Yesterday I decided to do some decent cooking for the first time in a couple of weeks. I had everything I needed to make a quick ‘n’ dirty version of seafood au gratin with that frozen imitation crab stuff and a proper beef stew.
Putting the faux crab au gratin in the slow cooker was easy, but when I got into the beef stew, everything started to go wrong. One of the two packages of beef I bought had gone bad. I knocked over the bottle of wine–thank goodness, it was well corked. I cut up some red potatoes and raw carrots, once the beef and mushrooms were going strong, and pieces of vegetable were flying off the cutting board. Now, I am the farthest thing from Julia Child with a knife in my hand, but this was ridiculous. Things weren’t just popping off the cutting board onto the table, they were diving for the floor.
As I was bending over to pick up yet another wayward chunk of carrot, I suddenly said aloud, “The gods are hungry. You haven’t fed them in a while.” And it was true. If I cook something that takes a bit more effort than just opening a jar or a can and heating stuff up, I usually offer a portion the first time I eat it. I hadn’t done that for a while. I promised aloud that I would give them some of this stew, but I still had a few more mishaps to get through before my food prep was done.
When I was ready to eat the beef stew last night, I poured wine for the Powers and for myself. I lit candles and incense. I served Them a bowl of stew, then myself. The stew was delicious, one of my best efforts, and I felt a sense of appreciation and blessing flowing from the Powers.
This is how I understand sacrifice. It is not giving something up, or giving it away. As environmentalists say about trash and recycling, there is no “away”. An offering or a sacrifice is given to the gods, and/or ancestors or spirits, who are here in the world with us. But what we offer is made out of things that the gods have given us already, before we asked. The Romans said, “Do ut des,” I give that You may give, but they might also have said, “I give because You have given”.
The Christian theology of the Eucharist actually helps me out here. God gives wheat and grapes. Humans make bread and wine, which is then offered to God. Bread and wine becomes God’s flesh and blood. What gods and mortals give one another is always given back. It’s an exchange, a cycle. It’s animals breathing out carbon dioxide for the plants who breathe out oxygen for animals. It’s flowing water that doesn’t stagnate because there’s always fresh water coming in while old water is going out.
However you may feel about controversial topics like animal sacrifice, the exchange of gifts between gods and mortals, the seen and the unseen, is not optional. It’s just the way things work. Not to make offerings is like taking a deep breath and holding it, and thinking you’ll be okay like that.