On Sacrifice - Human and Otherwise
By David Rietti
(Originally Published at Samhain 1996)
By way of an introduction
In the days when flairs were new and not retro, there was a jolly band of minstrels with whom the King of the Witches (he said he was anyway) used to sometime appear. This minstrels y-clept "Black Widow", did an album, "Sacrifice" which's most known ditty was called "Come to the Sabbath". Anyone old enough to remember is also old enough to know better, but that is another tale for another time. Anyway, getting back to an album that was in it's way a precursor of both "Spinal Tap" and "Cradle of Filth", the last track on the album also called "Sacrifice", contains the line, "a sacrifice, a sacrifice, you say you want a sacrifice, well you'll never get to Power just by playing nasty games". (As near as I can recall)
And let us make no mistake, Power is what it is all about. The ways of Magic, Magick, the Craft, the way of the Craftsman, the way of the Warrior, all are Ways of Power, the honest ones admit it, the dubious one may disguise it in mealy-mouthed political correctness, or squeaky clean new-age smugness (respectability always cloaks the greatest crimes) whilst some pretend wickedness to hide their neutered souls. Power is the name of the game, and Power requires the consumption of fuel. And, simply, baldly, honestly put that is the only true definition of "Sacrifice", fuel on the way to Power.
If the Sacrifice be of "physical" or "non-physical" nature, direct, for immediate consumption by that which offers, or indirect, traded for favours from another power source, in the end Sacrifice is made to feed Power, and the aim of Power is to increase Power.
Now, I'm sure that many of you, dear Readers, will find what you have just read offensive, and some may even find it a cause for pseudo-enthusiastic agreement; "pseudo" because you'd never volunteer to feed the current version of the "Inca" with your heart now would you? That requires a great deal more commitment than prancing about in robes or tight corsets and drinking sugar water and cochineal as stage blood.
So all you self-righteous "white", "Right Hand Pathers", and all you self-wrongneous "Black" "Left Hand Pathers" NOW HEAR THIS, the Emperor only gets to be the Emperor by being proud of his glorious Nakedness. But I digress.......
Of that which is sacrificed.
"I've got a little list, and they'll none of them be missed" -W. S. Gilbert
I will begin this part of my speculations by looking at the traditional division of sacrifice by "victim" into "non-bloody" and "bloody", and the sub-division of the "bloody" into the "non-human" and the "human". It will be my contention that these divisions are, in the final analysis, false, or rather meaningless.
So let us consider your bog standard neo-pagan sitting in smug contemplation of the gently rising incense smoke he/she (or whatever inbetween is fashionable) is offering in honour of "The God(ess)" and let us look more closely at that incense.
A) "Best" case scenario. Our friend has gone to the local friendly "occult/New Age" shop and bought a jar of incense and some charcoal, or some joss sticks. Innocent and clean? Well maybe not. The incense ingredients have been put together by someone, expending their time and labour. They then sell the product to sustain their needs. These needs are determined by a social formation comprising a production economy, a libidinal economy and a history of contingencies, all reproducing themselves under the governance of an economy of ideas. If our friend is very lucky, he/she may also be burning an incense made by someone who actually had invested the time and money to get real and extensive knowledge so that the correspondences involved are correct and proper. Or maybe not. Most likely not. So our friend is offering to the God(ess) an offering generated by the consumption of someone else's life in sacrifice to the deity of the Social formation (ie. Our neo-pagan is offering the Holy what are in effect second hand goods!) and, if the maker does not know what they are doing, or could not be bothered, is also participating in an (inadvertent) sacrifice to the God Ignorance (the Demiurge Laldabaoth of the Gnostics).
Of course if our friend acknowledged this situation and made it part of the intention then the sacrifice would not be marred by incipient stupidity, but then we'd have a real pagan, no "neo", and such are rare, if not an endangered species, through slightly less so than true magicians.
And that charcoal, or that stick inside the joss, what wood was that again, and where did it come from?` And so on, and so on....
