Toward the Pagan Restoration of Sacrifice
Material offerings themselves are part of a continuum of offerings stretching from the material to the purely noetic or 'mental,' with a kind of hybrid between them made of both 'matter' and 'thought'. Speech is an example of this, which is both material (being sound, experienced through the senses) and mental (having meaning, experienced and understood by the mind). This middling sacrifice, between the material and the mental, can be termed 'symbolic.' The attentive practitioner will immediately recognize that symbolic offerings composed of words are otherwise called 'invocations.'
In his Of the Abstention from Animal Food, Porphyry argued against animal and all material sacrifice. He is often cited by Christians for this, which is ironic since he was one of their greatest opponents. (They destroyed his massive work, "Against the Christians," such a loss . . .) Iamblichus objected to Porphyry's thesis by noting that most folks can't do the purely mental offerings Porphyry enjoined, and that material offerings are required for material benefits from the sacrifice. In Iamblichus' formulation, it seems that the benefit derived from a sacrifice comes through with the same degree of materiality as the offering. Mental offerings produce mental benefits and physical offerings produce physical benefits.
In a discussion at Pantheacon on sacrifice a number of years ago, an Iranian Zoroastrian was present who said, "If blood does not flow, it is not sacrifice." But in the ancient world, as in some Hindu traditions and elsewhere today, there emerged the ideal of blood-less offering. Pythagorus in some accounts counseled thus, and there were certain temples and altars at which blood-sacrifice was forbidden. In fact, there was a large array of material sacrifices that did not involve killing animals. Besides the aforementioned libations (primarily watered wine, but also plain wine, oil, milk, and even water), flowers, fruit, vegetables, and grain, especially barley, were offered. Specially made cakes were also quite common, and, of course, the ever-present incense.
The ancient Greeks also made gifts of craft and art to the Gods, dedicating them as a mode of sacrifice. These were then added to the treasury of the God rather than being destroyed. Statues were also made, sometimes commissioned, and after being duly sacrificed, became objects of worship. Copying out sacred writings is also a kind of offering, very literally spreading the word. These are often collected and stored in Icons, or sacred statues, as part of the Icon's sanctification. Coin, which Pagans know to be one of the four great elemental magical tools, was also offered and used to support the shrine. When done properly, donations, tithes, and bequests all become sacrifices that redound to the offerer with the spiritual benefit of the Deity.
There are other methods such as those in Tibetan Buddhism that Pagans can adopt, such as making offerings with mantra and symbolic gesture, or sets of offerings based on the four (or five) elements and the senses to create a kind of completeness. Also, water can be poured out into receptacles and magically transformed into the proper offerings. Ghi (clarified butter) can be likewise transformed and poured into fire with great dramatic effect. Mandalas, graphical representations of the world or parts of it, made of gems and minerals, herbs and grain, or just colored sand can be made and destroyed as offerings.
Sam Webster is a Mage, Mason, Sorcerer, Seminarian, and Pagan Priest, restoring the way of the Gods.
Webster's column, "Pagan Restoration," is published the 3rd Wednesday every month on the Pagan Channel. It is now being offered in a new format! Don't forget to update your RSS links and e-mail subscriptions.