The blood is the least important part of a blood sacrifice. There is no inherent magic in the blood of an animal spilled for sacrifice. There is no inherent magic in the blood of anything spilled in sacrifice. Now that you’re listening and I have your interest piqued, because let’s face it that is not what you are likely to have heard, let’s dive into the philosophy behind blood sacrifice and indeed sacrifice in general.
My main purpose in writing this piece is to try and clear up some misconceptions I have seen over the years regarding blood sacrifice, one of the worst of which being that blood sacrifice is necessary for being a heathen or for engaging with the gods. On this note I highly doubt there are many among our wider pagan community who have done blood sacrifices, and fewer still who have done them correctly, and even fewer who have understood the philosophy behind such an act. Are these people not heathen or not pagan because they haven’t done it, haven’t done it right, or haven’t understood why it is done at all? No, not in the slightest; because quite the contrary to what you might have heard blood sacrifice is not a necessity for heathenry. Blood sacrifice is practically meaningless unless done correctly and it is hard to do correctly in our society, nor is it necessary. Other forms of offering exist that are generally more accessible to most heathens; for instance votive offerings and food offerings and libations which carry great meaning and are exceptionally valid forms of sacrifice. While I cannot ameliorate every misconception through this piece, I hope to at least partially begin to remedy the lack of understanding behind such things within our community by showing what the philosophy behind blood sacrifice is.
I suppose the first thing to say though is that the blood isn’t important, the blood is not the sacrifice. Some of you might be somewhat surprised by this, but if you wait I’ll explain. So if the blood isn’t the sacrifice, is the meat? No, not really. Is it the fat and the bone? Not really. So what then is sacrificed? Ultimately it is the life of the animal is sacrificed, and further still the potential lives that could have come from it.
Let’s talk cows. People in today’s world do not generally understand cows. If they think of cows at all they think of them as farm creatures and most of those people try their hardest to think no deeper than that. Those that do go a little deeper think of them as meat. Both of these views are incorrect, in truth cows are simultaneously both and neither of these things because it is missing the core of it all. Instead though if you were to ask a farmer they’ll tell you how it is – cows are money. This is a very old and very historical mindset. Cows have always been money, they represent Feoh (Fehu) in the runic system for a reason. Not only are cows money, they are money that multiplies itself. If you have a cow, that cow will deliver to you every year that it is alive another cow. It will literally double its value every year. Now that’s an immense yearly return on the investment you put into keeping it well cared for. Furthermore, each of the female calves upon their maturity will render unto you yearly another cow. The male calves will grow to a certain size and if they are not the most prized in size and form they will be sold for meat so that more heifers can be bought.
So you take this cow and now you plan on sacrificing it, you are not merely pouring out its blood, you are not merely sharing it in a meal with your community, you are instead snuffing out its life and removing it from the realm of men and in doing so you have not only deprived yourself of the potential wealth of that cow but also all the potential wealth that could have come from that cow through it birthing more calves for you or if male for you to buy from its earnings more females to birth more calves for you. You have deprived yourself of an unlimited and exponential growth of wealth with every sacrifice of this sort that is made.
You might make reference to the Saga of Hakon the Good here. It references that the blood of sacrifices was collected and sprinkled throughout a temple. Why would this occur if it wasn’t special? Well it was sort of special, just not magical in what it was attempting to do. Think of it like this, the visual of seeing this stuff is seeing that a sacrifice has taken place. It’s as though you can see the piety. But is it anything beyond that? I would argue no. The blood wasn’t what was important here deep down, it was that it was part of the sacrificial process and carried with it a touch of that holyness. If you sacrificed mead sprinkling it about would be much the same. Think of it like holy water, it’s not the water that matters, it’s that the water has been blessed, the blessing is what matters. The only difference though would be that mead wouldn’t be visually identifiable in the same way. But let’s be real, we don’t have to be sprinkled with blood to visually express our piety if we even have to visually express it at all.