B) "Worst" case scenario? As above, then add production in some "developing" country, ruled by a vicious military dictatorship, by sweated child labour etc. etc. etc. Behind your favourite "Goddess of Light and Cuddlyness" incense, may be your worst nightmare. My point is this, ever since Marx, Freud and Nietzche stripped us of our (mostly dysfunctional) innocence it cannot be ignored that there ain't no such thing as a clean pair of hands. Your "bloodless" sacrifice may be, and probably is, the end point of bloody repression, exploitation, and a politics you'd rather not be part of and yet you can seldom extricate yourself from such a reality.
Now what have these anecdotes to do with the fact that I am writing this article on Sacrifice? (apart from the obvious, that I'm some longwinded old fart whose increasingly decrepit mind is prone to wonder somewhat.)
They have to do with what I'm trying to convey because they encapsulate perfectly two of the core and key issues that separate the ethical and expedient practice of sacrifice from prejudiced rejection of the whole idea on the one hand, and ignorant neglect on the other. Thinking about it, ignorant neglect is actually not conveyed by the two anecdotes above so here is a third. Fred and Flossie go into the supermarket, buy a pre-packed joint of pork, go home, cook and devour it, end of anecdote.
The crux here is the attitude and respect, shown towards oneself, to God, or the Gods, to Proper Authority, to that which is killed, and not least to the expediency of the situation. Proper and efficacious sacrifice, animal or human, occurs at the meeting point of ethics and expediency as a case-in-point of what our Chinese precursors called "Correct Action". Anything less is mere slaughter and I condemn it, not from moral indignation, but as inefficient as a fueling of Power on the way to, and of, Power.
Reading through what I've written so far I am struck that there has been very little about "how to". Well dears, that is because a study of the classic literature of magic/magick/etc will give anyone who can read the necessary know-how. So why should I use my time? Clarify your intent, collate your correspondences, polish up your equipment, and go out and kill something, why don't you. But remember this: "never kill what you, or someone/thing else, can't eat." has been the maxim of the true predator since the dawn of time.
OK, OK, let's face it, dead chickens are not that interesting, seen one, seem them all, so to speak! What you've all been waiting for, and the main reason you have bothered to read this stuff so far, is the answer to the question what is this person going to say about HUMAN SACRIFICE? Let's have some "shock horror", let's have some thanato-erotic frisson (that's "chosmogical" jargon for getting your jollies with a bit of vicarious necrophilia). Damn it, this is the Halloween issue isn't it? So by popular demand......
Of Human Sacrifice
"Go tell it on the Mountain......"
Everything that exists has life in some measure and life is the combination of raw Power, or "Force", with sentience, the capacity to experience and remember and hence learn. The continuous manifestation of the particular vitality of "this object", ie. discreet part of the whole of Existence, is its Spirit. Hence Spirit(s) evolve(s) with experience. Left to itself therefore the sum of Power in all existent beings would in anycase increase. But it would not evolve, ie. would not take the road of increasing structure and differentiation by which meaning, in each part and in the whole, alone increases.
I make no apologies for the axiomatic quality of the above, the constraints of an article necessitate it.
