Archives For Rynn

Last month The Wild Hunt asked five members of the community — Thracian polytheanimist Anomalous Thracian of the blog Thracian Exodus; Mambo Chita Tann of Sosyete Fos Fe Yo We; priestess, author, blogger, and Solar Cross Temple board member Crystal Blanton; OBOD Druid and Under the Ancient Oaks blogger John Beckett; and Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) Druid Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh — for their thoughts on sacrifice. The following continues the conversation with part two of that interview.

How is sacrifice separate from blood sacrifice? Does blood sacrifice include personal blood offerings or is it limited to animal sacrifice?

Anomalous Thracian

Anomalous Thracian

“Blood sacrifice is not a term that I use and I would argue it as vague and somewhat useless. Ritual bloodletting would be more appropriate in this context, if I am reading the question correctly, as it is general enough to include many things, such as: ritual cutting of one’s own flesh to create a bond or pact with a spirit; ritual cutting of a sexual partner’s flesh in a ritual or ceremony; ritual cutting of an animal (not for the purpose of killing, but for producing the essence of a specific animal’s life force); “marking” a person with your own essence under certain ritual circumstances, whether for positive (protective, warding) or negative (hostile, magically infectious) reasons. Similarly cutting one’s self to feed one’s own blood to a specific deity — exactly as you might use, say, a goat, but without an immediate death — could be considered a sacrifice, and is still generally categorizable as “bloodletting.” I would hesitate to call anything that does not involve intentional death a sacrifice, in personal use of the term, but I would consider “the feeding or offering of blood, without death, to a deity or spirit” to be a form of sacrifice when circumstances call for it. Note: In many traditions, there are HEAVY restrictions upon forms of bloodletting of this sort, as the spirits and deities in question will take this as indication that the person being bled is “food,” and they will be regarded as such.” — Anomalous Thracian, Thracian Exodus

Mambo Chita Tann

Mambo Chita Tann

“We do not ever offer human blood in Haitian Vodou, despite stereotypes to the contrary. Blood can be offered in the rituals around making animal offerings, which almost always become food for ritual participants, once the spirits have taken their share. It is possible to consider sacrifice in the sense of other offerings of great worth that are given to the spirits, such as the great amount of effort, money, resources, and time an entire Vodou sosyete will dedicate to initiation ceremonies or annual observances of special ritual, but we still do not place these offerings as being more precious or higher than the ultimate sacrifice of an animal’s life to provide protection, blessing, and sustenance for that sosyete and its members.” — Mambo Chita Tann, Sosyete Fos Fe Yo We, Haitian Vodou

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

“There are many different types of sacrifice, and it is not limited to blood sacrifice. Different traditions access this differently. I personally do not practice blood sacrifice, but I have made personal blood offerings. I honor the life force of the individual, and the power of the divine within me, adding magic in the process.” — Crystal Blanton, Daughters of Eve

 

John Beckett

John Beckett

“Blood sacrifice is a subset of sacrifice, a particular form of sacrifice. It can include personal blood offerings or it can include animal sacrifice.” — John Beckett, Under the Ancient Oaks

Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

“Sacrifice often is confused with “blood offerings.” Blood sacrifice really doesn’t have a place in a modern Neopagan context, yet there are established cultures that still perform blood sacrifices. In a modern Druid context, sacrifices are often things such as whiskey, grains, flowers, prayers, poems, songs, and anything else that is a tangible item used to give to the gods. There are instances where Neopagans will sacrifice some of their own blood as a form of blood oath, but that is a rare instance. Killing of a live animal is another form of archaic sacrifice or offering that really is not something that is all that common in a Neopagan context. Most of us purchase our meat already slaughtered for consumption, but there are ways to offer a portion of that meat as a sacrifice in the form of the shared meal.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh, Druid, Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF)

Do modern Paganisms stand to gain anything positive from giving offerings and sacrifice to the Gods? What about blood sacrifice?

“As a Polytheist who does not really identify as a Pagan, I can’t speak for “modern Pagans.” I believe that authentic religious traditions — rather than psychological models drawing from religious terms or structures, or social movements similarly using the aesthetic of religion for artistic, activist, or community-centered reasons, etcetera — should have trained specialists who handle the navigation of sacrifices to the respective gods of said group, assuming that said gods request, require, or even accept sacrifices. Not all gods like bloodshed or death. As for “blood sacrifice,” I will take this to mean “ritual bloodletting” (as indicated above), and again say, that while I cannot speak for Modern Paganisms, I can state that magically and religiously there is great potency in these technologies which can be certainly used for ‘gaining something positive.’” — Anomalous Thracian

“Giving offerings to the gods cannot possibly be a bad thing. Like prayer and interaction with one’s religious community, I tend toward the belief that you can’t get enough of it. Giving special offerings that take effort, non-blood sacrifices, are just more of the same. I do not believe that Pagans need to give blood sacrifice unless and until they understand the context of that act, have trained personnel who can perform it for them, and have a distinct need to do it: either because they need to share ritual food, they are in a place where they need to butcher their own meat and they choose to sacralize that act by offering their food animals to the gods, or their gods demand it of them and no other options are satisfactory. Even in the last case, I still believe it is imperative and necessary for context and training to occur first. As I stated in the PantheaCon panel, I expect that most modern Pagans, living in countries where they do not have to butcher their own meat and practicing religions that have lost their connection to customs where blood sacrifice was practiced, will never need to do this, and their deities would not ask it of them as a result.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“Our relationships with the Gods dictate the value of sacrifice within a particular context. Much of what we would gain would be within the relationship itself, and that would depend on the practitioner and the God(s) in question. To make a broad, sweeping statement here about gain or loss would be devaluing to the individual and cultural relationships of varying practitioners of the craft.” — Crystal Blanton

“I have mixed feelings about blood sacrifice. On one hand, it would do us all good to get a first-hand understanding of where our food comes from and a first-hand understanding that what we are eating was itself alive only a short time ago. On the other hand, butchering animals requires skills you just don’t learn unless you grow up on a working farm and the only thing worse than not sacrificing is sacrificing clumsily – the animal should not suffer needlessly. Beyond that, I look at the community and legal problems blood sacrifice brings to some of the Afro-Caribbean religions – that’s not a battle I care to fight. But when you move beyond the issue of blood sacrifice, there is unquestionable benefit from sacrificing to the Gods. It brings us into closer relationships with Them, and it forces us to consider our relationships with food and with the non-food offerings we may be asked to give.” — John Beckett

“Absolutely, yes. We gain their blessings and we build our relationships with them through sacrifice. As far as blood sacrifice goes, in my years as a pagan and decade plus in ADF I have rarely heard it mentioned. I think we as Neopagans should focus on how we can use practical items to sacrifice in ritual, rather than trying to focus on something that is uncommon.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

Where does volition and willingness come into sacrifice?

“Pretty much everywhere. Consent is sacred at every step; consent of the person performing or contemplating the sacrifice, consent of the sacrifice itself, consent of the one who raised or produced the sacrifice, consent also of the spirit or deity in question.” — Anomalous Thracian

“Constantly. If a thing is done against one’s will, it cannot be a sacrifice, period. If a person is forced to make an offering, that is no sacrifice, it is compulsion, and no good spirit or deity accepts that as sacrifice. In Haitian Vodou and in all the other traditions I know of where animal sacrifices are performed, no one would ever offer an animal without that animal’s permission; again, to do so without it would be compulsion and would not be a proper sacrifice. Even in halal and kosher ritual, from Islam and Judaism respectively, the animal must be awake and willing to be sacrificed; it cannot be knocked out before the knife is used. This is causing some issues with animal rights activists, most recently in Denmark, for example; but the alternative, to knock an animal unconscious and then kill it, would be completely wrong in that sacrificial tradition — while it may appear to the untrained eye of an animal lover looking at a video to be “kinder” to do this, an unconscious animal is unable to give consent and thus it is both cruel and, from a sacrificial standpoint, unholy/wrong. Those who understand butchery know that there are techniques to kill an animal without pain, and all who perform halal and kosher rituals must be certified as trained.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“Volition means the act of making a decision, and willingness simply means being prepared to do something. As in all rituals, we have to properly prepare ourselves. In many traditions it means putting on special ritual clothing, setting up an altar, smudging ourselves, ritual bathing, and other things to prepare us for the act of ritual. In ritual, we decide who we are going to sacrifice to and why. We always need to enter ritual with a purpose, and we should always have a reason for sacrifice—even if it is just to build a better relationship with our gods. A ritual without a purpose is a waste of everybody’s time.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

Does volition come into play in animal sacrifice, does it matter, and if so, how is it obtained?

