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Making Contracts and Remaking the World

Making Contacts and Remaking the World

Making Contracts and Remaking the World -

 The Nature of Sacrifice


Tribe of the Sacred Crows Theology Lecture

By: Rob Barton



Our first function lecture this evening is going to be on the nature of sacrifice. We have an excellent new Sacrificer for our Tribe and now that he has been doing the job for a few rituals and everyone is getting accustomed to his work I thought that we would talk about where this fits into our liturgy and theology.

            I have seen a few works on the subject of sacrifice that have been made available in the pagan community but honestly they always seem to be very short sighted and only cover one or the other functions of sacrifice and occasionally claim that this is THE function of sacrifice. So I thought that I would go into the multiplicity of functions that sacrifice serves in respect to the cultures that we study and emulate.

We tend to think of sacrifice as giving a gift to the sacred almost as an offering, which is perfectly fine as a general connotation for our people. But the first function people really need to understand what we are doing when we make a sacrifice.

People often describe sacrifice as ‘to make sacred’ but that is really to ‘sacralize’ for our theological view. We need to differentiate this because a sacrifice can be sacralization but is not necessarily always making something sacred but may be a gift to the sacred.  In the context of our practices and theologies sacrifice generally serves one of two functions.

 ‘Cosmic Sacrifice’ is our first area of sacrificial functionality, and it is just what it sounds like, folks, a liturgical remaking of the World through the ritualized repetition of an original cosmogonic sacrificial myth. People simply reenact the original building of the cosmos from the body of a god, giant, monster, hero or whatever was the original victim killed to make the world in their cultural mythic system.  Of course not every culture in the world believes that the cosmos was built from the parts of some ancient sacrificial victim or loser in the original cosmic struggle. But it is quite common and does lead to the regular performance of symbolic cosmic sacrifice designed to renew the world.

So let’s talk a bit about why these ethnic religions would renew the world. What are we doing at Samhain? We are participating in remaking the world.

From the audience:

I thought that we were starting a new year.

We are, but as Eliade points out, in many ancient languages the word for year is often the same as the word for world

Oh, that explains a lot, now I understand what we are doing, I want to do a big sacrifice at Samhain this year.

Having a new-years rite is found in many cultures but now we see that not only is it a new year but it is a new world, they are the same and they are being recreated. It is that way even in physics, each universe has its own time and space. Each new year is literally a new cosmos renewed and resacralized. The people participate in this process by making a symbolic sacrifice that repeats the original cosmic sacrifice.

So Gwynne, when you say that “time is circular” this is what you are talking about.

Yes, you hear me say it all the time.

Ah, but she is not saying that it is circular in that it keeps repeating itself  but that it is circular in that it is cyclical and the world keeps being remade and resacralized. So we have are first type of sacrifice down, is everyone ready to move on?

Ok, our next type of sacrifice is contractual sacrifice which is a gift given to the sacred or the divine for the purposes of establishing a contract or meeting the personal obligations of a contract. Remember the standard method for cultural and societal relationships in Celtic cultures is the ethical contract of mutual obligation. The term used for this is ghosti* and it gives us words like guest and host. These types of contracts are made between people and may include gifts and exchanges. We make these ethical contracts with the spirits around us this way. Our relationships with our Gods are done this. We make a contract and we give a gift through a sacrifice. This is one of the reasons that most folks around here give tangible items as sacrifice and do not try to fly that old ‘send the Goddess your love and energy’ approach since that is about all you can expect getting sent back. Chances are, that if she is a Goddess she is not in need of a whole lot of human energy to support her. So yes, we buy two thousand year old Celtic antiquities and sometimes we break them in offering an drop them down the shaft.

One very good example of a contractual sacrifice in an ancient group is found in the ancient Greek stuff. There is a story about a man establishing a contract with the Gods and dividing a bull between himself and the Gods. This was a perfect example of the contract being established and reinforced through a sacrifice being made.

But as I recall, he tricked the Gods into taking the portion that had all the fat, bones and skin while he kept the meat.

Well, yes he did, and it didn’t go at all well for him., mental note ‘never assume that you are smarter  than a God’. But the point is that he was making a contractual sacrifice in a very standard ancient manner.

So when we see a shield ritually damaged and thrown into a river, we know that theologically this represent a contractual sacrifice. The shield may have been given to insure that this particular river deity protect the land of the people on this side from the people on that side. Or it could have been given because an enemy boat sank before they could land or for any other reasons to establish or complete a contractual obligation.

So it can be done at the start of a contract or to finish one by giving a gift in return for something.


So does this mutual obligation type of contract work with any spirit or god?

Nope, it works with our Celtic Deities because it is the standard social structure of Celtic culture being reflected. If you are dealing with a spirit that is from another cultural continuum that works on a different system they may very well take the gift and not establish a contract or participate in any obligations. You could end up saying “here is a nice gold bracelet and what I need from you is…” and they just take it and go or ask “what else have you got” so you have to be careful that you do not confuse cultural systems and deal with any deity or spirit generally in the cultural context to which they are accustomed.

 There is another area that I want to take a quick look at that is often confused with the subject of sacrifice. It is the area of funerary goods. These are not automatically considered sacrifice. Yes, some funerary gifts may be gifts to the recently dead to make them more pleasantly disposed toward the living, but most funerary goods are actually just property of the individual placed with them so that they will have it in the next world. I know that it is a fine line but we as the Drui group need to understand this.

Now when we see offerings or sacrifices done at the graves after internment such as the regular feasts that the Romans took down to their relatives at the necropolis we are looking at a sacrifice given as an ancestral offering, and yes, perhaps originally designed to appease the departed or to keep peace with them, then again maybe just to provide nourishment.

So we have two functions for sacrifice in the general context of ethnic religions, they are Cosmic Sacrifice and Contractual Sacrifice we also have the providing of funerary goods which is sometimes confused with sacrifice and which occasionally may be contractual in nature but are mostly just providing the dead with wealth for the next world. Do we have any questions and discussion? OK.

BTW if you want to know more about this subject I recommend Mircea Eliade “The Sacred and the Profane” and volume 1 of “A History of religious Ideas”