Devotional Offerings

I think it was Stephen Posch that gave a talk about animal sacrifice at Paganicon (Sorry Stephen — I can’t find my notes and for some reason Pagnicon doesn’t have the class listed in the old online schedule). The presenter was discussing Wiccan ritual structure, and how raising the cone of power was adapted to fill the hole where animal sacrifice would occupy a ritual from antiquity. I haven’t followed up that theory with any research of my own, but it makes sense: most religions in antiquity had some manner of sacrifice, and the Victorian sensibilities of Gardner would not have been amenable to including the practice in his creation.

As a young magical practitioner, that bias against flesh offerings extended to other types of offerings. Offerings in general were devotion, you see, and that sounded an awful lot like submission, which good magicians discarded along with their Christian backgrounds. Magic was all about energy and will, you see, and I took pride in not kneeling before any gods. Continue reading

Coffee with Jesus

The room wasn’t too large, but it was comfortable. Cozy, not too warm. The two Comfy Chairs were not facing directly at each other confrontationally, but not at an awkward 90 degree angle. There was a small table between the chairs, upon which sat a tray with a small tray of appetizers. They were Mediterranean and Middle Eastern fare: hummus and pita, dolmas, grapes, dates, figs and olives, salty and sweet cheeses. A nondescript minor angel attended the coffee service. It was Turkish coffee, strong and spiced. He poured two small cups and handed them over to us.

I took my cup and sipped the bitter spiced drink. It was perfect. Jesus took a sip of his and nodded his approval, thanking the angel politely. I suppose it would be out of character for him to be rude or dismissive.

I looked Jesus over briefly. He wasn’t much taller than me, and you couldn’t tell when we were sitting. He wore nice dark slacks and a white silk button up shirt, with the first two buttons undone. Curly dark hair peeked out from a white kippa embroidered with the Star of David. His beard was full yet neatly trimmed. He leaned back into the cushioned chair, a smile in his liquid brown eyes.

“So,” He said, his voice a melodic baritone. “You wanted to talk?” Continue reading

Forgiveness and Responsibility

M. Horatius Piscinus at Patheos has a very thought provoking post about divine forgiveness.

As Cultores Deorum Romanorum, we are not forgiven. We are responsible for all of the actions we take and all of the words we speak aloud. We are responsible for not taking action when we ought, and for words left unspoken when we should. We can try to make amends. We can try to correct wrongs. We may ever afterwards do right. But we are always responsible for our words and deeds. This is required by Virtus of all those who worship the Goddesses and Gods.

Divine Grace was one of the appeals of Christianity in olden times. It still has a great appeal for many. The notion that a supreme atonement sacrifice had been levied on your behalf, as a penance for all of your transgressions, is a very powerful and alluring one.

Because taking full responsibility for yourself and your actions is difficult. Making atonement and sacrifices for particular misdeeds can beĀ  taxing. Keeping track of who you have wrong to set things aright is not easy. (Just ask Earl.) Continue reading

Turning the Magic Off

Now, I recognize that many people live their religions in all aspects of their lives, so it is rather difficult to separate the mundane from the pagan, I suppose. But I want to ask this, and I aggressively invite any and all readers to comment and share their stories.

What do you do when you’re not doing magic or otherwise “paganing it up”?

Allow me to explain this a little better. I go to some local pagan events. Discussion groups mostly. Some festivals. Group ritual not so much anymore. And I do my own devotional and magical work, and my own studies.

But there are other parts of my life. I work, I interact with family, I see movies. And my religion is not explicit in such things, but it has some of an influence. So when you are not devoted to your religion or your magic, what do you do?

Writing is one of my favorite things to do. I really like writing about magic and paganism, which is why I have this blog. I’ve been away from writing for a long time, and I’m trying to get back into it, and possibly write as a job or career. So much of my free time now is spent writing, and I enjoy that.

I read as much as I can. I read blogs on religion and politics. I read books on history, religion, politics, and science. I read science fiction and play video games. I play table-top RPGs. All of these things influence and are influenced by my religion.

I work in food service. I like to cook, and I like to talk about food. I brew my own wine and beer as well.

Outside of an excuse to talk about myself, where am I going with this?

I’m Italian. I worship the Roman gods. So food and hospitality are important. For the majority of my life, I have earned money by preparing and serving food for other people. This is something that I enjoy, to the point that even if I achieve my goal of being a professional writer, I will still most likely work in some capacity preparing food for other people. (I’ve got a great idea for a restaurant, and a winery. I’m not telling — you’ll steal it.) I come from a hospitality culture, and have always seen inviting people over for food as a moral obligation. My gods encourage this idea. So serving food is an expression of a religious ideal, and by working in a restaurant I fulfill that ideal.

See what I did there?

I’m a story-teller. I love telling stories, especially real ones. (I guess there’s some bard in me after all.) And I gladly make stories up to illustrate points (Not everything written in this blog is true). So I write to tell my stories. I play games to experience other people’s stories. This makes some of my gods happy. I also like to figure out how things work, and explain this to others who don’t know yet. I’m a teacher. So I explain things, and I teach. This makes some more of my gods happy.

Sure, it’s cliche by this point to say that you recycle as a way to honor the Earth Mother. But your religion (or even lack thereof) most likely influences what kinds of things you do in your “normal life.” And that is important, because our spirituality doesn’t exist in a vacuum. How we live our lives is an expression, at least to some degree, of that spirituality, or what is most important to us.

I write because when I’m not writing, I wish I was. It’s who I am. I cook because giving food to others is an expression of love and kindness. That’s who I am. That’s how I honor the gods. (Well, that and wine and incense and coffee.)

Who are you?

On Pagan Sacrifice

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.