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Asshattery is Afoot

My morning began with a post from a friend of mine about a family of farmers, the Benners, who are being targeted and harassed by animal rights activists because their dairy cow is eventually intended to feed their family. A housewife, mother, and incredibly ignorant woman Kimberly Sherriton attended an educational tour of the farm, asked about their cow Minnie, and grew incensed upon finding out that Minnie was eventually destined to feed the family. In Kimberly’s world, the farmers should get their meat at Whole Foods where it doesn’t have to suffer. (Yes, this intellectual heavy weight actually said this to the family). She then proceeded to start a campaign of hatred and harassment against the Benner family, one that includes death threats–nor are the Benners the only farmers to have been threatened by bullies like this. The article provides a disturbing list. I myself have seen them in action any time the subject of sacrifice comes up (though fortunately in my case the harassment was restricted to a few nasty posts and an email from David S. implying that I was evil and mentally ill) and like anti-choice activists who clearly believe that 51 percent of the world’s population do not deserve bodily sovereignty (you know, that thing called freedom), there is no reasoning with them.

I absolutely believe that animals should be treated with care and compassion. Moreover, I think that we should avoid sentimentalizing them and should instead allow them the dignity of being animals. But I respect the cycle of predator and prey and attacking a family because they’re putting food on their table in exactly the same way that our ancestors did is just foul. Moreover, these animal rights activists are little more than hate groups and they will use any tactic including lying and aggressive threats, even violence to achieve their ends.

More importantly from my perspective, every gain for these people is an attack on our religious sovereignty. Make no mistake, people like Sherriton, and they are many, have no problem whatsoever doing anything they can to make the practice of religious sacrifice illegal. They’ve succeeded too in many places. We are fortunate in the US: there is a Supreme Court Case (the 1994 case of Ernesto Pichardo and the Church of Babaluaye vs. the City of Hialeah) that ruled in our favor. Pichardo was and is a fierce fighter on behalf of his own tradition and by extension ours. He is a trail blazer and I pray the Orisha bless him daily. That this ruling exists, however, does not mean that we cannot still be threatened. (To make the parallel again, look at the constant chipping away at Roe v. Wade). This is all the more so when our polytheism might likely be met with incredulity and disdain and dismissed as “not a real religious position” by those whose imaginations are too small to encompass the idea of more than one God as licit.

I firmly believe that these animal rights activists must be challenged and driven back. Their intentions may be good, but they are ultimately ill thought out. They are working from a place of immensely blind privilege and for the most part simply don’t care about the consequences (or worse, see those consequences to our indigenous traditions – and our farmers– as positive). Before you sign that next petition or join in support of the next bit of animal rights (not animal welfare but animal rights) legislation, consider what it will be like when we’re not permitted legally to practice our religion (this happened with the festival of Gadhimai this year, and there were legal challenges even to orthodox Jews on the topic of sacrifice, and ARM, a particularly vile animal rights group is hard at work attacking Lukumi), when our farms are closing because farmers can’t feed themselves, and when eating a burger is a felony.

As my friend Ruth said, if Kimberly Sherriton cares so much more about Minnie than she does about the welfare of the Benners, let her buy the cow.

“I think a fair price for a now celebrity cow would be… let’s see… *searches for John Lennon’s last interview for the price of Yoko’s cow sale* here we go : “LENNON: Sean and I were away for a weekend and Yoko came over to sell this cow and I was joking about it. We hadn’t seen her for days; she spent all her time on it. But then I read the paper that said she sold it for a quarter of a million dollars. Only Yoko could sell a cow for that much. [Laughter]”

Not up for that, Kimberly? No? Then how about this: shut the fuck up, you ignorant piece of shit. How about that? And leave these innocent people in peace.

For those who would like to offer their support to the Benners, there is a link in the body of the aforementioned article. I have already emailed them to offer my support and to encourage them to stay strong.

Let us all stay strong and resist the encroachment of this type of thing into our practices. Let us be vigilant and on guard because we are in fact on their list. I hope that when the time comes we can all stand together to defend the most sacred of religious practices across our many traditions and to defend our farmers too. We’ve had enough stripped away.

 

 

As it should be

(warning: the clip shows a sacrifice to Frey.)

I don’t watch “The Vikings,” but a friend recently sent me this clip. Yes, there are likely technically errors with respect to the way the sacrifice is physically handled, but it’s a beautiful clip of a very holy rite. This is precisely what our rites should be: this power, this terror, this solemnity, this joy. Happy Ostara, folks. One day may this be our reality again.

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.

 

Note:

 

 

 

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 

Shame!

