by Blacksun

If there is one subject that will nearly always get a knee-jerk reaction from Pagans everywhere, it’s the topic of sacrifice. The very word will send eyebrows up and tongues wagging. And put the word “ritual” in front of it and you better hope you’ve got a good health plan! To say this is a touchy subject would be the understatement of the year. But I believe that we not only don’t really understand the positive value of ritual sacrifice, but that we should be utilizing it much more than we presently do.

At this time of the year, we acknowledge the harvest time as a significant reference point in not only the seasons but our own lives. The spiritual lesson of reaping what you sow is obvious, but how many of us make the connection between the cutting of the grain and the sacrifice of the Corn King? Most Pagans sort of gloss over this part and figure, “Well, that was in a time when things were a lot more brutal and less ‘civilized’ then they are today,” right? Did they really sacrifice somebody, or was it only symbolic? Why did they believe that a bloody death would somehow make any kind of difference if they really did snuff some luckless guy? Surely they didn’t think that human blood was the best fertilizer. (Besides, one guy’s supply of blood wouldn’t go very far even in a backyard city garden of today!) So, what is it with this notion of sacrifice and why should we, as modern, civilized Pagans, buy into it?

In the first place, sacrifice may come in many forms. I certainly don’t advocate slitting somebody’s throat and catching their blood in a bucket for later distribution (well, I’ll admit to thinking of this with some people at times, but I’ve kept myself from actually doing it). Whether or not the sacrifice of the Corn King was actual or symbolic, the idea is relative and vital.

There is nothing in human nature more reliable than the idea of ownership. If we make something, do something, think of or feel something, we have a sense of ownership about it. And when we “own” something, we will struggle to preserve it and to maintain control over it. It will hold our interest and be a part of our decision making processes. In a sense, it will own us. Even if we give it away, it will still have a hold on us in some way. If it is destroyed, we still feel a connection, sometimes even more intensely.

To sacrifice something – anything – is to give it away and (usually) to see or know it will be destroyed for some purpose. At the very least, our control over it will be destroyed. Most of the time, such an act will push thoughts of whatever we have sacrificed and the reason for it higher into our consciousness and keep them there for a considerably longer time than normal. Done under ritual conditions, it will also push the act into our unconscious minds, where the meaning of everything in our universe is first formed. This results in a significant change in everything we experience from that point on. Obviously, a sacrifice under ritual circumstances is a powerful thing and its use should be well thought out before implementation.

I’m a staunch advocate of planned and well considered rituals. Our religion emphasizes the importance of personal responsibility (how else can we do magick?). For any in the position of deciding what the meaning of the universe will be for others (and that’s exactly what is done by those who create and present powerful rituals), the short and long term effects of every part of a ritual should be mulled, fretted and worried over with the most loving and caring of hearts. So, what should be considered when using sacrifice in a ritual?

Ownership is a big consideration. Making sure that everyone involved in the ritual feels they own (and are owned by) something of the thing to be sacrificed is absolutely necessary. Without such a connection, there is no sacrifice. I’ve seen instances of sacrifice where one or two people, such as the HP and HPS, feel a great deal of ownership of the thing to be sacrificed, but little is done to inspire the rest of the people in the rite to feel a similar ownership. So, while one or two might get a lot out of the ritual, the rest sort of stand around wondering what’s going on and why. Often this could have been made much more meaningful for everyone if some time had been spent preparing the ritual goers so they felt a real connection with what was being sacrificed. Of course, each situation will be different, but if you are in the position of creating/presenting such a rite, think about ways of getting everyone to feel ownership. You might explain how the object of sacrifice connects to their lives. You might have them make a part or all of it. You may have them infuse it with their blessings, thoughts, wishes, etc. Whatever you do, make sure they feel they have created something of their own, that the object to be sacrificed is now theirs to give over for whatever purpose designed for it.

The purpose and the object of sacrifice should have an easily understood connection. Remember that the act and the object will be foremost in the conscious thoughts for a long time. These will also be pushed deep inside the psyche of each person in the rite and will be a powerful influence on the meaning of their lives from that point on. Every possible way the sacrifice can influence these people should be considered. Of course, nobody can think of every way, but plenty of time should be spent beforehand on what can be figured out.

The manner of sacrifice should also be taken into account. Respect for the object as well as the purpose of the sacrifice needs to be given. Respect for those who make the sacrifice should also be shown. A sense of loss will inevitably result from the sacrifice and a reverence for that loss is important. Indeed, it is a vital part of the sacrifice itself.

One final word about sacrifice. Our lives are finite; we only have so many days, hours and minutes to give. Those who give their energies, time and heart to the quest for spiritual meaning give sacrifice to the gods. They willingly give of themselves; not only for their own benefit, but for the good of the universe they know. To give even one second of your life to this end is to be a willing sacrifice to the gods. Is it possible that the Corn King was dealt a mortal blow in accord with his own recognition of this truth? Perhaps. But, whether this is true or not, the concept of the “willing sacrifice” is an important one. Any who walk the Spirit Path, no matter what they name their gods or their brand of spirituality, become the willing sacrifice. Our rites should act as a reminder of this for us so that we do not take our role lightly. Think on this and you will have a better understanding of how to use ritual sacrifice in the future. Ultimately, everything we have, even our lives, will be given over to someone or some energy. This gift should be meaningful and given with love. Love not only for the giving and the gift, but for the receiver of that gift. With such a powerful energy behind your sacrifice, GOODNESS will be your result.

The time of the First Harvest is upon us. The life-giving food that we symbolically give back to the land represents our understanding and reverence for the Life that has been bestowed upon us. By ritually marking this time, we renew the link between us and the spirits/energies that have given us that wondrous gift. May your life be a miracle.

Blacksun is a ritual leader in the Aquarian Tabernacle Church and author of The Spell of Making.