yet, that bread, that water, is still a precious offering, even more so when you are poor.  At that point a food and water (or other liquid) offering is a personal sacrifice with more weight on oneself than someone who has a good deal of resources.  In times of struggle, I believe, is when we need to make these sacrifices most.  That physical offering is still a precious thing, one which still needs to be given.  There is no substitute for it, any more than there is a substitute for food for you to eat or water to drink.  Say to a person who is a guest in your home who wants water “but I danced for you, is that not enough?” and the answer will be a definite no, even if they may be too gentle with you to say so.  They may still crave the water, especially if it is something to be expected between one another as guest and host.  Now, with the Egyptian Gods this can be a bit different, as the offering formulas for Egyptian Gods (which is the one case I can think of where this applies and even here, the Gods may have Their own preferences) have carvings of food, water, and so on that are allowed to be there in place of offerings.  However, I would think that this is probably a more expensive, roundabout way of fulfilling an offering to the Gods: either you have to have the tools to carve the offering yourself, or have an artisan who will make it for you.

There is no reason that I can fathom that a polytheist would have, regardless of their circumstances, where they had nothing to offer the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits.  There is no good reason that I can fathom why a polytheist would willingly deny their share of Gebo, reciprocity, with their Gods.

Devotion is not just important; devotion is VITAL. It is how a living, breathing religion continues. Acts of devotion keep that bridge between us and the Gods alive in our everyday life, whether it is a glass of water and a prayer, prayers made on prayer beads, food made in their honor, a pinch of mugwort or a small glass of mead offered at a tree, or an act of kindness for a human being.  Offerings, in and of themselves, are vital, and have always been vital regardless of which tradition one comes out of.

I put the Gods first because that is where They go in my life. The Gods are first; it is from Them that all good things in my life have come. My everyday (well, night) job is about helping a human being. The reason I can serve this person and meet some of the basics for my family is because the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits gave me life, a good family, a wonderful son, and so many blessings were I to count them all I would be dead and buried long before I finished. So my first attention, my first devotion, is to my Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. It must be, in good Gebo for all They have done, and continue to do for me, with me, to me.

Hail to the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.  May Gebo be kept.

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  1. December 24, 2013 at 1:53 am

    I used to wonder why people were so resistant to making offerings, but I no longer wonder as I have come to a jaded conclusion after much observation. That conclusion is that for many people, effort is just too much. Spirituality is just about feeling good, or maybe “cool” if it’s something a bit unusual like being pagan. This has nothing to do with being too poor – as you have excellently pointed out, if a person is inclined toward devotion they will make an offering regardless of their own circumstance or how hard it is. If you have the devotional impulse, it would be extremely difficult to *not* give offerings, IME. Meanwhile, if a person doesn’t have that impulse, any amount of excuses can be made. I’ve seen plenty of people who had enough money to buy any kind of pseudo-religious bauble they wanted for show (“Oh, look at this AWESOME cloak I just bought to wear around the convention”), but never actually lifted a finger for the gods they allegedly worshipped. The very least a person can do is actually care for an altar if they have one – for many, simply keeping it dusted was too much to ask. These are the same sorts that also tend to pray or do magic only when they want something. Being “too busy” to worship (but probably not to watch TV or play on their phone) is as easy an excuse as being too poor.

    Reading your post here, I realized that almost everything expensive(ish – I don’t have much money, either) I have ever bought was some kind of spiritual tool or devotional item, but not for show. I’m actually pretty skittish about letting people see that stuff, or see me using it or wearing it. I don’t know, I like things secret, concealed. I have my own reasons for that, but at least I know when I’ve spent money on something it was for a good purpose and because I could afford it at the time, not because I wanted to show it off to others.

    I also make a lot of my own stuff, although that can require money for materials, it often costs less than purchasing something made by someone else, plus you get the added benefit of it being made specifically for a certain purpose in mind. But for offerings without any money at all, or to have the greatest altar for free, I suggest starting by simply going outside. You can find places more sacred than any altar of man-made stuff. If it takes some time or effort to walk to it to do your prayers or whatever else you might do (or pray while you walk to it!), that doesn’t cost any money and you’re already putting more time and effort into a devotional practice than 99% of the population. If I may offer my curmudgeonly opinion. 🙂

  2. Alexis Sólveig Freysdóttir
    December 24, 2013 at 5:53 am

    Hat dies auf Geschichten einer urbanen Priesterin rebloggt und kommentierte:
    This is really beautiful! And you’re right… with everything. I have to reblog this.

  3. December 26, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    Thank you for the in-depth response!

    I used to wonder why people were so resistant to making offerings, but I no longer wonder as I have come to a jaded conclusion after much observation. That conclusion is that for many people, effort is just too much. Spirituality is just about feeling good, or maybe “cool” if it’s something a bit unusual like being pagan. This has nothing to do with being too poor – as you have excellently pointed out, if a person is inclined toward devotion they will make an offering regardless of their own circumstance or how hard it is. If you have the devotional impulse, it would be extremely difficult to *not* give offerings, IME.

    Yeah, at the end of the day devotion is a choice. It is one thing to believe in something and quite another to do something because of the beliefs one holds. If you are making the choice to believe that the Gods are real, why does treating Them as real stop at belief? It boggles my mind.

    I also make a lot of my own stuff, although that can require money for materials, it often costs less than purchasing something made by someone else, plus you get the added benefit of it being made specifically for a certain purpose in mind.

    This is a fair point. In my own case one of my big splurges is on leather trenchcoats that I get from thrift shops. When the buttons all come off and the coat can’t be used as a coat anymore, like when the edges start getting bed or layers start separating, is when I cut the coat apart and use it for parts for my leatherwork. .I have paid between $20-$60 for coats that, at retail, ran $140-200, maybe more. Tandy leather costs a lot more for the same yardage, and while the leather I use is always black, parting this way could be relatively cheap if I needed brown leather.

  4. January 2, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    A really beautiful post! I especially like this:

    “In times of struggle, I believe, is when we need to make these sacrifices most.”

    As someone who grew up poor surrounded by many who were even poorer, this is what I found, like you, to be true. Everything you have said has poignantly hit home with me.

    • January 12, 2014 at 4:40 am

      Thank you very much.

  1. December 25, 2013 at 2:36 pm
  2. December 28, 2013 at 1:41 pm
  3. January 2, 2014 at 11:22 pm

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