I never thought that I would be giving thanks to be practicing a Diasporic religion but the past couple of months have clearly shown that there are some perks. I know an awful lot of Heathens look to Scandinavia (including Iceland) as an inspiration to their religious practice, and as the seat of our religions’ history. That shit, to be blunt, needs to stop.

Now I’m no fan of America, Gods know. The general level of education alone (or lack thereof) is enough to make my teeth ache but at least I can do a proper blot here. That’s right. Despite occasional legal challenges to the practice, and because of the hard and dedicated work of the ATR communities in the US, I can perform proper blot, i.e. offering rites that include animal sacrifice. Apparently, that’s no longer the case in Denmark.

The latest out of that particular country (though sadly this is a secular trend that we’re seeing more and more of across Europe) is this. Animal sacrifice is now effectively banned. It is unclear how this ban would affect the slaughter of animals for religious reasons when they are not then being consumed (slaughter and then burnt offering for example) but my impression from what I have read is that this too would be against the law. Were I living in Denmark, I would have to break that law.

Animal sacrifice is an integral part of many polytheistic religions. I have written about this extensively here and here and here before. The UK article notes that Muslim and Jewish communities are up in arms about the new law, but it’s also one that affects polytheists too, and ATR communities: one more chipping away at our right to practice our religion unimpeded…as if Christianity didn’t do enough of that a thousand plus years ago.

The centrality of sacrifice, for instance, to Jewish as well as Polytheist communities was recognized by the Emperor Julian who sought to rebuild this people’s ancestral temple so that they could once again offer sacrifice in the proper, traditional manner, as we read in the Ecclesiastical History of Salamanius Hermias Sozomenus:

“Events proved that this was his real motive; for he sent for some of the chiefs of the race and exhorted them to return to the observance of the laws of Moses and the customs of their fathers. On their replying that because the Temple in Jerusalem was overturned, it was neither lawful nor ancestral to do this in another place than the metropolis out of which they had been cast, he gave them public money, commanded them to rebuild the Temple, and to practice the cult similar to that of their ancestors, by sacrificing after the ancient way. The emperor, the other pagans, and all the Jews, regarded every other undertaking as secondary in importance to this. Although the pagans were not well-disposed towards the Jews, yet they assisted them in this enterprise, because they reckoned upon its ultimate success, and hoped by this means to falsify the prophecies of Christ.”

Further, we have Julian’s own words in his letter to the Jewish community:

“In times past, by far the most burdensome thing in the yoke of your slavery has been the fact that you were subjected to unauthorized ordinances and had to contribute an untold amount of money to the accounts of the treasury. Of this I used to see many instances with my own eyes, and I have learned of more, by finding the records which are preserved against you. Moreover, when a tax was about to be levied on you again I prevented it, and compelled the impiety of such obloquy to cease here; and I threw into the fire the records against you that were stored in my desks; so that it is no longer possible for anyone to aim at you such a reproach of impiety. My brother [cousin] Constantius of honored memory [in whose reign, 337-361, severe laws were enacted against the Jews] was not so much responsible for these wrongs of yours as were the men who used to frequent his table, barbarians in mind, godless in soul. These I seized with my own hands and put them to death by thrusting them into the pit, that not even any memory of their destruction might still linger amongst us.

And since I wish that you should prosper yet more, I have admonished my brother Iulus [Hillel II, d. 365], your most venerable patriarch, that the levy which is said to exist among you [the taxes paid by world Jewry for support of the Palestinian patriarchate] should be prohibited, and that no one is any longer to have the power to oppress the masses of your people by such exactions; so that everywhere, during my reign, you may have security of mind, and in the enjoyment of peace may offer more fervid prayers for my reign to the Most High God, the Creator, who has deigned to crown me with his own immaculate right hand. For it is natural that men who are distracted by any anxiety should be hampered in spirit, and should not have so much confidence in raising their hands to pray; but that those who are in all respects free from care should rejoice with their whole hearts and offer their suppliant prayers on behalf of my imperial office to Mighty God, even to Him who is able to direct my reign to the noblest ends, according to my purpose.

This you ought to do, in order that, when I have successfully concluded the war with Persia, I may rebuild by my own efforts the sacred city of Jerusalem, which for so many years you have longed to see inhabited, and may bring settlers there, and, together with you, may glorify the Most High God therein.”

We should stand in solidarity with all of the Jews, Muslims, ATRs and Polytheists whose free expression of their religion is being impinged by these overreaching and unjust laws. This is oppression and this is precisely why some polytheists are so adamant that polytheism is, among other things, a human rights movement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Repost from last October: The Red Thread – Res Ipsa Loquitur

This past week of discussion on the topic of sacrifice — often quite heated discussion–has been incredibly vexing. It’s highlighted for me yet again what a tremendous learning curve there is as we move forward in the restoration of our traditions. Yet again I find myself struggling to hold onto the grim hope that we will, in time, succeed. In a way, it is a gift and a grace when fractures in a working group, a community, a House are highlighted in so clear and undeniable a fashion. To move forward cleanly, after all, one must have a clear and accurate lay of the land. We must know what it is with which we work. Sometimes though, it’s a very ugly process.

