Monday, August 10, 2009

Much Ado About Sacrifice

Animal sacrifice has become a hot topic once more among the pagan community. Another Santeria practitioner, this time in Eulass, Texas, has won the right to practice his faith in the manner it proscribes. In this case, by the practice of animal sacrifice. His attorney, Eric Eassbach, has written a spirited opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal defending the practice and the lawsuit as fundamental to the principle of religious liberty we in the United States enjoy. And, in the latest turn of events, the city has asked the 5th Circuit of Appeals to re-hear the case, arguing that the ruling as it stands would require each municipality to judge whether a given religious practice was, in fact, valid, and such would impose an undue burden on the cities.

Well, I'm not a lawyer, so I cannot really comment on the substance of Eulass's appeal (although it would seem to me that the obvious solution is to say that everything is permitted, unless it obviously threatens public health or safety; erring on the side of personal liberty seems not to be too much of a "burden" on government, but I'm more than a little libertarian that way). However, I am Théodish, so I can damn well comment on the near-hysteria and self-righteous bleating that has befallen the greater pagan community over this issue. Animal sacrifice is one of the most solemn and significant rituals in the corpus of Théodish Belief.

You see, I've attended a swine blót, unlike the holier-than-thou knuckleheads who are condemning the practice as sadistic, sinister, and sacrilegious. The comments on on these stories are indicative. Just some examples: those who practice animal sacrifice are "sick and depraved", and "human scum". It's "barbaric" and only serves to give ammunition to the enemies of paganism.

To be fair, there are also comments supportive of the practice, and the occasional principled few who say that while they don't practice it themselves, they wouldn't attempt to force others to stop. But it's the Politically Correct, "I'm a vegan and you're a horrible monster if you're not too" crowd that irk me beyond belief. I have no problem with the notion that they have made a choice not to partake of animal flesh (tasty, tasty, animal flesh). I have no problem if they choose not to perform animal sacrifice; it's not exactly widespread even within the Heathen community, let alone the greater pagan community. But the gall to be sanctimonious and judgmental, as if their beliefs and practices are oh-so-more "evolved" than mine, is unbelievable. Especially when it comes from followers of a religion that itself-- completely beyond the scope of animal sacrifice-- is constantly criticized as "evil", "barbaric", "depraved", etc. The double-standard is astounding. You think giving up a millennia-long practice is somehow proof that your faith has "evolved" beyond mine? Guess what? The Christians and Muslims would argue that their faith is more "evolved" than yours because they have shuffled off the multitude of gods and goddesses, spirits, elves, etc. that you recognize and revere. Evolution, in this sense, implies superiority. The Christian view of religious evolution is wrong, just as the PC-pagan view is.

That the PC-pagans feel the need to outright lie about how the practice actually works is indicative of the hollowness of their argument. A real animal sacrifice is beautiful, powerful, and deeply spiritual. The animal is pampered, revered, and given every comfort. It is slain quickly and with the absolute minimum amount of injury or pain. Indeed, in both ancient Rome and modern Théodism, a panicked sacrifice would be an incredibly ill omen, and would render the whole ritual invalid. Pains are taken to ensure it does not happen. It is not a sadistic, blood-thirsty event. It is a solemn or sometimes joyous occasion.

Some actually bring up the canard of human sacrifice in this context as well. To them I say, yes, I would absolutely support the human sacrifice of criminals duly convicted under our criminal justice system. In fact, if I were ever convicted of a capital crime, my appeals exhausted, and I faced the prospect of lethal injection or death in the gas chamber, I would go out of my way to request that I be executed as a sacrifice to Odin; hung by the neck and pierced with a spear. And that is not just hyperbole. I am dead serious. If we accept capital punishment as just and necessary (and I do), why not let it serve another purpose as well? But this question is not about such outlandish proposals.

The human slaughter of an animal, preparatory to a feast (or even otherwise!), should not be outlawed merely because there is a religious component to doing so. The motives of those behind such bans are plain as day. On the Christian side, it is a fear of the growing power of faiths other than their own, which they see as undermining their control in the culture. On the PC-pagan side, it's a complete lack of understanding that someone might, somehow, disagree with their "principled position" and not in the process be an inhuman (or inhumane) monster.


  1. Very good post on the topic. I know what you mean by the irksome vegan-advocate, but at least they are acting out of their own principles to some extent. What really bothers me is those who object to a proper blót, but have no problem picking up a steak at the supermarket - from a factory meat animal that almost certainly had a low quality of life and no care to its anxiety level at death. That person is the true hypocrite and earns no respect IMHO. Most people in our 'evolved modern' society could do with a little more connection to what it really takes to sustain us both physically and spiritually.

  2. Well ... there are two kinds of animal sacrifice, aren't there? There's church barbecues accompanied by a hallowed slaughter prior to cooking, and then there's killing animals for absolutely no utilitarian earthy purpose except some idea that bloodthirsty entities require it. The first can only be objected to from a consistently vegetarian perspective, while the second can be objected to on animal cruelty grounds. There's no reason for an animal to die because of some hocus-pocus made up by some human being. And if it wasn't made up, I'm going to err on the side of suggesting it was probably whispered by a thurs. And I would strongly, strongly oppose this kind of unnecessary murder. What, just so someone can get better luck? Please, just try working harder in life.

  3. I'm not sure I agree with you, Siegfried. It's not necessarily animal cruelty to kill an animal that isn't eaten; it all depends on the way the animal is killed. Animals can be killed humanely or not; what happens to the body afterward has no impact on that.

    But then, alas, you descend into the trite "animal sacrifice is wrong no matter what" drivel that has come to define the anti-sacrifice crowd. Hocus-pocus? How is animal sacrifice any more "hocus-pocus" than leaving offerings of bread and milk? Go down that road a little farther and you'll find that the Aesir Themselves are all just a bit of mummery that "some human being" made up. Been there, and have no desire to return to such a nihilistic world-view.

    As far as your insinuation that animal sacrifice, as practiced by our ancestors, was somehow instigated by the Jotuns, your logic is lacking. Even if your premise were correct, and all the myriad pieces of evidence pointing to the widespread practice of animal sacrifice were some sort of "false plant" instigated by some malevolent giant, do you honestly think the Aesir would let such a thing go by unnoticed for thousands of years? Do you honestly think that They wouldn't have been able to curtail the practice in some way, if They truly didn't approve?

    Work hard in life, absolutely. But give the Aesir what They desire, as well.

  4. I largely second Joseph's comments, and wanted to add that sacrifice is such a widespread cultural phenomenon, and one that has been so productive of and allied with important cultural and spiritual aspirations, that to dismiss sacrifice across the board and out of hand is pretty much tantamount to disowning most of humanity's religious heritage,as we find it among all Indo-European peoples, also in Christianity ("eat his body, drink his blood," ...."saved by the blood of the lamb,; etc.), in Judaism (Passover) and in Islam (the great sacrifice and feast that comes at the end of the Hajj and the end of Ramadan). There just aren't that many wholly vegetarian religious traditions outside of Buddhism. If anyone has interest in another perspective, I recommend Walter Burkert's discussion of sacrifice in his "Greek Religion" and elsewhere.