Saturday: Session Two

Sabina Magliocco “Animal Sacrifice in Modern Paganisms”

Recently there has been increased debate in Pagan circles regarding animal sacrifice. It has seen some resurgence, but remains “extremely rare and limited to private rituals.” Magliocco’s paper is based on study of written sources rather than personal experience.

Religious animal sacrifice is legal in the US. The word “sacrifice” means at the most basic level “to make sacred.” In ancient usage it does not imply renunciation or death. [In Greco-Roman culture, animal sacrifice was the main source of meat for food]. Animal sacrifice raises “the status of the sacrificer” because it is expensive–if you sacrifice your cow, you usually get to eat it, but you don’t have a cow anymore.

Ancient sacrifice could include things other than food, such as incense, hymns, and other forms of praise. Howevery, Christianity was the first ancient religion to completely reject animal sacrifice. This had effects on local economies, as the rising popularity of Christianity meant that fewer people were buying meat in the markets.

Wicca and related Paganisms generally do not see a necessity for animal sacrifice–Magliocco cites the Charge of the Goddess and the Wiccan Rede. Urban concentration and fear of bad press have also contributed to the lack of animal sacrifice in modern Paganism. It is often rumored to occur in more rural contexts, where people have access to livestock and the kill to slaughter and butcher it.

“Animal sacrifice is presented as private, remote, rural; not terribly different from what happens when an animal is slaughtered and eaten.”

Magliocco proposes that the “antistructural” status of animal sacrifice is part of its recent resurgence: some Pagans see it as a way to differentiate themselves from Wiccan and related traditions, and a way to recreate a more “authentic” experience of ancient religion.

Reconstructionist traditions are especially interested in that more authentic experience, but not all recons seek to revive animal sacrifice.

Citing Sam Webster: “Central to the experience of the gods in ancient paganism.”

Animal sacrifice may also be a way for some Pagans to continue to separate themselves from Christianity and, in some cases, a way to restore the practices of ancestors who grieve the loss of their practices.

“Arguments based on the will of the gods tend to be based on personal gnosis.”

In some traditions (such as Vodun), animals are believed to contain a life force that literally feeds the spirits when their blood is spilled. Webster, working with neo-Platonism, argues that sacrifice does not satisfy the gods, but changes the sacrificer.

The ethics of sacrifice: many practitioners make a point of getting their animals from known sources, usually small farms (if they don’t raise them themselves). In many cases animals must also be seen to have given their permission to be sacrificed, based on interpretation of their behavior around the time of the rite.

Defenses of animal sacrifices cite the modern western relationship to meat as food, pointing out that “the swift, painless sacrifice of a well-loved, humanely raised animal” is preferential to the practices of factory farming.

Ultimately, the resurgence of animal sacrifice is part of the evolution of Paganisms in the 21st century, thought Maglicco believes that it is too costly to become widespread.

Jeffrey Albaugh “Cultural Complexes and Individualism in Contemporary Paganisms”

Individualism is a major part of American culture. There are four major traditions of American individualism: Biblical–the creation of an ethical/religious community; Republican–freedom and justice, particularly embodied by the Declaration of Independence and T. Jefferson; Utilitarian–embodied by Franklin, in which everyone has the right to pursue success; Expressive–personal identity, emotional expressiveness.

“A complex formed around an archetypal core.” Albaugh defines an archetype as “an unknowable pattern in the psyche” that structures events, feelings, and expressions around it. He shows a Mandelbrott pattern as a visual example. He calls a complex a collection of “events and experiences… associated with the archetypal core” that illicits specific feelings when activated.

Complexes can exist on a cultural level–people can behave stereotypically and predictably. Albaugh uses all of this as a baseline to discuss the debate surrounding animal sacrifice in modern Pagan circles. He notes organizations, such as ADF, that officially renounce animal sacrifice, and individuals who practice it.

Many contemporary Pagan traditions claim to “work with the gods,” or consider the gods as friends. There are emerging traditions that envision the gods/ancestors as giving structure to the world, in a more top-down conceptualization. “Classical” modern Paganisms (Wicca, etc.) are quite mystical, identify the divine as a “higher self,” are concerned with ecology, and are often pantheistic. Albaugh differentiates this from Reconstructionist Paganisms, which are perhaps reacting to Wicca as an external authority, and which criticize mystical traditions “for being too unrefined and amorphous.” Albaugh suggests that “Classical” and “Reconstructionist” Paganisms as he has defines them can be productively thought of as “sects” of contemporary Paganism. For him this has been a healing observation, allowing him to understand the differences in terms other than “right” and “wrong.”

Murtaugh anDoile “‘For as Summer Follows Winter’: Cycles of ‘Darkness and Light” in the Pagan (and Magical) Movements in the Last 100 Years”

This is a piece developed for the newly launched Pagan History Project.

We go through dark and light periods culturally. The dark periods are those in which we grow, and the light ones are those in which we expand, eventually reaching a point where we break into small groups and return to a dark period.

The Spiritualist movement in the 19th and early 20th centuries is an example of this cycle. It began in the late 1840s and peaks by the end of WWI, but came under attack in the ’20s.  It has survived by splintering into small groups, some of which morphed into large organization (e.g., Universalist Unitarians). There was a cult/Satanic scare in the ’30s and ’40s, based on racial fears, fear of Nazis, and the appearance of groups like I AM and New Thought, and exacerbated by pulp fiction.

The dark cycle begins again in the 1940s. Jack Parsons and L. Ron Hubbard were active with the Babalon Working; Gerald Gardner published High Magic’s Aid in 1949. Movements like these continue into the ’50s, when the Witchcraft Act in England was abolished and Gardnerian Wicca picks up speed. The ’60s and ’70s were a heyday for Paganism in the US. Many, many familiar Pagan groups and publications are born in this period, and Paganism and witchcraft begin to become commercialized. The ’70s sees the beginning of the splintering. The Witch Wars (arguments about authenticity, etc.) went on mostly in Green Egg, and the Covenant of the Goddess was founded as an attempt to bring unity back into the movement. Paganism goes underground in the eastern US.

By the end of the ’70s Paganism starts to emerge again, and the ’80s is another era of growth. Founders of traditions from the ’50s and ’60s die, creating power vacuums and encouraging growth in other directions; Solitary practice becomes more popular. In the late ’80s things splinter again. The Satanic Panic in the ’80s and ’90s contributes to problems, and arguments about authenticity resurface. Pop culture portrays Paganism in various ways (The Craft, Buffy, etc.).

The internet has contributed to the growth of Paganism (and divisions between Paganisms) in the last couple of decades. The authenticity debate continues, and there are debates about transgender issues, Wiccanate privilege, and animal sacrifice. [There are also major issues surrounding racism, especially in Reconstructionist circles].

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