“Yes. There are various methods for this, from speaking with the animal directly and observing its behavior (or hearing back, if the asker can communicate with animals directly), and so forth. The ritual structure being employed should provide the structures for ascertaining this. If they do not, they should maybe be reevaluated in order to ensure that they are completely understood and trained.” — Anomalous Thracian

“In terms of how we obtain it: In Haitian Vodou, animals are raised explicitly for the purpose of food and for ritual-related food or ritual purposes where the animal cannot be eaten afterward. These animals are raised by hand, by the community that will sacrifice them. Before they are sacrificed, they are washed, decorated, and prepared by the community. They will be led into the peristyle (the Vodou temple), and presented with a number of various foods. One of these foods is chosen ahead of time as being the official sacrificial food. The animal is told what will happen, and that if it is willing to be sacrificed, that it should eat the official food to signify this. Only if the animal eats the special food will it be presented to the spirits for sacrifice. If it eats anything else first, it must be let free because it is not willing to do the work. It has been my experience that the willing animals not only go immediately to the official food, they will eat all of it, and not even touch the other food (which will be the same: for example, three identical piles of corn for a chicken). They also act like they know what is happening, and they do not fight when they are picked up by the butcher, etcetera. It is a profound experience that is observed with the greatest amount of kindness and dignity. The animal has one life, and is being willing to give it up for us — how could we be less than respectful of that?” — Mambo Chita Tann

“It would have to come into play. A person has to choose to sacrifice an animal, and that is the very definition of volition. In a Neopagan context, I find the notion of animal sacrifice not necessary except for rare exceptions.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

Should animal sacrifice have a place in modern Paganisms, reconstructionisms, and Witchcraft?

“As I am none of these things, I do not feel that it is my place to answer for them. That said I believe that animal sacrifice should have a place in any authentically lived religious tradition which has spirits or gods which request or traditionally receive such things.” — Anomalous Thracian

“Until and unless those practices have a stated need for animal sacrifice – and I believe that most of them never will – I would say no. Should that become necessary, for logistical reasons (i.e., not living in a land with easy access to food animals, refrigeration, etc.), or should the gods require it, then I would believe that those same gods would provide access to the proper context, training, and ability to do so. Vodouisants themselves have this situation. Very, very few individual Vodouisants perform animal sacrifices, and even those who do, do not do it on a daily or regular basis. In the cases where that is a necessary event, there are trained personnel that one can go to, who will perform it on your behalf. I rarely perform that act in the United States; it is simply less necessary here, given our modern conveniences when it comes to food. Even in Haiti, I do not perform it often, and in all cases, I have access to trained personnel who can help me with the sacrifices I am not trained to perform myself. Everything is community-based. Modern Paganisms would have to define the same sorts of communities before they would even know if that was something they were going to need to do. If it ever happens, I believe it would be a long time in the future.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“In general, it could have a very important place, but unless it can be done right it shouldn’t be done at all.” — John Beckett

“In most instances I do not think animal sacrifice really has a place in modern Neopaganism. I do know of a heathen farmer who raises his own pigs and ritually sacrifices one, but this is a rare situation. In a modern context, there simply are alternatives to sacrifice that are every bit as effective.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

What is the nature of sacrifice in terms of transactions between spirits, Gods, and other entities?

“Sometimes sacrifices are a form of payment. Other times they are a form of celebration. Sometimes it is a transaction, sometimes it is praise; always it is reverent.” — Anomalous Thracian

“Depending on the context and the nature of the sacrifice, the sacrifice can reinforce connections by being a thanksgiving for help that has been given; it can be made as a promise for future action; it can be given as a substitute for someone else’s life (as I mentioned above). Sacrifice can represent a total offering of the self to the deities or spirits, or it can be a payment for an expected reciprocal benefit. There is no general meaning that applies to all sacrifices from all people to all spirits or gods – each one, like its nature as a unique and special thing, has a unique and special meaning.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“The nature of sacrifice is that which defines our relationship with the gods (and Kindreds). There are many reasons for sacrifice, and that defines what exactly is being asked or expected in the transaction. Here are few types of sacrifices as our Arch Druid Kirk Thomas has discussed in his various works:

1. Transactional sacrifice is the most common form of sacrifice where the sacred object is offered, and in the nature of hospitality, a gift is given in return. The basis of ADF’s Return Flow portion of ritual is “a gift calls for a gift.” The best one can offer is given, and the blessing and gratitude from the gods is given in return. 2. Piacular Sacrifice was a common Roman offering given during ritual to ask for recompense in case the offerings given weren’t enough or good enough. It is based on the fact that humans are inherently flawed, and the offering is given to acknowledge that. This type of sacrifice is still seen in the Roman Catholic Church. 3. The appeasement sacrifice is a type of offering given to a being or god to leave you alone. It is literally the “take this and leave” offering. Generally, this type of offering is given to beings not aligned with the ritual being worked, and they are given an offering out of respect to acknowledge they exist, but they are not part of the work being performed. 4. The shared meal is a type of sacrifice where a portion of the cooked food is offered to the gods. This is a very common ancient and Neopagan practice. 5. Chaos mitigates cosmos is a type of sacrifice that uses a series of offerings to recreate the cosmos in a ritual setting. This type of sacrifice goes back into the pan Indo-European creation story of Man and Twin. Man kills Twin and Twin is dismembered to create the world and cosmos. The chaos is the unknown or Otherworld, and Man takes his place as king of the Otherworld. This type of offering is meant to recreate this, but without any actual bloodshed.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

What about relationship; how does it play into the idea of sacrifice?

“I cannot imagine giving a sacrifice without having a relationship both with the being receiving the sacrifice and the community that would benefit from it; either in the form of food/reversion of the offerings, in the benefits gained from the sacrifice, or both. One might give a random gift to a stranger, for example, but it would be unlikely that one would give a random stranger the most expensive, most wonderful thing one owned. Sacrifice is a special event in the already-existing relationship between beings.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“Sacrifice strengthens relationships: between worshipers and their Gods, and among members of a religious community.” — John Beckett

“Sacrifice is as much about building relationships with the gods as any other reason. It is an act of hospitality. When we open sacred space, we invite the Kindreds into the ritual as family and kin. That relationship is built on sharing and trust. We sacrifice to solidify our relationships and make them stronger. Sacrifice allows the gods to give us their blessings and strengthens their bond with us.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

From the Grecian hecatomb to Roman grain and incense offerings to the ritualized blood-letting of the ancient Maya, sacrifice was a cornerstone of religious practice in the ancient world. But how is sacrifice viewed today by modern Paganisms, Polytheists, Polytheanimists and their practitioners. The Wild Hunt asked five figures within the community for their thoughts on sacrifice: Thracian polytheanimist Anomalous Thracian of the blog Thracian Exodus; Mambo Chita Tann of Sosyete Fos Fe Yo We; priestess, author and Solar Cross Temple board member Crystal Blanton; OBOD Druid and Under the Ancient Oaks blogger John Beckett; and Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) Druid Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh.

How do you define sacrifice?

