Do Ut Des

The concept of “do ut des”, the gifting cycle, sacred reciprocity, is basic to Fyrnsidu. The terminology I use for this is “do ut des” because it is the most commonly applied term and one that came from a pagan religion (the cultus deorum) and had a similar view as how we apply it today in modern paganism. A rough translation of do ut des from Latin would be “I give so that you might give”. This is the foundation of the relationship we form between us and the gods. It only gets more convoluted from here but I will try and untangle it as best I can.

Offering and sacrifice are important. I give to the gods, not because they need an offering of grain or food or mead but because in doing so I have taken the time and effort to think of them and offer to them and also I have taken something which could have nourished me and given it away. The gods do not need our bread, they do not strictly need anything we have to offer them, they are quite self-sufficient. That said, our offerings must please them or offer them some benefit because in offering we pave the way to receiving blessings from the gods (spēd).

Let’s go back to review the concept of Mægen because it us useful to understand some of the underpinnings here. Everything has mægen and every effort taken exerts mægen. So say I have a loaf of bread. If I eat that bread, it offers me energy and strength. That bread, before I eat it, is my potential strength, my potential energy. What if instead of eating that bread I decide to give half of it away to another person? I do not get as much energy from that bread and instead the other person gets that energy when they eat it. I have shared with that person something that could have enriched me and instead has enriched them. The person with whom I shared the bread, they received it as a gift through no expenditure of their own. That gift creates an imbalance that we generally seek to try and balance. To balance this, we typically share and share alike, so that if someone shares with me part of their food, I might share what I am having with them. That is much the same way that every object has mægen.

That feeling of imbalance that causes us to feel the need to share and share alike is however important. Have you ever gone to a potluck empty-handed and felt exceptionally awkward eating food when you have not contributed? Have you ever done secret-santa gift exchange where you buy something within the budget but receive something which there is no way that it could be within budget and it makes you feel bad about receiving something lavish while giving something so trivial? Have you ever felt indebted to someone who gives you a gift unexpectedly and you have nothing to offer in return? These are all real-world examples of the feeling a person feels when indebted by unequal gifting. To my knowledge there is no concise word for that feeling, least of all in the religious sphere; the closest we come in defining it is some kind of gift indebtedness so let us call it “gift-shild” for the religious use until someone comes up with a better term.

Gift-shild: the feeling of indebtedness that causes one to want to reciprocate after having received a gift.

Yet this gift-shild is an ordinary feeling for most people, and the people who do not naturally feel these things are probably considered to be mooches or to be ungrateful by those around them who do feel these feelings. A gift from someone calls out for reciprocation. This applies to your Aunt Edna’s potluck as much as it does to the gods. In much the same way as you usually seek to balance out your gift-shild, so too do the gods.

When we give to the gods, we open up a dialogue between them and us. We give and the hope is that we can form a relationship with them. If we can build a relationship, they might in return bless us in some way. That is ultimately the nature of that relationship in the beginning. It is worth noting that the gods are not vending machines. I cannot offer and guarantee an outcome of any sort. It is presumptuous and rude. When I see people leaving the worship of a god because they were frustrated by not having them act on their life in some extraordinary world-shattering way immediately I can only feel sorry for these people. You are not entitled to attention from a god just because you gave them a gift. This is a drastically unequal relationship in the end, these are gods and we are merely human. When I offer to a new god, I assume nothing. The hope is to build a relationship, to establish reciprocity of some sort, but it is not expected. I give so that they might give. That might is important.  

Now initially, this is a bumpy prospect most of the time. We are often unaccustomed to giving and honestly, we are likely just as unaccustomed to receiving. However, the process begins with a gift as an opening to dialogue. You continue to gift that god and pray to them and think on them and at some point they might begin to act in your life. Sometimes we cannot easily perceive the subtle ways the gods are working in our lives, but they are there. If you are absolutely certain they are not reciprocating then move on, polytheism is great because there are options. It will get less bumpy with practice and it will get less awkward as you normalize the process of offering within your own self.

And that is do ut des as best as I can explain it.

Do ut des: the act of offering to the gods in the hopes of maintaining a reciprocal relationship of gifting with them in which they may bless you in some way in return for your continued devotion and offerings.