Animal sacrifice is not a hip new practice. It’s a tremendously old one. It is one of the oldest and holiest of rites practiced in pretty much every ancestral polytheism across the world (and the three monotheisms, for that matter. It’s a universal practice. Show me an intact polytheism, in a traditional culture, that doesn’t sacrifice to the Powers). Those tapped as sacrificial priests are picking up the threads of a very ancient sacramental contract between humanity, the natural world, and the Powers. There is rigorous training. There is respect. There is devotion. To think that we can restore our traditions with integrity, while neglecting this most fundamental of practices is…naive, to say the least. It’s easier, I suspect, for those of us coming either from a background in working with animals and animal care, or from farm-folk to position these practices as sacred but for those deeply ensconced in modern, post-Reformation, “Enlightenment” values, there can be a powerful learning curve. It really highlights that while we may navigate between our contemporary secular (but really protestant christian) informed society to our ancestral ways, in the end, one must make a choice. The two mindsets are diametrically opposed. It always comes as a bit of a shock to those of us entrenched in our ancestral ways to realize just how deeply so.

That is what I intend to discuss in this post. Those of us in the forefront of this work bear a very heavy burden: the weight of traditions upon our shoulders. It is not enough to rest in the panacea of only those practices that do not challenge our comfort levels. It is not enough to pick and choose only those things that do not force us to call into question the very foundations upon which our modern values rest. We are charged with going deeper. To say that the weight of a tradition rests upon us means that we have a greater, far greater obligation not just to the Gods and ancestors but to the tradition itself, to the very lineage that we are seeking to restore. We must be clean. This week I watched someone I love, step back and release a nascent tradition, withdraw as carrier of the mysteries of Dionysos from a group that he had founded to be the carrier of this received tradition. He will take the Mysteries that he carries and move forward, having cut ties with that group. I’ve seen people questioning why it is that it was necessary to so thoroughly break and move on and the answer is simple: contamination.The original group became so impure, so contaminated by something that goes deeper than miasma, something akin to spiritually corrosive poison that there was no clean choice but to sever ties. Why? Because you do not build a tradition on filth.

There are things that can be discussed, dissented with, argued vehemently, and there is a way to argue vehemently but some things are immutable within their traditions. Sacrifice is one of those things. When one is part of a community, those sacrifices done benefit that entire community, down to the least involved member. It is a reverent portal through which a thousand blessings flow. It is the metaphorical water that nourishes seeds planted in the rich soil of devotion. Through right relationship, reverence, devotional practices, ecstatic ritual, sacrifice and a dozen other ways, threads that were savaged so long ago with the spread of monotheism are woven anew. They are fragile at first, and require care. They must be cultivated, tended, kept free of harm. Instead, we have seen them set upon from within and it is not the first time that I have seen this.

To have people encounter the idea of sacrifice for the first time react with confusion, or with a deeply emotional response, or to question whether or not they can participate, or to want to understand more before making a decision is normal and even a respectful process. We should seek to understand those sacred things that we are given the opportunity to touch. It is a way of deepening our own understanding not just of our traditions and Gods, but of our own spiritual processes too. If someone, for whatever reason, chooses to walk away because of a practice like sacrifice, that is their choice and it does not harm the tradition. If someone chooses to reject sacrifice, maliciously attempt to play upon readers’ unexamined sentiments by bringing up non sequiturs like human sacrifice, slavery, etc., equating these things with animal sacrifice, that is an attempt at violence being done to a tradition. If someone by utter lack of hospitality condemns and attacks the authority of the one who received the Mysteries of a tradition, all the while claiming a desire to stay and *reap the benefits of his knowledge, and of community sacrifices*, that is obscene. It is reprehensible. More to the point, it brings impurity into the line.

There are a thousand chasms to be navigated here. When, for instance, do you sever and withdraw, and when do you bear on, dragging the tradition through to cleaner waters? When does the latter become an impossibility? When do you risk contaminating yourself and all the Mysteries that you have been given to hold, to nurture, to transmit? There are obligations here: to the Gods, to the ancestors, but to those Mysteries themselves, and to future mystai. Each tradition is a gloriously woven tapestry but keep picking at the threads, pulling out certain ones that you don’t like and eventually that tapestry is reduced to nothing. It loses its integrity, physically and metaphorically. The boundaries of a tradition are an immutable line for just this reason.