I’ve heard of heathens buying blood, just blood like a tub of blood, from the store and using it in sacrifice as though it were the thing that somehow carried some inherent sacrificial quality. But that animal didn’t die for the gods, that animal died to feed people. For one, if you buy a tub of blood and sacrifice it all you are sacrificing is the blood you bought. You did not sacrifice the animal; you did not lose its usefulness because that animal was never of use to you at all. If you buy meat, you aren’t sacrificing the whole of that cow nor its life; you are merely sacrificing the meat that you bought. The meat at least is a proper sacrifice on some level because you have deprived yourself of the mægen of the meal that could have nourished you in that food by giving it up. But the blood? That is basically a trash ingredient used for little else except mixing with mash to fatten your hogs on. Even traditional food-ways that make use of blood (for instance blood sausage) are generally trying to salvage something rather than celebrate it. However none of this is the same as the sacrifice of a living creature because in that you lose the creature and all the potential it carried in the future.
I’ve even heard of some people taking the thought of inherently magical blood the next step to offer their own blood. Unfortunately that is incorrect religious practice on a great many levels. You see, while there are a number of correct practices and answers, not all answers and practices are correct. Despite there not being one correct way, there are still wrong ways. If you sacrifice your own blood, what kind of sacrifice is that even? You make more, your body is perpetually replenishing its supply of blood, you have literally not given anything up. Not only that, but that doesn’t even begin to cover the idea of pollution or miasma involved with such an act. Cross-culturally we see the importance of ritual cleanliness, that one can be ritually dirty through certain acts. One of the things which can bring such pollution or miasma is being hurt or injured. No, just no; but to keep it short, it’s unclean and doesn’t even amount to a sacrifice.
Now you might say something here about blood magic. I have attempted to be very precise with my language here and note that I was referring to blood poured out in religious sacrifice, not to blood used in magical acts. There is a long history of using blood or bodily fluids in magic to form sympathetic magical links in some way. However, magic and religious ritual are not the same. In this case, religions have taboos where magic would have no qualms. In other words, what you can potentially do in magic is not always what you can or should do in religious ritual. It is beyond the scope of what I am here discussing: religion and blood sacrifice.
Back to animals, the blood is a byproduct of the sacrifice not the sacrifice itself. If the blood were the sacrifice then the blood and the blood alone would be taken. You don’t have to kill an animal to bleed it, and trust me in a world where cattle are money that would be far less costly. The meat isn’t a sacrifice because the meat would be eaten at sacrifices typically and the animal would be part of a great feast. The fat and bones of the animal were not really the sacrifice despite them appearing that way in other cultures like the Greek culture because bones and fat could be gotten from slaughterhouses and toted to the temple rather than doing the whole deed in the temple complex. No, the sacrifice is the life of the animal and the future it would have had growing the wealth it represented.
You know that story about the goose that lays the golden egg? Well, here it makes the most sense it might ever make. If you kill the goose that lays the golden egg you get no more golden eggs. Except the eggs don’t have to be golden to carry value in this case, any animal represents wealth if they carry value culturally. In a cattle culture these creatures were the pinnacle of wealth. Killing a cow was literally killing the golden goose, you can’t get any more calves from a dead cow. So you had to have a very good reason for doing it, hence the sacrifice. There’s a reason people had drinking horns and I’ll let you in on a secret – it’s not because they’re practical drinking vessels, they are not; it’s because of the wealth and power they represented.
The next thing we need to discuss about this is that if I am having to explain any of this to you, you have no real business doing blood sacrifice. Blood sacrifice is not necessary and anyone who tells you it is has no concept of how sacrifice works. Such folks are more concerned with aesthetics than sacrifice. If you have to buy the animal from someone else and have had no connection with its care, you have no real business doing blood sacrifice. The reason this is because such people are not doing it for the true meaning of the sacrifice, but instead as a status thing. A sacrifice made just to make it is pretty hollow; a sacrifice made without understanding why sacrifices are made is ignorant. Sacrifices should be made in such a way that we understand them and they carry great personal meaning and their loss will be fully understood. A sacrifice deprives us of its use now and forever, it removes the food, animal, or item from usefulness.
What can or should I sacrifice? I have sacrificed many things; I tend to sacrifice small ritual hard-tack cakes, juice, mead, wine, fruit, grains, or any number of food items. My favorite sacrifices are when I make votive offerings of small animal-shaped hard-tack cakes. But in group ritual I tend to use juice. And this is all well and good! You don’t have to do blood sacrifice to be a heathen and anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t understand sacrifice.