Anomalous Thracian

Anomalous Thracian

“In common religious parlance I reserve the term “sacrifice” for the ritual slaughter/killing of living animals to a particular deity, spirit, or otherwise divine power. I do not generally refer to other offerings, such as libations, money, or behavioral restrictions, as being sacrifices though I do acknowledge that the Latin etymology (to make sacred) of the term leaves open other interpretations.” — Anomalous Thracian, Thracian Exodus

Mambo Chita Tann

Mambo Chita Tann

“Sacrifice is a special act of offering something of unusual worth to one’s spirits and/or deity(deities). It is not a standard offering, but an offering that is more valuable in some way than the usual — a rare, costly, or important offering that requires effort on the part of the offerer, both to acquire and to offer. In Haitian Vodou, it can also mean an offering that is being made on behalf of the offerer, to signify something of great worth, such as a blood offering given as a stand-in for a person’s life.” — Mambo Chita Tann, Sosyete Fos Fe Yo We, Haitian Vodou

John Beckett

John Beckett

“The original meaning of sacrifice is “to make sacred.” It is what we do when we set something aside and dedicate it to the Gods. Sometimes that involves giving it up: pouring a libation, burning a food offering, throwing an object in a body of water. From that practice comes the second, more commonly held meaning of ‘to give up.’

Sometimes, though, sacrifice is simply the act of offering something to the Gods. We place a plate of food in front of a statue, offer it to the deity with the appropriate prayers, and after a suitable time, we eat what They did not physically consume. The act of offering makes it sacred, and if They are pleased, it will then contain some of Their divine essence, which we take into ourselves.” — John Beckett, Under the Ancient Oaks

Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

“I define sacrifice as something that is set aside for the sole function of offering to the Kindreds (Gods, Nature Spirits, or Ancestors). The origin of the word “sacrifice” itself means “to perform” plus “sacred,” and that is precisely what is done. You perform a sacred act. You take something out of the mundane and make it “sacred”—not to be used for the mundane again. I define sacrifice as a transaction between me and the Kindreds with the expectation that in the contract of hospitality I will get something in return. That return can be in the form of a blessing, or it can be as simple as gratitude.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh, Druid, Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF)

How do you see the word sacrifice used in a modern context? How does this color the viewpoint of our many various Paganisms?

“I see this word being used in ways that I do not agree with, and I see many people reaching and stretching its definitions in ways that bother me. If you need to stretch the definition of sacrifice to use it to describe an action, ritually or otherwise, it is probably not sacrifice. I disagree with the use of the term to describe the “giving up or losing” of something in a religious/sacred context, for example “I sacrificed ten hours to my Gods yesterday sewing blankets for orphan babies.” Obviously sewing blankets for orphan babies is awesome, and more so if it is done in a sacred context, but simply calling something sacred doesn’t make it sacred. And simply doing something in a sacred context doesn’t — by my use of the word — make it sacrifice. I find that as with words like “warriorship” and “sovereignty,” people often try to stretch the term sacrifice to describe things that they might already be doing in their lives in order to dress those things up in the trappings of something suitably sacred/esoteric sounding.” — Anomalous Thracian

“Modern society sees sacrifice pretty much exclusively as “to give up.” Unless there is something substantive and tangible coming back in return, it sees sacrifice as a sentimental waste. That has made modern Pagans reluctant to sacrifice, or to see the need for it.” — John Beckett

“As a priest in a sacrificial religion, I see sacrifice used similar to how our ancestors viewed it. They viewed it as an item that is set aside for the sole act of offering to their gods. We do the same thing when we offer whiskey into the fire, as we are offering a libation to the celestial gods. Many people confuse the modern context of sacrifice to mean “give up,” which is not the context used in pagan sacrifice. This notion of giving up something colors the viewpoint of losing something rather than viewing sacrifice as a transaction.

For pagans we need to rid ourselves of this notion that sacrifice is “giving up” something, and think of it as a transaction and notion of hospitality between the sacrifice and the gods.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

Let’s talk about the origins of the word sacrifice. It’s recorded as originally being Latin and meant “to make holy.” This is a broad definition to a modern person with a modern point of reference. What various historical and cultural contexts are we missing, if any?

“I think that the word’s origins in Latin are important to understand, and also, they need to be moved beyond. Scholars long ago took this Latin-derived word and applied it globally to describe all number of bloody religious deeds, from the ritual slaughter of humans in Mesoamerican cultures to the ritual slaughter of goats in West Africa. I do not argue that either of those examples are indeed holy, but I believe it is misguided hubris to assign a Latin Mediterranean scholarly paradigm upon indigenous technologies and traditions removed by geographically and linguistically from those spheres.” — Anomalous Thracian

“Again, the emphasis on sacrifice as being an extraordinary event – especially when considering the idea of a blood sacrifice – is often glossed over. In the sense of blood sacrifices, these are individual beings, and their lives are taken as part of the ritual. There is nothing more holy, nothing more serious, and nothing more valuable than life. This cannot be equated to other kinds of “sacrifices.” While other offerings can certainly be holy and become holy, no amount of chocolate bonbons, piles of money, or promises to do things for the gods will ever hold the same amount of irreplaceable worth as life itself. This is also why that ultimate act must always be approached with the deepest respect and humility, with the proper context and training, and why I am not entirely convinced that it is necessary for most Pagans to engage in any longer, but that’s a slightly different topic.” — Mambo Chita Tann

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

“I think that in societal context today people look at sacrifice as something that is taken away, almost as if it is a punishment or consequence. Many cultures make sacred those who have died for a cause, and then consider that a sacrifice of sorts. Examples of this could range from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Oscar Grant. Within Pagan specific context, the social aspects of looking at this can be slightly different based on tradition or practice yet I think there are still some correlations there. The fine line between how people sometimes view offerings and sacrifice continue to perpetuate the idea that it is something given for in honor of a relationship with the Gods, something that is sacred. The context of the relationship and the potential outcome is what often varies.” — Crystal Blanton

“Go back to the best reconstruction of ancient Greek sacrifice we have, Homo Necans by Walter Burkert. The people were going to kill the cow and eat it anyway. But by killing and eating it within a rite of sacrifice, they invoked the blessings of the Gods and they brought their community closer together.” — John Beckett

“According to Douglas Harper’s Online Etymology Dictionary, sacrifice actually means “to perform something sacred.” Sacred and holy are commonly confused, as holy usually designate something or some place as “exalted” or set apart specifically for the use of humans to connect with the gods. For example, wells can be considered holy, but they are not necessarily sacred because they are still used by humans.

We can look to the Irish Celts for references to sacrifice. The Gaels commonly would offer gold, weapons, and other precious objects into the bodies of water for the purpose of gaining favor with the gods. You can see this today when we offer coins into wells for luck, as this is a throwback to that age old ritual. We can also look to Vedic India for the ancient practice of offering libations and oil into the fire. This practice continues today in many Neopagan circles including ADF. So, even the ancients show us examples of sacrifice that do not necessarily point to animal or blood sacrifice.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

Do humans have an innate need for sacrifice, or have we all been encultured to this idea?

