Latin, short for ex voto suscepto, "from the vow undertaken," refers to a religious offering made in fulfillment of a promise or sacred oath.
Ex voto offerings are typically left at the location of a shrine, temple, cathedral, or other formal religious site, with the intent that they remain there permanently, or, if they are perishable such as candles or food, that they be appropriately removed by clergy when they are no longer in fit condition to remain at the place of offering. In either case, the ex voto stands as a visible testament by the giver of the offering that they received divine assistance after they had requested it; votive candles in a Catholic chapel, placed before an image of a saint or other intercessor serve this purpose and are thought to encourage other devotees to place trust in the help of their deity and intercessors.
Ex votos will sometimes feature a written or otherwise depicted representation of the type of help which was given; a man saved from shipwreck might dedicate a small model of his ship, and a woman recovered from cancer might offer a lock of hair grown since entering remission.
Ex voto offerings have existed since antiquity; ancient Romans (and their modern co-religionists) subscribed to the ex voto practice do ut des, "I give in order that You may give," making both propitiating offerings on a regular basis and also promising more extravagant offerings to be given after the fact, if divine assistance is provided during a difficult time. This transactional approach to human-divine relationships and reciprocity has informed many religious practices which came after, even in religious traditions like Catholicism, where unilateral grace is expected from deity, rather than reciprocity.
One notable example of ex voto offering follows: Leonidas of Epirus, a kinsman of Alexander the Great, was known for having an austere personal character and a Spartan moderation regarding religious offerings. Alexander attended a religious sacrifice in which he threw great amounts of incense onto the fire, and Leonidas chastised him, advocating that he "be more sparing of it till you have conquered the country where it grows." Later in his career, Alexander delivered from Asia 600 talents' weight of incense and myrrh, "that Leonidas might no longer be stingy in his offerings to the gods."
Iron Noder 2015, 23/30