Sacrifice comes to us from Latin, meaning “to make sacred”. In previous times, a sacrifice was a gift to the Gods. The more valuable the item offered, the bigger the sacrifice and the bigger the blessings from the Gods. Human life was seen as the biggest sacrifice, offered to the Divine as a last step or at the biggest festivals of the year. As modern neo-pagans, we tend to frown on human sacrifice. But how do we sacrifice or make sacred in our modern world?
As an animist, this is doubly complicated by the fact that everything is seen as having a soul or spirit and is therefore already sacred, without needing the human seal of approval. Each plant, animal, rock, area is engendered with a soul by the Gods. The act of being then becomes a sacred facet of the Divine that encompasses all of us.
So how do we make sacred that which is already sacred?
The answer lies inside of us. We sacrifice that which is sacred and holy, or has meaning, to us. What this ends up being changes from person to person.
I know that Sacrifice is a touchy subject. I have read the blogs that categorically state that the writer refuses to ever bow to another Deity. I have seen the knee-jerk reactions where sacrifice = blood and how dare we even think to discuss this topic. Yes, sacrifice used to mean blood. Hundreds of years ago, without refrigerators and mass-produced food, life was the biggest sacrifice one could offer. When my life and my family’s life depends on the animals in the field surviving until we slaughter them, making the choice to sacrifice one of those animals is literally offering up that which keeps us alive. And most sacrificial meat was (and still is, where animal sacrifice is still practiced) consumed afterwards by the community as a sacrament.
So why should we, as modern pagans, chose to discuss the idea of sacrifice? The ability to make the mundane sacred is something that we take for granted. In my life, as a hard polytheist, I strive to make the sacred all around me. This was always the point of the convents and monasteries. We don’t have that option, to remove ourselves from mundane life and drown in the esoteric. I know many people who are learning how to do this, but there is still much to learn and many years to go before we have that type of foundation in paganism. So instead we strive to surround ourselves with sacred reminders that move our head space into the sacred and keep us centered in our religious experiences. Below is a discussion of my own personal sacrifices and the way they interact with my daily life. Please keep in mind, this is a personal choice and a slightly sensitive subject at the moment.
I offer up my arrogance and pride and ego as a sacrifice to my Goddess. These are things that keep me from fully connecting to Her and being of service to her. These are things that tie me into my head and shut out my heart and soul.
I offer up my life as a sacrifice to the Spirits. I own nothing but what they grant and bless me with. I make decisions knowing that they have the final say.
I bow my head and know that in choosing the life path of shamanism, I sacrifice my fertility and any children I might have had. This is my blood sacrifice, written in rivets down my thighs as I walked the land of the Dead. This is my greatest sacrifice to date, that which I will always be conscious of and mourn. This is my constant reminder of my “otherness” as I walk this path.
I sacrifice other things, things that go unspoken. The constant reminders of not fitting in, the knowing that the social circles will never feel comfortable or like home, the unspoken stench of “Death” that follows me and makes others look askew or shy away. The constant need to explain my life, my path, my choices and the constant knowledge that only another shaman or spirit worker will ever truly understand.
These are the big sacrifices, the things that make a distinct demarcation and which were necessary sacrifices on the altar of Her blessings. But there are smaller sacrifices as well that define the days or weeks rather than the lifetime.
The most recent is the order to make friends with my hunger. In Norse lore, Hel’s table, where she feeds the millions of dead souls in her care, is named Hunger. This order from Her lips is a sacrifice that will demand all of my ego and force me to confront the things I truly don’t like about myself. As someone who has suffered from bulimia for 8 years now, this is a direct challenge. Consider for a moment what bulimia entails. Bulimia is the constant intake and rejection of nourishment in the form of food. This gets combined with self esteem and ego and emotions and creates a sticky web almost impossible to remove yourself from. The cure rates of eating disorders are exceedingly low, lower than any other mental illness.
So the directive to “make friends with your hunger” becomes like a rubix cube we have to inspect. Making friends with hunger means facing the emotions and feelings of depression, boredom, low self esteem and anxiety that feed into my need to self-medicate. Making friends means that bulimia is not an excuse, not a safety net, not to be utilized. So bulimia becomes something I sacrifice, bow my head to her will.
But hunger is more than no bulimia. When I divined on the issue, to double-check my info, I pulled Nauthiz reversed, Uruz and Ehwaz. Nauthiz reversed means famine and poverty, which ties in to the path of austerity and ascetics that Hela has been talking to me about. Uruz is the rune of the bull, standing for hard work and effort. Ehwaz is the tune of steady progress and is also a confirmation rune, basically telling me to stop questioning the request. Poverty and hunger do not mean anorexia, which is the flip side of my bulimia coin. Anorexia plays into the ego, focusing on the physical and emotional ramifications of starvation and turning me away from my Gods. Instead, this directive makes the acts of making food and buying food and eating food an act of devotion. Nauthiz reversed is a direct order to always keep Hunger at my side, to not allow myself to get so full that Bulimia takes over, to not get so hungry that I no longer have control over what goes in my mouth.
In a monastic culture, each act and part of the day is meant to turn your head and heart to god. We eat three times a day, minimum, so that is three opportunities to contemplate the Divine and my role. So the act of self control, the will that is demanded of me in this sacrifice, means that I dine at Hunger with the Sacred dead and Lady Death each day.
I feel blessed by each sacrifice I make, each chance to connect deeper and more fully with the divine. While I might privately mourn the things I will never get to do or experience, I am also fully aware of where I could have ended up without Their intervention.