(This is from an article that I wrote for The Druid Network a few years ago…)
Many people in the pagan community have differing ideas on the concept of
sacrifice. Here I can only offer my own view, to share with others. These words,
much as the notion of sacrifice, are a purely personal experience.
Let me first describe what to me is the difference between an offering and a
sacrifice. Offerings can be daily elements of the ritual of our lives; offerings
of incense, of songs to the dawn, food from each meal. Offerings are often given
in thanks; for the day, for the restoration of health to a loved one, for a
wandering pet’s return. For some, offerings are a return of what we have in
abundance, for example, a farmer returning a sheaf of wheat to the land, or some
of the autumn’s blackberry port that was made poured back beneath the bushes
from whence the fruit was obtained. Offerings are used to establish a
relationship, to give back for what we have received in turn from an honourable
existence. They nurture a relationship. So, in that context, what is sacrifice?
For me, sacrifice is something that you just don’t want to give up. It hurts.
Yet, to be able to move onto the next level, to deepen a relationship further,
instead of just nurturing it with an offering, a sacrifice must be made.
Sacrifice is giving up something that is sacred to you. It can’t be easy. It
can’t be something that has outlived its purpose. It can’t be something that you
don’t really care about, or that you have in abundance. It can’t be something
that can be replaced. It has to show dedication, devotion, commitment. It has
got to hurt.
When I speak of hurting, I don’t mean physical pain, although that too in a
way can be seen as a sacrifice. If something will forever be changed because of
it, then perhaps it can be deemed as sacrifice (a tattoo, for instance). To push
through barriers of pain can be a sacrifice of what we strive for as human
beings – comfort being one of the greatest drives. Yet there can be an emotional
pain in sacrifice as well. That the physical pain in sacrifice is our own cannot
be questioned – we should never harm another being in the name of sacrifice, or
for whatever reason. If we are to sacrifice our own personal comfort, then it
must be sufficient to move onto a new level of relationship. We may not always
be willing to sacrifice, however, we can be ready to.
Some argue that time can be sacrificed, yet I would argue that if one has
come to a relationship with the god of Time, then one will find that they have
all the time in the world to attain what they wish. Time, for me, can only be an
offering, even though it can be seen as irreplaceable. Time is not a sacrifice
when it means spending more time at the local soup kitchen and less time in
front of the television – it is merely a reprioritising of time, and what is
Can money be a sacrifice? Again, this for me is more of an offering than a
sacrifice for most people. Money can be replaced, for instance. Yet, if one
gives all their money to another, is that not a sacrifice? Perhaps yes, perhaps
no. For me, money can always be made, yet I live in the luxury of not worrying
too much about where my next meal comes from. So, for me, money is an offering,
much as food and time.
So what constitutes sacrifice? In my own experience, an item (so far it has
always been an item) must be thought over for hours, even days, as to whether or
not I wish to sacrifice it. If I can find other things that I would willingly
sacrifice before it, then they are not worthy. Some might think of this train of
thought as merely masochistic. Again, it comes down to what is truly sacred to
one’s self, and what one needs to do in order to progress to the next level.
Recently, I spent all night in my tepee, knowing that I had to sacrifice
something in the morning before the ritual. I knew that I wanted to go deeper
into my druidry, and that the spirits of place and my gods required it of me. I
hummed and hawed over it, wondering if I had anything else in my pack that I
could sacrifice instead of my beloved and sacred bead bracelet. I didn’t. It was
either my eagle pendant or my bracelet. I couldn’t sacrifice my wooden beaded
necklaces, they were just too easy – I didn’t have a large enough emotional
attachment to them. The spirits of place would not accept that offering, as I
felt. It was not sufficient in order to attain the deeper relationship
that I craved. My eagle pendant, after long thought, was replaceable, though I
would miss it dearly in the months that it would take to find another one. My
bracelet, however, one of a kind with many dear memories attached, was not at
all replaceable. That would be my sacrifice.
I have also sacrificed a medicine bag, and a wedding ring. None of these
items I wanted to let go, but just knew I had to if I was to progress
along my spiritual journey. I miss them dearly, but the value in giving them up
makes up for their loss, in a sense. I have a deeper understanding about myself,
about what is important to me, and by sacrificing these things to the spirits I
feel that they know me better, know my intentions more clearly, and that we have
a stronger, deeper, newer and more committed relationship for it. To me, that is
the true nature of sacrifice.