Animal sacrifice is a big issue in modern polytheistic and monotheistic faiths. The issue of if we have a right to kill an animal in the name of our god / gods. I believe this issue is way too complicated for me to express in a simple essay. No, something like a book would be fitting: exploring the history, social development, culture, theology, needs for survival, modern developments and philosophical decadence we are privileged to in western culture.
So I’ll hint at things.
I was born in country where many of our parents killed their own animals for dinner. I was raised at a time where they didn’t need to kill their own food because a brand new sparkling supermarket sold every cut of meat of every kind of meat conceivable in cling wrap, hygienic looking polystyrene trays. Australia is a young nation, it is only 115 years old, it’s first colony was founded in 1788 and earned recognition as an independent commonwealth nation in 1901. With my often obscure/ skewed concept of history accounted for, I think it’s safe to say: we’re babes.
When my mother’s family settled in a so called resort town founded as a naval base in the 1960’s there was nothing but prefabricated houses surrounded by swampland and a dirt road. The nearest general store was 2 kilometres away (roughly 1.2 miles) often the trek was made by foot. The general store only had bare basics, eggs, meat, milk had to be either ordered or made by self-effort.
The next generation, as in my generation never knew this, we never knew that even in the 1960’s most households had an outdoor ‘dunny’ where the entire families waste was collected and disposed of by an early morning shit collector. We are spoiled and deprived of cultural responsibilities that led to the same exposure of death that our parents experienced in their childhood. However, some were not forgetting. Even as growing up in the 1980/90’s it was not uncommon for a sizable suburban house to have a chicken coop and a yearling sheep in the backyard. It was also not uncommon for these families to lament the missing of “Betty” a day before the most scrumptious Sunday roast.
Even in modern times my culture still practices home growing livestock in suburban environments. While not something I was exposed to directly as a child, there are many I know who have been and they still practice it today. Our concept of animal slaughter is dependent on culture, but if we start saying silly things like: ‘that is in the past, we’ve moved from that time, we don’t need to kill because others do it for us.” I’d question you and your justification for an inhumane meat industry that results in ‘products’ in a supermarket and distancing from traditional standards of development in animal husbandry.
Every other day I walk into my sparkling neon lit supermarket and think, what’s for dinner? Often I see a hygienic looking polystyrene tray of meat, the meat itself appears nothing like the animal it came from. It is deprived of all identity as a creature. I don’t salivate over an animal, but a perfectly presented product. It’s very easy to forget that a life was lost for this product, it’s a habit that I try to avoid. As I am preparing the meat I do actually think of the animal, the processes and suffering it endured for my meal. It disturbs me. If you drive a couple hours outside a main city in Australia you are confronted by the sight and smell of massive livestock trucks carrying hundreds of sheep to the slaughterhouse. In the last 24 hours of these animals life they endure torment and terror, their meat becomes filled with all kinds of biological chemicals released by fear impulses. I am a meat eater, but I do avoid most red meats because of this. I also note a difference in meats that are not killed in this manner, such as home reared sheep and kangaroo (which are hunted in the wild, not farmed). I’m conscious of the source of the meat and have a moral issue when consuming it, but I also find myself ill if I do not consume meat at least once a week. As I mention when discussing culture, I was raised in a typical Australian suburban family, a traditional meal is ‘meat and three veg’ my body is dependent on this and if I do not eat some qualities of the diet I was raised with I get ill. I’ve had vegetarian friends tell me that saying that is bullshit, but it is true. Likewise for eating certain foods I was not raised with, for example spices and chilli make me sick, I love eating them, but I’ll be sitting on the toilet for an hour the next day, with cramps and a burning ring of fire if I eat something that is consider mild by others.
What has this to do with animal sacrifice? I try to understand others through empathy, sometimes I fail at this task but often I can understand how a person comes to an opinion by considering their background and history. The above information about my cultural background should be enough framing to get that I come from a different culture and have a different view on livestock. When it was announced that the Thiasos I belong to will performed animal sacrifice I had no moral compunction because of my background, because of how I was raised, because it’s a part of my diet. I detest animal cruelty, I’m often outspoken because I protest against horse racing or any use of animals for leisure or entertainment, but I also believe that meat consumption is a necessary part of our biology. I believe without consuming meat humans would not had evolved into what we are today. In most cases animal sacrifice in ancient culture was a communal justification for killing an animal for a feast, the guilt of eating meat was forgiven because of the manner of killing, by deifying the creature, by relating it to a god, therefore the people were consuming the meat of god. These ritual views are still kept in essence in Christianity where people say grace before a meal or when they take part in the Eucharist ceremony.