I believe very strongly that both the Gods and our ancestors watch carefully as this process of restoration grows. I believe that there is a tremendous investment in our progress. I believe we are accountable, those of us so tasked, for what we do and what we neglect to do in the process of this work. I think we are answerable for our choices. But I also think that the Gods and ancestors grieve deeply when we fail. In fact, I know it. I know it because I have been carrying just that grief all week.

I serve the ancestors almost as much as I serve the Gods. Part of my work as a tradition bearer and sometimes as a diviner means that I key very strongly in to the grief that pours like a wailing river from both the dead and the Powers. All this week, since it became clear how deep the vein of dogged ignorance runs and how quickly it spiraled to begin contaminating a tradition, I have found myself carrying, hauling around a growing and heavy grief; and as I watched, I was surprised as I am always surprised by how fiercely people cling to their surety that our ancestors were idiots and their sense of entitlement and privileged belief in their own enlightenment. I’ve been Heathen since 1995 and a sacrificial priest for almost as long. This is not the first time I’ve seen this play out. Each time I sense the same grief and each time I respond to those bringing poison into the Gods’ House with anger and vitriol –admittedly in part my response to the gravity of the grief I am given to bear, grief that is not all mine, but that of the ancestors’ and Gods as well. Incidents like this highlight with ferocious clarity what tangled and difficult work lies before us all. Two steps forward, one step back eternally.

I am bowed over with the grief of the dead, ancestors who saw their traditions torn away, snatched and sundered, destroyed, spat on, and rewritten by the victors as savage fictions. I am bowed over with the grief of ancestors who, each time we lay down threads, hope anew for full, viable, sustainable restoration, only to be, yet again, disappointed, yet again reminded of the ignominy and horror to which their traditions fell. I am filled with a cold, grating fury toward those who willfully refuse to examine the price of their own allegiance to “progress”. It’s because of people just like you that our traditions fell in the first place. It’s because of people just like you that we have to do this restorative work now and there is a screaming fury in my soul that could I but find a way to unleash its wrath would reduce your world to fiery cinders. But such would not serve and so I make offerings to the dead, I make offerings to the Gods, and I pray as fervently as I possibly can to instead turn that raging anger into momentum for renewed inspiration and work.

It is not enough to have separated ourselves from the contamination. Now we must grieve, giving voice to our ancestors, allowing their anguish multiplied down the generations to pour through us into sacred ritual. Now we must pay greater homage to our Gods, divining for and preparing the sacrifices that will cleanse that which is worse by a thousand times than miasma from us and that which we hold. I think on the words of the great Sufi poet Rumi:

“Blood must flow…
for the garden to flower
and the heart that loves me
is a wound without shield.”

and I am filled again with a gratitude so humbling that it drives me to my knees to be given into service. It is a joy even in the face of such despair and I turn my mind to devotion, away from the fury and the fire. I turn my soul to the glorious free-fall of leaping again into the canyon abyss of ecstasy that is adoration of the Gods.

Animal Rights and the Right to Sacrifice

In 1994 there was a landmark ruling: the City of Hialeah vs. Ernesto Pichardo and the Church of Lukumi Babaluaye. As a result of this ruling, religious groups in the US had on the books a precedent guaranteeing the right to animal sacrifice. In 2009 (in Texas!) there was another, similar case: Jose Merced, President Templo Yoruba Omo Orisha Texas, Inc., v. City of Euless. Again, the religious right to sacrifice was upheld. Many of us owe a debt to those men and religious groups who fought this fight all the way up to the Supreme Court so they could honor their Holy Powers properly. Those of us in various polytheistic religions like Heathenry, Hellenic Polytheism, etc. look to these rulings to protect our right to offer properly to our Gods as well and so far, so good.

Today, however, a friend posted something about animals being given personhood status in Canada, and I’ve been seeing more and more anti-cruelty laws being discussed. (I didn’t read the article and it’s since been taken down so i don’t have any details about whether our neighbors to the north have actually done this). This worries me greatly. I am against cruelty to animals. This goes without saying. Sacrifice and cruelty to animals, however, are two very different things. Sacrifices are performed cleanly, quickly, and only by experienced, trained professionals. Cruelty would negate the offering, an offering grounded in deep respect. That being said, i can’t help but wonder how long until the government, or some well meaning group of do-gooders crawls up our collective ass about this aspect of our restoration. There are those of us working very hard to restore our traditions who flat out believe that sacrifice is essential. I personally would go so far as to say that without sacrifice there is no piety. It is foundational. This is not an area of negotiation. More than almost any other ritual practice, I would say this is crucial.

