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sacrifice An offering of a gift, especially to a deity or being, in petition, thanksgiving or appeasement. The most common offerings are food, drink, the fruits of harvest and the BLOOD sacrifice of animals and fowl. The highest sacrifice is that of human life, a practice now rare. Sacrifices can be made to the ELEMENTS, the sun and MOON, the cardinal points, sacred landmarks (mountains, lakes, rivers and so on), the dead and supernatural beings.
In contemporary Witchcraft and PAGANISM offerings are cakes, drinks, fruits, flowers, poems, handicrafts, incense, nuts and other items. Blood sacrifice is considered unnecessary for worship. In Witchcraft rituals, an offering of food and drink is presented at the altar or sprinkled about the outdoors as an offering.
Blood sacrifice. Ritual blood sacrifice is an ancient custom of propitiation to the gods. Animals, fowl and humans have long been sacrificed in various religious rites to secure bountiful harvests and secure blessings and protection from deities. Blood consumed in ritual sacrifice is believed to give the drinker the soul and attributes of the blood of the deceased, whether it be human or animal. The Celts and Druids reportedly drank the blood of their sacrificed human victims. The Aztecs cut the hearts out of human sacrifices with flint knives; the still-beating heart was held aloft by the priest, then placed in a ceremonial receptacle. The body was often dismembered and eaten in an act of ritual cannibalism. The Khonds of southern India impaled their victims on stakes and cut off pieces of their backs to fertilize the soil.
The sacrifice of first-born children was once a common custom in various cultures, particularly in times of trouble. During the Punic Wars, the nobility of Carthage sacrificed hundreds of children to Baal by rolling them into pits of fire.
The early Hebrews practiced blood sacrifices of animals. The book of Leviticus in the Old Testament lays out instructions for all kinds of sacrifices, including animals and fowl. In Genesis, Cain offers the fruits of his harvest, which does not please the Lord, and Abel offers one of his flock, which does please the Lord. Also in Genesis, God tests Abraham by instructing him to sacrifice his son. Abraham is stopped at the last moment, and a ram is substituted.
The Paschal Lamb, eaten at Passover, is a sacrifice commemorating the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. Christ obviated the need for blood sacrifice by shedding his own blood on the cross, thus securing eternal redemption for mankind. The Eucharist and communion services are nonbloody sacrifices, in which bread and wine or grape juice substitute for the body and blood of Christ.
Divine sacrifice is an important theme in mythology. For example, Osiris, Dionysus and Attis are dismembered in sacrifice for rebirth.
During the witch hunts, witches were said to sacrifice COCKS and unbaptized children to the DEVIL. They also were charged with cannibalism of infants and children. The cock sacrifices most likely relate to the pagan custom of sacrificing cocks as the corn spirit in harvest festivals, or in folk-magic SPELLS, in order to ensure an abundant crop the following year. The accusations of sacrifice and cannibalism of children were most likely the result of the TORTURE applied during inquisitions and trials of accused witches. It also is in keeping with the historical trend of similar accusations leveled by one religious group against another. The Syrians accused the Jews of human sacrifice and cannibalism, much as the Romans accused the Christians and the Christians accused the Gnostics, Cathars, Waldenses and Albigenses.
In MAGIC, blood sacrifice releases a flash of power, which the magician uses for a SPELL or conjuration. The old GRIMOIRES call for killing animals and using their skins to make parchment used in drawing the magical symbols needed. Animals offered should be young, healthy and virgin, for the maximum release of energy. The letting of blood, and the fear and death throes of the victim, add to the frenzy of the magician.
Aleister Crowley, in Magick in Theory and Practice (1929), said that "The ethics of the thing appear to have concerned no one; nor, to tell the truth, need they do so." Crowley sacrificed animals and fowl in his rituals, within a MAGIC CIRCLE or triangle, which prevented the energy from escaping. He considered the torturing of the animal first, in order to obtain an elemental slave, as "indefensible, utterly black magic of the very worst kind," although in the next breath he said that he had no objection to such black magic if it was "properly understood." Crowley also noted that a magician could effect a blood sacrifice without the loss of life by gashing himself or his assistant.
Animals are sacrificed in various tribal religions and in VODUN and SANTERÍA. the animal sacrifices of Santería— usually fowl and sometimes lambs or goats—have raised much opposition in America from animal-rights groups and offended individuals who consider the custom barbaric. The issue has been exacerbated by the practice of some Santeríans of leaving their beheaded and mutilated sacrifices in public places for others to find. Charges of stealing pet dogs and cats for sacrifice have been levied against the groups. Santeríans in the U.S. counter that the Constitution protects their right to worship as they see fit. They defend animal sacrifice by pointing to its ancient roots.
Satanic groups, which are not connected to Pagans or Witches, also may practice blood sacrifice (see Satanism).
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