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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in sacrifice

 

 

This conversation could have taken place before any sacrificial procession in antiquity.

In fact, it happened last week at the 2021 Midwest Grand Sabbat.

 

Why do we cover our heads when making sacrifice?

That's an interesting question, R___. Let me tell you both what I know, and what I infer.

The custom of covering the head while sacrificing is so old that everyone simply takes it for granted. I've never heard even one story explaining why we do it; by all authorities, the practice is simply assumed.

This, of course, is in itself odd: religious practices tend to accrete explanatory stories around them.

As a show of respect? Well, that's the reason sometimes given, though it's worth asking why a covered head should be considered more respectful than an uncovered one.

So let me speak instead out of my own experience: I can give you two good reasons, and both are to do with focus.

The first is the focus of the officiant. When offering, your entire focus needs to be on the act you are performing. Draping the head cuts off the peripheral vision and damps down the hearing, preventing—or at least lessening—the chance of distraction.

The second is the focus of those in attendance. As human beings, we automatically look to one another's faces. The act of draping the head de-emphasizes the face, and says: Look not at me, but at what I am doing; which, of course, is exactly the point in ritual.

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Well, now, there's something you don't see every day, Chauncey.”

What's that, Stanley?”

Oh, a bunch of pagans out on the front steps performing a sacrifice.”

 

Humans are herd animals. When we see a large group of people, all with their attention focused one way, we want to look with them to see what's going on. It's automatic, instinctive.

But, of course, this is Minnesota.

 

After the Rite of the Gates at Jane Hawkner's funeral yesterday—it's very simple, really: you open the Gates, the departed passes through, you close the Gates—we'd all trouped out onto the front steps of the domed and columned Lake Harriet Spiritual Community building to offer the traditional Fire Sacrifice in honor of the occasion.

(Let's be frank: pagan ritual has, for the most part, rung pretty hollow since the end of the days of animal sacrifice. But, of course, you don't have to kill an animal to offer sacrifice. Even in the old days, animal sacrifice was only one form of sacrifice.)

We'd set up the brazier on the landing between the two flights of stairs leading up to the door. As presiding priest, then, I stood with my back to the street, facing the Fire and the people coming out of the building.

So, unlike the rest of the worshipers there present, I didn't get to see the reactions of the passers-by.

 

Different places, different customs. Minneapolis having been, in its early days, largely populated by Scandinavians, we have—thanks to the infamous Founder Effect—a local culture of public privacy. You don't stare at other people, especially not at strangers. Really—so long as they're not doing anything harmful—it's best to act as if they're not even there.

(Dysfunctional as this may sound, it's probably the reason why there's such a large, self-assured pagan community here. Here, we could get away with it.)

So that's how it came to be that, on a beautiful early Saturday afternoon in high Summer, there can be a whole tribe of pagans out on the front steps doing something interesting with Fire, and the Minnesotans walking, biking, and driving by are wrestling—wrestling—with themselves not to look.

They'redoingsomethingthey'redoingsomethinginterestingIwannalookIwannalookI'mnotgonnalookI'mnotgonnalook I'm looking I'mnotlookingI'mreallynotlookingI'mjustwalkingjustwalkingby.

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