This is also apparently controversial. Today when I mentioned just this question in response to my friend’s post : are exceptions to these laws being made for religious sacrifice? I received a response from a woman I assume was Pagan: “If i can’t sacrifice babies why should you be allowed to sacrifice animals.?”. Because, bitch, it’s my religious right. It is what the rites of my Gods and ancestors occasionally require. and because your white-bred comfort with my religion means less than nothing to me. fuck off. I have very little patience when someone outside of my religious community attempts to compel me or any other polytheist to denude our religious practices for their personal sensitivities. We fought this battle so many times that we’re bloody well sick and tired of having to repeat ourselves. (And if i seem perhaps overly peppery, consider that this was the response received to my question of whether my right to practice my religion freely might be impinged).

I could talk about how the knee-jerk reaction from some Pagans about the question of sacrifice stems from the same type of ingrained self-contempt for the ways of our ancestors that I mentioned here. I could talk about contemporary sensibilities being rooted in disconnection, impiety, and a deep hostility toward devotion. I could talk about the very classist, very Western, post-modern bias that riddles contemporary Paganism. I’m not going to do that though. I’m not going to dwell on any of those things. I’ve written about the importance of sacrifice here and here and many other places as well. Go and read at your leisure.

What I am going to do is to ask you to consider the slippery slope of religious erasure. This is about more than just sacrifice. When I received the above response (babies vs. animals) to my question, I realized that what we’re really dealing with is something that many of us have seen dozens and dozens of times before in the greater Pagan community: the push to cull from our traditions anything that might make the mainstream uncomfortable. So where exactly is that supposed to end? When our traditions are watered down to Pagan standard? After we get rid of sacrifice to make the animal rights people happy, what’s next? ecstasy? ordeal? intense religious ritual? shrines? body art for our Gods? veiling for our Gods? what? Exactly when will people unrooted in any ancestral tradition, unbound by loyalty to any set of Gods, taken up in affection and affectation for the Self be satisfied? When our traditions are nothing more than empty simulacra of their own?

If we’re going to restore our traditions then we need to do so with integrity. We need to stand up and stop being so afraid of making people uncomfortable or, (and this is what i think is really at the crux of it) of being seen as backward or primitive, or savage. There’s a world of racism, cultural appropriation, and religious oppression behind those ingrained feelings that needs to be called into the light — no matter how messy it is—and challenged. When we invoke this restoration, we are remaking the modern world, our part of it anyway. We are dragging, inch by painful, bloody inch, ancestral power into the 21st century. We will be challenged. We will be misunderstood. We will be attacked. But you know what that means? It means we’re making progress. It means that we are a threat to the established order of things and that is good, even if that which we threaten is only the conditioning of a dozen generations of Christian oppression and indoctrination within our own psyches.

I get dozens of emails every month from people telling me that they are nervous and afraid of setting out on the path of devotion: to the Gods, to the ancestors, to restoration. They want desperately to do it, but they have swallowed fear with their mother’s milk. What will it mean to do this thing? What will it mean to poke at the mental filter with which we’ve been raised? What will it mean to root oneself instead in the wisdom of two millennia past? How will one deal with the cognitive disconnect and most of all how will one cope with being ‘othered’ from family, community, and the world. In the end, I think these are questions that each person doing this polytheistic restoration has to answer for him or herself but I know for me, keeping my eye on the goal and staying devotionally connected to my Gods and as free of miasma as possible helps tremendously.

I know that I will never see the end result that we all seek with our work. I know that. This work of restoration will devour my life and I will never experience what it is like to be a polytheist in my own tradition with an unbroken, restored lineage, with our sacred sites and established cultus, restored Mysteries, and unquestioned place of devotion and praxis. I will never know what it is to not have to fight this fight. BUT for each step I take, someone behind me doesn’t have to fight for that piece of ground. For each step another polytheist takes, that’s ground I don’t have to contest. We are growing in numbers. We are growing in commitment and for all those out there reading this, it’s ok to be afraid and confused but don’t for one minute think you are alone. The greatest gift you can give yourself is learning how to hold the line against compromise of our inherent practices. …because as any bitch in a prison cell will tell you, the moment you yield once, it’s all downhill from there.

WildHunt Article on Animal Sacrifice

Today an article went live on the wild hunt for which Sannion and I were both interviewed. The topic is animal sacrifice and the article may be read here.

While overall the article isn’t bad, I’d like to clarify a few things. Firstly, I do not refer to myself as a ‘priestess.’ I dislike the feminization of perfectly acceptable nouns. I use the term ‘priest.’ Secondly, one of my comments was severely truncated — which is to be expected in an article where several people are being interviewed and where there are space limitations. It’s standard, in fact and the author did a pretty good job of working all our various viewpoints in.

Still, this is a heated topic right now and in view of preventing any miscommunication, I’d like to provide my full comment here.

