Offerings serve as a gift or service to a spirit or deity in African traditional religions (ATRs). The spiritual meaning of offerings are associated with their overriding purpose. Offerings can be made in various ways from food, liquids, flowers, incense, candles, etc. Though offerings are plentiful, they are not given arbitrarily.
Each spirit or deity has specific elements that it accepts for appeasement. Sometimes, offerings are given to ask for a blessing from the deity. Other times they are presented for atonement or thanksgiving. In either case, diviners often conduct spiritual readings to determine which offering is acceptable for each circumstance and individual.
There’s an adage that there is nothing free in the spirit realm. This ultimately means that there is a price to pay for every service that you request from a spirit. In which case, spirits often require offerings and sacrifices. However, sacrifices are not within the scope of this post. Instead, I will focus on the significance of typical offerings given within ATR in this article.
Spiritual Meaning of Offerings In African Traditional Religions
Though each tradition has guidelines related to offerings for specific deities. Some of the spiritual meanings of offerings in these spiritual systems are outlined below:
Fruits are often symbolic of fertility, rebirth, growth, prosperity, and sweetness. Some common fruits people give as offerings include bananas, coconuts, and oranges.
Bananas and similar fruits that come in bunches like grapes symbolize abundance. Bananas, in particular, represent an erect phallus, which embraces the concept of fruitfulness or fertility. And their yellow color symbolizes joy and optimism.
Consuming bananas provide a high level of energy, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They contain magnesium and potassium, which can lower blood pressure and help regulate blood sugar levels. In this way, bananas are likewise connected to vitality and stamina.
Coconuts are found in tropical regions and are abundant throughout such environments. Many cultures have used coconuts for their spiritual symbolism, which often relates to coolness or peace.
Oranges correlate to creativity and optimism. They can also represent spiritual purity and wisdom. The color orange is associated with fire, embodying motivation, inspiration, action, and movement. Making an offering with oranges is often a sign of gratitude.
Honey has been used for many years as a source of nourishment and protection. It is believed that honey was one of the first foods eaten by humans and was originally collected from wild beehives. Honey represents the notion of sweetness or goodness in spiritual offerings.
Bread is often given as an offering due to its importance as a staple of the diet. Bread often symbolizes the body and the need for physical sustenance. In essence, including bread in an offering is a way of asking or thanking a spirit or deity for your daily needs.
The spiritual meaning of water is a common theme in many religions. Universally it represents cleansing, purity, and clarity. It can likewise represent peace or coolness. Similar to bread, it is reminiscent of the essence of life as the human body is composed of 70% water. As such, water denotes our basic needs.
African traditional religions are well known for their use of alcohol as offerings. Types of alcohol given as offerings vary greatly – gin, rum, and vodka are some of the most widely used varieties. The element of alcohol equates to fire or heat. In which case, it invokes a sense of urgency or swift action. It likewise serves as a conduit for spirits to interact at higher levels on the earthly plane.
Milk is a source of calcium, protein, vitamins, and minerals. It is symbolic of fatness or plenty. Milk embodies a nourishing quality as it is fed to infant species throughout the animal kingdom. As such, it indicates a desire to be well fed or thanksgiving for such. Likewise, its white hue is associated with purity and cleanliness.
The variety of herbs given in ATR varies by spiritual practice. However, universally herbs tend to represent the properties that they embody. For example, mint symbolizes courage, lemongrass represents healing, and lavender is associated with peace and calm.
The symbolic meaning of flowers is similar to that of fruits and herbs. The exact meaning is ultimately associated with the type of flower. However, holistically flowers express the sentiments of love, kindness, hope, and joy.
Learn more about offerings and sacrifices in this episode of the African Spirit Reintegrated + Reimagined: