The Purpose of Sacrifice
The first question might be “why do it?” Since the divine are perfect and without need, why give them sacrifice? The answer is that sacrifice is for our own benefit, as they need nothing. It is beneficial to us since it is we who gain communion with the Gods, allowing us to be brought closer to them and be brought into union. That is the overall purpose of sacrifice: to engage with the divine in an act of purity as a means of achieving henosis (union with the divine).
People are polluted through sins and other daily impurities, and even show an inclination towards this profanity. This is very blatant with the amount of effort that people will go through as a means of attaining holiness; from ascetic lifestyles, chastity, fasting, dietary restrictions, philanthropy, etc. In the same way that we accumulate physical grit and bodily dirt, we engage in activities which pollute us in a ritualistic sense through these knowing and unknowing transgressions. Sacrifice thus plays a role in being the right relation with the deity, to engage the holiness of the divine by bringing us closer in communion with them, and to gift the divine in a display of awe and gratitude. Through sacrifice’s ability to bring us into union with the divine, it turns the act into something that in a sense is similar to taking a bath, as the act of sacrifice is to be cleansed.
The divine are perfect, being always good and unchanging. The happiness of anything consists in its appropriate perfection, and the appropriate perfection of anything is union with its cause. This means the union of mortals with their cause, which are the Gods, can only happen through imitation or likeness with some intermediary agent bringing the two together; a sacrifice. However, the Gods are supramundane, and are thus beyond our normal mind, meaning we cannot reach them simply through mind and contemplation. The Gods, as well as the One above them, are not only beyond the physical realm, they transcend the realm of the mind. Since the divine Mind (Nous), also known as the Celestial Demiurge, is beneath the One, how can a mere human mind, even one linked to Nous, hope to connect itself to the One? Since contemplation evidently can only take you so far, the answer lies in ritual theurgy, which is ritual activity (such as prayer and sacrifice) as a means of uniting us with the divine through imitation as means of achieving henosis and therefore perfecting oneself. With regards to sacrifice, we can, therefore, say the sacrifice that acts as intermediate with the divine should be life, for human life wishes to gain communion with the first life (the divine), and thus something like those must act as the intermediate, which is why we sacrifice animals.
Furthermore, since we receive everything from the divine, it is only right to pay back the givers some tithe of their gifts, as the Gods are worthy of sacrifice and inspire us to worship them.
What Sacrifice Will Do
The rituals of sacrifice are a sacred thing, far from barbaric reveling in blood; instead blood sacrifice underlines the human need to kill to preserve life, making of it an appropriately solemn act. Quite simply, to get tied up in the blood is to miss the point. We can look to Mircea Eliade’s theory of ritual to understand why we sacrifice. Here, sacrifice itself is a ritualistic representation of illo tempore, which reflects the First Time and the creation of the cosmogony. As time progresses, it degenerates into Profane Time, which is inherently profane to the manifestation of the divine, who exist in Mythic Time. Hence through sacrifice, we replicate the First Time, the original sacrifice which created the world – typically represented in mythology by the dismemberment of the Monster/Giant from which the world was crafted, which symbolizes when the sacred and profane were established during creation. Because Mythic Time exists in a generalized time and is thus in a fundamentally out-of-step existence than our own, sacrificial ritual allows us to reenact that moment of creation as a way to sanctify and make holy what we are doing, which brings us into closer concordance with the sacred in our own place and time by encouraging the manifestation of Mythic Time and the suspension of Profane Time. It is itself an act of purification, which purifies the space the sacrifice takes place on by lifting us towards the divine in participation through imitation. This imitation thus allows us to sanctify and make holy of what we are doing by enabling us to act as one within the sacred, and therefore exclude any kind of eris.
Sacrifice and the whole of the gifting cycle should not be approached with the assumption that it is a business transaction. The mutilation of do ut des, “I give so you may give,” to a commodified sense of “I give you so you must give,” was primarily caused by early Christianity and Pauline theology. Instead, do ut des proper is a nuanced, reciprocal relation in which we cultivate an accord with the divine in order to gain their benevolence and engage in communion with them. This link through sacrifice allows us to enter a relation with the Gods so we may receive their benevolence. The theory is that we give the Gods something of worth, and in exchange, we receive from them something of value, which results in us giving more worth to the Gods, which results in receiving something else of value, and so forth. Instead of being a mere business transaction, it is the establishment of a fundamental cycle of gift exchanging. It is a concept that is, in actuality, wholly in harmony and inseparable from the concept of xenia (hospitality). Do ut des proper seeks to establish a personal relation with the God, and has the ultimate goal of achieving henosis.
Sacrifice assists in bringing about union with the divine because the material realm is the realm of change, which justifies destructive sacrifice as reaching its ultimate logical conclusion by negating materiality. Matter is not a substance but rather a passive dimension for any regime of formation. By negating materiality, we release tokens (synthemata) from matter back to the Gods from which they came, which allows an authentic sacrifice to extend and enter into a so-called “cosmic economy” where it is categorized by its unique individuality. Once these tokens are gone the dross matter remains, but without its essence. The necessity of the sacrifice is transposed from the sacrifice to the sacrificer as they are the one who is operating and connecting the junction of the two manifolds. This is because role the sacrificer plays brings them into communion with the divine as operator of the sacrifice, which ultimately allows the sacrifice and sacrificer to become identical by activating and elevating the same tokens within us.
