Sacrifices can be as varied as any other offering, but usually seem to involve inconvenience, abstention, or discomfort. Fairly common examples include giving up sex, experiencing pain, and fasting. I’m good with that. I start differing even from many of the other polytheists I’ve met when we get to the why, though. Why do we do these things?
The answer can be as varied and nuanced as the practices themselves, but the most common rationale I’ve heard is that if it’s unpleasant and you do it anyway, it means more and thus has a greater value than it might otherwise – to you, the Power who requested it, and perhaps even the world at large. This is a perfectly acceptable reason. It is not, however, the intent behind my practice of sacrifice. While I am not your typical spirit-worker in a lot of ways I’m also not a special snowflake – this perspective can be useful for anyone doing this kind of work.
I think the reason for the alternative view is that I’m working with different Powers than a majority of the people talking about this kind of thing. The whole “unpleasant = value” equation never figures in. Sacrifice is, in my relationships, not a reason in and of itself but a method. Something being difficult or painful is not the point. It’s more about clearing away that which has passed its usefulness to provide space for new growth.
My Lady uses the methods She uses with me because these are the methods that work with me, not out of personal preference. That’s it. If my head worked differently She would use other methods.
A few years ago my Lady demanded that I take a temporary oath of celibacy. Oh, I was pissed. I worked in the sex industry at the time, most of my social contacts were through the kink community, and I had 3 very regular play partners (one of whom I lived with). I loved sex – still do – and saw absolutely no reason to stop engaging with people on that level. Besides, being surrounded by it 24/7 and being unable to partake felt like cruel and unusual punishment. I argued, protested, resisted, came up with excuses, you name it. She was firm, though, and to put a cherry on my “are You serious?” sundae She had it start on Beltane. I was not amused (although my friends thought it was hilarious).
And within a week I felt like a total dumbass. I had more free time, my head was more open, and I unearthed this huge mess in my head I hadn’t even realized was there. Six months into it my life had drastically changed, and at the end of a year my life had so dramatically improved that I asked to make it permanent so I wouldn’t lose any ground (and got a no – I almost cried). I am a much healthier and more balanced person now because of the whole experience.
The thing here? She did not then and does not now care about my sexual partners or lack thereof. My celibacy didn’t do a damned thing for Her. The sacrifice was for me, to give me space to grow and change some patterns that were becoming problems. Celibacy was the method She used to guide me and teach me because that’s the only method that would have worked for me.
Even the more typical Ordeal-oriented sacrifices I’ve done for Her – the tattooing and piercings and brandings, the silences and the fasts, the floggings and the lashes – can be examined under this lens. To really learn a lesson I sometimes need it imprinted on blood and bone. If I don’t experience it and don’t feel it, it’s not real. The deeper a lesson is the more I need to physically feel it. My Lady works with that because that’s my need, not Hers.
For instance, part of my dedication ritual to Her was a flogging. I treated it almost like a hazing, like I had to go through this painful thing without complaint to prove myself worthy to serve Her or something. My top knew my (very high) limits and at my request purposely pushed them to make me work for it. After about 45 minutes, when I was about to fall to my knees again, I rather bitchily asked Her for a little help, since She wanted this and all.
From that moment until the end I didn’t feel a single blow land. Not one. My body moved with the impact, but that’s it. She had been waiting for me to request aid. My asking for help – not the pain itself – was the point. I already received so much from our relationship that asking for more felt like I was being unreasonable or demanding, so I simply didn’t ask. Ever. My Lady won’t help without request. My devotion (aka stubbornness) tied Her hands. In this case the Ordeal was simply a way She could force the issue in a way I couldn’t ignore. I’m much better about asking now.
This view of “sacrifice as method and not goal” isn’t one I see out there very much, and I somehow doubt that my Lady is the only one to approach sacrifice in this manner. It’s an incredibly valuable technique, however, and the perspective is useful. Knowing the reasons why a sacrifice is being requested might help us engage the experience more fully and get everything we can out of it.