Druidry and Sacrifice

While I wasn’t raised Christian, I went to a Church of England primary school and it was there that the concept of self-sacrifice entered my consciousness. I took onboard that it was a good thing, and that we should be willing to help others even when that’s painful or difficult. I wondered, sometimes, how a person could tell when they qualified as the ‘others’ who needed helping. I did not find an answer.

I feel confident that for our Celtic ancestors, sacrifice was not self-sacrifice. It was other people, and creatures. There might have been an element of giving things up when people threw swords and bling into bodies of water, but there’s also status to be derived from ostentatiously giving things up, so I’m not sure.

When it comes to modern Druidry, we’re clearly not going to be sacrificing what is other than ourselves. As an animist, I find offerings difficult because they remain their own thing, and not you. A picked flower is not your sacrifice, it’s just a less bloody way of sacrificing something else. So we may talk instead about sacrifices of time, energy and the like. And always, there’s that question of when you get to say that perhaps making the sacrifice shouldn’t be on you. What looks like a small sacrifice to a well resourced person who lives in comfort is a much bigger deal if you don’t have those privileges.

In the past, I have made all kinds of sacrifices to Druidy. As a younger person, I repeatedly sacrificed both my bodily and mental health through my volunteering. Because sacrifice is what you do when you’re serious about your path. I can’t say it led me to any kind of spiritual experiences and it didn’t make me a better person. If sacrifice is supposed to be utterly selfless, then there’s a case for saying that regular burnout and trashing my health is good Druidry. But no matter what I did, it never really felt sacred to hurt myself like that. It just hurt.

Except I’m entirely sure it was a terrible way to carry on, and that a culture that encourages this is an awful idea. I do not, at this point in my life, believe that this kind of sacrifice is a good idea at all. I think we’re much better off looking at sacrifice in terms of rebalancing. If you have a lot, and more than you need, sacrifice. Give away. Share. Offer up. You can afford it. If you’re struggling, ill, under too much pressure, I don’t think it should be your job to make sacrifices, or for that matter to become some kind of living human sacrifice.

There was no one to tell child-me when you get to say ‘I am the one who needs helping’. We need to do this for each other. We need to avoid competing for the best excuses not to give, and we need to avoid putting pressure on people who need taking care of. We need to recognise that what we give comes at different costs, depending on circumstances. We need to keep an eye on our own privilege in terms of where we let ourselves off the hook, and what we expect of others.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

9 responses to “Druidry and Sacrifice

  • becci

    Perhaps I may offer a culturally different way of looking at self sacrifice. These are my own thoughts.

    One of a Shaman’s duties is to preserve the energy of their path and community. A Shaman can know they must follow this path in several ways. The main path being hereditary, and the other by direct revelation.

    Heredity is self explanatory, but the way of self revelation, can be difficult. This can be through a “dream/vision” brought on by journeying. It is recognised in a Shamanic culture, that every experience is real. During their journey to the revelation that she is a Shaman, the person may be totally dismembered, and their entrails spread before them. This experience is real, and felt as such. Then the spirits rebuild the person in a new way, as a Shaman. This is a very great matter.

    The new Shaman must serve their community, or they will fall sick again and again, until they recognise that they are a Shaman. In this way a Shaman can be born.

    This is the path of self sacrifice. The Shaman has been “spread to the winds” by the spirits. Members of the community, may ask the Shaman for intervention with the spirits, she may say yes or no immediately, or take a time for the decision to be made by the spirits. She is first a server of the spirits and then of her community.

    I hope that this may shed further light on the spirit of service. (Pun intended..lol)

    Thank you for your fascinating and thought provoking blog.

    • Nimue Brown

      thank you for sharing this – a very different way of looking at things, and I have no doubt that being rooted in this kid of tradition and experience must shape things in very different ways.

  • bish

    A very pertinent post today. My Druidry is all about service, but occasionally that does feel very one-sided. And yes, ambiguity. Time will tell.

  • zita666479

    I have never really understood self-sacrifice; maybe it is because my passion, pride and drive have never allowed seeing such a thing. Lol, perhaps it goes under the same category as jealous, I have never understood jealous as well!

  • cmrosens

    I find questions around self-sacrifice (and self-sacrifice as a toxic form of martyrdom) really pertinent – thank you for posting this, it articulates a lot of things I’ve been considering and re-framing for myself over the last few years especially.

  • Wrycrow

    It’s probably worth reflecting that the word sacrifice originally meant “to make sacred” not to give up. Working yourself to burnout doesn’t sound like making your practice sacred to me. There is, of course, a role for compassion and helping in Druidry, but it’s equally important to have that compassion for oneself too. I tend to avoid concepts of service and sacrifice in my practice as those words have become rather too loaded by Christian ideas of self-mortification I feel.

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