Give Water to the Gods

Awkward confession time.

For years, I’ve heard other polytheists encouraging people to offer simple libations of water to the Gods. For whatever reasons—and even after searching my memory, I’m not entirely sure what those reasons were—I always ignored that advice, and even looked down on this practice. Whether it’s because those water offerings were sometimes framed as second-best (“if you can’t give anything else, at least give water”), or because of some other hang-ups on my part, I just didn’t do it. For years, I’ve burned candles at their shrines daily, offered incense regularly, and poured occasional libations of wine or other beverages. But until recently, never water.

Lately, I’ve taken up the practice of pouring a simple libation of water, accompanied by a one-sentence offering prayer, along the lines of “[NAME(S)], I offer you this pure water,” at the start of my morning prayers each day.

And it works. By all indications, these offerings have been well-received by the Holy Powers. These simple, oh-so-simple libations bring me closer to them, and help me enter more fully into prayer.

I’m not going to offer some elaborate theory here, about why exactly that is. I’m not even sure what changed, that finally made things shift enough for me even to approach this practice. I just want to say publicly that, at least in my experience, this is a tremendously worthwhile thing to do. This is not “second-best.” It’s not a placeholder for something else. It’s a sacred act all its own, that is entirely worth doing, regardless of what other offerings we may (or may not) be giving to the Gods..

In my case, I’m blessed with excellent water from a well, right here on the land where I live. The water comes from the tap clear and cold, having been drawn up from the earth only hours or even minutes ago. So I simply fill a small glass jar from the tap, carry it over to the shrine, light the candles, and pour the water from that jar into an offering bowl on the shrine. Then I continue with my normal routine of prayer and contemplation.

If my tap water were gross enough that I filtered it for my own use (drinking, cooking, etc.) then I’d probably use that same filtered water for offerings. But given my current circumstances, that’s a hypothetical, a question that can wait until I’m travelling, or have moved to another location. But my gut says that whatever water is good enough for myself, and for the other humans I care for, will probably be good enough to give to the Gods in these simple libations.

So to anyone else who may be on the fence about these offerings of water: I encourage you to try it. Give water to the Gods, and see what happens.

4 thoughts on “Give Water to the Gods

  1. One could say that offering water, from a Platonic standpoint, is a symbol of reversion. Given the water symbolism as a symbol of generation, and given that the gifts of the Gods flow to us downstream, it becomes a token of its opposite. Being nourished, one gives what nourishes; one traces the streams back up to their source, — that sort of thing. Water is what I give at my small CIP shrine every morning, intentionally.

    In contexts when I habitually offer something else, offering water is generally a sign that I was unprepared and did not steep tea or get some kind of other drink, and the offering makes me feel slightly self-conscious, like being unprepared when an important guest comes. Perhaps the non-“at least give water” contexts were something similar?

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    1. Hmmm. I want to be careful here, in a few regards. I don’t mean to suggest that whatever intention we have will, automatically “make it so” irregardless of the external/material circumstances. And of course, I’m not the only party bringing some intention(s) to this encounter: the Gods or daimones themselves can appropriately be said to have intentions. It would even be appropriate to say that their intentions are more significant, and serve to constitute the lower things to a much greater degree, than my own.

      For a simpler answer, I’m inclined toward saying that (due to the ways the Gods will their various processions/emanations), water turns out to be an appropriate symbol or token that can link the worshipper to them… in a way that not all material objects would be. (I wouldn’t dare offer some fresh, steaming excrement! I’m mildly horrified even to think of doing so.)

      And based on my experiences, it also seems to be the case that water is a particularly wide-ranging token. As Kaye mentions in her comment above, water is a symbol of the generative/productive gifts of the Gods in a general way, so it turns out to be an appropriate thing for returning to them, again in a general way. That’s in contrast with more narrowly specific symbola/tokens, which would only be effective with regard to connecting us to specific deities.

      So, that’s to theorize quite a lot, and in ways that seem basically right to me. But at the end of the day, regardless of any theory that might or might not explain it, it just seems to be that case that offering water works.

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      1. That makes complete sense, and yes, I think you are right in that we cannot discount the material aspect.

        The reason I ask about intentions is that, along the lines of kaye’s comment, I have found instances where I am offering a libation (wine) and find that I was not focused on the process in some way, that I need to abandon entirely and restart, obtaining another offering with more focused intentions.

        Some intriguing thoughts.

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