My inbox over Thanksgiving weekend was flooded with talk of — you guessed it — blood sacrifices.
The debate raged over whether making blood sacrifices, a practice strongly rejected by my tradition, ADF, is worth consideration. After all (the argument goes), the ancients did it. Plus, there’s a case being made for the awareness of a meat-eater’s own bloody relationship with food. If we can eat it, should we not be able to kill it? And if we kill it, should there not be some acknowledgment of the Kindred in the form of a ritual blessing and offering?
Some might, I imagine, like to see some sort of Druidic Kosher or Pagan Halal put into place. Others, understandably, are concerned that any time a Pagan gets blood on their hands — literally — the crazies come out with their pitch forks chanting “Satanist!! Satanist!!”
Even just talking about blood sacrifices is messy.
The timing of this sanguine debate lines up with a different conversation, one that was concerned not with literal blood and tissue but rather with the metaphorical heart and all of its messiness. This was what I planned to write about today. I was even going to call it, Sacrificing the Heart: A New Pagan Tradition.
My idea was that we need to examine our own hearts, and perhaps allow them to be offered up — to one another, to whatever we think the Gods are — in order to know better what our raw materials for religious practice are made of. We produce those raw materials, after all. Shouldn’t we take a closer look at what we’re working with? Shouldn’t we seek to know our own heart?
This leads to more interesting questions. What is the heart, anyway? Is it the seat of the soul? The center of our energetic body? The location of our inner-knowing? Is the heart the author of our UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis), or is it the translator?
All this and more came from the idea of offering one’s own heart as a sacrifice. The richness of the discussion that (I think) could be born out of a talk of sacrificing one’s own heart is made possible by the fact that we aren’t talking about literally cutting out one’s heart and laying it on an altar. We’re talking in metaphor, and using metaphor as a way of becoming aware of a deeper meaning.
I’m reminded of conversations that took place years ago in the adult forum of my former Christian church. It was asked whether the Bible was laying out for parishioners an instruction manual for living (a “How-To” book, basically), or if it was intended to be used as a tool for unlocking the inner mysteries.
Some believed, as many Christians do, that the Bible was instructive and prescriptive. These were the folks that favored the legalistic books, the ones that spelled out clearly what was allowed and what was not.
Others favored the mystic writings of John or the poetic book of the Psalms, because these works were steeped in metaphor and clearly intended to evoke something in the heart.
The legalists believed that their actions would, in some way, bring either God’s favor or his wrath. The mystics, on the other hand, relished in the idea that God was the greatest mystery of all, and that seeking to appease him with “right action” did more to make a deity into a human than anything else.
I wonder if something similar is happening here.
Is the talk about literal blood sacrifice too one-dimensional? Is it without the rich, layered meaning of a metaphorical sacrifice of the heart? Or, is there something to the argument that Pagans need to make our religions more visceral?
Do we believe that the Gods want blood in order to be in relationship with us? Do we think they want the full engagement of our heart? Perhaps they want from nothing from us at all, and we are simply projecting our idea of “wanting” onto our idea of deity.
How do you sort through the messiness of sacrifice?