Archives For animal sacrifice

Many modern Pagans and Heathens shy away from — or are downright horrified by — the idea of animal sacrifice. Arguments against the practice generally come from a place of concern for the animals involved, or a fear that it would result in an “othering” by mainstream society. On the other hand, the sacrificial priests say that the practice is rooted in compassion and community, and that criticisms of their work reveal a fundamental disconnect with the food system, and perhaps a smoldering of racism as well.

In recent weeks, a debate has heated up around this topic. It is clear that the very idea of killing animals in a sacred ritual evokes strong emotions among proponents and opponents alike, which can obscure the arguments and factual details as well as the religious reasons for carrying it out. Today we take a closer look at this difficult topic.

Technical details of sacrifice

Anomalous Thracian

Anomalous Thracian

. . . under optimum (e.g. correct, humane) circumstances of animal sacrifice, the animal has been raised in small farming set-ups (rather than industrial meat factories), handled by people it is familiar with interpersonally who regard them with respect and dignity from the start, and in the time leading up to the ritual, treated as living kings. A distressed animal, which is the standard state of industrial slaughter, is literally unfit for most sacrificial rites: the calmness and comfort of the animals is the primary logistical concern. — Anomalous Thracian

Trained as a sacrificial priest, Thracian argues that modern standards of sacrifice demand specialists who understand how to end life without suffering. As in the Kosher method of animal slaughter, the throat must be cut with a single stoke that slices through the arteries, veins, esophagus and trachea, but leaves the spinal cord intact. The reason for this precision was explained by another sacrificial priest, Tēlemakhos Night. He said:

A single cut is made at the neck, severing all vitals instantly, without compromising the central-nervous-system (the spine and neck bones). By leaving the CNS intact, the animal’s natural and biologically programmed response kicks in, which settles the animal into a state of euphoria and death, rather than agitation or panic. (Severing the CNS prevents necessary full-body signals, including hormonal release signals, from being delivered.)

Such exactness in the act was also stressed by Galina Krasskova, a Heathen priestess trained in sacrifice, who said:

Galina Krasskova

 . . . 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.

The idea that an animal that has suffered physically or psychically is unsuitable for sacrifice may be a modern convention. Did the ancient practice of drowning horses as a sacrifice to Poseidon take into consideration the feelings of the animal? Did those people have the same 21st-century understanding of anatomy?

While a portion of the animal itself is often part of the offering, usually the bulk of the meat is consumed, a tradition which is described by Australian Hellenic polytheist Markos Gage:

In Greece when these sacrifices happened people would had been used to life and death. As a community they raised the beasts themselves, they saw them born, they fed them, treated them when ill, they killed them, they ate them. There was an intimacy that only livestock farmers know today. We live in a time of decadence where our guilt for killing an animal is non-existent because the creatures are slaughtered somewhere else and we see their meat as nothing but a product.

Many who support sacrifice see the disconnect from where our meat comes as being the driving force in the pushback against the practice this rite. Conor O’Bryan Warren, in a column on Polytheist.com, speaks of growing up in an agricultural family, and how his view of the killing of animals differed greatly from many of his college classmates:

Most of the people in the class are inculturated with a Western Protestant worldview which sees the exploitation and torture of animals for profit (and thus a cog in the machine of Corporate Capitalism) as being completely acceptable but which views their sacrifice for religious purposes as being terribly barbaric and backwards.

Rev. Kirk Thomas

Rev. Kirk Thomas

The Druid organization Ár nDríaocht Féin does not permit any form of blood sacrifice in public rituals. Archdruid Kirk Thomas said that it’s fraught with problems for the inexperienced practitioner and from a public relations standpoint.

The reasons are many. One is it would be bad public relations — most people are more than happy to eat meat slaughtered in abattoirs in inhumane ways as long as it’s cheap and they don’t have to witness the killings. But to kill an animal in front of them would bring the horror of violent death far too close for comfort. Also, none of us are trained in the art of killing an animal in a painless and humane way. In the end we’d probably end up with a bloody mess.

However, we don’t regulate non-public rites. We actively discourage animal sacrifice but should some member own a farm and be trained in the slaughter of his or her own herds, then who are we to stop them from praying over their animals before dispatching them? Personally, I’d rather the poor creatures be commended to the Gods before their deaths than not, with forgiveness asked and, hopefully, given.