It has been documented that many of the earliest forms and instances of Human Sacrifice all relate to "places of Power", mountains in particular, and ditto any present day practice of the magical topping of folk. It is commonplace to attribute this, the historical archaeological examples at least, to a desire to gift the heavens "up there" with something precious, say a first born child, or a respected enemy. Personally I've felt for some time that this explanation does not hold water. Survival considerations alone suggest that magic, which is a technology, antedates historically and proceeds logically any high flown poetics of "transcendence". Magic when it matters is an immanentist approach to life. The Otherworld, the realm of the Spirits is not elsewhere, not up (though possibly down) it is here with us. The ancient and primitive would have been very aware that the World, Nature, including the "extended" nature of the Spirit filled Otherworld, was first and foremost three things, here, now, and nasty. Only later did mountains become meeting places of "Heaven" and Earth. Originally they were recognized as massive accumulations of Power, huge lumps of life force. Now if you are faced with something with the Power of a million megaton bomb and sentience somewhat less than an amoeba, and you want it "on side", what do you do? You do the sensible thing and plug into it something with only the Power of an human, but also the sentience of an human. You feed the mountain with sentience until its conscious Spirit matches its power. Thus is a Deity of the place synthesized. Of course the Deity so synthesized will, miseducated by its "nursemaids" or priesthood, soon declare itself omnipotent & eternal, forgetting its origins, and demand the more easily digested food of worship, perhaps with the outer form of continuing sacrifice, to commemorate the original operation of synthesis. "Do this in memory of me etc." At this point the sacrifice, still usually human, has ceased to be a purely magical one and becomes a magico-religious act, finally when refined into acts of substitute-symbolic ritual, it becomes purely religious. With this process complete, the whole is ripe for expropriation when the priests start to eat the God, even if only in the person of God's chosen representative. The examples of this end-state are too numerous to mention throughout History. Of course it could be that a really clever Magician would take two victims, probably twins, preferably identical, "plug in" one to the mountain, eat the other as an act of immediate expropriation through sympathetic magic(k) (with a "k" if sex were involved, before or after the killing) thus becoming more deific and thus more fully human and leaving no Genius Loci for the priestly-inclined to corrupt into "God". History suggests however that there have always been very few clever magicians. In the words of the Ineffable Trinity, Wacko, Jacko and Dot, "Wheel of Morality, Turn !, Turn!, Turn! Show us the lesson we must learn." and today's lesson is :"If you leave anything after you some other bugger will use it and not in your interest."
The use of human sacrifice in a religio-magical rather than a purely magical context requires us to look at the point where the political impinges on that context in the form of the Right (or presumed right) of the State to determine the boundary of its constitutional citizens existence, ie. we must consider the politics of mass human sacrifice. As Thomas Hobbes and V I Lenin both showed The State in effect is not only a Person in the legal sense, but also in a more metaphysical, and thus more real and physical sense. And the State as Person is the Grand Parasite living off the very lives of the citizens, which it permeates in craft of their being citizens, ie. subsumed by the State. Sometimes however the State, just as much a synthetic deity as our mountain with a human corpse on its summit, is hungrier than slow parasitism can assuage. So the State (aka the Inca, aka Moloch, aka the Central Committee, aka Democracy and so on) turns to its sister and brother demigorgons and they agree to play War to feed each other on each other's children. But of course, if during all this carnage
some misguided soul should attempt to emulate that old shaman(ka) with the buried twin and the eaten twin on the mountain top, just imagine the furor in the Sunday papers. Why, would not the Priests and servitors of Moloch the State call down the full strictures of the law on the poor misguided fool? I seem to remember Charlie Manson pointing out the absurdity of a judge condemning his rampages whilst condoning, nay enthusiastically supporting, the war in Vietnam.
But before I succumb too far to Swiftian disgust, let us move on to another aspect of the Human Sacrifice question, one that combines the Hand and the Wand of the Great Beast.
I suppose that there are still ignorant and bigoted persons who haven't worked out that when good old uncle Al said he daily sacrificed a male child of perfect innocence and intelligence he was talking about ritual masturbation not ritual murder or ritual abuse of actual children. The perfect innocence of sperm as sacrifice is due to its lack of experience (titter ye not!) and its intelligence, well what else is that than being really nothing but information in a jelly coating that swims.
Question though is, is this truly human sacrifice or just a load of old wank? Yes, it is true human sacrifice for in the ritual discharge the normal potential of the sperm to instigate the development of a human shaped piece of biotech for a soul to live in, is turned to other ends by the Magician. The directed and conscious consecration of the ovum at ovulation to a particular magical purpose and the ritualization of its destruction at menstruation would constitute one equivalent sacrifice of human "potentia" to other ends if the Magician is a woman. Now there are nocturnal emissions and just plain old wanking, and women bleed anyway. So is not such human sacrifice as AC described of an higher ethical nature than mere spillage.