“If you’re sacrificing something for humans, you’re doing it wrong. The sacrifice is for the gods or spirits. Not the humans.” — Anomalous Thracian

“I don’t think anybody, human or deity, “needs” sacrifice. That being said, there are times when it is the last possible option for certain events. For example, in Vodou, every once in a while, a sacrifice must be made to save another life — a way of trading one life for the possibility of sparing another. Again, this is incredibly serious business, and we do not engage in it unless and until all other possible avenues of remedy have been exhausted. In those cases, then yes, sacrifice is needed; but if one was to decide that one would just let a person die because one wasn’t willing to make sacrifice, that might imply it’s not necessarily needed, but chosen.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“Social cultural in the United States very much socializes us to believe that we “sacrifice” for what we want and need. Old Protestant work ethics equate hard work and sacrifice with value, worth and gain. There are a lot of conditioned messages in the fabric of our society about what we have to give in order to receive, and who is important as a result. These messages have led to a backdrop of “need” for the concept of sacrifice in modern society, although those translations continue to vary.” — Crystal Blanton

“We have an innate need to eat. Along with every other animal on this planet, we sustain our lives only by consuming things that were once alive, whether those things are plants or other animals. Do we accept these sacrifices reverently and mindfully, or do we treat them as insignificant things whose only purpose is to feed us? Do we honor the sacrifices we receive by offering our own sacrifices? Or do we selfishly hoard all we receive? Sacrifice reminds us we are a part of Nature, not its center.” — John Beckett

“Yes, humans have an innate need for sacrifice. Sacrifice in the ancient and Neopagan context is the act of complete hospitality. We offer so that we receive. It is the same concept as we see in the guest/host relationship. For example, we invite guests into our home, we prepare a good meal, and give our guest the best wine or drinks in the house. It is expected that these guests show gratitude and their thanks. This is no different than our relationship with the gods. We set up our altars, build a fire, invite the gods into our space, and then we offer them our best. It is expected that they will be grateful and appreciative as guests. Humans live by hospitality and throughout history we can see examples of how important the virtue is. We need that human to human interaction as much as food, and thus our relationship to deity reflects this importance.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

Does sacrifice feed us or the Gods? Or does it feed the connection between the Gods and us? Or is it something else?

“I do not believe that sacrifice (that is, the ritual slaughter of a being to a specific god or divinity) “feeds” humans; if it does, there is a certain potentially problematic thing going on. Similarly, one does not doctor the sick or protect wildlife or serve their commanding officers “because it feeds them.” If they gain benefit from these, great, but the seeking of some gain in the undertaking of these should NEVER be the motive.

It certainly “nourishes” the relationship or connection, if done properly, between the deities being sacrificed to and the humans doing the sacrificing. I don’t know that “feeding” is the right word for that, though, as it implies that the relationship itself is getting a “portion” of the sacred slaughter.” — Anomalous Thracian

“Yes. Sacrifice feeds the gods/spirits, and then it is reverted to us. The act also feeds the connection between the worlds and the beings in both worlds. And thirdly, it also represents an understanding of the cycle of the world, of what it is to live in the world, and to confront our nature as predators who eat meat (of course, vegetarians and vegans don’t live in that world, so their experience may vary). I expect that if more people were required to kill their own meat, they would never waste it, nor would they take it for granted. Does this mean more people should? Of course not. But it does mean that all people could stand to get a better connection and understanding of their relation to animals, and to the world we all share.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“The Neo-Platonists thought nothing we could do influenced the Gods – They needed nothing. Perhaps; but it’s clear that Gods who are worshipped — with sacrifice, with praise, by telling their stories, with meditation and prayer — tend to be more active in our world. Is that feeding Them? Is it strengthening the connections between us? Is it just that They prefer being around people who are friendly and courteous? I don’t know. I just know that when I honor the Gods, they’re more active in my life, and I like that.” — John Beckett

“Sacrifice can feed both us and the gods. In the notion of the shared meal, both the sacrifice and the god are both joining together to enjoy the food. In my practice, the first portion is set aside and offered to the fire. This portion is no longer in the physical realm for use, but now in the hands of the gods. The remaining portions are then eaten by the humans. This is a common ancient Indo-European practice. It also feeds our connection to the gods by the act of sharing in the meal being consumed. They are joining us in our space, enjoying the food and drink provided, thus a connection of family and friendship is established.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

Is there a difference between giving a gift to the gods versus giving a sacrifice? If so, what is that difference?

“Yes. Honestly, though, I am still hashing out in my own colloquial use of these terms what the difference is. As above indicated, I reserve the word “sacrifice” for ritual slaughter; I can’t imagine a time that I would be giving the “gift” of an animal’s life to a god without it being sacrifice. But, to zoom away from my specific use of the language (and acknowledging that many people’s use of the word might include such actions as throwing a golden statue into the sea, or burning a valuable textile to a deity, or giving a beautiful strand of pearls to a god, and so forth) I think that it is important to differentiate between times when a gift is given out of adoration, fondness, respect or praise, and when a formal sacrifice is made (for any number of reasons). For example, I may be shopping at a yard-sale and come across a beautiful old maritime trident in a pile of old ship paraphernalia, and purchase it for a god of the sea or seamanship; this would be an example of a gift. If a divination were to come by an indicate that a certain god or spirit will perform a task, grant a blessing in exchange for — or otherwise would appreciate receiving — a specific item, such as the aforementioned trident, I could imagine this as what others would refer to as a sacrifice. Though, in that context, I personally would refer to it as a “prescribed offering” in that example.” — Anomalous Thracian

“The difference is effort and degree. Sacrifice for my definition requires the idea that this is not a simple task. It requires some serious effort, whether to get together the funds to do it or the actual work to complete it. Additionally, it is a unique or unusual/rare thing of particular worth (and ultimate worth in the sense of the blood sacrifice). Sacrifices can be gifts and offerings, to be certain; not all gifts and offerings, however, are sacrifices.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“In my own practice, an offering is something that is given in honor of the continuous relationship that I have. Sacrifice tends to be more specific within the relationship, and within the context. I give offerings all of the time in honor of the divine and the deity that I am working with. That is not the same for sacrifice, which is far and in between. Since I do not do animal sacrifice, it is often within an agreed upon context of something I am doing, or will give for a specific reason. Both of these are a part of the reciprocal relationship with the God(s), just on varying different degrees. Culturally they are very similar though, and this can become more challenging to separate.” — Crystal Blanton

“For me, hospitality offerings are less about making something sacred and more about being polite, just as I’d offer you something to drink if you came to my house. But this may be more of a semantic difference than a substantive difference.” — John Beckett

“There is no difference.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

People seem to recoil in response to the idea of transactional relationships, especially in relation to offerings and sacrifice. What are your thoughts on offerings and sacrifice as transactions? And what, in your opinion, would cause people to recoil from them?

“Many people don’t like economics in general, or the idea of systems and structures that somehow “demand” things of them; like somehow a god is less shiny if they are able to be “transacted” with. I think that sometimes exchanges are transactional, and that’s just fine. If my best friend is also a woodcarver and I want some woodcarving done, it doesn’t “stain” or “cheapen” our relationship if that work requires that I pay him a transactional exchange for that which I desire. In other words, people are fucking entitled little shits.” — Anomalous Thracian

“Western culture has a fear of interdependence. We have for so long been trained to believe that it is weak to ask for help, that one is only truly successful if one is able to “stand on one’s own” and “be an adult” and “do it my way.” All of the indigenous religions that have informed Paganism, however, exist on community models, with families, towns, tribes, nations, and the like, functioning together and helping each other. The gods and spirits just form the invisible sides of these communities; they are not separate from them. Where the Western-culture person says “I think, therefore I am,” the community person will say “I am, because we are.” To deny one’s place in the larger community, to run away from those cultural bonds that make us each stronger, in relation to each other and to the gods, is considered harmful in the indigenous mind. I can speak to this, both as a Vodouisant, where we never lost the indigenous model; and as someone who was brought up in a native/indigenous cultured family of the Onondaga Nation.

For indigenous-minded people, which includes all the Pagan ancestors, there is no benefit to “doing it yourself.” Who will you be able to share your successes with? Who will teach you? How will you grow as a person? (More importantly, how will you know you have grown?)  How can a person who has no relationship with and to others expect to have one with the gods, who are also part of the same community concept? 