While it was often a public event in antiquity, modern sacrifice is largely a private affair, noted Night in his explanation of the mechanics of sacrifice.

Ritual context

The traditions which include sacrifice vary widely, crossing racial, ethnic, and religious lines. While there are sacrificial practices in all of the three major branches of Abrahamic religion, discussing them could distract from understanding the Pagan context. That includes sacrifice as it is understood in polytheist and African traditional religions, both of which categories have some participants who identify as Pagan. Confining the discussion in this way still results in a huge diversity of sacred practices, but clear similarities emerge.

Consent seems to be universal among these religions, and it must be obtained from the participants, the deities, and the animals involved. No one should participate in animal sacrifice if it makes them uncomfortable or violates taboos. This act is also not performed simply to do it; divination is generally used to confirm that a particular deity wants such an offering in the first place. Divination is also one of the ways that the consent of the animal is established. Although, an experienced priest may also observe the animal’s body language and ascertain the emotional state of the creature.

Lilith Dorsey

Lilith Dorsey

While sacrificed animals are often offered in part (or, in some cases, entirely) to the god or gods in question, that is not the only reason these rites are performed. This is a detail touched on by Lilith Dorsey, author of the blog Voodoo Universe, when she spoke to us for this story:

I understand that this is a very difficult topic for many, and is obviously one that I could speak about for volumes. Let me start by saying I am an anthropologist, filmmaker and author in addition to being an initiated practitioner of Haitian Vodou and La Regla Lucumi (more mistakenly known as Santeria), both of which include animal sacrifice as part of their rites.

Sacrifice is performed for annual feasts and also to heal individual issues.The way I explain it to people is that if you went to a medical doctor and was told that in order to save the life of a loved one you needed to give them medicine that came from a chicken gizzard, would you do it? If you would offer up the human life refusing on moral grounds, then my hat is off to you.There are several African Traditional Religious houses you can join that do not practice sacrifice of animals. Most people would choose their daughter, their father, or their true love over a chicken, and then the issue really comes to light, which is one of faith.This is a spiritual prescription, you can choose to take it or not. People put much more faith in modern medicine than they do in “scary” (meaning unknown and stereotyped) magicks that may, in reality, be much more effective.This is just one reason we perform these sacrifices, to heal. Another reason is for feasts where the ritual animals are very often eaten, which seems to quell a lot of peoples’ fears. For practitioners, myself included, the animals for ceremony are just what the Orisha or Loa (divine forces) eat. The same way lions are fed steak, the energies call for this type of offering.This is substantiated by time, tradition, divination, and success rate. People who perform these sacrifices are also highly trained, both in the spiritual art and practical design of carrying out these sacred rites.The implementation in most cases is much more humane than your friendly neighborhood slaughterhouse.

While the ADF does not advocate for the practice, Archdruid Thomas is familiar with its place in religious observance:

If we look at the ancients, we see that the sacrifice was seen in a variety of ways, such as the shared meal and as a form of reciprocity. In the shared meal we are sharing our food with the Gods, and this brings about the sense of community. And for animal sacrifices then, it was the chance for a great barbecue. According to Walter Burkert, in ancient Greece the only animal protein available for most people was from the meat of the sacrifice. Even today we often refer to our holidays as ‘feasts’. This is where that comes from.

Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey

But even as some find the practice of sacrifice life-affirming, it’s a clear violation of what other Pagans feel is expected of them by their gods. That’s where Jason Mankey is on the issue.

As a Wiccan I do not practice animal sacrifice, nor would I ever consider such a thing. In the Charge of the Goddess, it’s all spelled out pretty clearly: ‘Nor do I demand sacrifice, for behold I am the Mother of All Living, and my love is poured out upon the earth.’ If the Lady demanded sacrifice She would have said so, instead she said it was not required. If it was good enough for Gerald and Doreen then it’s good enough for me.

In addition to my Wiccan practice, I also participate in Hellenic Ritual from time to time.The Ancient Greeks sacrificed animals, like most ancient pagans, and they did so with reverence towards the gods and with a sense of practicality. People often sacrificed to the Greek gods in order to get a good meat dinner, and it was also rare (the practice, not how they cooked the meat). People were far more likely to leave the god Pan honey cakes and wine than they were to sacrifice a goat in his honor.

