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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in human sacrifice

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Sacrifice Revisited

So: here was my evil plan.

Step 1. To lay the groundwork, as it were, the first year we'd do the presentation: “Sacrifice in Theory and Practice.”

Step 2. The next year, we'd bring in the cute little lambie and let the kids get to know it through the course of the festival.

Then at the big ritual we'd kill it and eat it.

Needless to say, we never even got to Step 1.


Thirty years ago, they wouldn't even let us talk about sacrifice at PSG. “Too controversial,” they said.

Well, that was 30 years ago, and this is Paganistan.

Moral of the story: Don't wait for Step 2.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Banned at PSG!

25 years ago, they wouldn't let me give this workshop at PSG.

"Too controversial," they said.

But you'll be able to hear it in full—new and improved—at next year's Paganicon 2019.

Lucky you.


Sacrifice Revisited

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Human Sacrifice in Contemporary Paganism

 “How long has it been since you last attended a good, old-time human sacrifice? 'Too long,' you say?”

(Kermit the Frog)


You know the stereotypes as well as I do. Those bloody pagans and their human sacrifices.

Well, as for the Pagan Past, there seems to be good evidence for thinking that human sacrifice did indeed take place in some places, at least from time to time.

And as for the Pagan Future, well: bard Gwydion Pendderwen (Tom deLong) once told Hans Holzer that he looked forward to the eventual reestablishment of the Sacral Kingship.

And of course there's no true kingship without King Sacrifice.

So yes, the stories of human sacrifice are true.

But mostly not in the way that you might think.

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A Tribe of Deicides

The world began with a sacrifice.

That's how the ancestors saw it, 6000 years ago.

6000 years later, that's still how witches see it.

Throughout Indo-Europeandom (and beyond it as well), one finds tales of the Primal Sacrifice. A divine or semi-divine being is killed; from his body, the world as we know it is created.

And so sacrifice becomes the central rite of public worship. Every sacrifice reenacts—reembodies—that primal, cosmogonic sacrifice.

Every sacrifice recreates the world.

Moreover, this is a true story. Truly, life lives on life. No matter what kind of -vore you are, others die so that you can eat them and live.

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Midwinter Blood

It's one of the few known instances of actual King Sacrifice in the literature.

Dómaldi took the inheritance after his father Visbur, and ruled the land. In his day, a great famine and hunger engirded the Swedish thede (people). Then the Swedes offered great sacrifice at Uppsala. The first autumn they sacrificed oxen, but the following season was no better. The next autumn they held a man-sacrifice, but the next season was even worse. The third autumn a great many Swedes came to Uppsala when the sacrifices were to be offered. Then the chieftains took rede with one another, and agreed both that the famine was due to Dómaldi their king, and that they should sacrifice him that very year: take him out, kill him, and redden the altars with his blood.

And that is what they did.

So wrote Icelander Snorri Sturluson in his Ynglingasaga (1225).

Snorri's account implies a perpetrated violence, but in Swedish painter Carl Larsson's monumental 1915 canvas, Midvinterblot (“Midwinter Sacrifice”), the death of King Dómaldi becomes a moving act of willing self-sacrifice.

In this controversial painting, a festive crowd has gathered before the great stave-temple of Uppsala. Lurs blare, women dance, warriors march. Through the open doorway, we see the great golden statue of the Thunderer standing in a chariot drawn by golden goats. Before the temple the high góði stands with hammer raised to hallow the sacrifice. In the foreground, facing away from the viewer, stands the red-cloaked sacrificer, who holds the bright blade, ready but hidden, behind his back.

But the center of the painting is Dómaldi himself, his head thrown back, standing (like Þórr) on the sledge on which he has been drawn in procession to the temple.

Young, vigorous, bearded and redly beautiful, he is depicted in the act of shedding the red fox-skin cloak which is his only covering. Beneath it, in the Midwinter cold, he offers himself stripped for sacrifice, naked and ready. It is the ultimate act of royal kenosis: the voluntary self-emptying of one who willingly gives his life for the people.

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Make Your Own Bealtaine Bannock

Bealtaine's coming up, and with it the annual problem: how do we decide who to sacrifice this year?

Well, I don't know how they go about it where you live, but one tried-and-true method is the Bealtaine Bannock.

You cook a barley-cake over an open fire and break it up into pieces. One piece you mark black with charcoal from the fire. Then everyone draws a piece and eats it. Whoever gets the black piece wins. Or loses. Whatever.

It's a old method of Choosing. The stomachs of several bog bodies have been found to contain remnants of charred bannock. Hey, if it was good enough for Lindow Man, it's good enough for me.

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The Divine Economy

If I had to characterize Kirk S. Thomas' Sacred Gifts: Reciprocity and the Gods in only two words, it would be: “accessibly profound.”

Don't be put off—as I initially was—by his bantering tone, hyper-colloquial diction, or home-spun analogies. This book speaks as an incisive work of contemporary pagan scholarship and philosophy, and (best of all) points the way forward for future pagan thought.

There can be no relationship without communication. How, then, do we communicate with the gods?

In Sacred Gifts, Thomas answers this question elegantly and authoritatively by beginning with a careful examination of ancestral precedent. From these specifics, he deduces the general principles of the divine economy.

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