AskAngus9: Sacrifices were made…..

Dear Ask Angus,

Urban Amy: I’m wondering about Animal Sacrifice. Whenever pagans are accused of doing ‘Evil’, the common response seems to be “We don’t worship Satan (not appearing in our pantheon), we don’t curse people, and we don’t kill animals, so please take your ignorant hatred elsewhere.”

Now I am a city chick and I like bacon on my cheeseburgers. What I mean is I know NOTHING about Animal Sacrifice. Please help a girl out.

Dear Urban Amy,

Fascinating question. I, too was raised in a mindlessly numbing city where meat came in shrink-wrapped styrofoam trays and farm animals were petted once a year at the fair and then hands were washed immediately and thoroughly. There was a HUGE disconnect between the pork chops my Mother served and the pig races we cheered on at the fair. So for the average modern city dwelling hu-man, with a commute to a job that where you tap on plastic keys with your fingers, the idea of ritualistically killing a living entity for the purposes of magick is repugnant.

But I will wager that the repugnancy has mostly to do with the idea of killing an animal in the first place. And that abhorrence is simply because most of us now live our lives far, far away from the place where bacon cheeseburgers are born, raised, cared for – and slaughtered.

But only 100 years ago fully 1/3 of Americans lived on a farm. (by the eve of WWII {only 70 years ago!} one in five Americans were still farmers). The deliberately interrupted life cycle of livestock is something well known to our Grandparents and Great-grandparents. Indeed, the act of killing (wild or domesticated) animals for food (clothing, tools, etc,) is one of the cornerstones of our existence as thinking creatures.

It is only recently that we have become distanced from the ritual that my country cousins in Colorado used to enact every Autumn: The Chicken Dis-assembly Line.

All Spring they raised their chickens, guarded them, named them, cured them of illnesses, played with them, showed them proudly at 4H fairs, and then, when it was time, one morning they assembled in the yard of their house with several tables, gloves, buckets and an ax.

Everybody had a job, from holding the bird, to plucking feathers, to chasing down the chicken after the deed had been done. Much work followed, and that night they served – and raised a toast to – Henrietta.

My good friend Jenya raises rabbits and she likes to say: “They only have one bad day in their entire lives”. And even that is basically a sudden and surprising moment that is over in a heartbeat.

Now my Country Cousins are all good Christians and Mama Jenya is a Feri Goddess and neither one has ever raised that blade with the intention of doing Spellwork. But really, is it such a huge leap? The blood soaked Old Testament does contain 14 explicit calls for animal sacrifice after all.

Perhaps part of the perception problem is that one of our Hollywood History moments is ‘primitive’ people slaying some cute fuzzy critter (“Cutting a calf on a flat rock on a hilltop”) in order to assuage some invisible god that they are afraid of and do not understand.

Nothing could be further from the Truth. In Voudoun (Santeria, Vodou, Yoruba, etc.,) the sacrifice of a rooster (for example), is considered a huge honor for the bird and is always done with the proper sanctity. It is serious business to remove a piece of one’s lifestock.

Historically almost every culture from the Sumerians to the Vietnamese to the Mayans to the Celts practiced Animal Sacrifice, and it can be found in Hinduism, Judiasm, and Islam today.

And it can always be observed in every ‘folk religion’ of the world – meaning every culture where the people live side by side with their animals and grow their own food and practice a religion that is grounded in Nature and the yearly cycles of the plants and animals. Sound familiar, O civilized Paganus?

If your religion is everywhere and at all times, and your livestock animals are also a constant part of your life, then it follows that you would want to please your gods by offering them the greatest treasure that you possess: An animal from your stock.

Perhaps before we condemn a ‘foreign’ spiritual practice we should first step back and see how many steps we have taken back from the rural, agricultural and pastoral lifestyle that our distant ancestors (like, say, your Mother’s Grandfather) enjoyed.

~Ask Angus

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About Angus McMahan

Me? I'm just the drummer. Oh, I guess I write funny stuff now and then. When I am not scratching my head at the oddball questions that show up here I am penning witticisms over at

  • heathen chinese

    Very well written. It’s a credit to the original questioner Amy that she asked the question in a manner open to the reply you wrote. Many modern Westerners tend to look down upon animal sacrifice, but as you say, given their disconnect from where their food comes from, they’re not in a position where they would understand it.

    • Angus McMahan

      Thank you! Amy’s original question wasn’t quite that ‘open’. But I replied to it and asked for more clarification and that’s when the second part came out: “I know nothing about this!” – so what’s up at the top is kind of a mish-mash of what we discussed.
      Behind the scenes at AskAngus!
      Thank you for the comment and the compliment. If you ever have any questions about Paganism – or anything, really – just ask away!

  • Jenya T. Beachy

    Thanks for including me in your blog post :) OOh, I’m famous!

    I have heard that in some African traditions the size of the ‘sacrifice’ is directly related to the number of people you need to have come help you with whatever your trouble is. If you are having a difficult situation, like the ‘there’s no clean water’ or ‘there’s no medicine that will cure this’ sort, then you need many, many people to come and pray with you, to make the rituals with you to ease whatever is out of balance. For a big thing like that, you need a goat, maybe two, since after the ritual, you’re going to have to feed all these people.

    I don’t mean to imply that there’s no metaphysical purpose to the taking of the life, only that the life-force of the spirit and the physical body are both used as sustenance for the spirits and the bodies.

    • Angus McMahan


  • Nicole Youngman

    I had quite an a-ha! moment about this a while back on one of the blogs around here when someone explained to me in the comments that in Vodou etc. it wasn’t a matter of appeasing some angry deity/spirit with blood and violence but a matter of inviting them over for dinner. I still find it pretty icky on a personal level, but if the animal is in fact being eaten afterwards and not left on the train tracks or crossroads or something (which strikes me as abhorrent on several levels–first, the idea that a deity/spirit *would* be pleased by that, and second, that the animal in question was having its life completely wasted by *not* being eaten except perhaps by ants), I understand it much better from an ethical standpoint.

    • Angus McMahan

      Yes. In my experience, the Orisha are very “hang-out-with-able”. (As long as you are a good host/ess and invite just the appropriate ones, and seat them carefully.) And you want to serve your best, so show them how important their presence is by bringing out your biggest goat or your prettiest rooster.

  • jason mankey

    In a lot of classical paganisms meat was a very rare treat. A “sacrifice to the gods” was a good excuse for a goat or lamb dinner. In Greek religion the “leftovers” were used for the burnt offering and the best parts of the animal were for the worshipers.

    Judaism was a big on animal sacrifice, and I’m sure Jesus himself would have made such an offering at the Jewish Temple.

    • Angus McMahan

      Interesting! You’re such a scholar.

    • Alisa Rose

      well, if Jesus did it, I’m all in. :P

  • Laurianne Moray

    Since animals were important offerings in the past, maybe it’s time we also step up and sacrifice out computers (the most important object in one’s life). Times are changing after all. :)

    • Angus McMahan

      Oh, I’ve been more than willing to ‘sacrifice’ my computer (mostly when I am wrestling with WordPress). But that wouldn’t be done with the worshipful attitude I was describing in this piece.