Should people be free to practice animal sacrifice in 2014? Of course. Eating and hunting are both legal practices, and there is a long tradition of animal sacrifice within many different pagan traditions. As long as the animals in question are being slaughtered humanely and their meat is being eaten, I don’t personally have a problem with it. In addition, if people are sacrificing animals, I hope it’s from a real place of devotion and not simply to ‘prove a point.’ If everyone’s intentions are honorable, I don’t think it’s my place to tell people what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ To some degree we’ve all got to figure that out for ourselves.

Legal and cultural context

In the United States, the Supreme Court ruled that animal sacrifice is legal in the landmark decision of Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, in which decision Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that “religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection.”

That said, many Pagans, such as David Salisbury, object to the practice on moral grounds, or because it may lead to connecting these religions with “Satanic panic”-style hysteria associated with the abduction and unwilling sacrifice of house pets. Others maintain that all life is sacred, and that taking any life is never acceptable. In his recent blog post, Salisbury concluded:

Animal sacrifice boils down to ego. Our human egos want us to think that taking a life in our own hands will impress our gods and show them that we’re willing to do big things to appease them. But we must get over ourselves. Animal sacrifice serves only to tell our minds that we’re more important than the majority of other living beings who we share this planet with.

Sannion

Sannion

Sannion is a Hellenic polytheist who, while is does not perform these rites himself, is an outspoken champion of the practice. He questions the notion that animal sacrifice is less ethical than consuming supermarket meat, or even a vegan lifestyle:

Unless you get all of your meat from local-sourced, free-range, organic farms who practice ethical slaughter you’ve got no room to object. Animals are tortured, raised in filth and never permitted to move about, pumped full of dangerous chemicals and antibiotics, shipped ridiculously long distances so that their meat can end up at your neighborhood supermarket or fast food chain. How is that preferable to what we’re doing? And if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you do realize that you’re still responsible for the taking of life, right? Life that science is increasingly coming to recognize as sentient and capable of suffering. All you’re doing is prioritizing one form of life over another — a form of life, by the way, that unlike all other forms of life derives its nutrients from sun, soil and water, and therefore causes no harm to other living creatures. If you’re strictly approaching this from an ethical position, plants are the most innocent things on this planet and so should be spared from predation.

Anomalous Thracian was willing to tackle the question of perception in the overculture:

Whether a person supports or is uncomfortable with animal sacrifice, none of us wants to see the evangelical right come with pitchforks. I guarantee that in the list of ways to strategical prevent this, coming after our own with pitchforks is not a suitable answer.

If anyone on any side of this issue is serious about wanting to see peaceful, progressive, enlightened resolution take place, the issue needs to be framed as it is: a topic of prejudice against certain lawful and protected practices, which is definable as religious intolerance and discrimination. It is never acceptable to attempt to pathologize people whose cultures or religions call for the ethical slaughter and sanctification of animals. Instead we should as a movement be examining the pathology of intolerance, prejudice, and panic.

Thracian also raises the thorny question of racism as it has manifested in dialogue around animal sacrifice, a subject which River Devora addressed in her own piece on Polytheist.com about the practice:

I have heard the argument made that reconstructionist Polytheists who engage in ritual animal sacrifice are problematic, while those who are part of African Diasporic or Derived Traditions and African Traditional Religions get a ‘pass,’ as though somehow letting us ‘off the hook’ for our practice of animal sacrifice makes the speaker ‘enlightened’ or more ‘understanding’ of traditional religions.These kinds of arguments are racist and offensive. It is as though you are saying to us,’European traditions, and the (mostly) white people who practice them, should know better –- Europeans are supposed to be more enlightened.Traditions primarily being practiced by African, African American, and Latino folks can get a pass because we already know those folks are unenlightened savages.’ This is far more offensive than if you simply condemned the practice of animal sacrifice across the board.This may not be what you mean, but this is what we hear when you say it.

While animal sacrifice is legal and, in modern America, generally more humane than industrial slaughter, it evokes strong reactions in many Pagans and Heathens. We may never agree on whether or not animal sacrifice has a place in religious practice. However, the dialogue is opening up, as individuals carefully examine their own feelings toward sacrifice within their own belief structures and within their relationships with the gods.

