Apparently, there is a brouhaha running around in the blogging community about libations and offerings and the like for the Gods. I won’t link to anything because to be quite honest, I haven’t seen any of it and as this appears to be the latest round of internet bitchcrafting I’m not going to look.
But, I do have some views on the whole idea of sacrifice and offerings and libations.
To start, what is a sacrifice? Well. if you break it right down it’s right there in the word. Sacred. To make sacred. When you make a sacrifice, you are making that mundane thing sacred. You are giving it to the Gods. Once upon a time, and currently in some religions this meant blood or animal sacrifice . An animal (or sometimes a human) life was made sacred as a messenger for the Gods. The more that animal was held in regard, the greater the sacrifice it was seen to be. Sacrificing a King to keep the crops growing another few years was a common theme in a lot of Celtic literature. The Oak King and Holly King are ritually sacrificed through each year as the seasons change.
Once the animal was killed (let’s not pretty it up) and offered to the God(s) in most cultures the blood and meat would then be distributed amongst the people to be eaten, or would be eaten by the temple priests.
Amongst some cultures today which give sacrifices of fruit and vegetables, the same is done. Once the God has partaken of the essence of the fruit, then the people could eat the remaining shell. Sometimes this would be distributed amongst people, other times it would be eaten by the priests of the temple. But, none of it was wasted.
Actually, I can think of nothing more insulting to a God than to make an offering of food, and then leave it to fester and rot on the altar. So if it isn’t going to be burnt to ashes, take it off after a day or two and eat it. Or give it to someone/something else to eat.
Society rather frowns on human sacrifice these days. But some people do still engage in animal sacrifice – the most obvious I can think of would be Santeria, which is greatly misunderstood by most and I don’t claim any knowledge whatsoever of the religion. The Jewish who only eat meat which has been killed in a Kosher manner, or Muslims who only eat Halal foods spring to mind as well. Both have strict guidelines with regards to how the animal should be killed, what should be done with the blood, and how it should be disposed of. The animal is sacrificed in such a way to make it holy (clean) in order to bring the adherent closer to Deity when it is eaten.
So, how can I as a Pagan omnivore who doesn’t hunt or kill her own animals for meat make it sacred?
To start, I can make sure as much as possible that the meat I do eat is reared in a humane manner. For me, this means avoiding intensively reared battery hens and eggs, it means looking at labels and buying meat from animals that have met or exceeded standards to show they were reared in a free range, and hopefully organic, environment. It means buying from local producers where possible.
Of course, this all also has to be done within the confines of a very limited budget. If it’s a choice between making sure my kids have food on the table or not, they’re going to come first every time.
Sacrifice doesn’t have to mean animal. It can mean offering a fruit or vegetable or even dairy products in sacrifice. Two years ago, I was privileged to attend a Hindu funeral ceremony where offerings of flowers, fruit and butter as well as incense were laid with the body to be cremated with her and given up in sacrifice to the Hindu Gods of that family.
It can mean offerings of alcohol. One of my Gods is Herne and his favourite offering, or libation, at least when he’s with me is mead. But he also likes whisky and ale. He doesn’t particularly like apple juice, as he made very clear to me when I suggested it once. So, when I pour out a libation to Herne, I pour him out a small finger of whisky into a glass. Because I am not allowed (doctor’s orders due to some particular medications I take for my arthritis) to imbibe, this libation is poured out after Herne has had a chance to partake. Since I can buy a small bottle of whisky for less than £4 at the local shop and it lasts me over a week, this is well within my budget range.
On the other hand, another Goddess I give offering and libation to is Brigid, and she doesn’t want alcohol. Her preference is pure water. Well, amongst other things she is a Goddess of wells. So, she gets a small tumbler filled with water from the tap which has been blessed. This, I generally use to water a plant afterwards.
For several months last year, Brigid asked me to make sacrifice (make sacred) by wearing a head scarf. She now doesn’t ask it of me except when I am sitting at my altar with Her. During the time that she asked me to wear a head covering though, I did. And I learned a lot about myself and I gained a lot during that time.
Offerings of food, where appopriate, are left out for animals to eat once the Gods have taken Their share. Again, it is not wasted. I leave out an offering of meat each Winter Solstice to honour Mareninka at Her request. I know it is eaten by the local foxes, the nearest local equivalent to her sacred animal, the lone wolf.
And, as a woman there is one sacrifice I can still make (though on a rather irregular basis as I near menopause) and that is a blood sacrifice of menstrual blood.
But what about starving people in…..!?!
Unless you are sacrificing and burning to a crisp bushels of fruits and whole cows or pigs or crates of chickens on a daily basis, I seriously doubt that your modest sacrifice to the Gods would make a dent in world hunger. But, if it does bother you, then perhaps a sacrifice of money – donated to a reputable charity that is given to help the hungry – would be most appropriate for you. Local charity food banks are always in need of donations.
Or, check with your local council.
Sacrifice can mean giving up unneeded gifts in exchange for giving to those in need. This year, all of the adults on my Solstice gift-giving list had a donation made in their name to Send a Cow.
“Our work provides poor families with the skills they need to build new lives free from poverty and hunger. By providing training, livestock, seeds and support, we restore hope and create stronger communities for the future.”
Or it can mean giving of time –
Charity groups are always looking for volunteers willing to give a few hours each week, or each month.
My God wants me to do X
Then do it. You’ll get no arguments from me on the matter. If this is something that your Deity has asked of you, and it doesn’t violate any laws (because “My God told me to do it” is not a valid defense in any country) then do it.
- The logic behind sacrifice of animals (storiesforposterity.wordpress.com)
- Let’s talk sacrifice…… (couragemolina.com)
- Cuba’s Santeria faithful ask for prosperous 2014 (kansascity.com)