In general, those of us who follow a Pagan faith (whether that faith be Wicca, Asatru, Religio Romana, Kemetism, Hellenism, etc) embrace orthopraxy as part of our spirituality. Which means that we participate in making sacrifices to the Gods we honor by offering alcoholic beverages, food, trinkets, and so on.
Yet it has come to my attention in the last couple of years that there are a lot of people who “sort of” follow Pagan paths rather than fully committing. And that’s fine – up until you ask a deity to interfere in your personal affairs and that deity chooses to respond favorably.
Exchange and sacrifice are an inherent understanding of Pagan faiths. When a deity acts for you, it stands to reason that there is a need to respond in kind – to acknowledge the favor the Gods have bestowed upon you.
I can’t speak for the Gods of other pantheons, but the Norse Gods seem to take a failure to offer a token of appreciation as a great insult. Especially Odin, and it’s generally not wise to offend Him, considering He is one of the darker Gods of the Norse pantheon. Interestingly enough, Odin is far more widely honored in modern times than He was in the pre-Christian era.
Anyway, in the first example – a High Priestess swore an oath to Odin. He upheld his end of the oath made, and she failed to come through. Instead of paying her debt, she did everything she could to exorcise His presence. In order to assure the debt was paid, Odin started to “haunt” the woman’s best friend until she came to me for help, wondering why this sinister, faceless man kept appearing to her on the nights she would visit her friend. Eventually, we put the story together. I don’t know if the High Priestess ever paid her debt – I was tasked only with communicating the message, not resolving the issue.
And communicating that message seems to be part and parcel of the oath I swore dedicating myself to Odin. I don’t speak of this often because I tend to assume people understand what I mean when I say I have dedicated myself to Odin, but perhaps I need to specify what I mean. When I say I am dedicated to Odin, I mean I wear the Valknut, the symbol often called the “Knot of the Slain,” and it essentially marks me as one of Odin’s chosen warriors, which means He can call me to the other side without warning.
In any case, the other example I have of a person who failed to properly appease Odin I actually learned of today – again, I was acting as His messenger. I learned that a woman’s husband had – half-jokingly – addressed one of the numerous crows we have in this area as Odin and asked Odin for help in curing his son’s illness (the boy, 3 years old, was in the hospital on a ventilator due to pneumonia, with little prognosis of getting better anytime soon). Two days after the request, the boy was off the ventilator and growing healthier each day. The woman told me that there had been increasing amounts of crows at her house – so many it has become impossible to walk out the door without seeing an entire murder of them. I asked her if she or her husband had offered a token of appreciation, and she said her husband decided to give up smoking pot for a month but wasn’t sure he had actually dedicated that sacrifice to Odin.
Granted, my knee-jerk reaction (which I avoided actually voicing) was that giving up pot for a month didn’t really seem like much of a sacrifice for a life saved. But I don’t know the woman’s husband, don’t know the hardship that giving up pot would cause him (if any), and I think it’s important to consider that each person comes to a sacrifice in a different way. If the deity to whom the sacrifice is being made accepts the offering, then the sacrifice is valid. If, however, the deity doesn’t accept the offering, something else is required. Figuring out whether the offering has or hasn’t been accepted can be difficult, but I would suggest that if you start seeing a murder of crows outside your house after offering something to Odin, then that sacrifice has most likely not been accepted.
I’m not sure if there’s an irony to the reason Odin is rarely present in my life or if it is to be expected because He in essence can call on me whenever He likes (and so rarely sees the need to do so), but every time He does show up, it always seems to be to communicate a message similar to this one.
I feel like there are a lot of Pagans out there, Heathens included (since some Heathens try to separate themselves from that umbrella) who look at the Gods as kind and benevolent figures who would never threaten or harm Their followers. While that’s a pretty ideal, it is one that completely disregards reality. The Gods are complex. They are kind, but They are also cruel. It does no one good to forget that truth.
If you’re looking for a TL:DR version (which I rarely ever offer), then this would be the catchphrase: If you ask the Gods for a favor and They grant it, pay Them back.
3 thoughts on “The Importance of Sacrifice”
I try to find some sort of act that’s “worthy” of sacrifice status when I ask for something from my patrons. But as a college student who lives in a dorm, it’s tricky to find what works.
I try to offer up my tabletop gaming sessions I run to Cerridwen or a major crafting project to her, and so far nothing ill has happened. It’s moreso with Cernunnos and Morrigan I grow concerned with, merely because Cernunnos is largely active in my life and Morrigan is someone you don’t want to mess with.
Might you have any advice and help to offer a college pagan?
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I’m a college student as well, and I think it depends on the deity as to what is accepted. If nothing bad occurs after a sacrifice, it’s safe to assume that it has been accepted.
One of the things I do (which I believe originated with Hinduism) is set out a cup of water each night on my altar before I go to bed.
I felt a little silly when I first started doing it because it’s just water (and that’s the attitude that proves I live in a first world country), but then I started thinking about how precious water really is. In fact, water is life itself – without it, no one would exist.
When I started thinking about it that way, I realized that offering water to the Gods each night made perfect sense.
Now, if you want to get more personal with your sacrifices, I’d look at the different aspects of the deities in question.
Food and water can always be offered, and so can handmade trinkets. It’s best to offer what you can within your means. The most meaningful sacrifices, of course, are the sacrifices of the things you feel you “absolutely cannot live without” and then give up – but that type of sacrifice needn’t be made every time a sacrifice is offered.
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This reminds me, I owe Freya an offering of gratitude. I don’t often ask for assistance, but a couple of days ago I did. I didn’t make any promises to sacrifice this or that if She would help, but nonetheless. I should give a token of gratitude as all went well.
A curious note here, concerning Odin and sacrifice. The only time I’ve ever felt an offering -not- being appreciated, was with Him.Or well, that is a simplification. I think/hope the offering was appreciated, but I felt a strong wave coming back at me saying that the gifts chosen were inappropriate for Him in particular. Words echoed within my head, simple words explaining what he would have wanted instead. It felt like being rightfully chided by a highly respected authority, it had me blushing shamefully and honestly apologizing. As soon as possible I brought another, more appropriate offering, and all was well.
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