On another group, we started talking about sacrifice. Of course, the old understandings of DEATH, BLOOD, chopping off people’s heads and more came up.
When speaking about sacrifice here in Wicca and Paganism, there is a whole range of sacrifices that can be made.
First, the sacrifice we are talking about here is this: Sacrifice is to make something sacred.
That is it. Making something sacred. So when you cleanse your room with sage, when you cast a circle, when you dedicate an object to be used in your rituals, you are making a sacrifice right there. You have taken something mundane and made it sacred. Now it belongs to the Gods, because I will bet that most of the rituals you have to dedicate an item has a line in it about how it now belongs to the Gods. That’s sacrifice.
But that definition may be a bit too broad for many. So let’s narrow it down to some of the more understood versions of sacrifice.
Usually two spring to mind when talking about Sacrifice; Blood and Human. Both of these touch on the main version of sacrifice that is feared; LIFE sacrifice. Sacrificing your or another’s life and giving it to the Gods in return for something you want in your life, is the classic “Devil’s Deal at the Crossroads”. But we do this every day and you probably aren’t aware of it.
Think back to your Dedication or Initiation, or even just a promise from you to a deity in a moment of solitary meditation. In that moment you wanted to be part of Their life, and wanted Them to be part of yours. You wished for Them to guide you, to help you, to teach you, to do something with you, and for that, you promised to worship them, to be someone They could rely on, and someone that would defend Them to the rest of the universe.
Guess what? You just Sacrificed yourself to Them.
Think about this concept this way; you made an agreement with the Gods. For Their whatever, you sacrificed your life, literally. You made your life sacred for Them. And in the standard understanding of Sacrifice, you gave much of your decision making power away to Them. You promised and that limits your abilities to respond in other ways. Before dedicating to the Gods, you could have ignored someone saying that all the Gods are crap and fictional. You could have left it alone, ignored it, or walked away. Once dedicated, NOW, by your own Oath, you HAVE to step up and call bullshit on it. This may be a situation you don’t want to do that in, such as with your parents, your co-workers, your school mates. Outing yourself like that could make your life harder, which is something that the Gods may have set you up for.
You gave what you consider valuable (yourself, your life, your choices) to Them in exchange for Them being in your life.
It is AMAZING just how many pagans don’t understand this basic concept. The second most misunderstood concept is “make me a better tool for You to use” and why their lives descend into Chaos as a result.
That’s one form of human sacrifice, self-sacrifice. It can also take forms such as volunteering at a shelter, adopting a rescue dog, cleaning up a road, babysitting, and making cookies for a neighbor. All of these affect your ability to do things you want. Committing to something is always a sacrifice, and if it’s dedicated to the Gods at the same time, it, by definition, becomes a sacrifice.
One thing that starts to become apparent is that it is ENERGY that is truly the sacrifice. It’s your energy, your work, your effort, that makes the sacrifice a sacrifice. You work, you get paid in money for doing your job. That is an energy exchange. you take that money that your energy and labor provided, use it to buy flour, eggs, butter, baking soda, other ingredients, that’s sacrifice of your labor, directly, for things. Then you put more energy into the making of those cookies, another sacrifice of your energy and time (something you should treasure). Then taking those cookies, which by rights are yours and yours alone, created by your effort and your energy, pulled into this world through your mind and effort (which is all a spell really is) and then you give it away to someone else.
I really can’t think of anything more sacrificial than that.
So volunteerism can be sacrifice and sacred. Just being kind can be a sacrifice too, and really, your day can be a complete sacrifice, and it is supposed to be on holy days and Sundays (thanks Christians). That, by the way, is why Sunday is a holy day, because you do need to rest from your labors, and you use the day to do charitable things for others, a sacrifice for God and Jesus. Heck, meditation and abstinence is sacrifice too.
But what about other forms of sacrifice? Animal? Blood? Death? How can they be sacred?
Death sacrifice is REALLY uncommon. I cannot think of any modern pagan religion that demands death sacrifice (defined as the killing of something as a sacrifice to the Gods). In fact, I can only think of one ritual (besides Santeria and Voudon rituals) that has death in it, and that is in the Northern Tradition as a curse. It was a reality in the past, but there were good reasons for it. One of those reasons was to “plea our situation directly to the Gods”. In extreme times, the sacrifice of a life may be needed so the soul sacrificed could take the plea of the community directly to the Gods and make their case. For instance, one person praying for rain, a group dancing for rain, could probably be ignored by the Gods, but when the situation is critical, and the PEOPLE NEED RAIN, you really can’t ignore one of those people standing in front of you saying “Listen here gods…. we need RAIN right now! Stop fucking around and make water fall from the sky….”
And that’s where you get most of the death sacrifices. The Wicker Man, the Threefold Death Bog Man, the King Sacrifice, and many other forms of this are “human has extreme needs and needs to prove how desperate they are to get the Gods’ attention.” The king dying for the Land because it is sick is just the king spilling his blood, screaming at God, and sending the King’s consciousness and soul into the soil to rejuvenate it. The Wicker Man was a ritual killing for a specific need, and the people killed were usually killed by the smoke before they burned, and they were praised for their sacrifice and willingness to do so. The Bog Man was possibly an execution, but I will bet you that there was some sacrifice component to it as well.
