If I am to be honest I must admit my spiritual practice has been struggling as of late. I have no major crises and while I’m more than a little busy I’m far from overwhelmed. I’ve even gotten a few things done that have been on my to-do list for a long time. But my core connections are weak. My usual all-heal of returning to practice hasn’t produced the results I need, and even that seems to take great effort. It’s like I’m avoiding something…
Here are recent essays from two very good Pagan bloggers on the subject of sacrifice. In a post titled Blood Sacrifices Are So Messy, Teo Bishop begins with the idea of literal blood sacrifice and quickly moves into metaphorical sacrifice. He asks “do we believe that the Gods want blood in order to be in relationship with us? Do we think they want the full engagement of our heart?”
In Blood Sacrifice Cat Treadwell writes about her difficulties in dealing with Winter and says “it’d be much easier to take the easy route, that of the toddler whining ‘but I don’t want to!’ Tough. Wrap up warm on the way out, it’s nippy.”
For the record, I don’t perform literal blood sacrifices. I grew up in a semi-rural area – I’ve slaughtered farm animals and I’ve killed and cleaned game animals and I would have no problem doing so again. But it’s not part of any of my Pagan traditions.
I generally describe the offerings I make as acts of hospitality, not as sacrifices. It’s important to treat our gods, goddesses and ancestors with the respect they’re due and to simply be nice and friendly. But an emphasis on hospitality offerings can obscure the need for true sacrifices.
I am pledged to Cernunnos. The Lord of the Animals who is both Hunter and Hunted is neither timid nor squeamish. He needs what he needs and he wants what he wants – passionately and determinedly. I am an unpledged devotee of Morrigan. The Battle Goddess and the Chooser of the Slain is quite familiar with blood and knows that sometimes it must be spilled to accomplish a greater good.
Heathen priest and blogger Galina Krasskova tells of a spiritual consulting client who had managed to break an oath to one deity, curse another, and desecrate the shrine of a third. Her life was understandably in shambles and she was looking for Galina’s help in fixing it. After divination and consulting with colleagues, Galina determined that the starting point in making things right would be for “Jane” to sacrifice three roosters (read the whole story for why).
Jane comes back to us wanting to know if she can just buy a frozen butterball turkey at the local Stop and Shop (an American supermarket chain) and give that instead, ostensibly chucking it out the car whilst driving through a crossroads, since it’s more convenient than arranging a proper expiatory sacrifice. Finding three roosters and someone willing to do the appropriate, ritually correct sacrifice was proving time consuming and difficult.
Needless to say, Jane’s troubles continued. Galina told this story to illustrate the cultural and personal arrogance that permeates our mainstream culture. I share it here to emphasize that the gods want what they want, plus nothing minus nothing.
Sometimes we are asked to make symbolic sacrifices to remind us that yes, tangible sacrifice is occasionally necessary. Other times we are asked to make larger sacrifices to strengthen our commitment to our gods and to our Great Work. And other times we are asked to make some very specific sacrifices simply because it must be done.
Most of the religious work I do is no sacrifice – it’s interesting, engaging, and rewarding. But nothing of value is interesting, engaging and rewarding all the time. In any religion there is wood to be chopped and water to be carried. There are fields to be plowed, seeds to be sown and weeds to be pulled. Put off planting because it’s hard work, because there are other things you’d rather be doing, because you don’t want to make the sacrifice, and you put off the harvest.
It’s time to step up to the altar and make the sacrifices that must be made.