Culture affects our concept of morality, In Greece when these sacrifices happened people would had been used to life and death. As a community they raised the beasts themselves, they saw them born, they fed them, treated them when ill, they killed them, they ate them. There was an intimacy that only livestock farmers know today. We live in a time of decadence where our guilt for killing an animal is non-existent because the creatures are slaughtered somewhere else and we see their meat as nothing but a product. This moral laziness does not just include the meat industry, look around you right now. Look at the objects on your desk, think about the thing you’re sitting on. Tell me, do you know where it came from? Do you know every person that made that object? Do you know the suffering, the living conditions of those people?
I know you will say no.
Go into your kitchen, look in your pantry look at the oils, the spice holders, the baskets you keep things in. Do you know how these things were collected, farmed, manufactured, produced? Do you know the people who created these things you consume? Do you know the countless situations that produced these products for your consumption? Do you know the ethics behind each development?
I know you will say no.
Ancient Greece was a small world. The distance from my mother’s house to the general store in the early 1960’s would had been the difference between language and culture in ancient Greece. People knew each other and they knew the circumstances of buying a product. There was an intimacy that they had with things we’d consider trivial. Back to your pantry, look at your oil bottles – plastic clear bottles with a sunny looking flower or olive label with a bright trademarked logo right? Do you love that bottle of oil so much you want to be buried with it? Do you want your spice jars, wine bottles, plates and cups to go in your coffin?
I know you will say no.
The Greeks were materialist people, but they were not a consumer / disposable culture we are now. Even objects that were traded from foreigners held a different significance compared to what we experience today. Everything had a value and they worked bloody hard to have those things. They had such a intimate relationship with everything they owned it was sacred, they went to the grave with these objects. Including that oil bottle in your pantry.
I feed my cat twice a day from cans of metal that would had been considered precious in Greek times, I throw the cans in the bin. His food is made up of meat, if I fed him anything otherwise he would not eat it, nor will he live. Cats are carnivorous, their bodies cannot process most plant stuff. (If I find out someone is feeding their cat on a vegan diet, I will report them to the authorities.) I feed my cat more meat in a week than I eat in a week. I feed my cat more than I feed my gods. There is no moral outcry? There is no issue of senseless killing by doing this. My gods are not my pets. They are not make believe concepts or archetypes, they are divine beings that I love dearly. Certainly, I love them more than my cat, I love them more than myself. But suggestion of performing a live sacrifice to them is regarded unethical?
It is possible that this sacrifice by the Thiasos of the Starry Bull will NOT be consumed by humans. My first reaction to hearing this was disappointment at the idea the meat will be wasted. But it won’t be. I quickly reminded myself of that when I thought about it. The gods are very much real and this offering is deserving to them. With all of the above about our disposable materialism every devotions I give to the gods can attract the same moral outcry as killing a beast and giving it’s body whole. I pour libation to the gods almost daily, the wine has animal products in it. Is that a waste? Is that unethical? I use incense exported from a third world country – most likely harvested by children, is that unethical? I offer fruit that has been exported from China, I cook and dedicate meat to the gods and dispose of it after a day. Every day I ‘waste’ a product that has resulted in some suffering of a creature or person for devotion of my gods. There is no moral outcry about that.
Myself and many others were rightfully concerned about how this sacrifice will be performed. The person doing the killing explained the plans in depth when it was announced. I was concerned for the welfare and the method of performing the ritual but was satisfied by how it was described. It appears those involved know what they are doing and are considerate towards the creature. What was described is far more humane than what is standard practice in the meat industry today, with high regard for the animals wellbeing. Really if I protested it, I would have to face up to my daily living practices of eating supermarket meat, from pouring wine libation, to throwing out that plastic oil bottle, to feeding my cat.
Further reading and information:
I don’t know precisely what Telemakhos’ traditions of sacrifice are, but classically, Hellenic animal sacrifices were, indeed, mostly eaten by humans. A portion belonged to the gods — hide, fat, bones, and some part of the meat (thighs of the large mammals, but I’m not sure what parts of smaller animals) — and were burnt in offering, but the rest became a feast for the people.
You are right, most often sacrifice was consumed by people. However there were certain sacrifices made that were given whole. Especially to Chthonic deities or spirits. The Thiasos of the Starry Bull focuses on many chthonic entities, so the sacrifice may be made whole. I actually do not know — given the changing circumstances in the Thiasos and also lack of information. Telemakhos has however described, in detail, how it would be performed and it may be read at the bottom of the 16/10/14 chat. I was satisfied with his description of how it will be done: