Holy crap, it’s almost Mabon. Yesterday I caught myself glaring at a few trees just barely turning to orange. “A little early, isn’t it?”
Well, no. It’s right on time. They might have even started last week but the late-season drought slows that down. Also, the extended winter this past year went so long that the trees themselves are clinging for any extra time they can get.
Mabon has a bunch of spiritual themes, one of which stands out as uncomfortable to the point that some might call it a dark side Pagan subject: sacrifice.
A lot of people hear the word “sacrifice” in connection with “Pagan” and immediately hide their children and grab their hissing cats for a cuddle. It’s what they’ve been conditioned to do and it’s a rare person who questions or even recognizes conditioning.
In truth, there’s a bit more to that. People in other types of magical practice, say those that make animal sacrifices (that often translate to barbecues) understand that sacrifice is about energy, feeding ancestors, giving up something for the gods to take so they can keep doing their divine thing.
In recent years, it’s only discussed in passing, but the parallel is pretty hard to ignore: the sacrifice we speak of in Mabon, where the god dies so that his people may survive, sounds a lot like the tale of a wandering Jewish man who came to a bad end by Roman hand. Jesus also died for the sake of his people – popularly translated to mean all people, everywhere, whether or not they asked.
Mabon is different – there are hints here and there the people affected definitely asked first. Also, most go for burning wicker men and effigies of John Barleycorn. If we’re going to point fingers about sacrifice, cruelty etc. across religions we’re going to have to in all fairness point them right back. Most religions have in their history someone who has definitely done something rude to someone else’s body in the name of pleasing a god and ensuring survival. The vast majority go for metaphorical sacrifice for that very reason. Also, especially as in the west our basic needs versus our luxuries have blurred more and more, when we make sacrifices – meaningful acts of giving something up for the sake of a greater good – the entire process might appear symbolic from beginning to end, even if the sense of deprivation is absolutely real.
Yes, we make good old boring sacrifices: for our kids, for our aging parents, for the sake of living longer, continuously mobile lives. Outsiders might even recognize the sacrifices: giving up time at home to earn money to keep the home. The parents that abandon that Winnebago trek so their kid can finish that last year of college. The kid that gives up attending college because the mounting debt would destroy his parents retirement funds just as their healthcare needs would increase. Sometimes it’s smaller stuff: staying home from a concert because a loved on is sick. Foregoing a night’s sleep to make sure a friend doesn’t spend the night in a hospital alone. Giving up money you saved for a big treat to ensure a public service can remain available. From a historical or global perspective, this stuff might still seem like fluff: at least we have hospitals, such as they are. At least, for some, there’s any choice at all between college or long-term senior care. Most of us can at least confer independence on one another through small sacrifices to create an artful interdependence: what one has in excess, another needs and it can be given. But for some engaging in these acts comes at a cost that continously endangers what little independence and free choice a person still might have.
Our ancestors might see sacrifice as we practice it as soft. But they might also be pleased: the sacrifices they made have allowed us sacrifices that can be given up in the form of barbecue chicken or a night home from the movies. No true sacrifice is given with joy (as much as some of us would like to see ourselves that way.) It is always given with a profound sense of necessity.
Which brings me to an interesting thought: what about the good old tradition of sacrificing our enemies?
I don’t mean kidnap Roberta, the lady from work who always rats you out for being two minutes late because she wants your job. I mean a real, fuck up your life and your soul enemy. As our sacrifices have changed our enemies have, for the most part changed. (I have to exclude war zones from this, where all the things I claim do not really happen anymore are most definitely happening. I’ll work on better ways of phrasing this sort of thing.) We don’t really have reason to give up physical enemies and what we call an enemy these days is rarely an enemy in the classic warfare sense. There will not be Visigoths ringing my doorbell and then pillaging my house.
I mean giving up the enemies that we self create. Perhaps some are not self-created, but created and bred into us. Either way, those particular demons are our own, borne in our own consciousness and carried out in our own behaviors. The enemy is all the things we do that we know is bad. They are also the social constructs – often entities in and of themselves – that allows us to retreat into “us versus them” assigning problems rather than acknowledging that, in our world of interdependence (I like to think of it as the golden mean of independence and dependence) the problems that belong to that group over there are our problems too.
So if you’re looking for a Sabbat ritual, I propose you sacrifice an enemy. Of course it’s symbolic (NO COWORKERS. NOT THAT NEIGHBOR EITHER!)
Make a list. Just pick one enemy – you can do a ritual sacrifice at Mabon but between now and Samhain you have to work on backing that up by making sure that the enemy can’t send in additional troops.
Enemies you might take on:
The Ego: that part of yourself that shows off until you alienate everyone in the room. Also in charge of trying to win Internet arguments at the cost of all civility.
Addiction: this is a multi-tribal kindgom. You can only take on one at a time, so if you have more than one list them from most life-inhibiting to least.
Old Wounds: it’s not our fault we got them but it’s always our responsibility to tend to those wounds before they transform into our demons.
Criticism: this may sound like it contradicts what I just said about the ego. It doesn’t – I’m talking about the kind of criticism that is about letting another person’s ego overshadow your own sense of self. The good critics, the “hey, this is how this could be/could have been better” types are important allies in waging this battle, especially since the key tool you need to win is the power to ignore the bad critics.
Self Rejection: the things you hate about yourself that you can’t change, or that won’t change easily? Pick one and learn how to accept it. This may be the hardest track of all because we reject in ourselves what others teach us to.
How you construct such a sacrifice is up to you. I prefer the corn dolly (wheat dolly, really) approach. Slips of paper, photos of yourself caught in that moment of insanity, knots and stones to capture it – all are fine approaches. The important part, after honoring your harvest and moving into the winter’s work is to plan and execute the winter’s work. This means you need to plan for both magic and accord (act in accord, then do the practical stuff that helps the spell along).
Let’s say you take on an addiction issue: what is your accord? Entering a 12 step? Seeing a therapist? Simply turning off your TV? Next, what is your magic to back up the accord? Daily meditation – do you have a specific mantra? A daily reinforcement spell? A series of spells to give you resolve, to distract you from cravings, to let you check yourself when you are about to lapse into old habits?
So what’s my sacrifice? The Ego. I had a handle on it six months ago but lately I’ve caught myself shooting my mouth off and going against my own instincts for the sake of an audience. Some of this is being surrounded with a lot more people than I have been since 2006. Some of it is just stress, a strange defense mechanism I have that alienates people on occasion.
My plan to deal with this? It’s ongoing. I do actually use my ego for good things, so I can’t just kill it. I also have a unique tic that allows me to approach this without a lasso: my Myers Briggs rates me as exactly halfway between an introvert and an extrovert. So when one overtakes the other, it’s time to balance things out. I will probably use liquid equilibrium – moving fluid from one glass to the other, and then giving all of it to the Mississippi River. I will go to the shamanic dance night in my neighborhood now that my leg’s healed enough and dance through my inner noise. I will make sure I go do something on my own once or twice a week. (This habit still weirds out people just getting to know me.) Every day through Samhain will include meditation, a prayer for serenity and a spell for clarity.