Offerings and Sacrifice Redux
So once again the subject of offerings and sacrifice has come up on a discussion thread; specifically, the comment was made that food offerings shouldn’t be wasted, that if something is given in offering or if a sacrifice is made, unless human beings get to eat it, it’s going to waste.
Part of me really wants to just go “bitch, please, this argument has happened already and it’s not rocket science. Catch up, please.” but since that’s not necessarily conducive to understanding and discussion, allow me to parse this out again.
Making offerings is an essential part of the devotional process and at the apex of all offering rites, ritual sacrifice is the holiest and most profound type of offering that one can give.
To say that offerings are wasted if they’re not then given to people is remarkably self-centered of us. How can they be wasted when they are being given to Gods and spirits? If you actually believe in the Gods, then giving to Them is not wasteful. That’s the catch there. Offerings set on a shrine are not being left out to rot; they’re being given to specific Deities or spirits. Sacrifices made and left at a shrine are not being left to go to waste, they are being given again, to Gods and spirits. That we cannot see or corporeally engage with our Gods does not make Them any less real.
What actually happens to an offering or sacrifice may vary: it depends to what God or spirit it’s being given. Whether or not the sacrifice is later consumed will depend on the Deity, the tradition, and most importantly, the divination done before and after the sacrifice. (1) Likewise, what happens to an offering will depend on the same factors. This is part of an ongoing conversation with our Holy Powers, the Great Ones and the least we can do is not be parsimonious twats about the whole thing. If nothing else, this process reinforces the reality that we are not the biggest, most important Beings in the universe. It teaches humility, reverence, and in the best cases imbues us with an overwhelming sense of awe that we can stand in right relationship with our Gods with all that entails.
Our right to sacrifice is not a given. It is under constant threat, not just from Christian evangelicals and other monotheistic extremists but from secular humanists/non-theists and most of all from animal rights groups that will go to any lengths to see the practice banned. They’ve been successful too, helped by a social justice agenda that values any culture and religion except that which would prioritize the Gods.
This past year has seen sacrifice banned in at least two places (Denmark and Nepal’s Gadhimai festival) and there have been multiple threats to its practice that weren’t so successful (ARM is constantly agitating against the ATR, there was a legal challenge in Brooklyn last October against the Orthodox Jewish community and their new year sacrifice, to name but two). Our legal right to sacrifice to our Gods rests on a 1994 case that went all the way to the Supreme Court: Ernesto Pichardo and the Church of Babaluaye vs. the City of Hialeah. As we’ve seen with another Supreme court victory, Roe v. Wade, even a precedent setting decision by the Supreme Court can be diminished and chipped away at little by little…or even overturned.
I would like to think that if (when) our right to practice our religions unimpeded is ever challenged, that our polytheistic communities would band together and stand together fiercely protecting our ancestral traditions, challenging and fighting any restrictions…even if one’s own cultus does not require sacrifice (after all, we should never compromise in honoring our Gods and if it’s sacrifice today, what practice will be on the chopping block tomorrow?). I would like to think that if our ATR colleagues were to see their right to sacrifice threatened again that we would stand together, unified, to support them as well.
Sadly, I know that isn’t the case. We have too many people who just don’t care and too few people able (willing?) to look ahead. We need to be looking ahead. These are perilous times and whether we like it or not, we are minority religions. I want every Polytheist and Pagan out there to be able to honor their Gods without having to hide their practices, break the law, or feel ashamed. We should be able to celebrate without having to watch for informants, busy-bodies, and bigots. We should not have to curtail our religious practices because our neighbors may not understand, as one recent article suggested. We should, in fact, blatantly and boldly refuse to do so. After all, it should be more important to please the Gods than the asshole down the street.(2)
So I watch and do my best to stay vigilant. I pay attention to articles involving animal rights, to people arrested for animal slaughter (religious or not, it’s easy enough for something to be spun in a way that brings disaster to us), to international efforts overseas to ban slaughter. I write at several venues to try to raise awareness, and I refuse to support organizations (like PETA) that would take my religious rites away. I would like to see us more organized, more able to fight, and fend off attacks on our religions but looking at the community today, we’ve a long way to go.
- I’m very carefully separating out offerings that do not require animal sacrifice (offering) from those that do (sacrifice).
- It helps to research local zoning laws and have the information at your fingertips. I also suggest screening your property. I have a screened enclosure where I will perform sacrifices, and a huge back porch that can be screened if need requires. I do not in any way suggest performing sacrifice where your neighbors can gawk. This is a sacred thing, not some for profane eyes to observe.