I don’t do sacrifice. I have no doubt that many of our pagan ancestors, druids included, sacrificed both creatures and humans to the gods. They did so to avoid divine wrath, and to seek good fortune. Sometimes perhaps also for divination. Theirs was a different world to ours. Sacrifice in that sense is about doing something to get what you want. Then along came Christianity and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, a new consciousness in which we don’t kill people to please god (unless it’s a holy war, or they are heretics or pagans…). Sacrifice is of the self in that context. It becomes martyrdom and sainthood. We give our lives for our faith. Ideally in painful and horrible ways.
I’m not interested in killing anything and I’m not interested in martyrdom. I am also absolutely convinced that all historical ‘sacrifice’ (Jesus aside, he may be a special case) was to get something for the self. Be that good luck for a voyage, or the pleasure of knowing yourself to be on the way to sainthood. If we’re calling it sacrifice, we do probably, at some level, expect to get something for it. If we really thought a deity wanted us to do something of no benefit to ourselves, or the world, where the only gain would be that we have suffered for the deity – this is not a God I want anything to do with. To do something, or be asked to do something that is good in some way, should never be thought of as sacrifice, as I see it.
I recall Bobcat saying, or writing that sacrifice should hurt. If we’re doing it for ourselves in some way, it’s not sacrifice. What she also directs people towards, is the sacrifice of ignorance. It is the only one worth doing, and it can hurt. However, we benefit when we do this. Maybe we do give up some of the blind comforts and mindless distractions of modern life, the ease of apathy. What we get is a real life in a real world, where we are able to act, where what we do counts for something. What feels like pain and a hair shirt becomes the best of who we are. That’s not really sacrifice I think, it’s just the cost of learning. If there is a cost/benefit, sacrifice is not the right word.
The burden of sacrifice is also a thing to consider. If we give everything, nobly, self sacrificing for spouse, child, queen and country or whatever we martyr ourselves for, what are we putting on them? How much pressure and expectation does that create? How much requirement to make good, to justify? Don’t do this one lightly.
I’d be delighted if the idea of sacrifice fell out of pagan language altogether. I don’t think it’s helpful. It does more to mislead than to assist us. We do need to let go of our ignorance and all that it allows us to blindly, carelessly do. That’s a process, one to work on every day, and there is no end to it. Let’s not call that a sacrifice, let’s call that learning to be present, happy, fulfilled in the world. Let’s call it entering into conscious relationship with everything. Presenting spirituality as pain, is not going to encourage many people to start living more spiritual lives. Probably the opposite.
More than anything, what we need to do, is learn to love. When actions are born of love, they flow naturally. When we are steeped in honour, keenly alert to justice and compassion, when we are open to loving what we encounter and treating it with care and respect, doing the right things is not monstrously difficult. Often, it becomes a no-brainer. If we think we’re being noble and self sacrificing in what we do, it’s probably a sign that we’re doing what we think we ought to do, not what we feel is right. The more consciously we’re trying to do the right thing, the more it suggests that we’re fighting some inner impulse to go the other way. Now, when a person is steeped in all the dispassionate, consumerist, soulless vices of normal life, that may indeed be a struggle. It may seem that giving up the hours before the telly, the total car dependence, and all other mind eaters and planet killers, is hellish. It may feel like sacrifice. But it isn’t. For as long as we feel like we’re depriving ourselves for our religion, we live in constant risk of lapsing back into old habits of doing and thinking. The answer is not spiritual flagellation, or bigging up the idea of how much we’re doing for the gods. The answer is love.
Love yourself, and you will not want to fill your body with rubbish or your mind with desensitizing, noxious crap. Love your community and you won’t turn a blind eye to what others need, it will become a pleasure to help. Love your planet and it will be natural, and easy to try and take care of it. Love the sky, the plants and birds, the creatures. Love the oceans. Love your children, your grandchildren, love ten generations on as yet unborn and love your ancestors. Love the inevitability of death and the cycles of living. Love the process of aging and the way nature manifests in your body. Love being alive. Do what comes from this.