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

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

A young Nepalese girl dressed as a Kumari/living goddess. Photo: Narendra Shrestha.

A young Nepalese girl dressed as a Kumari/living goddess. Photo: Narendra Shrestha.

  • Does the presence of goddesses within a faith mean better treatment for women within a culture? A Guardian article complicates the notion. Quote: “Goddesses are worshipped merely as a ritual but in reality, women are generally never seen as their earthly representations,” [Usha Vishwakarma] says. “It is not inspiration or motivation that we look for. Sheer frustration from being ill-treated by men and unsympathetic responses from family drive us to rebel and make conditions better for ourselves.”
  • Scholar Wendy Doniger says India banning her book “The Hindus: An Alternative History” had her “in high spirits.” Quote: “But I must apologize for what may amount to false advertising on my behalf by Mr. Batra, who pronounced my book ‘filthy and dirty.’ Readers who bought a copy in hope of finding such passages will be, I fear, disappointed. ‘The Hindus’ isn’t about sex at all. It’s about religion, which is much hotter than sex.”
  • At HuffPo, Parth Parihar discusses “Hinduism and the eco-activist vacuum.” Quote: “What could be more adharmic than incentivizing the creation of fossil fuel infrastructure that only makes oil a more economically viable means of energy production, thereby impeding progress on combating global climate change?”
  • The head of the British Veterinary Association is advocating that animals slaughtered in Kosher and Halal butchering be stunned first, spurring charges of misinformation and limiting religious rights. Quote: “But Mr Arkush, who is the vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said the Jewish slaughtering practice was a ‘humane act designed to bring about the animals’ end very quickly’. He said that Mr Blackwell’s remarks were ‘completely misleading’ and criticised him for ‘speaking in a way that inflamed prejudice’.”
  • The Straight Dope covers the topic of penis-stealing sorcerers. Quote: “The result of this delusional drama can be pretty ugly. About 20 witches accused of penis theft were lynched in Nigeria in 2001, and 12 in Ghana in 2002. One survey counted 56 separate cases between 1997 and 2003, with at least 36 suspected thieves murdered. In a 2008 outbreak in Congo, urgent messages went out by radio to avoid strangers wearing gold rings in taxis, leading police to put 13 suspected sorcerers into protective custody to prevent lynchings.”
  • Tablet Magazine explores the forbidden books of Jewish magic. Quote: “If most historical Judaisms have taken a transcendental approach to the magic taboo, the transgression-consummation dyad accounts for the simultaneous attraction and repulsion to magic one finds in so many Jewish sources. The highly charged polarity is responsible for producing myriad expressions of anxiety, the tracing of which may shed light on familiar facets of Jewish culture. The binary status of magic gave rise to contested formulations of its cultural position among rabbinic authorities. Was magic the most profound degradation of the spirit, or the highest actualization of human potential?”
  • Police in Siberia managed to stop an attempted witch-burning before it was too late. Quote: “In an unexpected incident worthy of the Spanish inquisition, a couple in eastern Siberia decided their acquaintance was a witch and attempted to burn her alive, though police stopped the impromptu auto-da-fe. The rescue came not a moment too soon, as the couple were at that moment forcing the alleged witch headfirst into a burning stove in an abandoned building, Zabaikalsky Region police said Thursday.”
  • From the “what could possibly go wrong” files, Oklahoma House passes “Merry Christmas” bill that would protect using religious expressions in public schools. Quote: “There is a war on Christians and Christmas, and anyone who would deny that is not paying close enough attention,” Cleveland said in a December 2013 press release. “This bill will create a layer of protection for our public school teachers and staff to freely discuss and celebrate Christmas without worrying about offending someone.” Don’t worry though, the proposed law calls for Christianity to share the stage with at least ONE other faith and/or secular expression. Diversity!
  • A new book from a 20-year devotee alleges widespread corruption, nepotism, and abuse in the empire of “Hugging Saint” Mata “Amma” Amrithanandamayi. Quote: “An Australian woman, who served Mata Amrithanandamayi for two decades, has exposed in her memoir the “hugging saint’s” ashram as a murky world of physical, sexual and mental torture, promiscuity power-madness and intolerance.” The organization’s response? She’s crazy and depressed (no, really, that’s their response).
  • Slate.com mentions Santeria and Vodou elements in the hit HBO show “True Detective.” Quote: “Voodoo and Santeria have long inspired the authors who dabbled in cosmic horror. Louisiana Voodoo (otherwise known as “Hoodoo”), which draws upon African and European folk traditions alike, derives much of its occult resonance from such practices as vengeance by proxy (voodoo dolls), suspended animation (zombification), and gris-gris (talismans, not unlike the knocked-together fetish sculptures that Hart and Cohle discover at the scene of Dora Lange’s murder). The particular appeal of Louisiana Voodoo to cosmic-horror writers like Lovecraft and those who have followed in his footsteps comes not only from its supernaturalism, but from its cultural otherness as well.”

