The Politics of Sacrifice
It is ironic that the most vocal of the leftist/anarchist polytheists are of late so adamantly against “blood sacrifice.” They would be in very good company with that generation of Christian hegemons who attacked the heart and soul of polytheism in the 4th century, eventually successfully wiping out our traditions. You see, realizing how crucial appropriate sacrifice was to proper veneration of the Gods, the first line of attack in the ancient world, when Christian emperors (Constantine, Constantius, Constans, et al) were slowly (and not so slowly) helping to demonize our ways and legislate them out of existence was to make actual practice a capital offense. As early as 324 C.E., Constantine, according to Eusebius, issued a law forbidding ritual sacrifice in the provinces. While it appears the law was resisted and/or little followed, it is still significant that this was his first line of attack. Likewise, the Theodosian code (16.10.6 and 16.10.4) specifically forbade the practice of sacrifice and this was used as a pretext for closing and later demolishing temples, the temples being sites of power where sacrifices would traditionally have taken place.
Think about that: the most holy and sacred of our rites, the one that ties us more closely than any other practice to the Gods, the one that restores and renews the sacred contract we have with our Gods over and over again, is the first thing these people attack. In the 4th century we had Christians doing it in the name of their God, to save people from themselves, from “having the opportunity to commit error” (recorded with a smug condescension that sounds all too familiar to those of us who’ve had to deal with the radical left) and today people do it in the name of ‘progress,’ and ‘modernity.’ Oppression is oppression regardless of by what rubric you excuse your actions.
Nor is this mere theorizing. Just this year, in egregious pandering to the West, sacrifices to the Goddess Gadhimai were banned at Her festival in Nepal. And there were Pagans here who celebrated.
This past autumn, the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn likewise faced a challenge to their right to ritual slaughter on their highest of holy days. Fortunately, the community won this case but one can posit a trend.
Johan Galtung, often referred to as the “Father of Peace Studies,” examined in his work the nature of social, cultural, and systemic violence, including in his analysis the existence of prevailing social norms and ideas that are so deeply embedded in a culture or a community that they lead to unquestioned policing and suppression if not outright aggression of those who refuse to conform. He in part explores the intersection of religious language, culture and how they can be used to reinforce this type of harm. With our discussions lately across the blogosphere on the power of language, I think it is important, very important to keep in mind that language can be used as a powerful weapon. We can look to the period I noted above, the 4th Century C.E. to see a perfect example of this: Christians had icons, Pagans idols. Christians had religion, Pagans practiced idolatry. The same type of rhetoric is being used by our anarchist colleagues today (and yes, I mean you, Rhyd). Tradition building becomes denying people access to the Gods. Noting differing political views becomes a ‘fetishization’ of oppression. Honoring tradition and lineage –the very things that not only support and sustain indigenous religions—becomes a “glorification of violence.”(1) It is masterful and it is playing on fear, a sense of helplessness, frustration with the status quo in the United States, and perhaps lack of educational rigor in readers. As much as I am often condemned by my detractors for using language that creates ‘us versus them’ scenarios, I posit that my opposition is doing precisely the same thing only far less honestly. When restoration of our traditions as traditions is positioned as exploitation, my rhetoric radar goes up. I’ve spent the last decade reading some of the best rhetoricians in the known world as part of my academic work. I can spot such sophistry a mile away.
Part of restoring our traditions is an examination of our values and ethics, the way we look at the world, what we prioritize, and how we choose to engage not just with the Gods but with the very idea of tradition itself. We live in a massively fucked up world. We look at our polytheistic ancestors and often think that we know better than they because we have more advanced technology and have, with great conflict, made certain social advancements. That is a very false sense of security with which we soothe ourselves. Their technology was advanced for their time and place, just as ours may be considered to be (and a thousand years hence our descendants will likely look upon us as technological savages, if we’re still here in a thousand years). The issues like slavery and the position of women were issues that theologians, philosophers, and regular men and women actively debated. Christianity’s victory changed all of that, and set back what we would term civil rights by generations. We don’t know how much more advanced we would be had that lacuna not happened. What we do know is that a plethora of knowledge had to be rediscovered centuries after the world went monotheistic. There was a thing called the Dark Ages… I think that speaks volumes. We’ve been conditioned to the idea of progress and for the most part are not in any way encouraged to question it. We need to question everything fed to us as an absolute and that includes anything I may write and certainly anything my opponents in this restoration may write. One of the greatest strengths of our ancestors’ polytheistic world was the deep intellectual engagement of its people at all levels with the ideas of the day.
Their failure was one of imagination and I hope to Gods we don’t follow the same pattern. When they saw their Emperor giving rights to Christians, and then privileges, and then control they didn’t realize the ultimate repercussions of such an upset in the hierarchy of their world. Polytheism in the ancient world was vibrant and diverse and the idea of a cultus demanding utter exclusivity of practice was incomprehensible. The entire world was infused with polytheistic reverence and awareness to a degree that the absence of the same was unthinkable. When the edicts against sacrifice began, it seems, that there were difficulties implementing them – perhaps because it was incomprehensible to the local bureaucrats involved that such a fundamental thing, the fulcrum around which their traditions revolved, would ever be prohibited. The Christian slide to ultimate control occurred slowly but inexorably, and first with domination of language. But very few could see where all of that would ultimately lead, what demanding ideological obedience to “keep men from the occasion of error” would ultimately take away.
Polytheism in the ancient world was big enough, strong enough, rich and complex enough to include a multitude of philosophies and political opinions. People argued these things but came together as polytheists in the actual veneration of their Gods: in festivals, public rituals, and most of all in sacrifice. That was their common ground. We think we are better than our ancestors in so many ways, but this most essential thing escapes us. So whenever someone starts flailing away in a rhetorical attack against our most holy practices, I pay attention. (2) It signifies for me, and attack on the very heart of polytheism, on this structure, this hierarchy (Gods-ancestors-land-community), these traditions.
Rhyd and his retinue speak of hierarchy as though it isn’t a natural thing, as though it isn’t found in the Nature that they so adore. They speak of it in negatives forgetting that acknowledging the Gods as Gods in and of itself posits a hierarchy. I tend to agree with John Beckett, it’s time our communities got over their issues with authority.
- It’s only ever viewed as a problem however in Polytheism. One doesn’t see this crowd jumping on the ATR, or Hinduism, or other religions that practice sacrifice. Could it be that there’s an unspoken assumption there that because they are dark, they can’t possibly know any better? Hmmm? Or because so many of us are white, we are ‘more evolved?’ I do most certainly call bullshit.
- It is perplexing to me that there are those who can consider the holiest of offerings and rites, and see only mindless violence. I find that a very sad commentary on our world.