This is something that has troubled me, to the extent that for many years, I have been reluctant to consider myself a Pagan. The idea that anyone would think that it was bad, wrong, or embarrassing to be in a two-way, equal, affirming relationship with anyone, let alone the deities, confuses me and makes me sad. It says to me that these people are a lot closer to being monotheists (where an omnipotent, omniscient God either needs nothing from you, or is constantly demanding and never gives anything back) than they realize, and it may be an opportunity to reassess, if the idea of sharing with the gods (and getting things back) is causing fear.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“I think it can be very challenging to see any kind of offering or sacrifice that is done with the intention of personal gain; “do this and you will get that” kind of thing. In reality, there are some transactional relationships with specific Gods, in specific arenas, and for specific reasons. I think it is not accurate for us to act like there isn’t. Different practices, magical systems, and deities respond to different things and needs for individual people. We cannot always dictate how that should be, and it is not fair to strip it to one acceptable norm. To assume that no exchanges between us and the Gods are transactional is not being completely honest with ourselves. There are many times we are in negotiation with our deities for a specific outcome, or for something to be done.” — Crystal Blanton

“There is a place for transactional sacrifices: “if You will do this for me then I will give that to You” or “You did this for me so in thanks I offer that to You.” The problem comes when someone coming out of a consumerist society reduces a sacred act to a commercial transaction: “the solution to problem X is to offer sacrifice Y to deity Z.” Whatever the Gods may be, They are not vending machines. The vending machine approach denies the agency of the Gods. It assumes They respond like a computer program, or worse, that They can be bribed with token gifts.” — John Beckett

“Aren’t all relationships transactional? If you have someone who takes and never gives, we call that a dysfunctional relationship and we end it in short while. Our relationship with the gods is no different. We can’t just give and give and get nothing back in return. It’s just not healthy. We give to receive, and it really is that simple. I think people recoil from this thought because they view sacrifice as an act of giving up, rather than an act of reciprocity.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

Do you think that the value of a sacrifice increases if it is harder for the giver to acquire, or does that not matter to the spirit or God in question? Or would these things depend entirely on the tradition or path in question, and if so, how much?

“I think that this is an important question for learning, debating, and exploring sacrifice; and I think that it should never be attempted to be answered in a definitive way, as it is too big of a thing and too mercurial of a thing to ever put a period on. That said, some exchanges — transactional exchanges, for example, where a spirit will perform a certain blessing or boon in exchange for a specified sacrifice — have absolutely no value adjustment for “hardship” in acquiring or offering a thing. In my opinion this doesn’t generally adjust the “transactional value” of the sacrifice rendered, although it may well gain further appreciation (meant both emotionally and economically, here!) with the spirit in question Meanwhile other sacrifices, which maybe are less transactional, may well in terms of their esteem or disposition toward the person; $5 effortlessly produced from a stack of bills versus $5 worked for two weeks to earn on a slave wage does not change the objective value of the bills, though it does change the way that an agent receiving said bills MIGHT interpret the gesture, labor, or sacrifice.

If it is non-transactional (e.g. a celebration!) than the hardship may well have a better chance of “upping” the positive reception of the thing; then again, maybe not. Gods and spirits are, of course, free to behave as They like around this.” — Anomalous Thracian

“It depends on the context of the sacrifice, the nature of the sacrifice, and the gods/spirits and people involved. I am not certain that this can be generalized. There is a sort of thought that “more is better,” but this is not necessarily true. Additionally, the idea that one gains more spiritual benefits through suffering owes far more to Protestant Christianity than it does to any ancient Paganism (and I would like to think, modern Paganisms are aware of the presence or absence of “Protestant guilt” in their thinking).” — Mambo Chita Tann

“They want what They want, and what we value may not be what They value. But these are mighty beings who are older, wiser, and more powerful than we are – don’t be cheap.” — John Beckett

“Sacrifice is based on the notion that we give the best that we can. If we are able or have the means to give more, than we should. It goes right back to offering your guest the best you have, and in return they will give you their appreciation. It matters not to the god in question if the item was “harder” to obtain. What matters to the god is that someone is actually paying attention them and interacting with them on a healthy level.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

The Future of Pagan Hospitality

Rynn —  February 7, 2014 — 6 Comments

What will Pagan hospitality look like in the future?

Often times we look towards our past for inspiration. Yet what do we see? Gone are the mead halls and warrior bands of old; in ruin lay the civic temples and sacrificial altars; the bruidean are pages in the historical record. And while some part of my psyche as a Pagan and Witch yearns to relight the fires and resurrect the temples and groves of old, I am a person of the modern era. So I find myself working to honor the traditions of the past with an eye towards the future.

Here I see the Christian dominion ending and the Humanist ethos rising; multiculturalism exploding as the world becomes multiracial and ethnically diverse; climate change lived as a visceral reality with bombogenesis, polar vortexes, and severe drought; national markets battling under the sturm und strang of a world economy and increasingly connected world; social media, the World Wide Web, and technology continuing to expand our ideas of community and connection into the global sphere; big data, big business, and big government invading our lives with little restriction or privacy. In the face of these opportunities and challenges, and others I can’t begin to fathom, I see a ripe opportunity to expand Pagan notions of hospitality. It’s one of our core values that have never dwindled. (Though to my mind, hospitality’s definition within the popular overculture has deteriorated to the point where some people think it only extents to invited guest, friends, and family.)

Many of our traditions have a rich history of valuing hospitality. Gods regularly traveled disguised as strangers in the ancient world. Those who passed the test were rewarded while punishment was levied on those who were derelict in their duties. One of the lessons I take from these stories is this: hospitality is a serious duty required by the Gods in the form of a service to a stranger in need because we are all embodiments of the Divine. This lesson is informed as much by my lived experience as a person of mixed blood as it is by my personal definition of hospitality: recognizing a stranger as one of my own. For me, this means that I acknowledge a stranger as being someone akin to myself in that we share common human traits: the need to be loved and accepted and the need to be fed, warm, and safe. For me, there is a deep recognition of interdependent and cooperative relationship at its heart. My understanding of these types of relationships is that as one gives they also receive. When I choose to acknowledge that I am in interdependent and cooperative relationship with every other person on this planet, I find my own definition of hospitality grows exponentially. The barriers between known and unknown, acquaintance and stranger, family and friend shift. I am better equipped to be in a healthier, balanced relationship with the world and its people.

I want to enrich my Gods, my Ancestors, my Descendants, and our traditions in expanding the acts defined as hospitality. To my mind, we have already expanded the notion of hospitality though I haven’t seen them named as such. I see hospitality in the outpouring of funds to assist Eddy Gutiérrez/Rev. Hyperion’s bereaved partner and family and in the successful medical fundraiser for Aaron Leitch, a scholar and member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. I see hospitality in the annual PantheaCon Blood Heroes Blood Drive hosted by the Coru Cathubodua Priesthood and Solar Cross Temple, where Pagans of all backgrounds honor their Gods by opening a vein to help nameless and faceless strangers. I see hospitality in Wild Hunt columnist Alley Valkyrie’s tireless work with SLEEPS (Safe, Legally Entitled Emergency Places to Sleep).

Do these examples overlap with other virtues? Virtues like charity, justice, and more. Yes, and I think they are supposed to. Our virtues are just as interconnected as we are. In a world where our interconnectedness is more apparent, the importance of our Pagan virtues is revealed to be the underpinnings of our entire human society. And, I think, our survival as a species.

And yes, I’m challenging my own ideas of place, ownership, guest and host in relation to hospitality. I’m aware of this. I’m exploring a world where hospitality may or may not include these ideas and may or may not give new meaning or nuance to our understanding of these roles and their duties. In a world where I can be halfway around the globe in half a day, spend two hours in a business meeting in a “foreign” place, and then return home on a red eye flight, how does place, host, and guest come into my experience of hospitality? Especially when I’m in a “strange” country and I’m the one “hosting” the business meeting in a “strange” hotel with “strange” people in their homeland, yet they are speaking “my” language.

This is why I think we’d be served by looking at whether we need to adjust specific actions and or ethos to not only stay in alignment with the current era, but plan for our future. And so I wonder. As narrow notions of tribal, national, racial, gendered, and sexual exceptionalism continue to erode, what will the hospitality of the future look like? Does it look like better immigration law? Does it look like nationalized health care? Does it look like international protest against inhospitable ideas and laws? Will it still look like giving an old couch to a family new to the area?

