Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Whatever Happened to Animal Sacrifice?

At one time, animal sacrifice was the most common form of public worship in the West.

So what happened to it?

We tend to think of Judaism as mother and Christianity as daughter, but in fact Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism are sister religions that arose at the same time in response to the self-same trauma: the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE.

In ancient Hebrew religion, anyone could build an altar anywhere and offer up sacrifice there, but with the rise of the Jerusalem temple, a hard-fought process of centralization set in which eventually banned sacrifice anywhere else, on the logic of “one god, one temple.”

So with the destruction of said temple, sacrifice by definition came to an end because there was no legitimate place in which to offer it.


Fine, said the rabbis, we'll substitute prayer.

We don't need it, said the church fathers. Jesus was the be-all and end-all sacrifice.

With the rise of state-sanctioned Christianity in the West, animal sacrifice—as the paradigmatic act of pagan worship—was forbidden by law. You could lose your job, everything you owned, and eventually even your life, for sacrificing.

And that's what happened to animal sacrifice in the West.

But, of course, in the end the church fathers were simply wrong: there is, and can be, no be-all and end-all sacrifice. The ancestors, in their wisdom, knew that sacrifice must continue because sacrifice sustains the world; that, in fact, the world exists because of sacrifice. The Old Ways understand, and have always understood, that without death, nothing can exist.

In ruth (mercy), the Horned, god of witches, dies each day. With every animal that dies to feed another, he dies: killed and killer, eater and eaten.

Sacrifice continues, as it always has, and always will, while ever the world endures.

Without it, we would starve.








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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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