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A Sacred Gift

By Stachia Ravensdottir
(Elder HPs Ecclasian Fellowship)


Sacrifice. The very word conjures up feelings of dread and images of darkened rooms with blood-stained altars. But what does it really mean? It is generally considered to be a painful thing, something you try to endure with good grace if you are unable to avoid it. Something we only do because it's "good" for us, whether we want to or not. Something we can give up fairly easily, like giving up chocolate for Lent. Should sacrifice be sought out as a means of spiritual growth? Or is it just a holdover from a sin/redemption-based theology; just so much excess Judeo-Christian baggage? While the concept of sacrifice is central to Christianity, what role does it play in Paganism and Witchcraft?

The word sacrifice comes to us through Middle English and Old French from the Latin sacrificium; sacer (which means sacred) + facere (to make). To sacrifice is to make sacred.

Webster gives us four definitions of the word sacrifice. We can certainly disregard the last definition (a sale at a price less than the cost or actual value), but I think the first three are quite applicable to Paganism and Witchcraft.

"The offering of anything to God, or to a god; consecratory rite." As Pagans and/or Witches we routinely offer things to both the Goddess and the God. Every time we celebrate a sabbat or the full moon we are offering the ritual to deity; for isn't that who we do ritual for? When we gather for ritual it isn't for our benefit, though we do benefit from it. We do it for deity; as an offering, as a means of connecting.

"Anything consecrated and offered to God, or to a divinity; an immolated victim, or an offering of any kind, laid upon an altar, or otherwise presented in the way of religious thanksgiving, atonement, or conciliation." As long as we leave out the immolated victim (harm none, remember?) this definition applies to Pagans and Witches as well. How many times have we placed flowers on the altar just because they were beautiful? They are placed there because we are thankful of their beauty. Just as we place baskets of fruit, sheaves of wheat or loaves of bread on the altar in thanksgiving at the Harvest festivals. If you ever visit the fire circle at a Pagan gathering you are witness to myriad forms of sacrifice: poems of praise to both Goddess and God, songs of praise or thanks written to deity; songs being sung as an offering or in thanks. The drumming and the dancing are both acts of sacrifice offered to the Gods in joyful abandonment!

"Destruction or surrender of anything for the sake of something else; devotion of some desirable object in behalf of a higher object, or to a claim deemed more pressing." Sacrifice in this role can be said to be central to Paganism as well as to Christianity. In the Christian mythos Christ died for other's sins so that through him, they might live. So to our God as the Sacred King gives his life, in willing sacrifice, that the land may prosper. As the Oak King He sacrifices Himself at Midsummer so that He may be reborn at Midwinter as the Holly King. As John Barleycorn (the spirit of the Grain) He dies at Lammas to ensure our survival through the harsh winter months.

We are all familiar with the Charge of the Goddess: ".... I give knowledge of the Spirit Eternal, and beyond death, I give peace and freedom and reunion with those who have gone before. Nor do I demand aught of sacrifice, for behold, I am the Mother of all things and my love is poured out upon the Earth." If the Charge so clearly states that the Goddess does not demand sacrifice, why then is sacrifice such an integral part of the God? Perhaps it's because He IS the sacrifice. The Charge of the God, which is not so well known, contains the following: ".... I give knowledge of life everlasting and beyond death I give the promise of regeneration and renewal. I am the sacrifice, the father of all things, and my protection blankets the Earth. ...all acts of willing sacrifice are my rituals." There are numerous mythologies in which the God is sacrificed as grain or as vegetation in general to feed the people. To the Pheonicians He was Adoni, to the Anatolians He was Attis, to the Sumerians Damuzi. In the Middle East He was known as Tammuz, in Egypt he was Osirus, and in Canaan Baal. The list goes on and on. It is a fact of life that so one may live another must sacrifice... whether animal or plant. We must eat to live. The God ensures our survival with His sacrifice, whether it is made as the Stag Lord, the Corn King, John Barleycorn or as the Sacred King.

While searching online for a definition of sacrifice (my dictionary is still packed), I ran across the following quotation at Catholic Encyclopedia: "Sacrifice is only a prayer offered with gifts." I really felt connected to this definition on a personal level. Several years ago when my daughter was only nine, she was kid-napped by my (now) ex-husband. Of course I did all the mundane things; I called the police, the Missing Children's people, etc. I also prayed for her safe and quick return. I created an altar in my living-room which consisted of my favorite picture of her and a white seven-day candle. I prayed daily for her return. My offered gifts were my pleas and my tears and my constant tending of that altar. I kept it neat and dusted, placed flowers upon it, and made sure the flame was constantly lit. When I had to return to work I had a friend come over and tend the altar in my absence. (Yes, I actually had an altar-sitter; it was that important to me.) That candle remained lit until she was back home nearly 3 months later.

Charles Dubois once said that "the important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become." Isn't this truly what is at the heart of Paganism and Witchcraft? Sacrificing our old selves on the altar of the Gods to become their priest or priestess? What is an initiation if not the sacrifice of our old self and our old way of life so that we may be reborn and named Priest or Priestess and Witch? Sacrificing our needs for the greater needs of our coven and our community? Just as a parent willingly makes sacrifices for the sake of their children, so do we willingly make sacrifices for the sake of our coven-mates and that of our community.

So while the concept of sacrifice is central to Christianity, it does play a large role in Pagan mythology as well. Is sacrifice always bad? Must it always be painful? Of course it's not. Should it be sought out as a means of spiritual growth? I don't think so. I don't believe sacrifice is something we should "seek out." Gee, what can I give up today so I can rack up those karma points? That's not an appropriate attitude with which to make a sacrifice. To truly be a sacrifice, I think it is a gift that must be given freely if it is to have any value at all. As Francesca De Grandis states, "Self-sacrifice is the right-hand counterpart to self-development." And self-development is what it's all about.


Resources Used:
Be A Goddess: A Guide to Celtic Spells and Wisdom for Self-Healing, Prosperity and Great Sex by Francesca De Grandis
Catholic Encyclopedia at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen
Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary at http://www.dictionary.com
Wisdom Quotes at http://www.wisdomquotes.dom



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This page last updated March 10, 2004