In the course of the interview (we went back and forth via email), Terence Ward asked: “Sacrifice is only performed when the gods ask for it, do i understand that correctly? What traditions do you feel are covered by that assertion? Regarding the technical aspects, can you explain what is done to make this a humane act? How can an outsider know if a priest is properly trained to be compassionate? When the sacrifice is performed, what happens to the life force of the animal? What happens to the physical remains? If I asked a priest to perform a sacrifice on my behalf, what should I expect to be my responsibility, and what will I get in return? What do I owe the priest?”

My full response to those questions was as follows:

“To my mind, any polytheistic tradition should be doing divination before (and after) sacrificial rites. Certainly you see this in the ATR and you saw it in ancient polytheisms. It’s not a matter of giving an animal for the sake of giving an animal. Rather, it’s giving an animal because that is the appropriate and requested sacrifice. Polytheistic religions are religions of diviners and this is one of the important functions that diviners serve.

I’ve written about this extensively on my blog, but to recap in brief here, the animal is carefully chosen. it is cared for, pampered, fed well, and on the day of the sacrifice decorated, soothed, and kept calm. When the sacrifice is made, it is done with a scalpel sharp blade and a clean, quick cut. Compassion is not what I look for in a sacrificial priest. I look for training and skill. Having the proper skill guarantees that the animal will not suffer, whereas if one approaches the act of sacrifice awash in strong emotion there’s actually a greater likelihood that a mistake will be made, the priest will hesitate, and as a result the animal will have pain. (I tend to be very detached and cold when i sacrifice, because I’m focused on doing it cleanly. I don’t want to cause pain to an animal and so I can’t let my emotions rule. I love animals and donate quite a bit to charities that help them. The last thing I would want is my own emotional response causing me to slip). If technique is there, compassion is irrelevant but then I object strongly to anything depending on people’s emotional responses because of that margin for error. The training is for the skill. This is not an emotional act. It’s a sacred one. It’s a matter yes, of compassion, but also of respect to ensure that sacrificial priests have the training. There’s also a safety aspect with larger animals that requires it. I would not go to a priest for this type of work if i did not know his or her training. I want to know “what is your lineage, where did you learn, who were your teachers, who are your elders, who will vouch for you?” If those answers aren’t forthcoming, this is not someone with whom I’d work. Ideally, these are community offerings and as such, a priest’s training and competence are public and common knowledge within the community.

When a sacrifice is performed, the life force is given to the Gods. What happens to the physical remains varies. This is again something that ought to be divined upon (and this is where Heathenry, I believe often falls short). It’s not enough to assume that the animal will be cooked and shared with the community. Quite often that is the case, but just as often it must be disposed of in a particular way according to the desires of the Deities in question.

Your obligations if you request a sacrifice be performed will be determined by the sacrificial priest (and probably divination). At the very least, you will be expected to pay for the animal and to pay a fee to the priest for the work. This is a specialized skill that requires specialized training after all. in return, you should know that the sacrifice will be performed according to whatever requirements have been laid out by the Gods and your tradition, and you will receive the blessings for that. “

Let us find a better way (or: “we are not the monsters under your bed, I promise”)

Excellent post by Anomalous Thracian that touches powerfully on the ethnocentrism and arrogance inherent in those who condemn sacrifice.

Also, this is so so true: “Many Polytheists do have anger problems, but not because of mental illness. These problems are social in nature, and stem from being constantly baited with rhetoric, hate-speech, death-threats, and discourse as if we do not qualify as humans at all.” yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

Seriously, this is one of the best things i’ve read on sacrifice and the current debates in a long time. It’s a brilliant sociological examination.

The Red Thread – Res Ipsa Loquitur

This past week of discussion on the topic of sacrifice — often quite heated discussion–has been incredibly vexing. It’s highlighted for me yet again what a tremendous learning curve there is as we move forward in the restoration of our traditions. Yet again I find myself struggling to hold onto the grim hope that we will, in time, succeed. In a way, it is a gift and a grace when fractures in a working group, a community, a House are highlighted in so clear and undeniable a fashion. To move forward cleanly, after all, one must have a clear and accurate lay of the land. We must know what it is with which we work. Sometimes though, it’s a very ugly process.

Animal sacrifice is not a hip new practice. It’s a tremendously old one. It is one of the oldest and holiest of rites practiced in pretty much every ancestral polytheism across the world (and the three monotheisms, for that matter. It’s a universal practice. Show me an intact polytheism, in a traditional culture, that doesn’t sacrifice to the Powers). Those tapped as sacrificial priests are picking up the threads of a very ancient sacramental contract between humanity, the natural world, and the Powers. There is rigorous training. There is respect. There is devotion. To think that we can restore our traditions with integrity, while neglecting this most fundamental of practices is…naive, to say the least. It’s easier, I suspect, for those of us coming either from a background in working with animals and animal care, or from farm-folk to position these practices as sacred but for those deeply ensconced in modern, post-Reformation, “Enlightenment” values, there can be a powerful learning curve. It really highlights that while we may navigate between our contemporary secular (but really protestant christian) informed society to our ancestral ways, in the end, one must make a choice. The two mindsets are diametrically opposed. It always comes as a bit of a shock to those of us entrenched in our ancestral ways to realize just how deeply so.

