I’m all for reinstituting animal sacrifice.
Oh, the vegetarians and vegans and animal rights activists and “Harm None!!11!!” folks will have a field day with that, but really, I don’t see a problem with it outside of the fact that we don’t have any temples left to offer those sacrifices at. Our ancient pagans ancestors saw it as a viable offering to the gods, and I don’t see why it should be considered otherwise.
I’m not bloodthirsty, you know. My daily offerings consist of incense and libations of wine, with offerings of food, coffee, candles, or other items depending on the event or the god. And these truly are sacrifices: I work to create them, or to acquire the materials for them. Even store bought incense represents my blood, sweat, and time, and the time spent in prayer is a sacrifice to the gods as well.
So why animals?
Well, let’s ask Sam Webster:
Preliminary offerings would be poured out and prayers made, addressing the offerings to the Spirits and Deities intended. Then, further and probably more elaborate and formal invocations were performed, and the animal dedicated would be swiftly slaughtered. The animal theretofore had been especially well treated and kept calm and was by this considered ‘willing’ to be sacrificed. The animal was immediately butchered and the traditionally prescribed portions placed in the fire on the altar while the rest was cooked or distributed. After this, a third phase of concluding offerings and prayers are made.
Think about this a moment: How different is this from an ordinary Sunday Church Barbecue with exceptionally fresh meat? The victim was killed in a respectful, even holy manner, a far cry from today’s factory farms. Certainly, no one who eats meat today can have an ethical objection to this practice. Any of the mechanical considerations of hygiene are simply a matter of skill, lost today in our culture, but restorable by careful consideration or learning from those cultures that still perform this venerable rite.
The comparison to a Sunday barbeque is one I have made myself many times. Webster misses out on one important point, though: in modern times, we don’t have to kill the animal right there to sacrifice it. If I can offer store bought incense, why not store bought meat? (Although Webster might object to both …)
The way I see it, there are some considerations for a sacrifice:
1) A sacrifice has an offering of time and attention involved.
If you make an item as an offering, or raise an animal as an offering, or work for money to purchase an item as an offering, you have put some manner of time, effort, and attention into the process. Like money, the offering transfers that time and attention into a form you can give to the gods. By giving something you worked to acquire or produce to the gods, you also give them the effort that went into the acquisition of said offering to the gods as well.
2) A sacrifice is offered as devotion.
The act of making an offering or sacrifice itself is a powerful act of devotion. You are giving a gift to the gods, something of value to yourself, and you are taking the time to lay it before them. And you are offering them prayers, asking for favors, and negotiating benefits for yourself. The offering is thanks to the gods to paying attention to you.
3) A sacrifice puts you in the presence of the gods.
You are giving your time to the gods. They, in turn, are honoring you with their presence, with their time. That’s no small deal. And as mentioned above, this gives you the opportunity to petition them for favors. And if your payment is appropriate and they’re in the mood, you might get it.
And when dealing with animal sacrifice, especially during festivals, we have another consideration:
4) Sacrifices offer an opportunity for communing with other people as well as the gods.
Having a big barbeque in honor of the gods (and inviting them as well!) is a great way to strengthen community ties, and community devotion. I’d imagine that the gods appreciate it when a group of people throw a party for them, and it’s a great time to experience their presence as a group.