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Invoking the Elements

The elements are the cornerstones of magical practice, and we have explored them in a multitude of different ways which you can read about here: Elements

Looking specifically at invocation in pagan practice, it is customary when seeking the aid of ancestors or spirits to give some type of offering. The work I am currently doing to synthesize the Body Sense research with an elemental framework emphasizes the things that you can give of yourself, through intention, activity, and ultimately changed behavior to reap the psychological benefits of the metaphorical elements. More on that to come! But there are also a number of very fascinating traditional associations found in different cultures of gifts that are particularly appropriate to award different nature spirits:


  • First Nations People-Midwest: Offering dishes made of birch bark may be filled with tobacco, cornmeal, wild rice, or other sacred plants to honor the nature spirits.

  • Hinduism: It is customary to bring an offering of fruit to the temple, which is blessed and distributed afterward to the community. Sweets, milk, and resin are also offered to specific deities.

  • Aboriginal: Communing with 'mimis' often involves rocks. Exercising respect for their territories is crucial, can be via offerings of items found in the local landscape, such as leaves, stones, or bark.

  • Inuit: Detailed carvings made of bone or ivory are displayed and worn for protection. Using every part of a hunted animal is imperative, and handicrafts are a way to give thanks and show reverence.

  • Incan: In gratitude of agricultural fertility; corn beer, fats, coca leaves, and corn among other things that were placed in ritual containers called 'conopas', and then buried.


  • Vedic: Large straw effigies representing demons may be ceremonially burned, a practice that served as inspiration for Burning Man. On a personal scale, lamps, candles or floating fire bowls can be used. Grains, ghee, or herbs may be offered to the fire.

  • Chinese: Many festivals involve the use of fireworks, paper lanterns, and incense to ward off evil spirits and invite good luck.

  • Zoroastrian: Devotees build magnificent fire temples, making offerings include sandalwood, fruits, flowers, and celebrate light, truth, and purity.

  • Greco-Roman: Hearth worship required tending and maintenance of a sacred flame, keeping it burning day and night. Beyond temples, this practice also took place in the household through devotion to 'lares', more localized spirits.

  • Judeo-Christian: Prayer candles take many forms, from wreaths to pillars, and large censors full of precious resins are burned. Menorahs are lit during Hanukkah.

  • Slavic: Offerings to keep mischievous spirits at bay include bread, sweets, porridge, or fabric. This exchange was seen as part of an ongoing trade or rapport, sometimes money is also given.


  • Celtic: Silver is traditionally associated with purity and water, and coins, brooches, or pendants are offered in reverence to the sacred well.

  • African: Many of the Orishas are watery in nature, and offerings may include seashells (especially cowrie), coconuts, melons, molasses, honey, oil, or scented water.

  • Mayan: Ancient Maya civilizations made offerings to Chaac, the god of rain. Items like jade, shells, and occasionally food were placed in cenotes (natural sinkholes).

  • Caribbean/Voudou: Water spirits (lwa) are honored with offerings like fresh water, rum, and sometimes sea-related items like shells or seaweed.

  • Norse/Germanic: Libations like mead, whiskey or other alcoholic beverages are offered in toast, as well as poured out or given in jars. Baltic amber, originally tree sap is frequently found in tombs.

  • Polynesian: As in many cultures, it is customary to lay out a portion of a meal. The Maori dedicate these food offerings to 'atua', or familiar spirits.


  • Buddhism: In addition to devotional practice, the ancestors may be honored with flowers, incense, rice, or tea. Prayer flags written with blessings are hung in Tibet.

  • Mexican: A traditional offering made on the offrenda for Dia de los Muertos may be overlooked as a decoration, but the colorful paper cut out banners actually represent an invitation to wind spirits. They are revered in the form of the monarch butterflies which migrate at that time.

  • Balinese: Elaborate woven trays made of palm leaves are arranged with colorful gifts, fruits, flowers, betel leaves, nuts. The artistic arrangement of these 'canang' is an important part of the offering!

  • Shinto: Paper prayers are tied to trees and branches, paper wands called 'gohei' feature zigzagging paper streamers to bless and cleanse in ritual purification.

  • First Nations People- Plains: The tradition of smudging by burning sage or sweetgrass, fanning them with ceremonial feathered fans invites the insight of ancestors.

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