I don’t know. But I daring myself to imagine.

Rynn Fox, Staff Writer, Wild Hunt

After 80 years of serving San Francisco’s occult and spiritual communities, Fields Book Store is moving to entirely online operations starting January 2013 and is shutting its physical location on Polk Street. The store has played a key part in local history as a nexus for esoteric and magical discussion and has hosted authors and teachers ranging from philosopher Jacob Needleman to Thalassa, founder of the Daughters of Divination and producer of Bay Area Tarot Symposium. The Wild Hunt chatted with owner David Wiegleb about the store transitioning to an entirely online business and what that means for the community.

Fields Book Store has served the esoteric and Pagan community here in San Francisco for 80 years. What has led you to move operations to be entirely online and shut the physical location starting in January 2013?

To give you a bit of history, I’d taken over the store 12 years ago in February of 2001. [I was] putting together the transition at that point from the previous owner who was going to sell the store, or if he couldn’t sell it, close it. That was around March of 2000.

Even back then, before the economic collapse, before e-books were out there, there was this question of is this [business] going to continue to be viable? At the time I’d decided to take it on knowing that the risk was that it wouldn’t be self-sustaining operation. During the course of the 12 years, some years were better than others. There were years that were worse and put us a fair chunk in debt. So for years I’ve been watching that process and just watching the horizon in front and realizing that the economy may improve, but the landscape regarding things like Amazon aren’t going to get any better, e-books are going to continue propagating. Overall we’ve been doing reasonably well in terms of dealing with these things; certainly better than a number of stores. We’ve had a fairly steady customer stream but overall costs still outrun revenues. It’s just been one of these things that I could probably keep things going but overall the basic situation was looking like it wasn’t going to get any better and perhaps get worse. I’m looking to steer things to a soft landing where I can continue the operation of Fields Books with a new manner with online operations.

What repercussion, if any, do you think closing the store’s physical space will have on the local esoteric and Pagan communities?

As inevitable in some ways as the decision was to close the physical store, it was a very difficult decision because of the long history of the store and its place in San Francisco and the San Francisco spiritual community. Also on a day-to-day level, interacting with our customers who bring a lot of different perspectives on things; I learn a whole lot from our customers and not having that face-to-face direct interaction is something that I’ll certainly miss.

Fields Book Store Staff

(From left to right.) Fields Book Store owner David Wiegleb with employees Heidi Geyer and Esther Fishman.

Fields Book Store was always where locals could go to see esoteric and magickal authors speak. How do you think the loss of physical will affect authors since more physical booksellers are closing around the country?

It’s certainly a cultural loss and a loss for the authors in the space. But hosting these talks had become a little more problematic in recent years as the nature of the street changed. Polk has become more of party central, so having a relatively quiet talk in a modest, intimate space on top of the ambient noises from outside became too disruptive. So we have had to look at a smaller window of when we could offer talks.

One of the things we hope to do in our new incarnation as a web-only business is to continue to partner with other organizations and continue to have author talks. I think not trying to keep the physical structure of the store afloat will actually provide a bit more freedom and new ways to present authors, work with authors and do events locally. There is certainly a lot of esoteric organizations that would happily partner on such things. I hope to do a lot more of that.

What do you envision the future to hold for Fields Book Store as it moves to be entirely online?

What I’m really looking to do is to continue doing what we’ve been doing in years past in really providing a breadth of information for the spiritual quest. Not narrowing the focus so much to focus on a particular aspect but really represent a lot of those paths again. I’ll be trying to be more focused and concentrated in what books represent these paths and do a bit more curation of those books as well. a lot of things that have been side projects would have more to do with things like “these are the top ten books to read if you’re interested in Jainism, or this particular path or another path.” And to be able to provide a lot more guidance in those areas which is something that the Big Box stores and websites like Amazon aren’t necessarily interested in or capable of doing.

Also doing more with e-mail catalogues which is something I’ve always wanted to do but haven’t had the bandwidth to do. So a lot of the books that may have been missed on the shelves that our customers would love to find, but they were glossed over or not seen. Being able to provide a better cross section to all of our customers through e-mail catalogues will help our customers broaden their perspective and take a look at some valuable books they may have missed. And doing a lot more with customer reviews of books. Do something like solicit books from our customer base, featuring books that have meant a lot to them, and featuring those on the website. A lot of little projects like that that I hadn’t had the bandwidth to do.

With more people moving to e-books, is this something you’ll be offering in the future?

That’s one of the things we’ve wanted to feature on the website. Personally, I like what companies like Scarlet Imprint has been doing along the line of offering a range of presentations of the material. They do the really creative, fine edition of the book; they do a solid library edition, a paperback version and an e-book as well and are able to make the materials available in a wide variety of formats.

E-books are something we want to do more of but because of the nature of the instant download and payment, we’re working with the people who host our site to develop that and get set up to handle that [for the transition to online only]. E-books are a great way to get out information. It’s a very convenience format for people and no trees need die for the production of a book. I think there is certainly a place for both book forms.

As e-books become more popular, fewer people are purchasing physical books. Do you think paper books will ever go away?

I certainly hope physical books never go away. Publishing has been bifurcating in a lot of ways. There’s the very commoditized publishing. You look at the quality of the books being produced and it’s kind of sad. Yes, design goes into the cover and such, but when you take the dust jacket off it’s just a piece of cardboard boards not cloth, it’s not sewn, it’s on pulpy paper. That seems to be the direction things are going and it doesn’t necessarily take the price of the book down, which is unfortunate.

And the other side of it is publishers like Three Hands Press and Ouroboros Press who are focused on making fine editions of books. There’s a lot of work going into the craft of the book itself. Focusing on really featuring our partnerships with these kinds of publishers is definitely something we will be continuing doing.

 

By Rynn Fox, Wild Hunt Staff Writer

A new strategy game based on the Salem Witch Trials is the focus of a recent successful Kickstarter campaign. Created by Joshua Balvin, owner of Rock Paper Scissors Games, Salem gives players the opportunity to experience the historical events surrounding the Salem Witch Trials through the lives of the actual people involved—42 to be exact—whose lives were directly impacted, and in some cases, cut short as a result of events.

Ann Putnam Jr.

Artist rendering of Ann Putnam, Jr., a real-life victim of the Salem Witch Trials, being used as a character in the new ‘Salem’ strategy game. (Image from ‘Salem.’)

The game plays over the course of 4 rounds representing the 4 months (June–September 1692) in which the hysteria was at its height. Each round has 3 parts: a Witch Hunt and a Witch Trial followed by hangings. During the Witch Hunt, players send residents to jail and provide alibis for their own jailed citizens. At the end of each round all jailed citizens stand trial. Players then collectively decide who is hanged and who is spared. The player who is most successful at discerning witches from villagers wins! (Taken from Kickstarter page.)

While satirizing the phenomena of witch trials has been the focus of both video and board games in the past, according to an interview Balvin did with the Boston Globe, the game has one aim:

“(…) recreating the paranoia that there are witches among us, the fear that you might be next, and the mob-mentality that led to the loss of 20 lives during the summer of 1692.”

While building a game centered around people who were executed as scapegoats to the Puritanical fears of the time may seem tacky, the game could be used as an interesting teaching tool to show how fear and paranoia affect people’s choices and lives—and drive home this point better than a game with fictional characters and scenes.

Still, crafting game play to center around outing and hanging “witches” is sobering. And not because it focuses on the Salem Witch Trials or on Witches; it’s what happens when the word Witch is switched out with other words: three that come to mind are homosexuals, Jews and transgendered. With Salem, Halpern seems to have created an intriguing mirror of humanity’s darker side; the side that targets as scapegoats anything that smacks of otherness and inspires fear out of ignorance.

Joshua Balvin declined our interview request.

