So close to Mabon, it’s the time when the scythe meets the stalk of wheat in the field and cuts away at the earth. Sacrifice and death are all around us during this time and also the beauty of loss transmuting into life. Ritual sacrifice is a topic that I think is worth discussing and opening up to folks. When we speak about ritual sacrifices in modern Paganism these days, the phrase conjures up an assortment of visuals that range from hallowed to horrifying. Some folks may advocate for animal cruelty and reason that we’ve evolved as a race and these offerings are no longer relevant in our present society. Other folks will bravely strand up and defend the ancient ways feeling that this is the best way to keep our traditions alive and that returning to the old ways is the only way the human race can prosper. It’s hard to say, without really looking at the bigger picture to say whose right or wrong. There may not be a clearly defined answer in regards to these kinds of sacrifices and legally there are repercussions for the violation of these established ethics.
There’s nothing wrong with either of these contrasting views. What makes humanity divine is that we can sit at opposite sides of a table and talk things through to help both sides come to understanding and compromise. Debate is part of our growth as a society and that’s especially the case in Modern Paganism. It’s true, ancient Pagans did perform animal AND human sacrifices to appease our Gods for a variety of reasons. These sacrifices were the lifeblood of the ancient Tribes. They ensured a successful hunt, a large harvest, and the fertility of the people. The Gods were also of concern and many of our bloodied offerings were in place to form a deeper connection with those deities. These episodes were a shared experience that sent ripples in the physical, mental, and spiritual worlds. A ritual sacrifice or offering was a sacred event and not an experience that was ever taken lightly or done in carelessness. It was believed by many cultures that what was offered during these rituals was an extension of the self if not the actual self. The fight for our furry (scaled, and feathered) friends and their rights has changed the climate of our practice though as we gaze into the present. Considering that we’ve become a more sensitive society and on our way to becoming conscious of the full effect of our actions on this planet, it’s easy to see why this idea is still changing. It’s safe to say through observation that the human race is locked in a constant battle with its self towards evolution or ruin. It takes time and careful observation to see the result of our combined efforts in the ever-changing climate of our spirituality because Paganism is the story of the human race.
As Pagans, we’ve sacrificed ourselves before for other Gods that seemed like the right choice at the time. Poverty, war, and disease all contributed to the political and spiritual atmospheres of our ancient fore bearers. Greed, ignorance, and materialism have left their mark on our external and internal environment and have been the altar on which so many have loved and lost themselves inside. It isn’t just missionary Christians or Roman conquerors that shattered the ancient knowledge, it was the common people who fought among each other and stood by as the pages of our history and traditions burned. This is merely our shared journey as one people and one race. It’s important to consider the foundation of humanity and know that free will and all of the flaws that go with it are the reason that our spiritual path has taken the twists and turns, loops and dives that go with experimentation. There’s more to ritual sacrifice that transcends our ethical and moral differences. The most important part of a sacrifice is what we’re sacrificing and why and that’s a very personal interaction that flows from within the individual involved.
Ritual sacrifice of the self is one of the most important steps you can take as a Pagan. For myself, it meant dissolving relationships that no longer served me, cutting away old habits, and facing painful memories. Sitting in my sacred space at Deeply Rooted Church, I reflect upon the myriad of conversations I’ve had with myself and the Gods. In order to become the Priestess that I saw inside myself it meant having to make some very big changes. When I first made my sacrifices to the Gods, I had no idea how mentally taxing stripping away the old persona was going to be or the impact of that metamorphosis was going to take on my friendships and daily practices. I found myself crying out to Kali and ultimately to my higher self for the kind of healing and strength I needed to physically manifest the dream I carried in my heart. I can say from personal experience that if you make these kind of Oaths to the Gods, to nature, or to yourself and you speak these words aloud, your offer will be taken up. Gods (and your subconscious) are listening! For me, things began to dramatically change. Thoughts came into my mind that I would not have ever considered and the hardest part was facing these new realizations head on. I fell on my face most of the time and I kept finding the courage to pull myself through even if it meant surviving these changes on a moment to moment basis. I’d say my experience was probably more violent and world-crashing than most and I’ll tell you that the reason is because that’s the kind of person I am and those are the kinds of Gods I serve. Not everyone will have such a rocky transition.
If Modern Paganism is to thrive, personal sacrifice is going to be a major platform on which we grow. It’s going to take folks ridding themselves of the things that have a choke-hold on them in order to manifest what they want Paganism to become as a result. Some of these habits to be sacrificed are easily recognized as self-destructive such as smoking cigarettes, losing yourself in a relationship that is one-sided, or caffeine-induced panic attacks. Other mannerisms that we embrace such as our reliance on the internet, materialism, and careless words spoken to one another are more subtle and yet the impact that sacrificing these parts of our selves makes is epic. When I made my last round of sacrifices last Samhain, I cut a lot out of my daily practices that I felt were essential for me to exist and later I found out that the strength that I gained from not indulging in these self-destructive antics was overwhelming! I could become centered quickly and keep focused on my goals so that I could attain the kind of spiritual release that I was craving.
The biggest sacrifice I make is letting go of my perpetual need to be right in order to consider what I am looking at more objectively. That’s why I write this blog as a conversation between myself, humanity, and the Gods and revisit so much of my past. It’s very hard for me to share these details about my life and yet I’ve found it to bring me closer to people than I ever imagined. Sacrificing my ego, my ideas, and the truth that I’ve held on to for so long has given me a clearer vision of what is really going on around me. There’s times that realization, Satori, has brought me to a shaking mass of tears and there’s also times that it’s relaxed and comforted me in the moment. When folks challenge my insights, I have to shut my ego off and openly listen to what they have to say and consider that they might be on to something. The process has brought me closer in understanding my Tribe and has enabled (and inspired) me to become a better writer for Paganism. Taking up the metaphorical athame and carving a soul from it
Discovering a habit or item to sacrifice isn’t an instance to take lightly. I had to think about what was standing in the way of me becoming who I wanted to be and what I wanted to accomplish in the process. I had to look long and hard at myself and see how all of my habits connected and bound me from becoming the Priestess I wanted to be for my Tribe. I knew I had an addictive personality and so that everything in my life was either 150% or not at all. It took breaking away from video games, caffeine, alcohol, and meat to change internally and manifest a different world. Video games took away from studying for Clergy and also were a cheap form of social interaction. Caffeine and alcohol induced panic attacks that compounded my depression and made the situation worse inside my mind. Becoming vegetarian was symbolic of putting away my fangs and embracing a gentler Path. If you’re stuck in the struggle of finding out what you need to sacrifice in order to become more, just look in the mirror. See your life for what it is and don’t be afraid to admit certain truths to yourself. We all struggle and we are always in a state of flux. The human race is meant to reflect nature and life ebbs and flows much the same way as the tides.
What can you give?
What can you bring to the table in order to share in the feast?
Why is it important to give what you have in order to become something more?
These are the questions I’ve asked myself and encourage others to take a moment to contemplate.
I think in American society, we equate the word sacrifice with losing something and coming up short somewhere along the lines. In ritual sacrifice, it’s true that we do let a part of ourselves go. We trade the ego, what we think we are to find out what we really are on the inside and learn how to cope with reality in the process. The end result of sacrificing is having more than we could have ever dreamed possible. Blessings to all who reach for more! – Shining Quill