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Dr. Patrick F. Fagan wants you to know about the current "pagan" sexy times going on.

Dr. Patrick F. Fagan wants you to know about the current “pagan” sexy times going on.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

  • Nathaniel Rich at the New York Review of Books looks at the story of the West Memphis Three through Damien Echols’ book “Life After Death,” the “Paradise Lost” documentary series, and the feature documentary “West of Memphis.” Quote: “Investigators asked Jerry Driver, a local juvenile officer and self-described “guru” of the occult, to compile a list of local kids involved in cult-related activities. At the top of Driver’s list was Damien Echols, an eighteen-year-old high school dropout who had been hospitalized for depression. […] In his closing statement, district attorney John Fogleman pointed at Echols and said, “There’s not a soul in there.” That argument carried the day.” As always, the story remains a cautionary tale of how a moral panic over “cults” can send innocent children to jail. 
  • Santero Jorge Badillo has filed a complaint against several officials in Monmouth County, New Jersey for civil rights violations after police searched his home (fruitlessly) for a gun belonging to his brother, went through his sacred items, and filed a complaint with the SPCA who proceeded to flood the man with citations with little evidence of wrong-doing. Quote: “Badillo claims Amato issued the tickets without any evidence that any of the animals had been abused. ‘To sacrifice a sick or maltreated animal to the Orishas or to perform the sacrifice in a way that causes the animal to suffer is prohibited in Santeria as this would be an insult to the Orishas,’ Badillo says. Amato then contacted the Asbury Park Press, a local newspaper, and told it about the summons he had issued to Badillo. The Asbury Park Press published an article, in print and online, and included Badillo’s address, he says in the complaint. As a result, Badillo claims, his home and car have been vandalized and he and his family have been threatened.” Badillo claims the accusations ruined his family’s attempt to adopt children, violated their civil rights, and endangered his family. 
  • The latest edition of Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions is out and features an article on Heathenry and two on Otherkin/Therianthropy. At his blog, Pagan scholar Chas Clifton examines the Otherkin articles, noting that both heavily rely on Lupa’s “A Field Guide to Otherkin.” Quote: “To Laycock, Otherkin are perhaps best described as an ” ‘audience cult,’ a movement that supports novel beliefs and practices but without a discernible organization. […] Robertson spends more time explaining the concept of Therianthropes’ self-descriptions of “awakening” to their dual natures…”
Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Yesterday, local news reporters in Chester County, Pennsylvania covered what law enforcement and animal control officials called a “dark and disturbing” scene. The alleged slaughtered corpses of half-a-dozen dogs, surrounded by occult books and paraphernalia.

“Two people are in custody after police found more than a half dozen dismembered dogs inside a Chester County house Monday night. SPCA officers carried out bags and boxes of evidence from a home in the 2400 block of Wayne Avenue in the city of Coatesville. Officials say the scene inside was dark and disturbing with elements of witchcraft and the occult on vivid display. In the living room, investigators say they found two dog skulls and a dog skeleton that had been gold-leafed. They then walked into the kitchen and found two dog skeletons on the counter and a dog’s head in the freezer.

This seems pretty bad. It’s one thing to tolerate the sacrifice of a livestock animal like a chicken or goat, but dogs? People love dogs, and those who harm and abuse them are usually treated as no better than if they murdered a human being. Plus, “witchcraft and the occult”? You know that local Pagans, not to mention adherents of Santeria or Vodou, will have to do damage control for years because of this. But what if, just what if, those weren’t dog skulls. What if they were something else?