That is what I intend to discuss in this post. Those of us in the forefront of this work bear a very heavy burden: the weight of traditions upon our shoulders. It is not enough to rest in the panacea of only those practices that do not challenge our comfort levels. It is not enough to pick and choose only those things that do not force us to call into question the very foundations upon which our modern values rest. We are charged with going deeper. To say that the weight of a tradition rests upon us means that we have a greater, far greater obligation not just to the Gods and ancestors but to the tradition itself, to the very lineage that we are seeking to restore. We must be clean. This week I watched someone I love, step back and release a nascent tradition, withdraw as carrier of the mysteries of Dionysos from a group that he had founded to be the carrier of this received tradition. He will take the Mysteries that he carries and move forward, having cut ties with that group. I’ve seen people questioning why it is that it was necessary to so thoroughly break and move on and the answer is simple: contamination.The original group became so impure, so contaminated by something that goes deeper than miasma, something akin to spiritually corrosive poison that there was no clean choice but to sever ties. Why? Because you do not build a tradition on filth.

There are things that can be discussed, dissented with, argued vehemently, and there is a way to argue vehemently but some things are immutable within their traditions. Sacrifice is one of those things. When one is part of a community, those sacrifices done benefit that entire community, down to the least involved member. It is a reverent portal through which a thousand blessings flow. It is the metaphorical water that nourishes seeds planted in the rich soil of devotion. Through right relationship, reverence, devotional practices, ecstatic ritual, sacrifice and a dozen other ways, threads that were savaged so long ago with the spread of monotheism are woven anew. They are fragile at first, and require care. They must be cultivated, tended, kept free of harm. Instead, we have seen them set upon from within and it is not the first time that I have seen this.

To have people encounter the idea of sacrifice for the first time react with confusion, or with a deeply emotional response, or to question whether or not they can participate, or to want to understand more before making a decision is normal and even a respectful process. We should seek to understand those sacred things that we are given the opportunity to touch. It is a way of deepening our own understanding not just of our traditions and Gods, but of our own spiritual processes too. If someone, for whatever reason, chooses to walk away because of a practice like sacrifice, that is their choice and it does not harm the tradition. If someone chooses to reject sacrifice, maliciously attempt to play upon readers’ unexamined sentiments by bringing up non sequiturs like human sacrifice, slavery, etc., equating these things with animal sacrifice, that is an attempt at violence being done to a tradition. If someone by utter lack of hospitality condemns and attacks the authority of the one who received the Mysteries of a tradition, all the while claiming a desire to stay and *reap the benefits of his knowledge, and of community sacrifices*, that is obscene. It is reprehensible. More to the point, it brings impurity into the line.

There are a thousand chasms to be navigated here. When, for instance, do you sever and withdraw, and when do you bear on, dragging the tradition through to cleaner waters? When does the latter become an impossibility? When do you risk contaminating yourself and all the Mysteries that you have been given to hold, to nurture, to transmit? There are obligations here: to the Gods, to the ancestors, but to those Mysteries themselves, and to future mystai. Each tradition is a gloriously woven tapestry but keep picking at the threads, pulling out certain ones that you don’t like and eventually that tapestry is reduced to nothing. It loses its integrity, physically and metaphorically. The boundaries of a tradition are an immutable line for just this reason.

I believe very strongly that both the Gods and our ancestors watch carefully as this process of restoration grows. I believe that there is a tremendous investment in our progress. I believe we are accountable, those of us so tasked, for what we do and what we neglect to do in the process of this work. I think we are answerable for our choices. But I also think that the Gods and ancestors grieve deeply when we fail. In fact, I know it. I know it because I have been carrying just that grief all week.

I serve the ancestors almost as much as I serve the Gods. Part of my work as a tradition bearer and sometimes as a diviner means that I key very strongly in to the grief that pours like a wailing river from both the dead and the Powers. All this week, since it became clear how deep the vein of dogged ignorance runs and how quickly it spiraled to begin contaminating a tradition, I have found myself carrying, hauling around a growing and heavy grief; and as I watched, I was surprised as I am always surprised by how fiercely people cling to their surety that our ancestors were idiots and their sense of entitlement and privileged belief in their own enlightenment. I’ve been Heathen since 1995 and a sacrificial priest for almost as long. This is not the first time I’ve seen this play out. Each time I sense the same grief and each time I respond to those bringing poison into the Gods’ House with anger and vitriol –admittedly in part my response to the gravity of the grief I am given to bear, grief that is not all mine, but that of the ancestors’ and Gods as well. Incidents like this highlight with ferocious clarity what tangled and difficult work lies before us all. Two steps forward, one step back eternally.

