An offering of a gift, especially to a deity or being, in petition, thanksgiving or appeasement. The most common offerings are food, drink, the fruits of harvest and the blood sacrifice of animals and fowl. The highest sacrifice is that of human life, a practice now rare. Sacrifices can be made to the elements, the sun and moon, the cardinal points, sacred landmarks (mountains, lakes, rivers and so on), the dead and supernatural beings.
In contemporary Witchcraft and Paganism offerings are cakes, drinks, fruits, flowers, poems, handicrafts, incense, nuts and other items. Blood sacrifice is considered unnecessary for worship. In Witchcraft rituals, an offering of food and drink is presented at the altar or sprinkled about the outdoors as an offering.
Ritual blood sacrifice is an ancient custom of propitiation to the gods. Animals, fowl and humans have long been sacrificed in various religious rites to secure bountiful harvests and secure blessings and protection from deities. Blood consumed in ritual sacrifice is believed to give the drinker the soul and attributes of the blood of the deceased, whether it be human or animal. The Celts and Druids reportedly drank the blood of their sacrificed human victims. The Aztecs cut the hearts out of human sacrifices with flint knives; the still-beating heart was held aloft by the priest, then placed in a ceremonial receptacle. The body was often dismembered and eaten in an act of ritual cannibalism. The khonds of southern India impaled their victims on stakes and cut off pieces of their backs to fertilize the soil.
The sacrifice of first-born children was once a common custom in various cultures, particularly in times of trouble. During the Punic Wars, the nobility of Carthage sacrificed hundreds of children to Baal by rolling them into pits of fire.
The early Hebrews practiced blood sacrifices of animals. The book of Leviticus in the Old Testament lays out instructions for all kinds of sacrifices, including animals and fowl. In Genesis, Cain offers the fruits of his harvest, which does not please the Lord, and Abel offers one of his flock, which does please the Lord. Also in Genesis, God tests Abraham by instructing him to sacrifice his son. Abraham is stopped at the last moment, and a ram is substituted.
The Paschal Lamb, eaten at Passover, is a sacrifice commemorating the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. Christ obviated the need for blood sacrifice by shedding his own blood on the cross, thus securing eternal redemption for mankind. The Eucharist and communion services are nonbloody sacrifices, in which bread and wine or grape juice substitute for the body and blood of Christ.
During the witch hunts, witches were said to sacrifice CoCks and unbaptized children to the Devil. They also were charged with cannibalism of infants and children. The cock sacrifices most likely relate to the pagan custom of sacrificing cocks as the corn spirit in harvest festivals, or in folk-magic spells, in order to ensure an abundant crop the following year. The accusations of sacrifice and cannibalism of children were most likely the result of the torture applied during inquisitions and trials of accused witches. It also is in keeping with the historical trend of similar accusations leveled by one religious group against another. The Syrians accused the Jews of human sacrifice and cannibalism, much as the romans accused the Christians and the Christians accused the Gnostics, Cathars, Waldenses and Albigenses.
In Magic, blood sacrifice releases a flash of power, which the magician uses for a spell or conjuration. The old grimoires call for killing animals and using their skins to make parchment used in drawing the magical symbols needed. Animals offered should be young, healthy and virgin, for the maximum release of energy. The letting of blood, and the fear and death throes of the victim, add to the frenzy of the magician.
Aleister Crowley, in Magick in Theory and Practice (1929), said that “The ethics of the thing appear to have concerned no one; nor, to tell the truth, need they do so.” Crowley sacrificed animals and fowl in his rituals, within a Magic circle or triangle, which prevented the energy from escaping. He considered the torturing of the animal first, in order to obtain an elemental slave, as “indefensible, utterly black magic of the very worst kind,” although in the next breath he said that he had no objection to such black magic if it was “properly understood.” Crowley also noted that a magician could effect a blood sacrifice without the loss of life by gashing himself or his assistant.
Animals are sacrificed in various tribal religions and in Vodun and Santería. the animal sacrifices of Santería— usually fowl and sometimes lambs or goats—have raised much opposition in America from animal-rights groups and offended individuals who consider the custom barbaric. The issue has been exacerbated by the practice of some Santeríans of leaving their beheaded and mutilated sacrifices in public places for others to find. Charges of stealing pet dogs and cats for sacrifice have been levied against the groups. Santeríans in the U.S. counter that the Constitution protects their right to worship as they see fit. They defend animal sacrifice by pointing to its ancient roots.
Satanic groups, which are not connected to Pagans or Witches, also may practice blood sacrifice (see Satanism).
- Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1972.
- Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971.
Sacrifice is in Magic, the Ritual killing of a living thing to propitiate gods or spirits. Blood sacrifice is an ancient and universal custom. It is frowned on in modern Western magical rites but is still practiced in traditions around the world. Usually an animal or a bird is sacrificed, but human sacrifices are not unknown. Some sacrifice rituals call for a small amount of blood-letting but no actual killing. Blood consumed in ritual sacrifice is believed to give the drinker the soul and attributes of the blood of the deceased, whether it be human or animal.
