In modern Paganism, the concepts of offerings and sacrifices are a bit of a muddy area. Of course, there are the traditional offerings of ‘Cakes and Ale’, but the reasons for this are not normally explained or gone into much depth. (NB I first came across the importance of offerings and sacrifice in Deborah Lipp’s fantastic book “Elements of Ritual: Air, Fire, Water and Earth in the Wiccan Circle” and that’s where my inspiration for this post comes from.)
So what are offerings and sacrifices? Normally, these terms are used interchangeably, but I think there are several important differences. Firstly, offerings are given freely, whereas a sacrifice is something you give because you have been told to by the Being to whom you are offering. Secondly, a sacrifice should cost you something, whereas an offering is often given in order to celebrate plenty.
Furthermore, to me, sacrifice implies the giving of the life force. We give sacrifice in order to take part in the cycle of life and death, more specifically the death part, which we don’t often work with in modern Paganism. Ok, we recognise it at Samhain but that’s pretty much it. Most traditions don’t consciously work with Ancestors either. By taking part in the death part of life, we learn to fully embrace all of ourselves. (I would know myself in all my parts…)
By ‘giving of the life force’, I actually mean ‘taking’ of the life force, or taking life. In my practice, this doesn’t mean taking an actual life, as it would in Santería or other similar traditions. Rather, I use substitutes. The main substitutes for an actual life include eggs (which held the potential for life), flowers (which were alive and are dying), or bodily fluids (which helped to continue life). I often sacrifice these items with the following prayer, or something like it:
“I sacrifice this (item), in honour of the life force. For even as we celebrate life, we recognise death. For without death, life would have no meaning. Life is precious, because it shall ultimately end. We take part in that cycle, and learn to love all of life.”