By Rynn Fox, Staff Writer

Ang Lee’s film “Life of Pi” dares you to believe in many things—that there are many Gods and no Gods, that humans are rational and animalistic and Gods themselves, and that God is a force of nature. It’s a story designed to test the viewer’s ability to hold many perspectives, and none at all.

Life of Pi

Ang Lee’s captivating ‘Life of Pi’ is currently in theaters.

Based on Yann Martel’s 2001 Booker Prize-winning novel, the movie tells the story of Piscine Molitor Patel, Pi for short. A writer (Rafe Spall) tracks down the adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) because he’s heard that Pi has a true life story that will make him believe in God. As their conversation unfolds, so does the film. Told in flashback, we are introduced to Pi growing up in a family-run zoo in Pondicherry, India. A precocious child, Pi is interested in unraveling the nature of God and Richard Parker, the massive Bengal Tiger housed at the zoo. While his understanding of the Gods come from Hindu, Christian and Muslim clerics (I say Gods because Pi is decidedly a polytheist; he thanks the God Vishnu for introducing him to the God Jesus at one point in the film), it’s his father who introduces him to Richard Parker and life’s harsh eat or be eaten reality. These two ideas form the basis of the story’s thematic undercurrent.

As years pass, political and economic factors force the Patel family and the now 16-year-old Pi (Suraj Sharma) to travel by freighter with their menagerie to Canada in hopes of selling the animals in turn for a better life. When a storm sinks the ship, Pi soon finds himself in a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, dwindling rations, and despite efforts to keep him out of the boat, Richard Parker. Soon only Pi and Richard Parker are left, battling each other and the ocean for survival. But the work goes deeper than that.

The film’s beautiful and lush CGI paints the world around the lifeboat with Technicolor vibrancy, giving the idea that nature itself is alive, aware, alien and dangerous. From the luminescent wonder of an ocean lit by eerie phosphorescence to a school of flying fish trying to escape predatory tuna, Lee shows us that Pi and Richard Parker aren’t the only one’s struggling to stay alive. It’s this visual counterpoint that helps carry the story’s undercurrent to dramatic effect without being overwrought.

The movie rests on the capable shoulders of acting newcomer Sharma. The rational, the religious, and the animalistic are all vying for Pi’s soul. He portrays Pi’s fear, doubt, anger, sadness and faith with such a depth and poignancy that you can’t help but feel what he is experiencing.

In the tale of a shipwrecked boy and a tiger, Lee has very nearly given the world a modern Pagan parable.

Life of Pi
PG, 2hr. 7 min.
Directed by: Ang Lee
Written By: David Magee, Yann Martel

Cast
Irfan Khan as Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, adult
Suraj Sharma as Pi, age 16
Ayush Tandon as Pi, age 11/12
Gautam Belur as Pi, age 5
Adil Hussain as Santosh Patel, Pi’s father
Gérard Depardieu as the Cook
Bo-Chieh Wang as the Sailor
Rafe Spall as the Writer

This is part 3 of a 3 part series on the Beltane Fire Society, a secular ritual performance and street theater group based in Edinburgh, Scotland who has rekindled public celebrations around the Celtic quarter holidays with Pagan-inspired ritual and street theater.

By Rynn Fox, Staff Writer, The Wild Hunt

While each Beltane Fire Society ritual centers on a core narrative, the performance itself has its roots in Galoshan plays, a type of Scottish medieval street theater traditionally performed on All Hallows and during winter. Samhuinn depicts the Celtic story of the Summer and Winter Kings’ battle for control of the seasons as overseen by the Cailleach. For Beltane, the ritual enacts the joining of the May Queen to the Green Man and summer’s arrival. Lughnasadh celebrates the harvest, while Imbolc symbolizes the return of spring with the putting to sleep of the Cailleach.

While the stories stay the same, performance elements are shaped by group organizers, society members who take on the responsibility for a particular character or aspect.

Members of the Beltane Fire Society's Red and White groups practice in Holyrood Park for the 2012 Samhuinn event.

Members of the Beltane Fire Society’s Red and White groups practice in Holyrood Park for the 2012 Samhuinn event. (Photo by Beltane Fire Society photographer Raini Scott.)

“Individual and group roles develop over several weeks, sharing, balancing and refining elements of a narrative and character metaphysic with the logistics of action for a good final performance flow on the night,” said society Group Organizer and Board Member Milk Miriku. “Group rituals can involve doing things to help build and better connect energies, a range of meditative, focused and excited social activities plus everything in between and around, from sound baths, sewing and crafting to games, exercise, dancing and or drumming.”

It’s up to the Blue Men, a group of senior members who act as historians and tradition keepers, to ensure all ritual elements complement each other.

“Blue Men work year-round within the society performing the same role at each event. We work together on practical, ritual and performance aspects of the festivals, and share the knowledge and experience we each have between ourselves, and with the rest of the society,” said society Board Member and Blue Man Matthew Richardson. “In the run-up, we help groups shape their performances, offering advice and tying the narrative threads together.”

Together with a paid producer who manages the festival’s production aspects, they ensure any new and interlinking narratives are aligned. This means a lot of coordination for society members. “[It takes] lots of meetings. Really, lots and lots,” said society Co-Secretary and Pagan Federation of Scotland member Zander Bruce.

The months leading up to the ritual are a flurry of activity as members prepare for roles and recruit new volunteer performers, most with no performance experience, via word of mouth or past audiences—then comes training. Depending on their role, all performers are trained in fire performance, safety, crowd control and street theater. According to society Group Organizer and Board Member Tanya Simpson, the society spends at least two months promoting, rehearsing and “coordinating and training everyone, and working closely with the producer and other group organizers.”

In order to deepen their roles some of the performers choose to do personal or group psychological work.

Winter King ritually kills the Summer King

Winter King (right, David Blumenthal) ritually kills the Summer King (left, Joe Hope) at a rehearsal for the Beltane Fire Society’s 2012 Samhuinn. (Photo by Richard Winpenny.)

“We may do some deeper or shadow work but not necessarily with a polytheistic focus, more something archetypal or emotional that everyone can connect with,” said Bruce. One such activity was particularly moving for him. “One thing I’ve loved doing is keening, whereby the group gathers and is talked through a focus or path-working, down to the bottom of their buried pain, anger and grief, to then be brought up and urged to express that pain through their voice, to share and to support one another. This has been a beautiful and transformative experience.”

In some ways though, the group has become a victim of its own success. Some critics have said that the events, especially the Beltane festival, are being coming too commercialized. A charge Sandra Holdom, owner of local Witchcraft store The Wyrd Shop, dismisses.

“The local [city] council charges a fortune for the use of [Calton] Hill and the clean up afterwards. It must also be remembered that all public events, by law, must have first aid, security, toilet facilities etc. Also, being fire festivals, there must be a fire marshall on site. There is almost no profit involved.”

But in the end, the hard work pays off—especially in terms of memories.

“[I remember] dancing with ma Red and watching the sun rise with Kings in the heat of 09. Ripping flower hearts out as a Hag six months later, smashing my staff on the stage with my crone sisters as the balance of power crossed to let the cold in,” said Miruku. “Steam rising from the Green Man as they dance and I shiver in awe and in the cold rain with a torch at the stage in 08.”

Beltane Fire Society 2012 Samhuinn Procession

Members of the Beltane Fire Society’s Red and White groups dance down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile at the 2012 Samhuinn procession and ritual performance. (Photo by Richard Winpenny.)

All holiday names are in traditional Scottish-Gaelic spelling as provided by the Beltane Fire Society.
All photos used with permission of the Beltane Fire Society and photographers Raini Scott and Richard Winpenny

This is part 2 of a 3 part series on the Beltane Fire Society, a secular ritual performance and street theater group based in Edinburgh, Scotland who has rekindled public celebration around the Celtic quarter holidays with Pagan-inspired ritual and street theater.

