Note: I did originally take this down, for reasons previously discussed – but I’m re-posting it on request. Make of it what you will.
This post has been gestating for some time, on request from interested readers; it seems this topic has struck a chord with many (perhaps unsurprisingly). But before we start, it will NOT feature talk of goats, chickens, reading the future in intestines or other such bunkum.
You wouldn’t believe how often I’m asked about that.
Druidry is a nature-based spirituality, with a focus on relationship and connection. Sacrifice is a natural part of this, as we ask ourselves what we can do to enhance our own life, knowledge, experience and worship/practice. This does not mean bowing down before anything in abasement, or making offerings as some sort of trade – I give this up, so please give me luck/money/love.
Sacrifice doesn’t work like that (except in stories – and look at how such requests often turn out). I respect myself, my gods and my ancestors more than to presume our relationship is nothing more than basic bartering.
I also get confused by the general assumptions about sacrifice as a faith-based action. Take Lent, for example. To remember Jesus’ wanderings in the desert, Christians give up something of value for 40 days (if folk even remember that this is the reason behind it). Very good… but to me, giving up chocolate or sweets as a gesture, which isn’t even very well kept or intentioned, is lip-service at best, insulting at worst.
In that scenario, Jesus gave up everything, to take himself away into the wilderness to be challenged. Such stories are not uncommon. Buddha went from Prince to ascetic in his quest for Enlightenment and meaning. In the Arthurian mythos, Merlin went totally mad and took himself away into the forest to face his darkness (both actual and internal).
This is a life-lesson. Despite what some New-Agers want us to believe and aim for, life is not intended to be all sweetness and light. But nor is it a time of bleakness, pain and darkness. Life is what we make it, and to fully live with awareness, we must walk that line of balance between light and dark, pain and pleasure, knowledge and ignorance.
At various points in our lives, we will be forced (whether voluntarily or not) to face our own darkness. We will be challenged. We cannot avoid our fears forever, nor should we try.
Sacrifice is an act of intention, removing ourselves in some way from our ‘comfort zone’ in order to learn and experience. It’s not just a daily or monthly detox, whether for mind or body. It is a serious matter, not to be taken lightly – because if you do it right, you will indeed be challenged as a result.
As with many things in Druidry (and life), you get back what you give out. If you give up chocolate, you may lose a little weight – but if your intention isn’t really present, the act of sacrifice may be ‘naughtily’ broken, or simply forgotten after a set period. As I said, this is both disrespectful and fairly pointless. Why bother, if you aren’t putting your all into it?
If you are truly, honestly and honourably facing your own darkness in order to sacrifice your fear… expect a life change. If you are making the decision to become a vegetarian for the rest of your life – another life change. Giving up sweets as part of a true decision to control your own impulses, experiencing that difference and questioning your own actions – a simple action, but with great effect because of the motivation behind it.
If you resolve to explore your relationship with your gods or ancestors, regularly and actively, you’re sacrificing your time, your own life. That’s immense. So do it right. This is a true sacrifice: difficult, yes, but absolutely worth it.
What is your relationship with the thing that you are sacrificing? If it’s of no real value to you, why should it be of value to the one you’re sacrificing to (including yourself)? Think of something that you can’t do without. Soap operas, coffee, cigarettes, medication… all different drugs, with different (side)effects. Giving up alcohol, after a certain point is reached, can be fatal. Explore your true needs. What can you really do without? What’s just cosmetic, what’s an indulgence? I wouldn’t recommend sacrificing an insulin dependency, but perhaps investigating the possibility of reducing prescription medication, exploring alternatives.
Sacrifice is a responsible act. We take responsibility for our choices as we make them – that’s a learning process in itself, in these days of throwaway decisions and unforeseen consequences. How do we honour ourselves and those who are connected to us (both human and non-human) by our daily lives? What do we take in, that others suffer due to lack of?
Sacrifice is difficult, often due to the unforeseen obstacles of modern life. A few years ago, I read about a charity that was seeking books for children in developing countries. These youngsters had never read the ‘Classics’, and likely never would get the chance to – but they were grateful for every real book that they could get hold of, just for the chance to experience those stories for themselves. Books were treasure – a fact that I’ve always believed, but now here, in an entirely new way.
I was deeply moved. Imagine the tales that I loved, the books around my house that are absolutely part of my life, and have been since before I could read. I had taken them for granted. Would I give them up for those children? Absolutely.
I started to make calls and write emails. Before long, the obstacles started. The charities that deal with getting books to those schools and homes didn’t actually want physical books – they wanted the money to buy them. Alarm bells started ringing in my head, as the countries in question are notorious for corruption. I wanted to send boxes of Wordsworth Classics (£1 editions of out-of-copyright works), thinking that I could afford to send more of those than a box of £5.99 paperbacks. I’m not rich, but want to do something.
Ultimately, it wasn’t possible to do this. I’ve since done charity work, actively giving up my time (and a lot of my own books!) in order to help from this side, but short of going to those countries to actually tell stories, there’s little way to go from intention to action.
But that was part of the step to exploring what my sacrifice was. My books; my stories; my ability to tell tales. I can work in my own community, and give up my own time. I can do my best to pass on the magic, to inspire and simply connect others to their own stories through my own words. I dove deeper. What was I doing?
And here I am. 🙂
What would your sacrifice be? It’s not a simple question, but I just ask you to consider it. What don’t you want to give up, that you need to? How ready are you to face change?
Sacrifice isn’t about death after all – it’s about life.