Remember a little while ago when I chose Lucius over actually voicing my opinion? Well, part of that opinion is still rattling around in my brain but I hope by now I can manage to put it to paper without offending anyone. However my opinion may come across, it is not meant to target a specific person or event. It is a sentiment I see reflected a lot in the modern Hellenistic movement and it's starting to get on my nerves.

Today's topic is sacrifice, the 'offering of food, objects or the lives of animals to a higher purpose, in particular divine beings, as an act of propitiation or worship'. It is one of the--if not the--cornerstones of the modern Hellenistic faith, and was most definitely the cornerstone of the ancient Hellenic faith. Sacrifice in ancient Hellas often included animals, but not always. It included animals for a reason: the act of killing, of taking the life of an animal, is a difficult one. It brings us closer to our own mortality and must have given many of the men flashbacks of combat situations. Many ancient Hellenic households killed animals for meat, but there is something special about killing in sacrifice, I wager.

Let me sidestep for a bit. Ritual has a purpose: it is 'a stereotyped sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and designed to influence preternatural entities or forces on behalf of the actors' goals and interests'. In short, it is a way to take onself out of the every day world and into the sacred. When I got my first degree initiation into Eclectic Witchcraft, I was asked to fast for three days. I then dressed for ritual, was laid upon a bed blindfolded and asked to wait and meditate--something stupendously easy when you haven't eaten for three days--and then brought to the circle. There, I was presented with challenges, the scent of incense, and the power of my Priestess. By that time, I was so out of it that I functioned solely on instinct and raw emotion. All my senses became hightened (save for my sight as I was still blindfolded) and every touch, every word, every motion reverberated into the very core of my being. It was a profound experience and I knew that many had come before me who had experienced the exact same things as I was experiencing--including the women who were initiating me. I knew that I was in someone's livingroom, with yesterday's dishes in the sink and the husband of my Priestess upstairs in the TV-room, but that didn't matter. My experiences became elevated beyond the regular, beyond the worldly, and into the divine.

Sacrifice was the highlight of ancient Hellenic ritual. Like me, the ancient Hellenes sometimes fasted or otherwise abstained before ritual. They processed to the ritual site, leaving the mundane behind. Incense would have filled the air, and hymns would have been sung. The ritual that took place took the celebrants out of the regular world and the animals they brought with them stepped out with them. When they came upon the altar, the mood would have been tense: a death was about to occur. We are supposed to feel friction with our emotions when we take a life, animal or otherwise. Our instinct to preserve life is one of the strongest we have. Hymns would have continued, building the tension. Water was dripped on the head of the animal, trying to get it to say 'yes' to being sacrificed and purifying it in the process.

All participants threw barley groats onto the animal, the ground and the altar--perhaps roughly, like an attack, or perhaps softly, like a blessing. The barley came from a single basket and by the time everyone had had a handful to throw, the ritual knife would have been displayed at the bottom of the basket. The person who would kill the animal would have taken the knife and cut a lock of the animal's hair. Swiftly, the lock would be tossed into the fire as a warning of the impending sacrifice. The tension would have reached its height at this time and with a swift motion, the animal's throat would have been cut. All of its blood was collected and later dripped onto the fire or--in case of a smaller animal--dripped onto the fire directly. Women would scream, possibly to cover up the dying sounds of the animal, and then the tension would have most likely been broken and the omnious mood turned festive: while the entire animal belonged to the Gods, They saw fit to give much of it to Their followers for rare meat consumption.

I am sure you can imagine that cows fashioned out of honey cakes and sacrifices of fruit did not have the same build-up of tension, so the experiences would have been less memorable, less dramatic, and therefor less 'sacred', in a way. Because state sacrifices were often animal sacrifices, however, the mood from those sacrifices would have carried over to non-animal sacrifices and household worship where libations of wine and sacrifices of fruits were common unless something extraordinary happened.

I am going to go out on a generalization limb here and say that in ancient Hellas, only those who did not eat meat at all were opposed and excluded from animal sacrifice. There are records of vegetarian athletes, for example, who got to sacrifice honey cake instead of an animal, and the Pythagorians abstained from both meat and sacrifice as well. We tend to forget that the major source of meat the ancient Hellenes ate came from sacrifice. Sacrifice had many, many purposes, and all of them tied into each other to make the experience worth while.

So now we return to the present and my frustration, because I am getting incredibly tired of two things: one, equating 'sacrifice' with 'animal sacrifice', and two, the negative gasp of ethical disaproval whenever animal sacrifice comes up as a topic within the community. Personal opinion alert: to me that feels like you are negatively judging the religious practices of a people whose Gods you revere. It also signifies a huge disconnect between those practices and the modern ones where there should not be.

I am not advocating animal sacrifice. It is illigal in many places, it is not feasable for many, and I doubt many people feel the need to come together for a nice evening and bring along a piglet to slaughter for the heck of it. The fact that we don't perform animal sacrifice (generalizing here) has nothing to do with condeming the practices of the ancients. Out of convenience--and perhaps ethics--we choose to reconstruct bloodless sacrifice instead. That is a choice made up of many factors.

Those of us who did not grow up on a farm where animals were slaughtered for food might forget that the steak you buy at the grocery store comes from an actual animal who was once alive. We can't grow meat yet that has not been alive first--not commercially anyway. To me, eating meat but frowning upon animal sacrifice is the height of disconnect and hypocrisy. Again, this doesn't mean you have to perform animal sacrifice if you do eat meat; it's the attitude that I am debating today.

Sacrifices are not supposed to be pleasant: they either confront you with your own mortality and ethics, or they cost you dearly. They are investments of time and effort, and often times money, in name of a deity who will reward you handsomely afterwards by way of kharis. Without animal sacrifice, much of this tension is gone. We preserve the act of giving, however, and recieving in return. We perform the rituals, and give sacrifice, and build kharis. But it is not the same.

Supermarkets have made it easy to forget that there are farmers raising crops and animals, that there are people who cut and kill and process, that there are people in the chain who fabricate containers for the finished products, and that people transport these items to shops. Supermarkets make it easy to forget where things come from. They make it easy to forget that actual fresh products end up on your plate in minutes, not weeks. That real food does not need conservatives and added sugar and salt, and water. That sulphur and other toxins have no place in food. There is a honesty to animal sacrifice and its subsequent meat consumption that is lost in our 'supermarket-era'. Yes, it isn't pretty, and it is confrontational, but it is also healthy and sacred.

To be completely truthful, hearing/reading someone demonize animal sacrifice makes me want to bang my head against the wall and scream 'you are missing the point! Of your own religion!' but I don't, because this is my personal opinion and everyone is entitled to their own. So take this post as exactly that: my personal opinion, expressed on my personal blog. If you agree, then I will admit it makes me happy to hear. If you don't then so be it. We all practice in our own way, and understand things in our own way. I don't engage in animal sacrifice and most likely, you do not either. It's just the reasoning behind it that might differ, and that's alright. We worship the same Gods, and that is what matters to me.