In earlier times, the most common blood sacrifice was to secure bountiful harvests; it was believed that the land was fertilized by sprinkling upon it the sacrificial blood. A widespread custom in Europe called for the sacrificing of cocks in harvest festivals to ensure an abundant crop the following year.
The early Hebrews practiced blood sacrifices of animals, following instructions given in Leviticus in the Old Testament. The importance of a flesh and blood sacrifice is illustrated in Genesis: Cain offers the fruits of his harvest, which does not please the Lord, and Abel offers one of his flock, which pleases the Lord. Also in Genesis, God tests Abraham by instructing him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Abraham is stopped at the last moment by an angel, who informs him that God was testing his faith. A ram was substituted for Isaac. In Christianity, Christ eliminated the need for blood sacrifice by shedding his own blood on the cross. The Eucharist and communion services are nonbloody sacrifices in which bread and wine or grape juice substitute for the body and blood of Christ.
Animals are sacrificed in various tribal religions and in Vodoun and SANTERÍA. The animal sacrifices of Santería— usually fowl and sometimes lambs or goats—have been protested by animal-rights groups.
Practices of human sacrifice can look to mythologies for a model of divine sacrifice: for example, Osiris, Dionysus, and Attis are dismembered in sacrifice for rebirth.
The Celts and the DRUIDS drank the blood of their sacrificed human victims, whose throats were slashed over cauldrons; they also burned their victims alive in wickerwork cages. The Aztecs cut hearts out of human sacrifices with flint knives; the still-beating heart was held aloft by the priest and then placed in a ceremonial receptacle. The body was often dismembered and eaten in an act of ritual cannibalism. The Khonds of southern India impaled their victims on stakes and cut off pieces of their backs to fertilize the soil. The sacrifice of first-born children once was a common custom in various cultures, particularly in times of trouble. During the Punic Wars, the nobility of Carthage sacrificed hundreds of children to Baal by rolling them into pits of fire.
During the witch hunts of the Inquisition, witches were said to sacrifice unbaptized children to the devil and also to roast and cannabalize them. “Confessions” of such acts were largely the product of severe torture rather than “evidence.”
Sacrifice in Magic
Blood sacrifice releases a flash of power, which the magician uses for an EVOCATION. The old Grimoires call for killing animals, usually a young goat, in advance of the ceremony and using their skins to make parchment that was used in drawing the magical Symbols needed to protect the magician and to evoke and control the spirits. The sacrifice may also be to God or spirits for the obtaining of favors. Sacrificial animals—called the Victim of the Art— offered to God or various spirits should be young, healthy, and virgin for the maximum release of energy. Sometimes the sacrifice is best performed at the peak of a ritual. The letting of blood and the fear and death throes of the victim add to the frenzy of the magician. The fumes of the sacrificial blood also enable the evoked spirit to become visible to the magician.
The Grimorium Verum specifies that the magician should cut the throat of a virgin kid goat with a single slash of his magical knife (see Tools) while saying,
“I slay thee in the name and to the honor of N. [name of spirit or deity].”
According to the Key of Solomon, white animals should be sacrificed to benevolent spirits, and black animals should be sacrificed to evil spirits. The magician should cut off the entire head of the animal with a single blow while saying, “O high and powerful being, may this sacrifice be pleasing and acceptable to thee. Serve us faithfully and better sacrifices shall be given thee.” Another version of the Key gives this INCANTATION: “I, N., slay thee, N., in the name and to the honor of N.”
The Red Dragon gives instructions for evoking the devil by sacrificing a black hen that has never been crossed by a cock. Seize the throat so that it cannot make noise and thus dissipate life-force energy. Take it to a CROSSROADS, and at midnight draw a magic circle with a wand made of cypress (a symbol of death). Stand inside the circle, and tear the hen in two with your hands while saying, “Euphas Metahim, frugativi et appelavi.” Turn to the east and command the devil to appear.
ALEISTER CROWLEY, in Magick in Theory and Practice, said that “The ethics of the thing [blood sacrifice] appear to have concerned no one; nor, to tell the truth, need they do so.” Crowley sacrificed animals and fowl in his rituals within a Magic CIRCLE or Magic Triangle, which prevented the energy from escaping. He condemned the practice of torturing the animal first to obtain an elemental slave, calling it “indefensible, utterly black magic of the very worst kind.” However, he said that there was no objection to such black magic if it was “properly understood.” Crowley noted that a magician could effect a blood sacrifice without the loss of life by gashing himself or his assistant.
According to Eliphas Levi, when the grimoires spoke of killing a kid goat, they meant that a human child should be sacrificed. This is not likely, though records exist of human sacrifices in efforts to obtain something by magical means. For example, in 1841, treasure hunters in Italy sacrificed a boy to a DEMON in hopes of being led to buried treasure.
Crowley also said that “a male child of perfect innocence and high intelligence is the most satisfactory and perfect victim.” His claim to performing such a sacrifice an average of 150 times a year between 1921 and 1928 is doubtful, however.
- Butler, E. M. Ritual Magic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1949.
- Cavendish, Richard. The Black Arts. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1967.
- Crowley, Aleister. Magic in Theory and Practice. 1929. Reprint, New York: Dover Publications, 1976.
Back to Magic Glossary
Back to Magick and Spells