“Since the remains found in Caln Township haven’t been confirmed as canine, [George Bengal, the director of law enforcement for the state’s SPCA] said there may not be cause for alarm. In his experience, goat and dog skulls can be easily confused.

It’s true! If you aren’t an expert in such matters, and if you are full of adrenaline responding to a “suspicious activity” call, it can be quite easy to confuse a goat skull with a dog skull. Here’s a side-by-side comparison with a domestic dog skull and a domestic goat skull.

For the sake of argument, if these were goat skulls, wouldn’t that explain why they were keeping some in a freezer? Why there were charred bone remains in a fire pit? That they were, you know, eating the goats? Now, I don’t eat meat, so goats aren’t on my menu, but I hear that goat is the most-consumed type of meat in the world, and is increasingly trendy here in the United States. So wouldn’t having a decorated goat skull in your house be no more different than the many, many, folks I’ve met who display decorated cow skulls in their homes (particularly in the Southwest)?

Regardless of veracity, because of the “sacrificed dog” angle that all the initial reports have put out, the local occult/metaphysical community is now on the defensive.

“In my 41 years of practicing the occult, I’ve never come across any ritual or activity that involves killing dogs or cats,” [Eric Lee, co-owner of Mystickal Tymes] said. “This person sounds more like a sadistic individual that should be heavily sedated than an occult practitioner.”

Now think of the owners of that house. Even if the remains were goats that they ate, will they ever have peace again? Or will they be forever branded as the “dog sacrifice” family, and be slowly ostracized and exiled from the community? Will the local media do big flashy “exonerated” stories, or will we just get a quiet addendum that nobody pays attention to?

A final question. Why did the local SPCA officials on-scene instantly jump to the conclusion that these were dog remains, comments that were soon walked back after the fact? Could it be that many SPCA officials received training in “occult” matters from biased sources? In fact, state SPCA official George Bengal, who is quoted above, has made odd remarks about animal sacrifice in the past.

“An animal welfare official says a beheaded dog and cat found in Philadelphia appear to be the result of a ritual sacrifice. George Bengal, Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals director of investigations, said the dog and cat were found … near a bike path in Philadelphia’s Olney neighborhood along with three beheaded chickens. He said he believes the animals were killed elsewhere and the remains dumped where a passer-by found them. Mr. Bengal said there is usually an increase in ritual animal sacrifices at this time of year because of “a lot of high holidays that different groups celebrate.” But he said most of those sacrifices involve goats and chickens.”

A different Pennsylvania-based SPCA official in 2009 harassed a Satanist, accusing him of abusing his pets, despite no evidence that this was occurring. He too was the victim of a “suspicious activity” call. Which makes one wonder, why does the Pennsylvania SPCA think occult practitioners are routinely harming dogs and cats? What data or evidence are they basing this on, and why were officials so quick to exclaim “dog” in Chester County, Pennsylvania when it might have been “goat” instead?

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Just a few quick notes for you on this Tuesday.

Animal Sacrifice, Factory Farming, and Palo Mayombe: Religion Dispatches has an excellent essay up by Meera Subramanian, senior editor of Killing the Buddha, on the recent case of William Camacho, a practitioner of Palo Mayombe whose barber shop was shut down after sacrificial chickens were found in the basement. Subramanian compares the actions of religions that engage in animal sacrifice to the factory farming industry, and suspects that public discomfort with one and not the other is all down to issues of visibility.

William Camacho. Photo by Peter Pereira/SouthCoastToday.com

“Last year alone, about eight billion chickens were slaughtered in the U.S., according to the USDA. So why does the idea of animal sacrifice so easily fall into the realm of heebie jeebies? Why do stories about people like Camacho and their doomed animals get picked up so quickly, not just by ABC, but also sites with names like Wacky Bastards? […] Camacho broke the rules. No chickens within city limits. But what shutting down his barbershop and the initial talk of throwing animal cruelty charges at him reveals is really our discomfort and alienation from the animals at the heart of the New Bedford controversy. It lays bare our preference that animal killings, whether as a part of a religious ritual or not, stay hidden out of view. It asks that any connection that animals might have to the spirit world remain tamely leashed to our household pets.”