We must overall understand that prayer with no sacrifice are merely words, and sacrifice with no prayer is merely empty expenditure. When they are joined, sacrifice will animate words, allowing them to become live words, which will cause the words to give power to the life and the life-giving animation to the words. One cannot be without the other. This is intrinsically tied to the cycle of gift giving, do ut des. Vows are always positive, for example, “I will burn you a bundle of frankincense” or “I will offer you the sacrifice of a goat.” It is positive because you promise a gift, which is necessary for the gifting cycle. A negative vow is something done when one finds themselves in trouble, such as “I swear if I recover I will never eat seafood again!” is seen as improper since it is something that you do for yourself, not for the God; there is no exchange of gifts with a negative.
What Sacrifice Will Not Do
Worship and sacrifice aren’t provided to the Gods to “appease” them. The Gods are not angry with sinners, for to be angry would be to passion. The Gods do not rejoice- for what rejoices also grieves; nor are they appeased by gifts – for if they were, they would also be conquered by pleasure. The Gods are always good, always do good and never do harm, instead always being in the same state and like themselves. Instead, when we are good, we are joined and cling to the Gods when we show likeness to them by living according to virtue, and when we become evil we make the Gods our enemies – not because they are angered against us, but because our sins prevent the light of the Gods from shining upon us, instead putting us in communion with spirits of punishment. If by prayers and sacrifices we find forgiveness of sins, we do not appease or change the Gods, but instead, by turning toward the divine, we heal our own badness and so again enjoy the eternal and infinite goodness of the Gods. To say that the Gods turn away from evil is like saying that the sun hides Himself from the blind.
Additionally, it shouldn’t be thought that the Gods need the sacrifice. The Gods need nothing because they lack nothing. We worship the Gods because the Gods are worthy of sacrifice and inspire us to worship them. We worship the Gods for our own benefit, not theirs.
Finally, it shouldn’t be thought that sacrifice is katagogic (descending), where we bring the Gods downwards. Rather we must properly understand that sacrifice is anagogic (ascending), where we are raised towards the Gods through participation, as we are incapable of bringing the Gods downwards.
Importance of Piety & Approach
Since we can say since the Gods are infinite and beyond us, and thus need nothing, the most crucial part in the act of authentic sacrifice is piety and approach, since the Gods do not need anything and it is us who benefit. Things like the sincerity of approach when trying to initiate the relation are part of it, but there is also the ritual itself. Making sure a sacrifice is done correctly and received successfully by the Gods is paramount. Not only do petitions hold a higher chance of being granted when a sacrifice accompanies the prayer— but it’s imperative that the sacrifice is done correctly and to the right deity. An improper sacrifice can cause ritual pollution, which can blind you from the light of the Gods and cause ill-fortune to fall upon you.
Since all is infinite and the rituals are holy, it can be said the sacred rites were established and given to human souls by the Gods, or alternatively, the rituals mimic the cycles of the cosmos. These practices exemplified divine principles that provided for the deification of the human soul. Given the transformative nature of sacrifice, it is essential that the order in which sacrifices are to be performed aren’t altered. This even applies for an individual who dedicates their life to philosophical pursuits and theological speculation; if they wished to be healed of the suffering associated with embodiment and generation, must perform the proper sacrifices in the correct order and manner.
It should lastly be said that proper sacrifice should be given to proper Gods. There is said to be three types of Gods:
- The Hypercosmic Gods, who are wholly exempt from matter and rise above it.
- The Hyper-Encosmic Gods, who serve as a mean between the Hyercosmic and Encosmic Gods.
- The Encosmic Gods (I.e., The planets and stars, who are practically the leader Gods. Athene who rules fiery aether/fixed stars, and the Celestial Demiurge Zeus-Helios), who embrace matter within themselves and impose order on it.
It is necessary to provide worship in accordance of their nature, and thus the worship to the Encosmic Gods must be corporeal/material, the worship to the Hypercosmic Gods must be immaterial and relate to the mind, and the worship of the Hyper-Encosmic Gods must be a medium. All these forms of worship, however, are important to do to be whole, as they are representative of a type of divine that aid in operating the cosmos and help communicate the will of the Celestial Demiurge, and thus they all are required for a “completeness” in the pursuit for henosis.
“Prayers without sacrifices are only words, with sacrifices they are live words; the word gives meaning to the life, while the life animates the word.”
“Are you not aware that all offerings whether great or small that are brought to the Gods with piety have equal value, whereas without piety, I will not say hecatombs, but, by the Gods, even the Olympian sacrifice of a thousand oxen is merely empty expenditure and nothing else?”
-Flavius Claudius Iulianus Augustus / Julian the Philosopher
“Even as the Gods cut through matter by the fire of the thunderbolt, and separate off from it those elements which are immaterial in their essence, but are overcome by it and imprisoned in it, and render them impassible instead of passible, even so the fire of our realm, imitating the activity of the divine fire, destroys all that is material in the sacrifices, purifies the offerings with fire and frees them from the bonds of matter, and renders them suitable, through the purification of their nature, for consorting with the Gods, and by the same procedures liberates us from the bonds of generation and makes us like to the Gods, and renders us worthy to enjoy their friendship, and turns round our material nature towards the immaterial.”
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