First of all what is *ghosti? It’s a funny looking word isn’t it and the word ‘ghost’ comes to mind. Actually *ghosti is a word in Proto-Indo-European which means ‘someone with whom one has a reciprocal obligation of hospitality’ (Sacrifice, the Indo-Europeans and ADF by Ceisiwr Serith). We get our words ‘guest’ and ‘host’ from this root. So what has this to do with Paganism?
Well, we are probably all used to making sacrifices or offerings to deities, nature spirits or our spiritual guides no matter which pagan path we follow aren’t we. But why do we do this? We could say that we make offering to such because we want something from them. After all, we petition the deities and nature spirit don’t we? We also learn from them, accept knowledge and wisdom from them, so isn’t it right we give something in return?
So *ghosti can be described as a relationship between the deities/spirits and us. We give, we take and so do they. This reciprocal relationship is found in the very nature of the Universe – it is the organising factor, establishing and maintaining order (as opposed to chaos). It is also shown in Indo-European cosmology where we have the Tree of Life, or Axis Mundi, which is fed by the well or waters at its roots. In return the Tree drops its fruits into the well or pool, so back and forth they exchange gifts (ibid). This can be quite eloquently seen in the Celtic Irish myth of the Well of Segais (Well of Wisdom), a well or pool surrounded by nine hazel trees. These hazel trees dropped their nuts into the water and the water sustained the trees. In turn the Salmon of Knowledge ate the nuts that fell into the water, and to eat the salmon meant that the person was granted knowledge and poetic inspiration. This relationship can also be clearly seen in Norse and Germanic traditions too.
This *ghosti principle is also very clearly seen in human relationships, which are maintained by the giving and receiving of gifts. We only have to think of the exchange of presents at Yule/Christmas to see this. We also see it every time we visit our friends or family for a meal – we are both guest and host.
So the *ghosti principle operates not only between humans but also between humans and the divine. We offer up a ‘present’ if you like and the deities/spirits bless us with knowledge, wisdom, protection etc.
But what is a fitting sacrifice or offering? Do we choose what we give or is there something else involved? Well, a good way of explaining this is when you want to buy a present for a family member or close friend. You don’t just go out and buy the first thing you see or just anything do you? I hope you don’t! No, rather it involves thinking about what they would like and purchasing the perfect gift (or making the perfect gift) that suits their personality, their needs or something that will please them and bring them joy. It is exactly the same with deities and spirits. We offer them something pleasing to them, something they will enjoy.
We can discern what to offer by asking the deities and nature spirits themselves. I have often asked natures spirits direct during shamanic journeys and they are always willing to tell you what they like (or don’t like). If you are not a shaman then you can still ask them directly via path workings etc. Also do your research and use common sense. For example a deity such as Demeter, who is a fertility and grain goddess might like grains or freshly baked bread. A God such as Cernunnos (who happens to be one of my patron deities) likes olive oil, mutton or gold coins (read money). You can find out a lot about what kinds of offerings deities like by just researching their natures. However, the best way by far is to ask them directly.
Of course the ancients would have given animal sacrifices but by and large this method is now illegal in the Western World. However, if a particular deity or spirit likes flesh one can still purchase meat from a butcher’s, or if you’re a meat-eater like me, share part of your dinner with them. The main point is to give the best you can possibly muster. You wouldn’t give a loved one a shabby gift, so don’t give the Gods and spirits one either. That doesn’t mean one has to spend vast amounts of money either – the gods require a gift given from the heart, so do your best and give from your heart.
*ghosti maintains a close relationship with the gods and the spirits. It maintains an order and a structure. Without this chaos reigns. Moreover, it allows us to approach the gods in a way they are used to being treated (ibid).
References: Sacrifice, the Indo-Europeans and ADF by Ceisiwr Serith; Wikipedia (Internet)