Today I came across a piece on Patheos where Angelo Nasios reacts to claims from the famous British Classics scholar Mary Beard, that because there are no modern believers in the ancient Gods she can make controversial claims without having to look over her back. You can read the blog post by Angelo Nasios here.
In particular, she claims that modern pagans worshipping these Gods — so she does know of and recognise that there are in fact worshippers of these Gods — she claims that, and I quote:
“Until these eager neo-pagans get real and slaughter a bull or two in central Athens, I shan’t worry that they have much to do with ancient religion at all. At the moment, this is paganism lite.”
Using the lack of animal sacrifice in modern practice as an example of how modern “pagan” religions are not, in fact, valid as successors to the ancient religions and as such can be dismissed or disregarded.
While, in general, I agree with Angelo Nasios in his refutation of Mary Beards’ points, I take umbrage at his views regarding animal sacrifice. He does bring up the valid point that traditions that did away with animal sacrifices, such as the Pythagoreans and various Orphic cults, do make a valid ancient precedent for the lack of animal sacrifice today. Then he quotes the official position on the matter by one of the polytheistic groups in Hellas, the Supreme Council of Ethnic Hellenes, whose position Angelo Nasios follows: Angelo says of this:
The Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes’ official position concerning sacrifice is that it is no longer needed given the world we live in with supermarkets and packaged meat. Along with the religious purpose an animal sacrifice had, it also had a practical purpose, a purpose which has found itself obsolete in our time. As such, bloodless sacrifices are the preferred option and are in harmony with our tradition.
My gripe with this sentiment is that animal sacrifice seems to be reduced to being mainly about procuring meat. The sacral aspects of animal sacrifice are acknowledged and seem to be minimised in favour of the more “practical” purpose of obtaining meat, a rarity for most people in antiquity, but not today with our supermarkets, packaged meat, etc.
I am of the firm opinion that animal sacrifice is important and indeed central to the Hellenic religion and that unless one is vegetarian or vegan it makes no sense to be opposed to animal sacrifice. Is it really so much better, so much more civilised, to have meat easily and cheaply available, packaged, in supermarkets? Meat that was obtained from animals killed in a cold, soulless, mechanical and industrialised way, en masse? Sometimes with abuse or maltreatment of the animals (a very important point to me, since Belgium recently had some scandals involving such malpractices). Compared to a sacred practice that continued unabated since time immemorial until it was brutally interrupted and suppressed by the violence of Christianity? A sacred practice that makes the killing of the animal, the butchering of its carcass, and consumption of the meat a consecrated and respectful event, full of religious significance and communion with the Gods by sharing with them parts of the animal (such as fat and bones, particularly the thigh bone)?
I find not, animal sacrifice is the preferred option, to me. And the reason I and so many others do not practice it is for simple practical reasons. We need large enough communities. We need farmers who can raise the animals properly, treat them well during life. We need people who can properly perform the killing, cutting the animal’s throat just right to ensure a swift and painless death. Most of us do not have any of these, so, for now, we must make peace with the fact that we must partake in our societies’ meat industry. Though that doesn’t mean we should not petition for better conditions for the animals. However, that would take me too far from the point I am making here.
As our communities grow, and we get people who can raise animals, I believe and hope that, in due time, the sacred practice of animal sacrifice will be properly re-established.
For more on this topic, you can read this blog post by Christos Panopoulos, a member of Labrys, a Hellenic polytheistic group in Hellas: “Αιματηρή θυσία και σύγχρονος πολυθεϊσμός“. For those of you who don’t know Hellenic, here is a pdf with a translation into English by Lesley and Rathamanthys Madytinos: Pandion blog, posted here with permission.