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.