Unlike our ancestors who practiced blood sacrifice, modern Wiccans and pagans work with symbolic items such as bread, wine, and flowers, but the concept of gratitude, celebration, and giving back remains the same. However, those who know little about Wicca can find themselves jumping to lurid conclusions thanks to the entertainment world, which never lets the truth get in the way of a good story. What are the two best known movies about paganism and witchcraft? Probably Rosemary’s Baby and The Wicker Man. In the first movie, a young pregnant woman fears that her complete loser of a husband has made a deal with the devil to sacrifice their baby in exchange for a boost to his acting career. In the second movie, a cop travels to a remote Scottish island where the locals are suspected of choosing a perfect virgin candidate to sacrifice to the gods in return for a good harvest. I’ll admit that both are great movies. But with stories like these lurking in the backs of people’s minds, no wonder newcomers to paganism find themselves uneasy with the thought of sacrifice. Read on for some clarification.
Cakes and Ale: Modern Wiccan sacrifice boils down to no more than the “cakes and ale” part of every ritual and sabbat. We all pass around a plate of cakes, cookies, cupcakes, muffins, or bread, and a chalice or drinking horn of wine, ale, mead, juice, or water, and everyone eats and drinks. No blood. No taking a life. We don’t even pull a carrot from the ground as it screams its death-cry into the ultra-sonic range or anything like that. It is a symbolic sacrifice only.
Symbolism: Some of us see the cakes and ale as the body and blood of our God who gives of himself at Samhain to ensure the return of the sun and the richness of next year’s harvest. This is similar to how Christians receive Communion wafers and wine to commemorate the sacrifice of Jesus and redemption of original sin. It also reflects the ancient custom of the best man of the tribe offering himself as king for a year and a day to be sacrificed in the fields after his reign. Now it is all symbolic, but we remember our past.
Threshold: When we pass around the cakes and ale, it acts as a threshold to mark the end of formal ritual and the beginning of the relaxation period where we can hang out and have fun. This is important. During ritual, we must keep our focus on our purpose, whether it is to raise energy for witchcraft, or to celebrate one of the sabbats. To complete our purpose, we must release our focus – our build-up of energy – in its service. Afterwards, we are going to feel drained and maybe a bit scattered. Being able to relax and have fun once we have crossed into the sociable part of the gathering is a good way to rejuvenate ourselves. And, physically, we need to eat and drink to ground ourselves into our physical bodies once more.
Solitary Practice: Solitary witches and pagans also practice sacrifice in the form of cakes and ale. After all, each “solitary” is not really alone – he or she is celebrating in the company of the gods. At the end of the ritual, a solitary practitioner eats cake and sips a beverage and relaxes. This allows the mind to drift, which invites closeness with the gods as the barriers of the conscious mind melt away to allow access to the subconscious.
Giving Back: We always save a piece of cake and a portion of the beverage to return to the earth in offering to the gods. We lay the food on an outdoor altar and pour the beverage upon the ground. This symbolizes the bounty of the harvest that comes from the gods through the earth to us. We now return it through the earth to the gods in thanksgiving.
Modern sacrifice is an emotionally uplifting ritual that evokes our past in a harmless way that draws us closer together and reminds us of our bond with our gods. It has nothing to do with the concept of blood sacrifice that somehow harvests the “energy” from someone’s life-force. By contrast, modern sacrifice centers on cakes, ale, and cut flowers or herbs, which are all appropriate representations of the harvest. So feel free to point out this article to anyone who asks if you practice blood sacrifice. Meanwhile, you can have a blast watching these two movies available at Amazon.com: Rosemary's Baby (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] and Wicker Man [Blu-ray]
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