Sacrifice: the act of making sacred

The modern notion of sacrifice implies letting go of something precious, but the ancient meaning of the word has a more legal tone. To sacrifice was simply to make (facio) sacred (sacer), i.e. to make something property of the Gods. It is the religious equivalent of a transaction of goods – any goods, even those that are not particularly precious. And just as in everyday life there are formal and informal transactions, the same applies to our dealings with the Gods: just as you can offer a friend a drink or something in return for a symbolic price, you can pour beverage or wheat on the floor as an informal offering; just as in your everyday life you may sell or buy something in the presence of a lawyer, using official paperwork or a written contract that’s legally binding, you can make more formal offerings by means of a ceremony, due tributes to witnesses and a formally acknowledged agreement. And the latter can happen even when you’re dealing with friends or relatives, like when you sell a car, buy a house or acquire a plot of land. These things require a formal transfer of property rights, the religious equivalent of which is the formal sacrifice.

Several months ago, after a debate on the matter in the Roman Revivalist group on Facebook, I started reviewing the usual structure of my Roman and Greek rites and have been experimenting with it ever since. Of course, as follows from what I said in the previous paragraph, a formal rite is not something I use every day or every time I make an offering. There is room for informal acts of worship and devotion, but there are also occasions when formality is called for. That’s the case with yearly festivities, which are a bit like birthdays or weddings: they take place only once a year or less and are therefore special, deserving a greater attention. And on other, more common occasions, the fully formal rite still remains useful by supplying a model for more simplified acts of worship.

So after brainstorming for a few months, I came up with my reviewed version of the Roman and Greek rites. It’s comprised of three parts: praefatio, sacrificium and postfacio; simply put, before making, making sacred and after making. The second section is subdivided into several moments, since it is the focal and therefore more complex stage of a ceremony. The result is a ritual structure that I find to be more balanced and fluid than the previous version.

***
Ritus Romanus/Graecus
1. Praefatio
After covering my head with a hood, scarf or a small towel and depending on the level of formality, I offer prayers and one or two offerings – normally incense and/or wine – to Janus, the god of beginnings, Vesta, who presides over the ritual fire (and is offered milk instead of wine), and Jupiter, who is asked to testify the ceremony.

2. Sacrificium
At this point, if I’m using the Greek rite, I uncover my head. If not, it remains covered.

    a. The main deity of the ceremony is invited. A prayer is uttered or, if it’s in Greek rite, a hymn taken or based on the Homeric Hymns. The reasons for the ceremony are stated (e.g. on this Saturnalia) and a welcoming offering is made (e.g. libation, incense or a bay leaf);
    b. The main offerings are listed, followed by a request to the god/dess, even if only a general one for His/Her blessings;
    *c. This step is the old immolatio and it applies only if I consecrate food I then wish to partake of (e.g. a bread or cake). To that effect, I sprinkle it with salted flour and pass a knife or spoon over the offering, before cutting a slice to be given to the deity;
    d. The offerings are placed or poured into the ritual fire, bowl, ground or water one by one with a short prayer;
    e. After giving the offerings, it is necessary to know if they were accepted. Some form of divination is therefore required and, depending on the result, the ceremony may go back to point b. or an expiatory offering may be presented (e.g. a libation or a stick of incense). At least the latter needs to be done if no divination system is resorted to;
    f. Once the main deity has been honoured, I can make supplementary offerings, normally to my ancestors, house genii and Mercury, but occasionally to more gods and goddesses. For instance, in the case of the New Year ceremony, this is the point where I also pay tribute to ten other deities that are in some way related to my household (Juno for my mother, Hercules for my father, Diana for our dogs, Minerva for successful work, etc.). If it’s an annual ceremony that falls on the Calends, Nones or Ides, this is also when I dispose of the monthly offerings;
    *g. Another optional step. If I perform an immolatio (c.), I must then perform a profanation by which the rest of the consecrated offering is made available for human consumption. In other words, it must be ritually deconsecrated, which is achieved by touching it while uttering a prayer to the deity to whom the food was given. An offering of gratitude is placed in or poured into the ritual fire;
    h. Just in case, I make an extra expiatory offering at this stage before moving on to the closing section of the ceremony;

3. Postfatio
If the ceremony is conducted in Greek rite, at this point I once again cover my head. The closing section consists of offerings of gratitude to the same deities honoured in the opening, but in reversed order: first Jupiter, then Vesta and finally Janus, who presides over the end of the ceremony just as He presided over its beginning. Like a gatekeeper, He opens and closes a door.

***
Again, this is not for daily acts of worship, but for annual or special festivities only. I use a more simplified version when I dispose of the offerings made on the Calends, Nones, Ides and other monthly occasions and, in certain circumstances, further adaptations may be required. For instance, if I am unable to use a ritual fire, the offerings to Vesta are dropped; if I perform a ceremony to infernal gods, I replace Janus with Mercury. Last but not least, I’m also using this structure to build a Latinized rite to Norse deities. That, however, is still being worked out and is a topic for another blogpost.
Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Sacrifice: the act of making sacred

  1. Reblogged this on Freya: The Gold Thread and commented:
    To save for later. Also, it warms my heart when I come across polytheists I don’t know, working with pantheons/deities I don’t work with, spending this much time and effort *getting it right*. Makes me feel like we’re all in it together, ya know?

  2. I will second Cara’s sentiment: I very much enjoy seeing polytheists doing what they can to get it right, and that desire to do things in the right way gives me a great deal of hope for our set of religious movements.

    I will be interested in seeing your Latinized ritual structure for the gods I worship. In my ongoing attempts to rediscover what I think of as “Germanic ritual science”, I have studied and compared Roman and Indic information, and have tried to see where the similarities between them might be corroborated by existing Germanic data. I look forward to seeing what manner of overlap there might be between your ritual structure and mine, and I hope that this points me towards things I might have missed.

    Well done!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s