By Rynn Fox, Staff Writer, The Wild Hunt

Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh, Scotland

Arthur’s Seat is the main peak of a group of hills in the center of the city of Edinburgh, about a mile east of Edinburgh Castle. Traditionally, city residents have climbed the hill on Beltane to watch the sunrise and bathe in the morning dew.

The Beltane Fire Society began in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1988 as the brain-child of musician and artist Angus Farquhar. Though some city residents still maintained the unbroken Beltane tradition of climbing to the top of Arthur’s Seat, a local hill, to greet the sun and wash in dew, Farquhar wanted to revive the holiday as a community celebration.

“The aim was to recreate a sense of community and an appreciation of the cyclical nature of the seasons and our connection to the environment—something that is often overlooked in our modern society and urban environments,” said Board Member Matthew Richardson. This meant rediscovering the traditions surrounding Beltane and other seasonal community festivals.

Folklorist Dr. Margaret Bennett

Dr. Margaret Bennett is a respected Scottish writer, folklorist, ethnologist, broadcaster and singer.

One of the first people he enlisted was Scottish folklore expert Dr. Margaret Bennett, formerly of the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh. “[Angus] came to see my colleague, [folk revivalist] Hamish Henderson and me,” said Bennett. “My role was to explain to him about the customs and then Hamish and I agreed to bring our students and to sing and take part. When we arrived we were greeted by the colorful array of key figures, including the May Queen, the Green Man and Red Men and a group of drummers beyond any expectation we might have had.”

Yet what began as a small celebration of around 100 people, including performers, quickly grew due to demand. Samhuinn was added to their festival roster in 1995 with Lughnasadh and Imbolc soon following suit. This year marked the 25th anniversary of the group’s Beltane Fire Festival with around 6,000 attendees and 350 performers taking part.

Sandra Holdom, owner of local Witchcraft store The Wyrd Shop, believes the group’s festivals foster a deeper sense of connection for city residents. “It gives a sense of community and continuity that is sadly lacking in a modern city like Edinburgh. It also draws together disparate aspects of Edinburgh’s cultural heritage, be it Celtic, Nordic, Anglo or North Saxon.”

As to why these events are so popular, Board Member Milk Miruku thinks the event’s popularity is about universality of its narrative.

“It’s a shared time and history of celebration, between the ages, places and people,” said Miruku. “I like the connections that are made between the varying values and influences, the personal and cultural aspects and metaphors that come together to celebrate not just the date but what they associate with that part of the yearly cycle.”

It’s a sentiment Richardson echoes. “[Our] Beltane and Samhuinn [festivals] are ‘all things to all men’ – while they have ties to Celtic traditions and Scottish and Northern European cultures, they also beg, borrow and steal from many others – Scandinavian, Native American, Japanese, African,” said Richardson. “We aren’t seeking to recreate an exact copy of historical events – rather we try to experience the same sense of community and spirituality that inspired those who first celebrated these seasonal transformations, and connect our modern lives back to a sense of nature, the environment and community.”

For Bennett, these types of revival festivals have a significant role in modern society.

“Even though events such as this one are a far cry from the way they were traditionally celebrated, they are important,” said Bennett. “While some of the events, such as the Edinburgh celebration, are presented as theatrical interpretation of tradition rather than a reproduction of the way things were traditionally done. They confirm, however, the genuine human need to celebrate–without celebration life would be humdrum and dull. Celebration confirms life!”

Angus Farquhar could not be reached for comment.
All holiday names are in traditional Scottish-Gaelic spelling as provided by the Beltane Fire Society.

The Reds

The Reds, symbolizing the forces of chaos, sensuality and physicality, stand oblivious to winter’s return at the Beltane Fire Society’s 2012 Samhuinn. (Photo by Richard P. Winpenny. Photo used with Beltane Fire Society permission.)

This is part 1 of a 3 part series on the Beltane Fire Society, a secular ritual performance and street theater group based in Edinburgh, Scotland who have rekindled public celebrations around the Celtic quarter holidays with Pagan-inspired ritual.

By Rynn Fox, Staff Writer, The Wild Hunt

Torchlight and fire sculpture light the cold winter night as a procession of mythical and archetypal figures writhe in the wintry dark. A cacophony of drums echo through narrow city streets. A black masked figure clutching a tall staff takes the stage. Oblivious, the Winter King swings his sword, nearly delivering an executioner’s blow to the Summer King—but the figure steps into the swords’ path, absorbing the blow without injury. With a toss of her head the figure unmasks, revealing herself to be the Cailleach, the ruling deity of Scotland‘s winter season.

The Cailleach summons the powers of the light and peaceful warrior

The Cailleach shows the Winter King that his powers of summoning can be used to call the powers of the peaceful warrior and of the light at the Beltane Fire Society’s 2012 Samhuinn. (Photo by Richard P. Winpenny. Used with Beltane Fire Society and photographer permission.)

This was the scene on Samhuinn on Edinburgh, Scotland’s historic Royal Mile thoroughfare where 150 performers and crew brought pomp, pageantry and pagan-inspired street art and ritual performance to an audience of nearly 4,000 people. The annual event was presented by the Beltane Fire Society, an organization who has been advocating for the awareness and celebration of the Celtic cross-quarter festivals for 25 years.

Street-theater Spirituality

While it is easy to assume the group is Pagan, this secular charity distances itself from religion and spirituality. According to society Co-Secretary and Pagan Federation of Scotland member Zander Bruce, the events are “as pagan as you want them to be. Generally on a scale of pony to Pegasus, we’re about unicorn.”

This doesn’t stop many local Pagans from taking part. Nearly a quarter of the society’s members are of a Pagan or New Age persuasion. “Many of the performers and organizers are involved in the magickal scene in the Lothians [area of Scotland],” said Sandra Holdom owner of local Witchcraft store, The Wyrd Shop.

For members it is a shared dedication to reawakening folk practices and creating effective theater that binds them together, not religion.

“We have a shared vocabulary of ritual, performance, character and story,” said Bruce. “Everything is contextualized around those and everyone feels able to contribute to them.” Still the events are more than theater for some in the society. “Many people [participating] report having an epiphany when at Beltane or Samhuinn and it leads to a spiritual journey.”

Summer King versus Winter KIng

The Winter King (right, David Blumenthal) prepares to dispatch the Summer King (left, Joe Hope) at Beltane Fire Society’s 2012 Samhuinn. (Photo by Richard P. Winpenny. Photos used with Beltane Fire Society and photographer permission.)

Society Co-Secretary and Pagan Tanya Simpson is one such person. She remembers her first society performance as a Torchbearer in the 2010 Samhuinn procession as being “a real catalyst for spiritual growth.”

“It helped me to feel more in touch with the changing of the seasons in a way that I hadn’t quite been able to reach with individual ritual and the combined energy of everyone taking part in the event was truly powerful,” said Simpson. “It was a new beginning for me and helped me find my place within a wider community.”

“The performance carries a strong spirituality for me – but not one that has religious connotations,” said Board Member Matthew Richardson. “For me, it’s the experience of merging performance and celebration and marking the change of the seasons in a way that involves those who might otherwise ignore their passing that it most powerful.”

“One of the most beautiful things about our events is that people – both volunteers and audience members – who are there in a spiritual context stand shoulder to shoulder with people who are there for the costumes and acrobatics or just for an amazing party, and everyone is accepted equally,” said Simpson. “Being witness to that level of inclusion is a pretty special feeling.”

Edinburgh crowds watch the performance of the Beltane Fire Society's 2012 Samhuinn ritual.

Edinburgh crowds watch the Pagan-inspired spectacle of the Beltane Fire Society’s 2012 Samhuinn. (Photo by Richard P. Winpenny. Used with Beltane Fire Society and photographer permission.)

All holiday names are in traditional Scottish-Gaelic spelling as provided by the Beltane Fire Society. All photos used with permission of the Beltane Fire Society and photographer Richard Winpenny.