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.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Sacrifice: The Ritual

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Animal sacrifice having been one of the primary expressions of public worship in the old days, the ancestors took it pretty much for granted, and as a result, there are, rather surprisingly, no step-by-step descriptions in the surviving literature of how sacrifices were actually performed.

So here's the entire ritual, as reconstructed by Classicist Ken Dowden in his 2000 book European Paganism: The Realities of Cult from Antiquity to the Middle Ages (174).

Just in time for Pantheacon.


  1. Procession with victim* to altar/holy place.

    The sacrificial animal would have been washed clean and garlanded beforehand. If horned, the horns would have been gilded.

  2. Participants stand in a ring around the altar, officiant(s), and victim.

    The participants stand silently. Each holds, in his or her washed hands, a handful of barley.

  3. Prayer.

    Officiant prays, to call the god's attention and to state the reason for the sacrifice.

  4. Participants fling barley at victim. Officiant cuts a lock of the victim's hair.

    The animal is now sacred and considered fit for sacrifice.

  5. The victim is killed. The blood is caught in a bowl.

    At the moment of slaughter, all the women present cry out.

  6. Blood is poured over the altar.

  7. The god's portion is burned in the altar fire.

  8. The victim is butchered and cooked.

    The liver is roasted and ritually tasted by the participants.

  9. Feast.


*This is the original meaning of the word: a sacrificial animal. The modern usage is actually metaphorical.


Ken Dowden, European Paganism: The Realities of Cult from Antiquity to the Middle Ages (2000). Routledge.




Last modified on
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.


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Wednesday, 14 February 2018

    Whenever I read of sacrificial animals I start thinking community barbecue. From what I've read in archaeology the shift to grain based agriculture brought on some serious malnutrition. Those shared sacrificial meals brought some much needed protean into the diets of many people. There is also that feeling of group solidarity that comes with a shared meal.

  • Please login first in order for you to submit comments

Additional information