Every day the detritus of our civilization is manifested as muggings, murders for gain and gratuitous and meaningless violence onto which only a glimmer of meaning is pasted "post hoc" when the statistics and the popular press description of such horrors are used to justify repression and oppression by the representatives of the very Idol who's needs created them in the first place.
How much nobler the true historical Thug with weighted silk scarf in hand offering the victim of his crime, a stranger concerning whom he felt nothing at all of love or hate, to Mother Kali, killing bloodlessly lest the drinking of blood increase our Mother's madness and She destroy the world by the sheer excess of Her fecundity.
How much more noble the Lin Kwei of the Forests of Ancient China or the Vagabonds of Her Cities, the outlaw martial artists, for whom crime was a disciplined and ordered form of disorder in an ordered state, without the honourable discharge of which, Order itself would be but a sterile framework for meaningless and thus incorrect action.
Meanwhile in a grove near Nemi........
Which digression into the sanctity of consecrated crime brings me to that other criminal turned hero, The King of the Wood, who defended the Golden Bough against all comers until sacrificed by the one who could overcome him in ritual combat.
The point being that to slay something entails the obligation to take its place in the Order of Things, unless by our earlier argument one has honoured it by assimilation, that is to say, one ate it in a polite and respectful fashion.
The King of the Wood brings me to that other ritual slaughter, the Night Battle, in which "witches" and "werewolves" "slaughter" one another to ensure the fecundity of field and hunt. Even if in historical times this has been fought by zonked out mushroom- and herb- takers on the subtle planes, there was in all likelihood a time when the battle was flesh on flesh.
So to conclude this section, there is a long, varied, and honourable tradition of human sacrifice, the absence of a recognized and accepted place for which in our "civilization" may well not represent the "progress" our politicians and moral leaders in particular, would like to think, or have us think. What they do in the privacy of their own homes is, of course, another question.
"By the eight and ninety rules of Art"
So that then is really the choice, due and proper sacrifice , or ignorant wastage. Perhaps the noblest act we can perform is to take an act of wastage and turn it, albeit retroactively, by our intention, to one of meaningful sacrifice. One good example is closing sequence of Greeneway's "The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover". The Thief has killed the Lover in an act of gratuitous jealousy that belittles the Thief and the Lover and the Wife as well. She has the Cook prepare the dead Lover and serves him to the Thief, making the Thief eat the Lover's penis first. (Literally). By the act of vengeance as sacrifice she ennobles herself, gives meaning to her Lover's death by presenting it as a sacrifice through ritual preparation by the Cook, and paradoxically redeems, in the very act of avenging herself upon him, the Thief, by giving to his meaningless and gratuitous act a retroactive dignity as a sacrifice to the refining and ennobling Deity, Righteous Vengeance.
On however small a scale, go Thou and do likewise, even if it is only consecrating your vegetarian curry before eating.
The world would be improved if we re-introduced capital sentences, not as a mandatory juridical counter-murder, "social retribution", but as an option the condemned could choose, to be publicly or privately sacrificed by a suitable method determined from correspondences to the deity of their choice. And if, as it should be, voluntary euthanasia is legalized, a similar option should be included there also.
War could be ritualized to a small scale as a sacrifice in battle to propitiate the Earth Mother, a sort of positive version of "Death Race 2000" or "Rollerball" meets "The Rite of Spring" and it could be recognized that every living thing not only does use every other living thing with which it comes into contract, but that it has a Right so to do and this too is Holy.
Death to the Hypocrites!
Happy Halloween to you all!
(Footnote in lieu of a bibliography/source list: I was going to concoct one of these academical respectability-giving devices for you, but what the Hell, my sources are all out there in the libraries, go and trace them for yourselves. You'll learn more that way!)