Mægen for Spēd- A Framework for Understanding Offerings
Posted by Byron Pendason on , in Heathen worldview, Heathen worship, Heathenry, Reconstruction
A question that a lot of newcomers to Heathenry might wonder is What's the point to offering to the gods? They may wonder how pouring some alcohol into a bowl is helpful to the entity that you are offering to. They may also wonder how it's going to benefit them. The gifting cycle (basically, a gift demands a gift in return) is fundamental to not only Heathenry, but to most European pre-Christian spiritualities. But how is pouring an offering into your offering bowl actually giving to the gods?
This blog post is my attempt to put into words my understanding of how an offering works. It is by no means the only way of understanding the subject. I'm not sure how widespread this particular viewpoint is, so feel free to sound off in the comments what you agree and what you disagree with.
My understanding is based upon two concepts: mægen and spēd. They're both Old English words, and I will give a brief overview of what they mean. I will also link to another Anglo-Saxon Heathenry blog that goes into more detail on each, in case you want more details on these words.
Mægen (pronounced my-ehn, as the combination æg made the vowel sound in my and try in Old English) basically means might or strength. But it's not just referring to your physical might and strength, but also spiritual might and strength as well. We naturally generate mægen, but how well you take care of yourself (in a holistic way, meaning physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually) determines how much we have. The more mægen you have, the more you will be able to do, the more successful you will be in what you do. For more details, check out Beofeld's page on his blog: More on Mægen
Spēd (pronounced like the modern English word spade) literally means "speed, success, means, substance, power, faculty, ability, opportunity". The term Godspeed has its roots in this word. It basically means "May God grant you success". In the context of Anglo-Saxon Heathenry, it means the things "which we are blessed with by the gods." For more info, check out Spēd, from Wind in the Worldtree.
When we offer an object to the gods, we are literally imbuing that object with some of our mægen. We've already given of our mægen for the money spent for the offering (in the case of handmade objects, the money to buy the materials we used and the time and effort we used to make it), as well as the hours of time it took to earn that money. But with our prayers and ritual action, we imbue the object with the spiritual variety of our mægen. The physical and spiritual varieties of our maegen become saturated within the offering object. After the ritual is done, we ritually "destroy" it by removing it from further human use. In a modern context, this is usually done by throwing away or burying the object. When this is done, all of that mægen is transferred to the entity that we offered it to. In a sense, we are nourishing that god or other spiritual being by providing them with strength.
So how do we benefit from offering to these beings? As I mentioned earlier, the gifting cycle forms the basis of Heathen spirituality. We give mægen to the gods in our offerings. They often choose to return the favour by giving us spēd. The form this spēd takes varies, but it's usually some benefit done on our behalf. It may not even be something that we recognize as being from the gods, as I believe the gods work within the natural order that they help to maintain. For a farmer, for example, it may be just a little extra rain from Thunor over his particular plot of land that helps his crops grow a little bit better than that of his neighbours. Sometimes, it may be something major that we do recognize as being from the gods. I believe that the gods always repay a gift of mægen with spēd though, whether we recognize the spēd or not. I believe it's part of the order that they established and maintain.