I recommend reading the entirety of Subramanian’s essay. As for Camacho and Bad Boyz Cutz? The barber shop is open for business once more, and no charges are being filed against him at this time. He’s still seeking advice from attorneys.

Burning Man Celebrates its 25th Anniversary: Burning Man in Nevada is now under way. The temporary city in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with a “Rites of Passage” theme. This year marks the first time the event has sold out, and also sees the event transition into a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the festival’s ideology outside the famous once-per-year event. What is that ideology? Lee Gilmore, author of “Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man”, argues for the event being “pagan” at its roots.

“No one I’ve ever spoken to (and I’ve been attending and researching this event since 1996) has ever come right out and called Burning Man a religion–Pagan or otherwise–and the event’s organizers have repeatedly stated as much for years. However, I think in some ways it can be considered to be a pagan (note the lower case) phenomenon. In this meaning, I see the uppercase term “Pagan” as referring to our various Neopagan traditions–that is the sets of practices, beliefs, and communities that are seen as (albeit loosely) constituting our family of religions–while I use the lowercase term “pagan” as a more general adjective.

In this sense, I am thinking of Michael York’s concept of “root religion,” which identifies paganism as a set of shared–yet diversely constituted–primal religious tendencies that broadly underlie all global religions. As he stated, “inasmuch as paganism is the root of religion, it confronts the earliest, the most immediate, and the least processed apprehensions of the sacred. This is the experiential level on which paganism in both its indigenous and contemporary forms wishes to concentrate.” (see York’s Pagan Theology)

Burning Man has a similarly embodied, experiential, and ritualized quality. This feeling is in part engendered by the encounter with nature in Nevada’s Black Rock desert. In the beauty and essential simplicity of this vast dusty arena–as well as in the visceral physical experience of its arid and demanding environment–many participants encounter a sense of the transformative and numinous.”

Recent data suggests that Burning Man is becoming more religious, political, and female as it ages, though critics still contest the event is a “dead-end cult.” For more on how Burning Man is small-p “pagan” check out the rest of Gilmore’s guest post for The Wild Hunt. You may also want to read the interview conducted with her at Religion Dispatches last year.

Debating Dominionism: In final note, the debate and discussion over what Christian Dominionism exactly is, whether its worth talking about, and whether it is or isn’t a threat, continues. At Religion Dispatches Sarah Posner and Anthea Butler have an excellent discussion that digs deep into the subject, and goes beyond the alarmism and denial currently dominating coverage.

Rick Perry hugs NAR "Apostle" Alice Patterson at 'The Response'.

“I view with a jaundiced eye these journalists who think that by the mere act of writing an 800 word op-ed they’re going to wave a wand over people of faith and make their beliefs go away. Not Happening. Yes, not every conservative Christian is a Dominionist, but to say a movement doesn’t exist, without even being able to say what it is in an op-ed is just irresponsible. It also shows what the real issue is.

For the last 30 years, journalists have had an easy time reporting on the religious right, because all they did was pay attention to to white male leaders of big organizations like Focus on the Family, National Association of Evangelicals, or Family Research Council. The days when a nice soundbite from Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, or Ted Haggard would suffice are over. If journalists and others want to understand the last 10 years of the religious right movement, they will need to pay attention to the theological, religious, and ethnic diversity among evangelicals, Pentecostals, and non-denominational churches. They will at least need to recognize the old and new leaders of the religious right, and the complex network of leaders, conferences, and teachings if they want a reductionist argument they can spin out in 800 words. As someone who has studied and written about Pentecostalism for over 15 years, their lack of basic knowledge is staggering, and although I don’t expect people to get it like I do, I do expect reporters and journalists to do their homework—like you do, Sarah!”

In addition to that, Fred Clark at Slacktivist points out that Dominionism has been a serious concern within conservative Christian circles for some time now, and certainly not a myth. He also notes that if you don’t want to be seen as a Dominionist, you should probably avoid hiring them. Right Wing Watch echoes Clark by asking why, if Dominionism is a liberal myth used to attack conservative Christians, does it have conservative critics? At Talk To Action Chip Berlet responds to the latest wave of Dominionist coverage backlash from figures like Ross Douthat and Mary Eberstadt (more here). For my run-down of the debate up to this point, check out this post.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.