I am bowed over with the grief of the dead, ancestors who saw their traditions torn away, snatched and sundered, destroyed, spat on, and rewritten by the victors as savage fictions. I am bowed over with the grief of ancestors who, each time we lay down threads, hope anew for full, viable, sustainable restoration, only to be, yet again, disappointed, yet again reminded of the ignominy and horror to which their traditions fell. I am filled with a cold, grating fury toward those who willfully refuse to examine the price of their own allegiance to “progress”. It’s because of people just like you that our traditions fell in the first place. It’s because of people just like you that we have to do this restorative work now and there is a screaming fury in my soul that could I but find a way to unleash its wrath would reduce your world to fiery cinders. But such would not serve and so I make offerings to the dead, I make offerings to the Gods, and I pray as fervently as I possibly can to instead turn that raging anger into momentum for renewed inspiration and work.

It is not enough to have separated ourselves from the contamination. Now we must grieve, giving voice to our ancestors, allowing their anguish multiplied down the generations to pour through us into sacred ritual. Now we must pay greater homage to our Gods, divining for and preparing the sacrifices that will cleanse that which is worse by a thousand times than miasma from us and that which we hold. I think on the words of the great Sufi poet Rumi:

“Blood must flow…
for the garden to flower
and the heart that loves me
is a wound without shield.”

and I am filled again with a gratitude so humbling that it drives me to my knees to be given into service. It is a joy even in the face of such despair and I turn my mind to devotion, away from the fury and the fire. I turn my soul to the glorious free-fall of leaping again into the canyon abyss of ecstasy that is adoration of the Gods.

Sacrifice

The day comes for the sacrifice. It is a holy day. In the preceding weeks, since Divination first indicated and was confirmed, that Odin wished a sacrifice, there has been much to accomplish, so much to get done. Have we understood that You wish sacrifice? What precisely do You wish to see offered? Is it to be shared with the people after the rite, or do you wish it all for Yourself? What else do You require? Is there anything that we have neglected to ask or attend?

We’ve prepared. The youngling pig has been acquired, with poultry for the land and the dead, two roosters and a lively young pig. Over the past day or maybe two, they’ve been tended, cared for, fed well and often, soothed, and honored. Praise has been given them for their part in this holy rite. Divination was done by two diviners the night before the ritual, and again the morning of. The ritual knives have been sharpened to a scalpel’s edge. One person is assigned care of the animals, and the sacrificial priest spends the morning in prayer, and ritual cleansing.

The ritual begins with divination – we have learned this is necessary. A diviner and divination tools are kept on hand in case there are any omens during the ritual that must be taken into account. There is consecration, there are prayers, some are sung. Odin is invoked. The ancestors are called. The spirits of the land are thanked. Offerings are made, poured out upon the earth. When the time is right, the roosters are brought out. They are blessed, thanked, aspersed with fresh, clean water. The sacrificial priest carefully takes the bird and tucks it under her arm, holding it carefully both to support the body and restrain the feet. A final blessing is offered and the sacrificial cut is made. The bird is bled out, one for the land, one for the ancestors. The latter is field dressed and cooked up, presented to the ancestors as a feast, after the ritual is concluded. The former is given to the earth. Then it is time for Odin’s offering.

The assistants lead the pig forward. The same blessing and aspersing is given. The pig is stroked gently and given time to assent. The diviner and priest wait for the appropriate time. When the animal is read, the priest kneels and firmly makes the requisite cut. The body twitches, blood flows. The carcass is taken to Odin’s godpole and the blood allowed to flow.

As the sacrifice bleeds out at the foot of the pole, the ritual is concluded. Then the fire is kindled in the fire pit. The carcass is taken with thanks to the newly kindled flames, and people take their places to watch the slow process of immolation.

The priest goes immediately to cleanse, others to prepare the after-ritual feast. The diviner does that which diviners do in order to ensure that the sacrifice was worthy, was acceptable. (Sometimes it is not. Sometimes there is a flaw with the animal. Sometimes the priest or those present are not in the appropriate devotional space, or are unclean in some way. Sometimes the animal does not consent and cannot be sacrificed. Sometimes something went awry). The Powers received Their due. Our sacral contracts with the Gods, ancestors and spirits of the land have been renewed. The priest returns to the people clean and all celebrate the blessings of the Gods and that grace pouring forth upon the people.