In a discussion about a talisman of Saturn, the subject of animal sacrifice came up, and I thought that rather than continue the digression in that topic, I should start a new one on the subject and gather a few sources I've lately come across and flesh the topic out properly. Now some people have a beef with animal sacrifice but in olden days it would have not grossed people out, but on the other hand would have been much more expensive than in today's world of battery farming. I imagine for a peasant who cannot afford a heffer, substitutions would be most welcome.
In the above mentioned topic I referred to a passage in The Nabataean Agriculture, which is one of the sources of the Picatrix which describes the situation in 10th Century Iraq:
If the incense in the temples is thrown on the coals of racemes, this will be very good. When one splits racemes and makes statuettes of animals of them together with threads and rags and paste and glue, these will be the best offerings to offer for the idols in the temples.....
Before our time and before the Kan'ànites came to rule the clime of Bàbil there used to be in many towns of this clime artisans who made these (statuettes of ) animals from the bark of palm branches and from split racemes. They were skilful in splitting and forming them....
By my life, if one wishes to offer such a statuette and makes it with his own hands, he will receive an even greater reward from the gods.
I have also come accross a similar story from ancient Greece where Empedocles does simlar:
Diogenes Laertius wrote:I found in Favorinus' Memorabilia that Empedocles sacrificed a bull made of honey and barley-meal, for the sacred envoys at Olympia
When I quoted Nabataen Agriculture Dolmance rightly pointed out that the section occurs during the discussion of the life of an ascetic vegetarian sage who was opposed to animal killing. Similarly, this event in the biography of Empedocles could well have been manufactured out of a section in his poem where he describes sacrifice:
Empedocles wrote: Then Ares was not god among them, nor yet was Din of Battle,
Zeus was not king nor Chronos, nor yet Poseidon-
but Cypris then was queen.
Her men earnestly appeased with good and pious offerings,
with painted figures and sweet oil, their fragrance cunningly made,
with unmixed myrrh and gifts of sweet-smelling incense,
and libations of honey flowing to the ground.
Nor did the altar flow with the unspeakable slaughter of the bull,
though this defilement still is greatest among men,
to bereave the animal of life to eat his limbs.
In both of these cases it can be seen that where the prevailing tendency is against cruelty to animals, animal sacrifice is eschewed in favour of symbolic or favourably flavoured or scented alternatives. I feel in this regard, as with all things in magic the answer is that the magician makes his own reality and we should do what we think is best. And it would be wrong to think that you are short changing the gods, because we have these examples showing that in times when such sacrifice was comonplace, substitutions were considered by some to be acceptable.
To add another element, we often think that what is being sacrificed is the life energy of the animal and the act of it's death is the most important thing. Yet in this photo essay about contemporary Korean shamans they are offering hunks of meat from the butchers:
In 21st-century Korea, shamanism is not only thriving — but evolving