Heck, child sacrifice is practiced every Sunday in America. Don’t believe me? I defy you to find one Christian church of any kind that doesn’t do a baptism on Sunday. Yes, Christenings and Baptisms are sacrificial in nature. You are sacrificing your previous self and coming out of the water as a new person. Now, you can see it as amniotic fluid and you are being reborn, you can see it as a cleansing rite, but you can also see it as being drowned and pulled out for a new life, a better life because of your near death experience. And Christenings are the parents sacrificing their child to God for His protection and guidance throughout the child’s life. Then the parents release that child into the world. Very sacrificial.
Prima Nocte? “First Night” when a bride goes to the tribe’s chieftain, lord of the manor’s bed? That’s sacrificial. She is sacrificing her virginity (societal construct or not) to the tribe. The strongest blood should have the most children so that strength spreads throughout the tribe. It was an honor.
Which brings us to Blood Sacrifice. We have all seen a movie where the spell or ritual or whatever has called for blood to be sacrificed (along with the pain but we won’t discuss that one here). They pull out a huge fucking knife, gash the palm of everyone down to the bone, let the blood fall into a cup or a cauldron, or the altar, or whatever, and use that POWER for the spell. My main complaint about that EVERY TIME is “why can’t you use a lancet?”
I mean, think about this for a moment. The ritual calls for blood. Not a Life, not an animal, just blood. Menstrual blood is perfect for this, for it contains life energies and is ready for use in making a baby. A pinprick can be used for this, because I’ve never seen anyone who had feeling in their limbs NOT react to being stabbed by a pin, or a cactus needle. Take that surprise (full of Fight or Flight energy) with the blood energy (carrier of life to your body) and combine that into what the spell or ritual needs. You don’t accidentally cut any tendons, and it’s easy to make stop bleeding (as any diabetic knows) and you don’t have to deal with weeks of bloody sheets and rolls of gauze.
Just a little poke, sacrifice, a few words, intent sacrifice, and letting it go, and that’s it.
With this, you get to claim that you have done a blood sacrifice in SOOOO many other contexts.
Sewing up your new pair of jeans? Poke yourself with a pin? Dedication blood sacrifice done. Making a steel contraption and gash part of your hand? Creation blood sacrifice done! Sharpening a knife and cut yourself? Blood demand from weapon complete, sir! Gouged your knuckles grating cheese for Taco Night? Sanctification of the food, complete.
Going to do a big ritual and need a lot of blood? Go to the Red Cross and donate a pint, and dedicate that to the Gods. They don’t care that it will be used to save someone else’s life too.
The main thing that this article talks about is ultimately an Energy Sacrifice. Don’t let the form of that energy fool you, it’s all energy in the end. Blood has a lot of energy in it as it is the stuff of life (lifeblood many reverently call it). Food is necessary for us to have a life to use in the physical world, so that’s energy as discussed above. Labor is directly our energy, also as discussed above. But everything is energy when you stop and think about it.
Need to get a God’s attention and don’t want to die? Have some play money around, or better yet, some Hell Dollars? Take them, put them with actual cash, do the sanctification, ritual, and dedication, when it’s time to do the burn it up, pull the money out. Tell the Gods that you will send this, the direct representation of your labor, how long you worked for it, to Them for what you want, then peel off the play money and burn it. By the Laws of Contamination, The Law of Sympathy, the Law of Similarity and probably others, all state that this is an acceptable sacrifice to the Gods, and if you think about it, you bought that play money with your real money, so it IS actually a direct representation of your labor, just one step removed.
James Clavell illustrates this perfectly in the book Tai Pan. In there, a Chinese mistress to the main character needs to petition a river god to get them home safely after their boat is attacked and damaged. She takes a “lac dolla”, a silver bar worth about $10,000 in our current monetary equivalent, and wraps it in a prayer on rice paper. She stands at the edge of the boat, recites the prayer, tells the god that it’s a lot of money and really precious, and that he can have it if the God gets them home. She then unwraps the paper and tosses it overboard. The main character goes nuts saying that it was a fraud since she didn’t toss in the silver. She gets upset saying “what does a god need with money?” and calls him fantastically stupid for thinking that she would waste that money.
The point being that the God only needed the ENERGY and INTENT of the sacrifice to accept it. He didn’t care about the physical thing. So what she did was literally take the spiritual component of the lac dolla and toss that with the paper to the God, and keep the money to use for something else.
You see this in Santeria and especially in Voudon rituals. Yes, they kill animals as part of the ritual. That death energy is strong as you may remember us talking about. But, what happens later? Do they just toss the hen out into the street? No. It’s probably cooked and prepared and eaten while being thanked for it’s sacrifice. The Gods and the Loa don’t need the physical thing, you don’t toss out the $20 Fill-Up from the chicken place down the road, you eat it. You need the physical part to live. In addition, while it’s arguable that you also need the spiritual part, in this case, you can do without for one meal, and don’t forget to thank your hamburger for giving its life for you.
So yeah, doing that labor, getting that money, buying those ingredients, making those cookies, putting those cookies on the altar of some deity IS actually a sacrifice. Tossing one into the woods for whatever happens to it is a sacrifice. Pulling that lettuce off your burger and tossing it out the window for the birds is a sacrifice. Bleeding into a bag to save someone you may never meet is a sacrifice. Donating a kidney and signing the donor card on the back of your Driver’s License is a sacrifice. Singing a song is a sacrifice. Writing this article is a sacrifice. The giving of energy IN ANY FORM is a sacrifice, and doing that makes the energy sacred.
After all, that’s what “sacrifice” means.